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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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Sunday grace

After days of warm sunshine on my face and the wonder of an early spring, I am greeted with ice crystals and chilly breath clouds as Maisie and I walk in the early morning.

Such is life.

We receive blessing after blessing from God who gives grace upon grace.  Yet the chill of winter’s grasp pulls us to reality. We are not in Eden anymore. There are still mountains to climb, dark valleys in which to walk, trials to endure, temptations to avoid.

Still, the gifts abound in the middle of frosty days and long, uncertain nights.

This morning I am thankful.

For a warm hat, scarf, coat and gloves as I open the door and face the cold.

For gas logs that quickly warm the morning haven of home.

For strong coffee with half and half cream.

For a hot pad at my back to ease away the aches.

For Sweet William, my one and only, sitting in the rocker next to mine.

For little girl Maisie, with us almost a year now, learning obedience step by step.

For daffodils from my yard gracing our table this week.

For home filled with familiar things accumulated through our years together.

For family gathered at our table this week and for friends who feel like family.

For prayer that reaches Heaven being only a breath away.

For the daily dose of Scripture that gives me courage and turns my eyes to the Savior.

For the Word hidden in my heart that cannot be taken away.

For grace boundless and mercies new each day.

For assurance that winter lasts for a season and then comes spring.

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Sunday grace.

 

 

 

Sunday grace

For out of His fullness, the superabundance of His grace and truth, we have all received grace upon grace, spiritual blessing upon spiritual blessing, favor upon favor, and gift heaped upon gift.  John 1:16 AMP

For sunset and morning light

For food and clothing

For shelter from heat and storm

For family relations and friendships

For safety and security

For spring’s resurrecting bloom and harvest’s bounty

For anticipation of birth and release of death

For ashes from which arise beauty unimagined

For hope beyond this present existence

For the captive redeemed and the sin-sick made whole

For grace upon grace

For God is grace all-sufficient, unending, every reaching, unceasing

He giveth more grace.

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Sunday grace.

 

Still together

It’s our wedding anniversary, Sweet William’s and mine.

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our wedding

I’ve watched so many young couples stand at the altar of covenant, pledging their love to each other, promising the impossible task of loving completely until death parts them. It is a goal too lofty for any of us to do on our own.  Because love does not originate from our own flawed hearts.  It comes from God.

Our loving feelings usually last as long as things go our way.  Then we become frustrated, disillusioned by the unmet expectations of the happily-ever-after wedding vows and joyful celebrations.  The newly-wed season begins to fade into everyday hard work.

Marriage is not for the faint of heart.  It takes guts to pledge and promise and then walk it out day after day.  Sometimes we think it will be easier to just walk away when it gets too hard.  Many have and I am in no position to judge them at all.  Because we were once on the verge ourselves.

But can one ever just “walk away” when hearts and minds and bodies have been joined together in ways meant for marriage, with a vow to stay in the good and the bad, to hold on when it’s the last thing we want to do?  Walking away is not the easy solution it would seem.  For hearts joined are only parted when they get ripped asunder.

Sweet William and I stood at the altar of covenant a long time ago.  We meant what we said in those promises but had no idea how they would be tested.  The road has been rocky now and again, and yet there is great joy as we travel together.

It is by grace that we celebrate today.  God’s unmerited favor on two broken people joined in holy matrimony.  And it is a holy thing.  Marriage communicates God’s loving covenant to a world in desperate need of seeing it lived out in the every day rough and tumble of life.

I’m sure some people didn’t think we would last.  They were almost right.  But God . . . those two words hinged together make all the difference.  His mercy resurrected us when our hope was gone.  The One who is Love gave us Himself and healed our brokenness.

Today we walk together though our steps may falter a bit.  We smile through tears at times.  We are a little bent over, and we hold each other up often.  We walk hand in hand realizing what a precious thing God has done for us.  He provided His love to us when we had run out of our own.

Steven Curtis Chapman penned a song I sing today.

Here we stand, here we are with all our wounds and battle scars
From all the storms and all the wars we’ve weathered together.
We had no way of knowing when we started way back there and then
How the road would twist and turn and bend.
We just knew we belonged together.

And if it wasn’t for God’s mercy and His grace,
There’s no way we would be standing in this place.
But because He has been faithful every step along the way
Here we are together.

If it had not been for God’s grace, where would we be today?  Not here.  Not together.

But we are.  The merciful and loving God we serve blessed us with love fresh from His hand.  And it is to the praise of His glorious grace that We. Are. Together. Still.

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Thou O Lord

The engines roared into our quiet close-knit community, sirens blaring and lights flashing.  The dark night was ablaze with fire coming from our neighbors house, people who are more than neighbors.  They are my family.  My near kin.

“Oh Jesus!” was all I could say, all I could pray.  Over and over, it was a moan of desperation in a desperate situation.

Neighbors and friends came out of warm cozy houses and family celebrations, not knowing what to do, only lending their presence.  And when the sky falls what is there to do but huddle close, be there to hold onto and cry with, to pray for grace and mercy in a night of horror?

Our thankful prayer was that all souls were safe, unharmed, spared the smoke inhalation and burning.

Christmas Day suddenly became something different for us.

 “Lord, how are they increased that trouble me! many are they that rise up against me.   Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God. Selah.”

We watched from a distance, as firefighters risked life and limb to try to salvage what was so far gone, to put out flames that burned hot and ferocious.  They did what they were trained to do.  All we could do was stand back and let them.

Gathered at the closest house, we sat on the deck in the cold night, tears streaming down wondering how and why and what to do next.  Silent prayers echoed in our hearts.

But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.  I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill. Selah.”

 And yet, underneath are the everlasting arms of a God who knows all.  I don’t understand His ways, but I know that He is wise beyond me.  We know that His mercy is plentiful and His grace is sufficient.  His love endures when nothing else will.

Late into the night people part, go to their own places of sleep.  I tell Sweet William that I almost feel guilty for having a home and bed tonight.  What we count as treasures, what we invest our time and money and very lives into can be gone in a breath.  And what do we have left?  What can we count on?

” I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me.  I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about.”

We lock our doors and feel secure.  We set our house alarms and expect safety.  We drive on the highway observing the traffic laws and don’t know for sure if we will return home whole.

There is no security in this life.  None.  Zero.

God is all we have.  God is all we need.

“Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God: for thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly. Salvation belongeth unto the Lord: thy blessing is upon thy people. Selah.”

When there is faith in a God who cares enough to send a Savior, there is hope.  Hope for tomorrow.  Hope for a future.

My family/neighbors have much ahead of them, decisions to be made, grief to work through, loss to accept.  They will because their hope is built on nothing less than Jesus Christ and His righteousness.  They will move forward, rebuild, though they will be forever changed.  They will continue to trust in their God because there is nothing else.

Dare we set our dreams on things of this earth when it is so quickly gone?  Dare we trust anything except a mighty God who saves?

We stand firm on the Truth that God is good, God is strong, God is loving, and He will bring beauty from ashes.

And no matter what the enemy means for evil, God will use it for good.  Our adversary does not have the last word.

The last word is:  But Thou o Lord.

The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir sings But Thou O Lord

Scripture from Psalm 3, KJV

Monday grace

I read Ephesians 4 for the fifth or sixth day in a row, and I wonder why I’ve never highlighted the first few verses in my marked up Bible?

I beg you . . . to live and act in a way worthy of those who have been chosen for such wonderful blessings as these. Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Try always to be led along together by the Holy Spirit and so be at peace with one another.  We are all parts of one body, we have the same Spirit, and we have all been called to the same glorious future.”

Humility has never been my strong point.

Yesterday, Sunday, we gathered with fellow believers, dressed up in our Sunday best and smiles that often cover.  Today, Monday, we head into the fray, meeting life head on with those who don’t see things like we do, some who want to argue their point with us, others who are warring against us.

The challenge is to live a life worthy, to be humble and gentle, to be patient, making allowances for other’s faults.  Because of Love.

Because I have been loved, I am called to love in return.  This is my calling no matter my job title, no matter my work schedule. no matter what.

I pray to put on the clothing of Christ:  compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, forgiveness, unity, love, peace.

Not in my own strength but in His.

Monday grace, friends.  Go with God and in the power of His might.

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Sunday grace

I wonder at myself, my inability and my lack.

There have been times when I was like Peter the disciple who boldly took steps out of a boat and on to the fluid sea.

And other times I fall into the crashing waves of fearfulness and uncertainty, just like Peter.

I want an immovable, unshakable faith.  I want to be a faith-filled woman.

Sometimes I am.  Sometimes I am not.

But this I know for sure.  When I am weak, my Jesus is strong.  When I grow weary, He neither slumbers nor sleeps.  When my faith waivers, He remains always faithful.  When I am the most unlovable, He is Love.

No matter the state I find my emotions and my sometimes foolish heart, He is beginning and end, Alpha and Omega.  And He gives more grace, grace that strengthens, grace more than enough for my need.

And in that I rest secure.

Sunday grace, friends.

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