Leveling Up Our Faith

I am no video game expert.  In fact, the last video game I played was Atari.  For some of you that will reveal how old I am.  For others who are still scratching your head and Googling what Atari is, never you mind.   Thanks to my teenaged son, however,  I am familiar with the term leveling up.

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In the gaming world, leveling up is a concept in which a character experiences some sort of progression that usually entails unlocking new abilities, skill, or access to new items or a new area of the game.  It can also be a benchmark of how far into the game a character has gotten.  Leveling up is a measuring stick, if you will, of a gamer’s success.

Gamers advance their skill by committing countless hours to their game, much like a musician becomes proficient learning to play an instrument or an athlete, a sport, dedicating hours to practice.

In a Christian’s faith walk, there are also levels of progression.  How or why we come to God is our own individual story.  More often than not it involves some sort of falling-down-and-getting-back-up scenario, followed by repentance, and then becoming followers of Christ.   At least that was my experience.

But then what?

Then, we begin to build a relationship with God.  And with each new discovery, we level up.

Charles R. Swindoll once said, “The difference between something good and something great is attention to detail.”

I have found my faith walk and rate of progression is only as good as the attention I give to digging into the Bible to find out who God is.

Now, before you think that spending time in the Bible is obsessive or unnecessary or irrelevant even, consider that Hebrews 4: 12 tells us that “the word of God is living and powerful”.

L   I   V   I   N   G

We’re talking about a God that’s accessible.  To me.  To you.  To anyone who comes knocking.   In John 6:37, Jesus said, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.”

There is no better time to level up when it comes to knowing God.  Sure, we could spend this time scrolling through Face Book reading other people’s opinions.  We could mindlessly watch television and saturate ourselves with images that add nothing to our lives.  We could play video games and hone gaming skills in a pretend world of virtual rewards.

Or…

We could spend time getting to know the great I Am, the one who said “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:3)

Will you keep climbing in your faith?  Will you give it more priority than all the other things that compete for your attention?    When it comes to having a relationship with the living God, what level do you want to be on?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pour, Don’t Push

 

clear glass pitcher pouring water on clear drinking glass
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While many people are struggling with the forced rest placed upon them during the COVID 19 pandemic, I have been using the time to recover from burn out.  Burn out, a condition of fatigue and being overwhelmed by the problems of others, is a serious issue for massage therapists and the number one reason many end their careers.   To be clear, burn out isn’t the fault of our clients.  It’s a phenomenon that happens in all caregiving professions when the demand for care is greater than a person’s ability to provide it.

I recently discovered Pour, Don’t Push, a wonderful course developed by David Lobenstine, which teaches massage therapists to reevaluate their habits when administering massage in order to avoid burn out.

Massage therapists, in general, tend to prioritize their clients over themselves.  When a client presents with neck, back or headache pain, the instinct is to set about alleviating the problem.  We, literally, begin pushing our clients into feeling better, compressing tissues and attacking trigger points.  While all of this sounds good in theory, the result is our propensity to work too hard with our own bodies.   We ache, wear out, and then burn out.  Our approach is often unintentionally counterproductive and, simultaneously, oddly ironic.  The stress and pain relief we want to provide for our clients is the very thing from which we suffer.

In the days since finishing the course, I began to consider how the idea of Pour, Don’t Push translates into our everyday lives.

Let’s look at the definitions of pouring and pushing.

Pouring is to send something flowing or falling, as in from one container to another.  Whereas, pushing is exerting force on someone, or compelling or urging a person to do something.

To me, pouring sounds easy and effortless.  Pushing sounds aggressive.

Looking at the larger picture, how is this a metaphor for how we live?

We can ask ourselves (and hopefully answer honestly) where we tend to push in our lives and where we pour when it comes to our interactions with others.

When we post and share aggressive agendas on social media, political or otherwise, to make sure people know how we think and feel, we are pushing.

When we walk through a dark time with someone, praying for them, holding a hand, fixing a meal, we are pouring.

When we try to dictate to our spouses the way we want things done, we push.

When we teach our children how to tend to the basic necessities of life themselves, readying them for adulthood, we pour.

Pouring adds to someone.  Pushing literally creates distance. 

The way I began to understand pouring into someone was to consider the intent behind the action.  When we pour into a cup, our intent is to fill the cup.  Likewise, when we pour into a person, we are filling that person.  Pouring considers the good of the one receiving, while pushing is all about ourselves and what we intend to gain.

In other words, pouring is full of compassion for another.

The greatest example of pouring can be found in the life of Jesus Christ.   Just some of the examples of how Jesus poured into the lives of others are:

  • Offering living water to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:  5-26)
  • Healing the nobleman’s son (John 4: 46)
  • Healing the paralytic man on the Sabbath (John 5: 1-8)
  • Feeding a crowd of 5,000 (John 6: 1-14)
  • Offering forgiveness and a second chance to the woman caught in adultery (John 8: 1-11)
  • Giving sight to a blind man (John 9: 1-7)
  • Raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11: 1-44)
  • Washing the feet of His disciples (John 13: 1-20)
  • Pouring out His blood as the ultimate sacrifice for our salvation (John 19: 17-30)

Of course, there were many more instances of Christ’s pouring.  He was full of compassion and mercy, giving preference to the widows, the children, the poor, and the sick.

So how did Jesus give so much of Himself without burning out?

The answer:   Jesus knew who filled His cup.

In John 5: 19-20 (NKJV), Jesus says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.”

Jesus also knew how to fill up.

Luke 5:16 (NKJV) tells us that “He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.”  

Time alone with God was His refreshing.   God poured into His Son;  His Son poured into the people through healing and teaching.

Then came the ultimate pouring; the pouring of His blood shed for us for our salvation.

Mark 14:32-35 (NJKV) tells us “Then they came to a place which was named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, “Sit here while I pray.  And He took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be troubled and deeply distressed.  Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.  Stay here and watch.  He went a little farther and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him.”

After His night in the garden with His Father, Jesus poured out His very blood on the cross.   He did this with compassion for mankind, as a sacrifice (pouring), not seeking His own will (pushing) to have things go an easier way.

What began as learning a principle for avoiding burn out in my work morphed into a deeper exploration of what lies at the root of pouring.  Jesus took pouring to a level I’ll never be able to match.   But He left us a formula for giving that will never run dry:  seeking the will of our Father through prayer and walking it out in obedience.

It is my hope, post-pandemic, that more of us have become empty vessels eager to be used by God.   Let us use this time alone to examine ourselves, seeking His will, to release our need to push our own agendas, and commit to refreshing others through the act of pouring.

“Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith.  Test yourselves.  Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? ~ unless indeed you are disqualified.  But I trust that you will know that you are not disqualified.”  2 Corinthians 13: 5-6 (NKJV)

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If You Find Yourself in a Storm…

John 6: 16-21:

Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, got into the boat, and went over the sea toward Capernaum.  And it was already dark, and Jesus had not come to them.  Then the sea arose because a great wind was blowing.  So when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near the boat; and they were afraid.  But He said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”  Then, they willingly received Him into the boat and immediately the boat was at the land where they were going.  

brown wooden boat on dock during sunset
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I came across this passage as I was reading the Book of John with an entirely different purpose in mind.  As is often the case, the passage jumped out and stuck with me.   I began to see in it some metaphoric parallels and lessons to be extracted.  This is the beauty of the Living Word of God.

This remarkable story takes place as Jesus is beginning his earthly ministry.   He’s already done signs and wonders, fed 5,000 people, healed a man with an infirmity of thirty-eight years, and offered a Samaritan woman living water.  To say Jesus has created a stir is an understatement.

When the disciples set out to sea toward Capernaum, the Bible tells us it was “already dark” and Jesus “had not come to them.”  I began to reflect on this darkness as being the condition of my heart before Jesus had come to me.  Despite having grown up in the Christian faith, attending church services and Sunday school, Bible school and summer church camp, I hadn’t allowed Jesus to board my boat, i.e., my heart.  Certainly, I knew all the Biblical stories about Jesus, but there was a disconnect.  I had no relationship with Him.  I just had head knowledge.

When I was old enough to leave my familial home and make my own decisions, I decided to explore “other options”.  For a period of at least twenty years, I read everything I could in self help books.  I dabbled in New Age and Eastern religions, always looking for “enlightenment”.   Then, like the disciples in the boat on the sea, I began weathering a great storm over which I had little control.  Things fell apart in my first marriage.  Rather than bringing us together, our shared New Age religion did nothing to shore up our relationship.

At the height of the storm, when I faced the loss of my marriage, and my finances were in a shambles, when I couldn’t stand to get out of bed and look in the mirror each day, something remarkable happened.  Jesus drew near my boat.   I didn’t deserve this rescue.  But that’s the remarkable thing about this man, Jesus.  He doesn’t extend His arm and help you out of your circumstances because you deserve it.  He helps you because extending grace is what He’s all about.  It’s His nature.

When Jesus called to His disciples as they were quaking in their sandals, He said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”    Scripture tells us “Then, they willingly received Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land where they were going.”   This isn’t a typographical error or hiccup in translation.  You see, Jesus has this power to calm fears and transport us to better places.  Immediately.

I know He did it for me.

I know He can do it for you.

The key to this amazing change is found in four little words:  “they willingly received Him”.

After my acceptance of Jesus Christ as the Savior of my life, He did exactly that.  He saved my life.  Things began to turn around.  I saw hope in my circumstances.  Unsuspecting people showed up to help me in various ways.   I dug into the scriptures with a hunger to get to know Him with my heart rather than just with my head.  The more I pursued Him, the more He revealed Himself to me, clearing paths and making a way for me.

At the risk of sounding corny, but always loving a good metaphor, the One who now captains my ship is Christ.   Meaning, I try to live my life deferring to Him.   I don’t always get it right.  After all, “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).   But grace abounds in Christ.  I will willingly testify to that.   Surely, I keep receiving His goodness not because I have earned it, not because I deserve it, but because of who He is.

He extends this free gift to any and all.  You can receive it too.   Your only requirement is to willingly receive Him.

If you have not made Jesus Christ the Lord and Savior of your life but you would like to, please say this simple prayer:  “Jesus, I need you.  I willingly accept you as Lord and Savior of my life.  Please come into my heart and abide with me.  Fill me with your grace and mercy.   Amen.”

Friend, you have just been saved by grace.  Find yourself a good Bible-based church and begin getting to know your Lord and Savior.   Pick up a study Bible (I like the New King James Version Study Bible) and enjoy discovering this new relationship.  It will take you places you never expect to go.

Happy sailing.  God bless you on your journey.

man wearing backpack standing on side of boat during daytime
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Suiting Up

The COVID-19 pandemic, and resulting shelter-in-place directive, has forced many of us into isolation.  While I am not completely alone, my son and I tend to be loners within the same household and spend much of our days doing separate things.   Everything about my personality and my work dictates that I spend a large portion of my time

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in silence.  And while the old proverb “silence is golden” can be great advice to follow, prolonged periods of silence and isolation can be troublesome.

Recently, I found myself drawing deeper and deeper into my own head, replaying memories that I’d long forgotten, having imagined conversations with people to whom I’ve never gotten to speak my mind.   During the days of quiet contemplation, I hadn’t noticed that I had begun to drift away from God.

I’m a Jesus girl through and through.  I’ll talk about Jesus, write about Jesus, sing about Jesus, and quote Jesus.   So when I skipped the first live streaming of our church service, it didn’t alarm me.  But the next day, I skipped morning devotions.   My hearing impaired husband was watching the latest news on COVID-19 and had the volume up so high that I could hear the television upstairs.

“It’s not a good time to do devotions with that racket,” I said to myself.  “I’ll do them later.”

And then later that day never came.

Or the next.

Soon, this Jesus girl had missed several days of morning devotions and prayer, and my mood had turned sour.   Having everyone home meant I was out of my routine, and I began to develop an attitude.  Worse, I began to feel sorry for myself.  THAT’S when I knew something was wrong.

How in the world could I feel sorry for myself?  I wasn’t sick.  I wasn’t having to expose myself daily to the world and fret about contracting the illness.  I had food.  I had shelter.  I had no wants.  Yet, I began to get sulky and irritable, and I recognized THE DRIFT.

Immediately, I sat down to catch up on my devotions and spend some time reading the Word of God.  It was like drinking a cool glass of water and only then realizing I’d been thirsty.    What had I been thinking putting off my time with God?  If ever I needed to be close to Him, NOW was that time.

The next day, I began painting the bathroom.  For a moment, I thought about turning on some worship music but then decided I preferred silence so I just kept painting.  Half way around the tub surround, a dark memory of an incident many years ago surfaced.  Almost instantly, the peacefulness of painting in silence became a battle as I struggled with old wounds.   I was feeling shame and embarrassment and anger as if the incident was happening all over again.  I began to tell myself what a jerk I was then and attempted to stuff the pain into the back of my mind.

All of the sudden, I said aloud, “No!  There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus!”

At the risk of sounding unbelievable, relief from the pain of that memory was immediate.  I felt absolved of that particular incident.

I think it was Maya Angelou who once said, “When you know better, you do better” or something along those lines.  Back then, I didn’t know better.  I didn’t know Jesus.  I do now, and I know the Word of God.  When the battle began in my mind, I took it captive and cast it down by declaring the passage from Romans 8:1.    I knew that because of my relationship with Him, I was set free from all the garbage of the past, and nothing could come against me and take me captive to that again.  It was done.  Finished.  Because He had finished it long ago.

Drifting away from God happens so gradually, insidiously, that we don’t realize it’s happening.   This is why it’s so important to keep your daily connection to God, to not allow yourself to skimp on your time with Him.  You can skip breakfast or getting dressed, or any number of things, but I don’t recommend skipping time in prayer and devotions.

Ephesians 6: 11 tells us to “put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”   I was able to recall the scripture I needed in the moment I needed it because I immerse myself in it daily.   That’s how it gets in there…in our hearts and our minds…repetition.  Reading and listening.     Time in the Word of God is literally armoring up for whatever lies ahead that day.

During a time when so many need to suit up to keep from contracting a deadly disease, let’s not forget to suit up with the Word of God so that we are “able to withstand” those battles that happen even, or should I say especially, in the silence of our minds.

 

 

 

Searching for Sudden Glory

“For in Him we live and move and have our being…”  Acts 17: 28

I recently finished a wonderful book entitled Sudden Glory by Sharon Jaynes.  In it, Sharon talks about looking for God in the everyday, being able to recognize Him move.  She writes about the experience of God through not only the grand, memorable moments, but through the small things as He makes Himself known to us.  Sharon says our ability to tune into God as we live and move and have our being in Christ, to experience sudden glories in both the miraculous and the mundane, hinges on an atmosphere of expectation within us.    At her prompting, after finishing the book, I began recording my own Sudden Glory moments in a small journal.  But like anything else, after a few days of dutifully recording those precious moments, I put the journal aside and haven’t picked it up since.

Most mornings I find myself pouring out long ramblings into the air from my head.  I’m an overthinker, and God’s gotten pretty used to my processing everything aloud and in His direction.  What I have learned, however, is that Sudden Glory moments happen when I am quiet.  God has manners, I’m convinced, and wouldn’t dream of talking over us or interrupting.  So long as I am rambling and focused on myself, my prayers, my petitions, He will politely wait.   I am getting better at being quiet and looking for Him throughout the day, but the practice of recording those moments has fallen away.

Today’s Sudden Glory moment, however, swept me up and away enough to make me want to record it here.

While waiting for my first client to arrive, I looked out the backdoor at the two-tone sky.  In the foreground, thick grayness hung low and threatening.  But behind it, the bluest of blue pulled my eyes up and away.  Wisps of white were highlighted in the distance by some far off sun.   “Sudden Glory,” I breathed.  “Wow!”  Just before moving away from the door, I realized God wasn’t finished yet.  As if adding the final brush strokes, the most beautiful rainbow appeared.  Colors so vibrant against the gray background nearly tricked me into thinking if I reached for it I could touch it.

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Photo by Dawn L Davis

Still smiling over God’s handiwork, which I was convinced was just for me, I began my first massage of the day.   One of the many things I love about my profession is the ability to work in silence.  Today was no exception.   I had never thought of my work as “laying on of hands” until recently one of my dearest friends described what I do as exactly that.  She reminded me that my work was sacred.   With that in mind, my hands glided over my client’s back as I breathed a small prayer.  “You are good, Lord.  May You use me to meet her healing needs and may she experience You through me.”  Thirty minutes passed like five.  Again, Sudden Glory revealed itself in my work.

When the massage had concluded and my client had gone, I walked back to the screen door.  The rainbow had faded.  There was no trace of it in the sky, but the contentment in my heart remained.

“Thank you, Father,” I whispered.  “That was awesome.”

As I started to turn away from the door, an adolescent female Cardinal landed on the deck railing.  Her feathers still downy and wild, she looked like someone had dried her with a hairdryer.  She squacked and hopped back and forth.   God was outdoing Himself today.   His Sudden Glory was everywhere I looked.

I believe Sudden Glory is everywhere we look.   We just fail to see it.  Many times, we are just too busy to acknowledge Him.   God wants us to be in union with Him.  Seeing His hand, hearing His voice requires less “out there” and more quiet time.  Less looking at screens and more looking toward the sky.    Less occupying our minds and more sitting quietly.

We don’t need to feel so desperate trying to “find” God.  We don’t need to grope for Him looking in some far off place.   God is really not far away at all, and we can have fellowship with Him at any time.   In fact, every day we depend on Him for our very life and breath…for in Him we live and move and have our being.

 

 

 

 

 

Bloom!

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Photo by Diane Markley

Like a flower coming to the surface, breaking free of the ground after a long winter,

We, too, must be pushed up and along.

Propelled forward and into life.

Things don’t happen without a push…or a pull.

Perhaps it’s in reaching for the sun that the plant ousts itself from its hiding place.

So we ask ourselves…

Are we reaching for the promise of something life-giving?

If so, how can we go wrong?

What happens when we break the surface of what’s held us captive?

We breathe!

We soak in the light!

We bloom!

There is life in the bloom ~ a beauty that attracts others to share in the pollen that feeds and spreads more life.

I want to encourage you to reach for the surface, for whatever is beckoning you from your place of sleep.

Step into the light and air!  Become part of what enhances and adds to the life of others.

You have had enough rest, dear one.  It’s time to surface.

Spring to life!  

Beyond Brown

close up photo of bare tree
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Never one to have suffered from SAD (seasonal affective disorder), and having easily weathered (quite literally) many bad winters in my lifetime, I find it curious the last few days how impatient I’ve become with our transition into Spring.  Less about the season and more about the color, I’m tired of brown.   Not white, as in snow.  Not gray, as in skies.  Brown…as in, everything is blah.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love brown.  I have brown throughout my home.   But it’s a happy, chocolate brown.   The kind you can almost taste.  The brown to which I refer is the brown I see as I gaze out my picture window.  Brown trees with no buds.  Brown grass, crunchy and lifeless.    Brown mist, compliments of the local construction projects and the rainfall.

Scanning my house, popping with sage and muted yellow walls, red kitchen cabinets and blue denim slipcovers (and, yes, some chocolate brown), one would wonder how anyone could be complaining about the brown beyond her window.    I roam, room to room, and count the houseplants as I water.  Thirty one in all.  But it’s not enough greenery to offset the brown mood I’ve adopted.

Perhaps it’s not the brown at all that bothers me.  Perhaps it’s the lack of life and the holding pattern we’re in.  That “in between” time.  It’s no longer Winter, and it’s not quite Spring.  Internally, I feel a similar pause.  Anxious to transition but not knowing what’s next.   The image of a cat, bum in the air, wiggling, ready to pounce comes to mind.  I, too, am ready to leap.

white and black cat
Photo by Flickr on Pexels.com

But not yet.

It’s not quite time.  Underneath all the brown, there is a secret work being done.  Things I cannot see are happening.  Life is forming.  Percolating.  Perfecting itself.  The art of nature cannot be rushed.

Neither can the masterpiece of ourselves.

I don’t do well in the wait, the meantime.   We live in an instantaneous world.  We can have everything immediately.   Everything except patience.  It can only be learned one way.

And so I wait.   The rain will stop.  The trees will burst.  The grass will grow.   Brown will give way to many colors.

Eventually.

So for now, brown it is.

Being

Ready,

Open, and

Willing…for what’s

Next.