Sunday, April 30, 2017

False Expectations

"But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.  Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked."  Luke 6:35 (NIV)

You've waited all week.  You have saved calories, ate that salad and drank that water - all in great anticipation of going out for dinner on Saturday night and having that slice of chocolate cake.  You get through dinner and order the cake, envisioning how wonderful it will taste.  You put your fork into it and savor it in your mouth and, BAM, it's not as great as you had expected.  All that work for something that didn't meet your expectations.  All that work for nothing!  Just for the reality check - "I" would ensure that cake was still gone!!

Maybe it is a different expectation.  Maybe your expectation is with a new job - wanting to get into a company that you had great expectations for - only to be let down by poor management and less than challenging opportunities.  Maybe your expectation is with a new appliance -  and learning that great new oven really DOESN'T have a self-cleaning feature.  Although all of these things can disappoint us, we can do something about the disappointment - look for a new job, purchase a different appliance, or, yes even go to a great bakery for a chocolate cake.

Yet, when it comes to our expectations in relationships, these disappointments can be more difficult to navigate.  We may enter a new dating relationship with high hopes of romance and chemistry.  As time moves on, the expectations you may have had that were initially being met seem to be drifting away.  We may have expectations of our parents or children, expecting that they will react in a certain fashion, only to be looking for a response that never comes.  The greatest disappointment may come from when we do something great for someone, and nothing comes back in return.  Whether that "good deed" has come through your time, energy, or material items (like money), when we have gone out of our way to do something and don't receive back a response, our expectations are shattered and we are disappointed (and yes, there have even been times when the disappointment can run into anger and rage).  Have you been there?  I have and the degree of hurt and disappointment can be overwhelming.

This past week, I was speaking to a co-worker about people's expectations - what they expect at work, in relationships and in life.  What we came to realize is that when we put ourselves out there, whether it is for people we know or don't know, we can have false expectations - expectations that are unrealistic.  It is one thing to have expectations on a great piece of cake or an awesome new job.  Yet, it is different to place outlandish expectations on others. 

As Jesus says in our verse today, our goal in life should be to do good - to those we know and those we do not know - and not to expect anything in return.  Do good and move on.  This is hard - at least I find it hard.  There have been occasions when I have done something for someone, and maybe all I was expecting was a thank you.  The thank you may never have come.  Have you been there?  Yet, if I were to have approached the situation with a "Jesus heart", there would have been no disappointment and only a happy soul.  Others have no need to reward us - but God will!  God gives us great reward for doing good - without our false expectations.  Living our lives the way God has instructed provides such greater blessing than anything we can expect in return.   

Jesus teaches us so much about who we are and who we can be.  I am sure I will continue to have expectations of things, people, and situations.  What I pray for is a heart that turns my reflection inward and not outward, to see the false expectations I may have set up.  When that happens, I also pray that a smile comes to my face and that a voice inside says, "Susan - you did it again."  May the love that Jesus has for me overcome all of my faults - and false expectations.

"Dearest Jesus, how many times I have entered situations with false expectations!  As I look to your word, I see very clearly that my mission should always be to do good - with only ONE expectation - knowing that at that moment, I am more closely aligned with YOUR expectations than anything else.  Help me to see, Jesus, that the one expectation I can always count on is your love.  In your gracious name I pray, Amen."

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Simple Faith

"Though you have not seen him, you love him, and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls."  1 Peter 1:8-9 (NIV)

I know, not a very original title.  That's okay, because this week, as I write about the anniversary of this blog, it brings me to the very reason God has sent each of us on a path for him.  As I reflected upon the last four years and all that I have learned about others and myself through this journey, the picture above seems to sum it all up, the rainbow.  This picture was taken on our vacation to Costa Rica earlier this year.  When I looked out onto the horizon, I truly couldn't believe my eyes.  It was a perfect day with a perfect ending.  I looked at that rainbow and realized, just at that moment, that faith in so many things had gotten me to that point.

Before my story is presented, let's look at all the wonderful examples we have in the Bible of simple faith.  These are people who didn't complicate faith, but truly took our Dear God for all that He is - mighty and merciful.  It starts as early as Abraham, who walked up that mountain with his son, prepared to sacrifice him.  Talk about a simple faith.  He didn't complicate it - God asked him to do something and he was going to do it.  I certainly don't believe I could have done what Abraham did, but I also believe that Abraham had the faith that God was going to be there for him - regardless of the results.  

We move to Moses, who had no idea how he was going to rescue the Israelites.  Here was a man that had thousands of lives in his hands.  Yet, he walked up to Pharaoh and with the faith that only God can provide, walked his fellow Israelites to the Promised Land.  Talk about a simple faith - let's focus on Mary, Jesus' mother.  If there was someone who had incredible faith that God would take care of her and her baby, it was Mary.  At a very young age, she became a mother.  Not just any mother, but the mother of our Savior.  What a level of faith she had to have, knowing her journey from God was greater than any journey before.  

I never thought when I began this journey that it would take me to the place it has today.  I did have faith that whatever it was that God wanted for my life, I would listen (that certainly wasn't always the case).  This weekend, that journey took me to a wonderful group of women who were willing to listen to my story - the story that God gave me.  What a blessing was given to me that morning.  I met new friends, living out Jesus' love in their lives.  They inspired me to have continued faith in the journey God has set me on.  I ask that you spend time reflecting and believing.  Have faith that God has put a journey in front of you that will reap inexpressible and glorious joy!!  That is what He wants for all of us who have simple faith!

"Dearest Jesus, help us to have a simple faith.  Take the complications out of believing and set us on a journey where the simple faith we have in you and the salvation you gave to us can be lived out in our daily lives.  In your gracious name we pray.  Amen." 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Empty Hope

"They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus."  (NIV)  Luke 24:2-3

The shower!  When I think back to when my heart was broken and empty, those moments always take me to the shower.  It is there that I have always felt I can be me.  Nobody is watching, there are no expectations.  No 'having to stay strong', no 'keep a stiff upper lip', just me.  Reflecting on difficult times in my life, I remember feeling most empty as I laid my frustrations, my difficulties, my desperation, in the shower.

I remember when I was told I had cancer.  There was no crying, no pity party.  Yet, at my darkest moment, I remember being in the shower, scars, bald, and scared.  I remember when my dad passed away.  Arrangements needed to be made, things needed to get done.  Yet, when my heart was so empty, I was in the shower reliving last words shared and moments lost.

It was during those times, and many more, in the shower that I felt I had no hope.  I reflected; I cried; I huddled under the water; I was ashamed.  What kind of Christian was I that didn't have hope?  

I can just imagine what it was like when Mary looked into the tomb and didn't see Jesus - nothing!  Just linens but no body.  It was bad enough watching her Dear Lord suffer on the cross for a death he didn't deserve.  Talk about no hope.  Yet, when she went to the tomb with the spices ceremonial at that time, and didn't find any body, how empty her heart must have felt.  Empty tomb, empty heart.  

I'm sure my emptiness can't compare to that of Mary's, but I can relate.  I can also relate to the joy she had when she turned around and after a few minutes of conversation, realized she was talking to the risen Lord!  I may not have the real Lord standing in front of me in the shower, but there is a true joy when I share my emptiness with Jesus.  When I give him my emptiness, He fills me up with hope.  Just as Mary found hope for a new tomorrow when Jesus spoke with her, I also have found hope for a new tomorrow when Jesus speaks to me. 

Through the darkness of cancer, he brought hope of a new life.  Through the emptiness of death, he brought hope for eternity.  I realized, that as the empty tomb brings hope for us in the awesomeness of Jesus, so our empty hearts, when brought to Jesus, can deliver hope for new tomorrows.  The only way we can receive hope from emptiness is by going to Jesus.  When we go to the empty tomb of our hearts, we will receive the hope that keeps us going.

The next time you find yourself so empty, you just don't know where to turn - turn to the shower of hope that only comes from our Jesus.  Tell Him your emptiness, show Him your brokenness, and receive the hope of a life filled with love, grace, and mercy from Jesus.  May you all have a very blessed Easter of Hope.

"Dearest Jesus, just as the tomb was empty on that first Easter morning, our hearts can feel empty with the situations of the earthly life.  We ask, as we go to you with our emptiness, that you fill us up with the hope that only YOU can provide - the hope of an eternity with you.  Amen!"

P.S. - At this writing, I will have been sharing my thoughts for four years.  It's hard to believe that each week, as I sit to write, the Dear Lord provides me words to share with all of you.  I pray that this blog has been, and continues to be, a blessing for you.  It has been a joy and blessing to me.  Here are to the years ahead!!  Love and peace to all.  

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Characters of the Cross - Roman Centurion

"And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, "Surely this man was the Son of God!""  Mark 15:30 (NIV)

Here we are, the week before Easter.  These past six weeks, we have traveled the journey with Jesus to the cross, meeting those who came in line with him along the way.  Today, we meet the last person who was profoundly impacted by Jesus' death, the Roman Centurion.  

The Roman Centurion had been with Jesus during Good Friday.  He and his soldiers were the ones to beat and mock Jesus, nearly beating him to death.  He and his soldiers led Jesus to the cross.  His soldiers divided Jesus clothes.  The centurion himself is said to have been the one that pierced Jesus' side to ensure he had died.

Throughout the entire scenario, the centurion never stopped anything from happening.  He did his job as he was instructed by Pilate - never once waiving.  We don't know his thoughts along the way, but if he believed in Jesus, he certainly didn't share that with anyone - and certainly didn't stop the brutal actions.  Yet, the centurion had a special seat throughout the presiding.  He observed what was happening to Jesus, and he observed all those around Jesus.  During Jesus' final moments, he stood in front of Jesus, and confirmed that Jesus was the Son of God.  So what can the centurion teach us?

There have been many writings about the centurion, but when I read the scriptures, I can't help but see how he was brought to faith in a very special way.  He saw all the wrong doing and persecution.  In fact he was PART of it all!  He never tried to stop it - never saying it was wrong.  I believe he still had doubt, that he wasn't quite sure if Jesus was innocent.  Yet, as with many in the New Testament, when they saw, they believed.  When they had proof of Jesus being our Savior, faith ensued.  When the earth quaked and the temple curtains were torn, the centurion had his proof.

We may think that we are not be able to see Jesus face to face on earth.  We may not get to see him raise people from the dead, or watch him heal others.  We do have something the centurion doesn't, though.  We have faith.  We CAN see the power of Jesus in the miracles around us.  We CAN see his greatness in our own journey.  We CAN see Jesus face to face, when we look hard enough.  He is there.  We can learn from the centurion that we don't have to see Jesus face to face in an earthly fashion to know that he is truly the Son of God.  We can see Jesus through simple faith and experience his righteousness, his mercy, his grace and his love.  For THAT is when we know, without a shadow of a doubt, that Jesus is always there for us.  Instead of letting wicked acts happen around us, we can be the one who stands up in the name of Jesus!

On this Palm Sunday, as we enter Holy Week, I encourage you to continue your reflection.  On Palm Sunday, we rejoice in Jesus, as others rejoiced in Him.  On Maundy Thursday, we reflect on the Last Supper, and the upper room with Jesus and the disciples.  On Good Friday, we walk the journey that Jesus walked to his crucifixion.  This week is an emotional week - a time when we realize many aspects of Jesus and what He did for us.  Yet, there is one thing to always keep in mind.  Through each step of Jesus' journey - His love for us never diminished.  We still feel that love today - in every journey we take.  May your Holy Week find you deeply embraced in Jesus' love.

"Dearest Jesus, as we walk into Holy Week with you, may we reflect on each step you took on our behalf - the ride on the donkey into Jerusalem, the last supper in the upper room, the journey to Calvary, and the resurrection of the tomb.  Help us to read from scripture the words you have for us and may we simply have faith that you love us so that you died for our sins.  In your gracious name we pray, Amen!"

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Characters of the Cross - The Thief

"Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
Jesus answered him, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise."
Luke 23:43 (NIV)

It's hard to believe that we are on the fifth week of Lent.  As we continue to explore different characters associated with Jesus' journey to the cross, we come to Calvary, and one of the most gracious acts of Jesus to date - his discussion with the thief hanging next to him.

Walking with Jesus on that fateful Good Friday, it is hard to believe that Jesus could even speak as he hung on the cross.  He had endured such incredible agony from the mocking, the beatings, the torture, the walk with the cross, the hammering of the nails, and now he hangs from a cross.  He is STILL enduring hatred from those who made the walk with him - the Pharisees, the soldiers and one of the people who hung on a cross next to him.  Yes, there was mockery from one who hung on the crosses with Jesus.

Yet, there was another one who began to realize.  There was one who, before Jesus' actual death, understood that Jesus was the Son of God.  The Thief!  The thief, who hung next to Jesus was asking Jesus to perform one last miracle, have one last effort, before dying.  He asked for Jesus to remember him.  The thief understood that he was on the cross for good reason, unlike Jesus.    The thief was bold.  The thief was brave.  The thief wanted to be with Jesus.

With dying breaths, Jesus redeemed the thief.  His graciousness and mercy poured out of him just like His blood and sweat.  How wonderful is our Lord?  Until the very end he was thinking of others and never lost focus of why he was on that cross.  With everything else Jesus endured that day, He still healed!  

Picture us as that thief on the cross, because we ARE that thief.  We should be next to Jesus dying right there with him.  Yet, because he hung on the tree timbers, we are set free from our sin.  Jesus shows as much mercy and grace to us today as he showed to the thief all those years ago.  Every day, Jesus tells us that we can be with him in paradise.  Every day, Jesus doesn't let us step foot to the cross we should be hanging on.  Every day, Jesus says to us, "You are set free from your sins."  HALLELUJAH!!  As we get closer to Good Friday, may we reflect on us on that cross.  May we also know the grace that Jesus gave us as he died on the cross - and may we feel His grace every day.

"Dearest Jesus - oh how you showed grace and mercy, even during your dying moments.  May we feel that every day, just as the thief on the cross felt it during his last moments on earth.  Let us reflect that you NEVER are too busy or too disappointed in us to show us your love.  Help us to have that same grace and mercy on others.  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.