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Those Pharisees

As I read the Gospels, I am perplexed by the Pharisees.

They are the learned men, the ones who study the law and the prophets. They are held in high esteem for their pious lifestyle, working hard to keep themselves from becoming contaminated by worldly things.

Their response to Jesus, His words and His actions, disturb and trouble me. Why didn’t they recognized the One prophesied in the Scriptures they proposed to know so well?

The name Pharisee has come to mean hypocrite, self-righteous. I’m pretty sure I have been one.

As Jesus gets closer to His final week of life on this earth, those men in their dignified robes become more angry with Him. They hate what He is doing and saying. They lash out with their words and try to trick Jesus with questions. They feel threatened by Jesus’ popularity and condemned by His pointed critique. He sees right through their strict adherence to the traditions while they ignore the intent of the law. The law that is love.

Several places the writers say the Pharisees feared Jesus. They feared His popularity with the people, feared their position of power was threatened, feared the Romans would take away their temple.

They lived in fear rather than living in love.

Jesus perceived their thoughts and what they hid from the rest of society – their hearts.

Jesus always see into the heart of the matter, past the forms of godliness, the pretense of having it all together.  He does not put up with facades and deceptions. He calls it out.

And so I confess to having been a Pharisee, a rule-keeper, trying hard to be good, getting it all right, keeping up the image. It was exhausting.

In love Jesus called me out on it. The gentle nudge of the Holy Spirit was convicting and convincing. I was living in fear, the fear of not measuring up, of not being good enough.

Change started when I saw my sin and confessed. I am a work in progress, the ongoing process of pruning and nurturing and staying connected to the Vine. Jesus talked with His disciples about that on their walk to Gethsemane.

The more I understand the riches of God’s grace toward me, the more easily I am able to extend it to others.

It is freedom to live free. Recognizing that God loves me just as I am, not for all the rules I try to keep or all the things I refuse to do. His love is higher than the heavens and nothing I ever did or ever will do changes that fact.

I live in a robe righteousness these days, but it is not my own. It is the righteousness purchased for me by Jesus Christ.

It’s no fun being a Pharisee, living in a state of criticism and fear instead of love. Christ came to give abundant life to those who choose Him. And I have chosen Him and want to live my every moment with Him.

If only the Pharisees could have understood.

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Lessons from the heart

{This is my monthly book review.  Thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts.}

Imagine being a young woman who exercises regularly, eats healthy food and is about to give birth. And then your heart stops.

Those are the events in the life of author Julie Manning in her biography My Heart. She didn’t know the muscle that pumps blood throughout her body was failing.

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After the birth of her first child, a boy, she was given the devastating news that she was in heart failure, a diagnosis no young, first-time mother expects to hear. But this became her life.

And it changed everything.

Mrs. Manning’s story is gripping as she walks through the days after her son’s birth and the years that follow, always wondering if her heart will last long enough for her to see that sweet baby boy grow up.

She writes honestly about dealing with the shock of her health condition, wrestling with her faith in God, wondering about her and her family’s futures. Through the struggle she came to a place of acceptance and began living each day with purpose, grace and thanksgiving.

“. . .  What if women spent more time looking into the eyes of people around them and had conversations about Jesus, reading through the Bible together and praying to the One who is worthy above all else?  . . . What if we chased our children around the park and on the way home tell them that Jesus is chasing after them, and He never runs out of breath like Mommy? What if we stopped calling our minivan a taxi and begin seeing the opportunity for discipleship of the souls that are buckled into their seats with no place else to go? What if we actually shared the gospel with our children instead of rushing them through life?

“May we turn into a generation of women who live with constant intentionality. Not just for the sake of being intentional but for the sake of living like Christ. May we also be a generation of women who dares to dream of how God might just use our lives tomorrow while we are in the trenches of today.”

My Heart is a gripping story. It made me look at my own soul-heart, to examine my motives for living out the rest of my days.

I want to be part of that generation of women who lives with intention and purpose, investing in the lives of people around me.

It will not happen accidentally.  It is a choice I must  make.

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NOTE:   I received a copy of My Heart, provided by B&H Publishing, for an honest review.  The book was free.  The words are my very own. 

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Summer work, soul work

While I call them the gardens, this year it seems more appropriate to say it’s a jungle out there.

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This spring and summer has not been my best time for accomplishing much outdoors. It has been the year of the dog for us, though Chinese lore designates that title in 2018. Our little girl Maisie requires walks twice a day and lots of play time in the middle. I have given that to her more often than I’ve been down on my knees in the dirt with garden gloves.

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As a rescue animal who fended for herself much of her young life, Maisie needed our attention, training, and affection. She is rewarding us with obedience and companionship. She is settling in as our dog.

Last week I was able to go to the yard a couple of days. After a downpour of rain, I pulled on my garden boots and pink work gloves, carrying the kneeling pad and a few tools. I soon filled box after box of weeds pulled from all sorts of places. The occasional cloudburst drove me to the deck to rest a bit. Then I would trudge back to the work area.

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Another day, I determinedly took the weed sprayer and began the long-overdue task of killing poison ivy and the extreme overgrowth of neglected flower beds.

Both days I finished soaking wet with perspiration because, once again, it is hot at my Kentucky home. I felt encouraged that something like a small beginning was produced in those hours of work.

However, there has been some friendly fire in the gardens. Plants that should have been left in the ground were uprooted as I pulled weeds feverishly. Some purposely planted flowers were sprayed with poison accidentally in my hurry to get more accomplished. Two out-of-control Rose of Sharon bushes in full bloom were trimmed to the point of having almost no flowers left.

It happens when I leave something neglected for too long.

It happens in my soul as well. The small roots of discontent, comparison, and unthankfulness can turn into something ugly rather quickly. While the Holy Spirit prompts me with the Scripture and His still small voice, I can ignore both and go my own way, neglecting the needed soul-work, intending to deal with it later.

It’s never a good idea to put it off too long.

Weeds grow too close to flowers and reproduce quickly. Roots entangle with each other. Dislodging the weed often results in the good plant being uprooted.

I need to learn the lesson. It’s better to address the issues that bear on my spirit promptly. It’s wise to forgive quickly. I would do well to turn loose of the cares of life and stop the comparisons that burden me down. I should be discerning the bounty of gifts that are evident every day.

I need to count my blessings.

I realize life can be hard. How well we know that. There are mountains to climb, rivers to pass through, bridges to build, and rocky roads to travel.

I am assured that God goes with me every step of my journey. I am encouraged that there will be grace enough. I am told to let patience do it’s work in me so I learn endurance and will be made complete.

Instead of pushing aside those gentle nudges of the Spirit, I want to be more conscious of His whispers and quick to respond to my need for Him in every season and at all times. He is always with me and willing to help me address the complications of my life sooner rather than later. What might seem like a more convenient time only delays the inevitable.

He is the Teacher, the Comforter, and the One who goes with me whether for a daily walk or into the jungle.

There is still beauty in the gardens despite my neglect. And God still works to produce beauty in me through His tireless love, with the goal of reflecting the beauty of Christ at the end of it all.

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Oh for some quiet moments

I am recuperating slowly. S L O W L Y. My pace may be just above that of the snails I see on the driveway. Everything, and I do mean everything, takes me twice as long and wears me out like I put in a long day’s activity.

One good thing from this experience is that I give myself those quiet moments. I have to. And sometimes, we need to be reminded that our bodies, our hearts, and our souls crave that.

Here is the perfect place to go for some quiet reflection in whatever season you find yourself. Emily P. Freeman writes and reads to us. How long since someone did that for you?

Will you join me there on her blog for a 7-day mini journey?  We may find ourselves taking a deeper breath and feeling some of the stress slip away.

7 Days for Your Soul to Catch Up With Your Body

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