Trusting Spirit

 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3

As I begin to understand what message God has for me in The Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), I have to take some time to understand the context of the message. Remember, I’m no theologian, just your average Christian taking courses and studying the Bible in order to understand and grow. I do, however, think it is important anytime we delve into the word, especially something as rich as these passages, to have some common understanding. So for this series, this is how I understand the words given in a language many of us struggle to understand.

The Sermon on the Mount, those words given to us from Jesus represent his instructions on how to live our lives as his followers. They were intended to be taken as a whole, not ones that we would pick and choose to import into our lives. That said, healing, recovery, and living a life with purpose is a journey of learning and growing. My hope is that by starting with the eight The Beatitudes (Matthew 5: 3-10), I will be inspired to make changes in the way I think and live my life.

Blessed—having God’s grace, his favor, and his forgiveness. The Beatitudes represent the conditions of our lives and give us hope that God is with us.  Even in the darkest of our times, we have not been abandoned. I know what that was like in the past and even today I have those moments. I have to remind myself that God is aware of and involved in every aspect of my life. Does it mean life is rosy and perfect now? Hardly. What it does mean for me is that I trust God will see me through to the other side and I will experience personal and spiritual growth as a result.

The New Living Translation interprets this passage as: “God blesses those who realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them.”  In today’s society I think we all have a tendency to say, “I can do it—leave me alone,” until we can’t do it. Then we find ourselves calling out for God to fix our mess. Today I want to start by saying I need God. I need to pray and wait before I run ahead with my own ideas. One of the ways I pray when I find myself at a crossroad is to ask God to firmly close the doors that should be closed and to show me an open door through which I should pass. I say firmly because I am known to keep opening doors just in case there is a sliver of a chance that I can make it work out my way. And I take time to wait before I cross into something new.

In my previous profession I was required to prepare somewhat technical briefings about military systems. I was not a technical person and so instead I worked to develop processes to help others do their work. The problem was, I had to present the information, usually in front of some very technically educated people. And it scared me to death. After I retired I continued to dabble in the area in academia. The fear really never went away there either. At the same time I was looking for a program of study to become a life coach or a counselor. Nothing I tried seemed to work. And so I prayed for the closed/open door and boy did I get it. After two years of struggling, my work with defense programs ended abruptly. I was working another job part-time and it filled the financial and work void for me. And I found a program that seemed to fit all the things I wanted and that I could finance. God opened a new door. Additionally, I found a spiritual director who helped me see that what God had placed on my heart years ago and here I am writing about it.

And just as I thought things were going my way, something happened at work to make me uncomfortable. Again I prayed about it, trying to discern if I should stay or go. Within two weeks I was “relieved of my duties,” I kid you not. I was on the fence but when I was willing to ask God to show me, he did just that. Then last night I went to bed wondering what I was going to do next and if I should consider going back to doing what I had done with before to I could bring in more income and get out of debt fast. I went to sleep praying and worrying. Now I don’t know if it was just the prayer or because I was reading about theories related to dream interpretation but in my dream I was giving a presentation and it was HORRIBLE! I literally woke up shaking a bit. And I had my answer. Don’t go back, keep going forward.

I am blessed to understand my need for God in my life. I am blessed to be able to pray and to have learned to wait before acting. It isn’t easy but it is a whole lot better than making bad choices and going in the wrong direction. Today I want to align my will with God’s will and in doing so I will find a piece of God’s heaven on earth.

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The Beatitudes: From Healing to Transformation

This morning I find myself asking: “What do you want me to do?” In my time of meditation I almost feel a crushing desire to be more, but I’m not sure what that looks like or how to get there. I have ideas. I know that I can’t get there without help. I know I can’t get there without dedication. I know I can’t get there without turning my will over and letting God direct my steps. I see a glimmer of his vision for my future and I realize that I have to make a plan and take the steps to get where I believe he is calling me. But how do I do that?

Just as I am sure that God led me to Psalm 25 for healing, I believe he is leading me to Matthew 5, specifically a study of The Beatitudes, to learn how to live a transformed life. These eight principals are complex guidelines given to us by Jesus on how to live our lives as people of character and purpose. I’m no theological scholar and my intent here is not to develop some new understanding of what Jesus meant. Rather, my goal is to gain a better understanding of what these principals mean for my life as his follower. Join me on my journey as I ask questions and hopefully motivate you to think about what Jesus wants from you at this point in your life.

I’m the first to admit that I wondered aimlessly through most of my life with no plan or direction. I was fortunate to have many doors open for me professionally but my private life was a mess. I had a bit of a hippy “go with the flow” attitude and was up for anything that looked like fun. That fun put in me in some situations that I wish I had been smart enough to avoid and might have avoided if I had a better plan. Nothing really inspired me except trying to avoid feeling pain. The only thing that really motivated me was to prove to others they were wrong about me and to paint a bright picture that I had it all together by living a lifestyle someone else told me I should. After I crashed and burned, I rose from the ashes ready to transform the person I was into the person God wanted. It is a slow ongoing process, but I am now willing to listen.

The Beatitudes are that for me. A time to sit at the feet of God made man and to listen to how he says I can be happy. The Sermon on the Mount—the complete teachings that day on the mountainside—are the words I need to inspire me. As we hear and pray on those words, I hope we will all be motivated in a new direction. I pray that at the end of this series, we will all feel that we are transformed by God’s grace.

Matthew 5 New International Version (NIV)

Introduction to the Sermon on the Mount

5 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

The Beatitudes

He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,     for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn,     for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek,     for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,     for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful,     for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart,     for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers,     for they will be called children of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,     for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Life is Not a Hallmark Movie

Every year I get hooked on Hallmark Channel Christmas movies. I love the ones where the Christmas spirit changes a person’s heart and everyone lives happily ever after. Ok, I admit, I especially love the movies where the star says they will never love again because somewhere along the way their heart was broken. And yet, in a few brief days (TV hours) they meet the perfect person and find love again—and live happily ever after. Healing and moving forward happens quickly in these movies. Lives are fixed and tied up in a neat bow in record time.

Unfortunately, life isn’t a Hallmark movie. Healing our wounded hearts and souls usually requires more than a few nicely placed words of encouragement. For some of us, healing may take years of counseling and support from family and friends before we see a breakthrough. For others, full healing never really comes. For some of us it may be years after we were hurt that we are even willing to acknowledge our hurt. We hang on for dear life, put on a Sunday smile, and make believe that all is well. Before we can have a healthy relationship, we need to be healthy ourselves through that process we will better understand what we are looking for in a life-long relationship with another.

I think that we are all seeking purpose in our lives and most of us are hoping to share that purposeful life with another person. It doesn’t matter if we are young and seeking our first romance or trying to get over our first love. It doesn’t matter if we have lived long and divorced or lost a spouse to illness or an accident. It doesn’t matter if we have never had a true loving relationship and don’t know what that looks like. We as humans seek relationship with others and most of us are looking for that person who shares our passions and will support us in fulfilling our dreams.

So how do you have your Hallmark moment? I suggest you start by praying about what God wants for you today and in the future. Seek out a counselor, spiritual director, or life coach who can help you discern what that is for you. If there are hurts that need healing—seek healing first. Then build your life around your purpose. Be where like-minded people are likely to be. Volunteer where your gifts can be used and meet other people who are using their gifts in a similar way. Turn off the movie, get off the couch, and head out the door.

Will you find your life partner there? I don’t know. I can tell you that if you truly seek God’s call on your life and you put your energy into areas that support your life mission; you will find people with whom you can share your life. You see, it may not be about finding the perfect partner but about finding the best way to live your life and finding people who support you on that journey. And maybe, just maybe, you will cross paths with the person of your dreams and maybe, given time, you will find your Hallmark ending.

“Trust in the Lord and do good. Then you will live in the land and enjoy its food. Find your delight in the Lord. Then he will give you everything your heart really wants. Psalm 37:3-4

Second Chances

I believe in a God of second chances because I have seen that in my own life. I know forgiveness through first-hand experience. I know the freedom that comes from confessing my negative and harmful behavior. I know what it is to live a new life every day because of that forgiveness and a second chance to do it better the next time. My spiritual journey and growth are constant factors in my life as I continue to pray about ways to improve my behavior and actions. Some days are better than others, but when I mess up, I know where to go and I know I can start over.

Jesus gave us a prayer to pray (Matthew 6:9-13) and as part of that we pray: “forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us (NLT). The Message version translates the prayer to: “Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.” I like this version because it reminds me that just as I am forgiven through Jesus, I must forgive those around me. This commandment isn’t something to take lightly and in some cases it may be very difficult for us to do. But with forgiveness comes freedom to move forward in our lives and a first step toward breaking the ties to the hurt and pain someone may have inflicted on us.

It took me a while to forgive my father for his behavior toward my mother. I had to come to understand that in his time there was no one to teach him that it was wrong. I had to forgive him for ignoring me and putting me in a position to seek out another male figure that would later abuse me. I had to find a way to let God deal with the person who hurt me and to stop letting them influence my behavior many years later. I have forgiven my mother for not being who I wish she was and accepting the wonderful things she passed on to me—including how, as a Christian, to forgive those closest to us. I have had to learn how to forgive those who have hurt my daughter and allow her to forgive them and show me how to forgive as well. That one is probably the hardest but I am thankful to see her model a forgiving behavior passed on from her grandmother.

With forgiveness comes a requirement for change. If we are inspired by the words of Jesus to seek forgiveness and to forgive others, then we must also be willing to make changes in our lives that will keep us from making the same mistakes. The Message version says: “keep us safe from ourselves and from the Devil” (Matthew 6:9-13). It may mean that we remove ourselves from people who are not good for us or who might influence negative behavior in ourselves. It may mean holding others accountable for the way they treat us and setting appropriate boundaries. It may mean that we who forgive also mentor and pray for those who hurt us when they seek our forgiveness. And when we see change in another, then we must be willing to give them a second chance at living a new life. We must release them from the bond of shame and allow them to become the new person Christ has made. If we only remember the fault and don’t see the transformation, we end up carrying a burden that no longer exists and we hold back those forgiven and transformed.

Forgiveness and second chances are probably two of the hardest things for us Christians to live out in our lives. We want forgiveness for ourselves and we see it in our lives, but we refuse it to those closest to us. When we refuse to see that God has created something new in the forgiven, we miss the blessing of Jesus lived out on earth. Who are you holding a grudge against that you have not forgiven? Who do you say you have forgiven but have not reconciled with? Who do you know needs your forgiveness and your help in building a new life forward? How can you model what Jesus told us to do for another? Who needs you to give them a second chance?

A New Year of Giving

Christmas Day is behind us but the spirit doesn’t need to be gone. After days of watching sappy Christmas movies it hit me–2015 needs to be a year of giving. What would your town or your neighborhood be like if you kept giving long after the Christmas decorations came down? What would your life be like if you kept giving to the less fortunate, feeding the poor, and meeting with the lonely? What if you shared the love and joy Christ came to spread all year long? Can you begin to imagine how our world would change if we deliberately gave of ourselves all year and not just for a few weeks in December?

Santa may not be the real thing but who he represents sure is. The origin of Santa is found in the Greek Bishop Nicholas who devoted his life to the Christ-inspired model of giving to the needy as well as poor children. Jesus said we should love one another (John 13:34-35) and one of the ways to love one another is in the way we give to one another. Jesus said when we do these things it is as if we have done it for him (Matthew 25: 35-40). If we can remember to live out our lives inspired by the example of St. Nichols and in obedience to Jesus, we could really make a difference next year.

What changes can you make in your lifestyle that would allow you to be more giving? Do you have gifts or talents you can use to help someone out? Does someone you know need help fixing up their home? Can you bring the paint or plumbing tools to make their house feel more like a home? Could someone you know use a warm meal to help them get through the month? Is there a single parent who would love to have someone come alongside them in genuine friendship–including them in your family outings? Is there a young family that needs a date night? Can you offer them a dinner out and to watch the children? These are simple tangible ways in which you can begin giving to the people close to you.

What other ways can we give of ourselves in our community? I’m interested in hearing ways you are already participating in your community. Is your church doing something that other churches could replicate? Do you have a vision or dream that God gave you that you haven’t put into action yet? Please leave your suggestions in the comment section below and I will put together a list in a post soon.

In the meantime, I pray that in the year ahead you will be inspired by the spirit of Christmas and motivated into action that will transform the lives of others near you as well as change your life to one of Christ-like compassion.

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:34-35New Living Translation (NLT)

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:35-40