Sunday, July 31, 2016

Can You Stand Strong?

Matthew 5:11-12

I find these two verses to be the most amazing out of all the Beatitudes.  Maybe it is because the other Beatitudes I have been able to review my life and have found times when I could very much relate to what Jesus was saying.  In this Beatitude, I have not.  There has never really been a time when I felt persecuted because of my faith.  Yes, maybe it wasn't the "popular" thing to do, to have a strong faith.  Yet, I never felt I was persecuted about my faith.  What I hope and pray is that if I was ever put into a persecuted situation, I would respond as Jesus asks me to respond.  I pray that every time I hear about people who have done so.

There are so many members of the Bible who have felt this persecution.  The disciples, Paul, etc., are all examples of those who have been persecuted for their faith.  Yet, it isn't just in times "long ago" where people have suffered.  I remember hearing about a student at the Columbine shootings.  With all that was going on, one of the shooters asked a teenage girl to renounce her faith.  She did not.  It cost her her life.  Would I do that if I was in that situation?  Would I have the courage?  

There are examples of people who live in countries where Christianity is not the prominent religion - in fact - you can be killed for living out your Christian faith in those countries.  Yet, there are many people who live there and not only live a Christian faith, but help to teach others of the Good News.  These people take such risks for their faith and some certainly face constant badgering from family and friends.  There is also the constant threat of physical harm and violence.  Yet, they continue to preach, they continue to pray, they continue to live out Jesus' love.    

Of course, most recently, we have heard of the Christians who have been persecuted, tortured, and killed by members of ISIS.  Another example of being persecuted, to the point of death, in order to believe in Jesus.  I am certain that many of us can bring other examples of those who gave their lives for the One who gave His life.

That's faith! That's the strength in the face of persecution.  I look at those examples and am in awe.  Would I do that?  Would I stand strong in my faith?  I would like to believe that my faith would be stronger than me in those situations.  I trust God will be with me regardless of what faces me.  With the focus of this Beatitude, I want to stay strong, to stand tall, and to share Jesus regardless of any persecution.  I pray that I will do this for the One who gave His life for me.  

This concludes the study of the Beatitudes.  Thank you for coming on this journey with me.  I have always wanted to spend time with these verses and study the words Jesus gave us.  I pray that you have found this time together worthwhile and that the Beatitudes have a new meaning for you.  I know that they do for me as I strive to live my life closer to Jesus' words. 

"Dear Jesus, thank you for your teachings in the Beatitudes.  As we dove deep into your words, I pray that your words dove deep into our hearts.  May the strength that comes from The Beatitudes help us to be strong, have courage, and believe in the purpose of being a Christian.  Please bless our efforts in this light and guide us to be all that you want us to be.  In your name, Amen."

Sunday, July 24, 2016

You're No Fun


It was my senior year of high school.  It was "senior skip day", you know, the day when every senior skips school.  My friends had planned this day for a while.  We were going to leave our homes in the morning as if we were going to school, and then head out for a great breakfast and then off to the Jersey shore.  I knew it was the wrong thing to do (especially when your father works in the same school system that you are in).  That pit sat in my stomach as we gathered around the diner table, figuring out what to have for breakfast.  It was then that I realized I couldn't do it - I  couldn't skip school that day.  I knew the expectations my parents had for me and I knew the trouble I would be in if they found out I skipped school (and that was something I didn't want to engage in).  So after the coaxing and poking I received when I asked my friends to drop me off near school, I went back to school while they headed to the shore.

Has someone ever said to you statements like:
  • "It won't hurt you to live on the edge a little"
  • "Come on, take a risk"
  • "Don't worry, nobody will find out"
  • "Just do it once"
Typically, if you say NO to any of those statements, they can be followed with:
  • "You're such a goody two- shoes"
  • "You're so prissy"
  • or my all time favorite, "You're no fun"!
Trying to live a life that mirrors that of our Lord can be difficult, especially when there are many temptations all around us. So many times, trying to do the right thing and to live a life of righteousness can be hard.  People all around us want us to do things that go against the way God is asking us to live our lives.  It can certainly range from people "poking" at you to swear, "Come on, you can do it just once."  Maybe it is someone pressuring you to gossip with them about someone.  Of course, the pressures can get even greater when we start talking about relationships, drugs and alcohol.  There are many areas that we can delve into that focus on things we shouldn't do.

Living a righteous life helps us to be focused.  No, it doesn't mean one can't have fun.  It just means that our drive, our actions, and our words are embedded in a lifestyle that God wants for us.  One actually finds joy living a life that more closely mirrors the one Jesus has described.  There are many ways to live life that is heaven bound.  No, it doesn't mean that we are perfect (trust me when I say that!).  It does mean that when we do sin (large or small), we take those sins to the cross, to the one who died for us.  It means that when someone says:
  • "You're no fun"
  • "Your God won't mind you doing this just this once,"
  • "If you're not going to do this with us, then you can't hang out with us,"
  • "Hanging with us means you need to do a few bad things every once in a while"
...that you make a choice to walk away, to deal with the persecution, and follow in the footsteps of the one who gave His life for you.  It means that you reach out to Jesus in prayer, let Him know the pressures you feel, and ask for Him to guide you through these situations.  For, as the beatitude states, when you do this you will see "the kingdom of heaven".  Now that is something worth being made fun of.  Holding fast in the face of temptation is hard.  Goodness knows, I have not always been successful.  There were many times that I didn't want to deal with the "persecution" and fell to the temptation.  Those moments still happen today and are certainly moments that I am not proud of.

Yet, we know that when those moments happen, our ability to reach out to Jesus to ask for forgiveness is a few words away.  While we are praying for ourselves, we might just want to say an extra prayer for the one who is persecuting you, too.  Everyone can use a prayer bringing them towards the kingdom of heaven.

"Dearest Jesus, may we be reminded that when people make fun of us for the righteous choices we make, that we are living the life that you want for us.  It's not easy and many times we give in to the temptations of that persecution.  Yet, help guide us towards choices that align closer to You, closer to the life You want for us, closer to Your kingdom.  In your gracious name I pray, Amen!"



Sunday, July 17, 2016

Bring Peace


PEACE!  Now there's a word that seems to be missing lately.  All around us, from the news to our neighborhoods, it seems as if that word has been evasive.  It saddens my soul to see all this violence and people at odds with each other.  I know, it spans history.  Yes, even in Biblical times there was a lack of peace.  Yet, one would think that as mankind progresses with incredible technology and so many other wonderful discoveries, that peace would be one we could wrap our heads around.

To say that we all should go out and be peacemakers, then, is a pretty tall order from God.  Especially peacemakers in our nation today.  That can seem like a huge order - one that isn't attainable.  Yet, I believe God provides each of us ways to be peacemakers in our daily lives, and these are some ways we can share His richness with others.

Of course, if we are part of the problem, it means time for self-reflection.  I am always for standing up for what you believe in, but are you engaging in a conflict for something that truly matters?  I mean, to engage in a disagreement over how to load the dishwasher may not be the greatest use of your energy.  Maybe it is your timing versus their timing?  Maybe it is too cold versus too hot?  Whatever the small disagreements may be, consider the opportunity of making peace instead of making conflict.  Sometimes giving in to the small things in life can lead to less heartache for all involved.  I know I had to learn this one!!

Also, when it comes to ourselves, there are many ways that we can help to "keep the peace".  Proverbs 14:29 helps me to reflect when my need to be right leads me to a need to fight, and not a path to peace.  "Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly."  Not bad advice from the Old Testament.  I know there are times when my patience is not where it should be and I am not displaying great understanding.  Yes, sad to admit, it does lead to me being a fool!  I  have found that apologizing does help - it does help to bring peace (but I'm sure my family would appreciate me having a bit more patience to begin with!!).

Yet, sometimes the conflict doesn't include us - it may be with those around us.  Have you ever noticed that when they are disagreements between people, that many times they are "closer" to thinking the same thing or believing the same thing?  Yet, they don't actually LISTEN to each other, thereby resulting in much conflict.  Facilitating a conversation between people (not talking for them), can be a great way to provide peace.  Doing this gives both parties a chance to say what they need to say, but then each party actually has to spend time listening as well.  Many times, doing this can provide harmony that may have been missed.

Let's not look past the second half of the verse where peacemakers are considered children of God.  I don't know about you, but I exalt in being called God's child.  It always puts a smile on my face.  As a child who wants to make their parents proud, don't we want our heavenly Father to be proud of the way we behave?  Whether it is having a bit of self-reflection on how I can bring peace during a conflict or whether it is the opportunity to assist others in bringing peace, let us not forget the importance of prayer through ALL types of conflict.  Prayer helps us to discern, helps to guide, helps to bring peace.  May we always help to provide opportunity for peace, in all situations.

Heavenly Father, help me to pray for peace.  Whether it is a situation where I am engaged as part of the conflict or whether I can help others towards peace, we know that peace leads us closer to you and closer to your will.  Give us opportunities where we can be peacemakers, God, and help us to be children you are proud of.  In your gracious name we pray, Amen.





Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Ultimate Rule


As we continue the study of The Beatitudes, it's hard to imagine any of the beatitudes without this particular one - being pure in heart.  All of them seem to hinge on this one.  Being pure in heart sounds like a "tall order" for us living on this earth.  Especially with the fact that we are all sinners, everyday sinners.  So what does being "pure in heart" mean?  To be honest, I did some exploring on this.  In reflection, two "P's" come to mind - Pleasing and Purposeful.  

Pleasing would mean that we would live lives that are pleasing to God - doing His will and all that He commanded.  I know I fall short of this on a daily basis.  Oh how I would love to have God look down on my days and say, "Now, THAT'S the Susan I made."  Although I may try, I know my behaviors don't always mirror what God would like to see from me.  

Purposeful would mean that we are living lives that are devoted to our Heavenly Father - that we live with a focus on God and all that He has done for us, in praise and adoration.  Once again, I fall short.  How many times I have taken credit for blessings that God has provided for me?  How many times have I gone "my way" through this life versus taking, "God's way"?  

Pleasing and purposeful lives aren't always easy to live.  There is good news, though.  The good news is that we have a savior in Jesus that guarantees us a heavenly room, as long as we believe, try to live good lives, and repent.  I'm not sure about you, but I am so very grateful for Jesus' love and what He gave for me.  When the life that I live doesn't match up to the life God asks me to live, that is the time for repentance  - and I can live in confidence that those sins will be readily forgiven.  

There is so much happening in our world today - so much that makes us wonder, "Is anyone living a life that is pleasing and purposeful to God?"  This past week our nation grieved.  It doesn't matter your opinions or viewpoints on all that happened - all of it is sad.  My heart aches and looks to our Lord and Savior for answers.  What impact can I have?  What can I do?  Then, as always, our Lord presented a situation for me to live a life that is pleasing and purposeful to Him.  I was having my nails done, just an average day at the nail salon.  Except, the salon was not too busy.  Next to me were a couple of ladies having their nails done.  I happened to overhear one of the ladies discuss that she was recently diagnosed with cancer and that, although her surgery was completed, she was awaiting her treatment plan and was very nervous on how this would effect not only her, but her family.  Jesus tugged at my heart and the next 15 minutes found us chatting about some cancer facts that I was able to share.  This woman, that I never met before, and I shared tears and smiles about what will become her journey.  Jesus blessed our short time together. 

How powerful God can be when we do as He has asks and then let Him do the rest? I see His face in others when that happens.  It is good and it warms my heart.  And maybe, just maybe, I hear Him say, "Susan, I am proud of you."

Dearest Lord:  With all that is happening in our world today, it is hard to believe that anybody is acting in a manner that is pleasing and purposeful to you.  Does anyone act with a pure heart?  More importantly, am I acting with a pure heart?  Help me to remember that it all starts with ME.  Help provide me moments where I can share actions that please you and are purposeful to you.  Guide me, Jesus, to become the person you want me to be, so that I can clearly see YOU.  In your gracious and guiding name I pray, Amen.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Compassion


To show mercy can be a powerful experience - both for the giver and the receiver.  It seems simple enough - to show compassion to another person, especially in a time of need or despair.  Who wouldn't want to do that?  Yet, there are so many reasons why we might fall short of this opportunity.  

Let's start when WE were in need, when we had a difficult situation that we were bearing.  Where did you find comfort?  Was it a kind word that someone shared with you?  Maybe a meal that was made when you needed nourishment?  How about a note or card that was sent to you - letting you know that someone was thinking of you?  Perhaps comfort came in the words, "I will pray for you".  I know I have had many times when people showed mercy to me.  There were times when I was sick with cancer, unable to cook for my family or at times, even to lift my head off the pillow.  Family and friends were there - to make meals, to hold my hand, to just "be" with me.  There was a wonderful woman who left a card, every day, under my door at work.  EVERY DAY!  What mercy she shared with me.  The time it took for her to purchase the cards, write a note of encouragement, and then walk the walk up to my office (which was not on her way to her work station).  I've kept those cards - all of them.  It reminds me how much someone cared.  One might say, "That doesn't seem so special".  I can tell you it meant the world to me.

Showing mercy to someone when they need it most comes in many different ways.  It could begin with a note, or card.  Maybe it comes through making a meal or spending time listening (or just being) with the person.  Yes, these are great things to do when physical needs have to be met. Yet, sometimes we find that we are too busy to do these things, and just don't have time to be merciful.  You know, there is cleaning the house and getting the laundry done.  There is yard work that has to get accomplished and work to tend to.  Are we too busy?  Can we take the time?  These are questions we have to ask ourselves - sometimes they can be tough questions.

There are times, though, when it isn't physical needs that have to be met, but the soul may need compassion.  Is someone coming to you asking for forgiveness?  Well now, that might be a bit more difficult.  Maybe you were deeply hurt by that person - maybe you aren't ready to forgive them yet.  Is someone coming to you to share a sin and ask for repentance, even if it wasn't towards you?  Maybe that sin comes too close to home for you to believe there should be repentance.  Showing mercy in ALL situations to ALL people is what Jesus asks from us.  Not when it is convenient, not when we it falls into our personal values, but to show mercy ALL the time.  Isn't that what Jesus does for us?  Jesus shows us compassion regardless of our situation.  He shows us mercy, maybe when we least deserve it. Shouldn't we do the same for others?

I don't know about you, but there are times when I don't reflect the mercy that Jesus reflects to me.  There are times when I find myself too busy or maybe too set in my ways.  That is why the beatitudes are wonderful reminders of how we should live our lives.  This week, let us take the time.  Time to listen, time to do something special, time to pray for someone, time to forgive.  Let us show mercy to others, for as Jesus says, "...for they will be shown mercy".

Heavenly Father, let us be mindful to show mercy ALL the time, not just when it is convenient.  Compassion takes on many forms.  May we be mindful of those around us and their needs.  Help us to be the person of mercy.  We know, and believe, that if we show mercy to others, it will be shown to us.  You are the greatest example of that Jesus.  Please continue to extend your mercy to me.  In your name I pray.  Amen.

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Thank you for visiting my blog. I hope we can share how God's grace has been life changing and that SIMPLE FAITH, getting back to a life that is rooted in the basics, can truly set us free to achieve so much in our lives.