I met *Sarah in a retail store. She helped me shop for a ring. She informed me that people are calling costume jewelry by another name now, “progressive jewelry.” We both laughed a little. Sarah was in her 60’s and had retired several years earlier so that she could travel. She was back at work, but in a job that she liked, and she spoke of no regrets having used some of her savings to explore the world. Sarah told me that her family was made up of diverse backgrounds. She and her siblings were raised Muslim (although she did not identify herself as Muslim any longer), and she had relatives by marriage who were Jewish, as well as Catholic. She said that family ties meant a lot to her. She said that she celebrates Christmas. Sarah’s life and family background were atypical, and she seemed to appreciate that. I liked thinking of her family sitting together at holiday gatherings, differing beliefs and all. I do believe that there is one true way for people to find close relationship and eternal life with God, through Jesus’ sacrifice, but it’s because of this that I can appreciate when people show love toward one another even and especially when their views differ. It’s one way of truly loving our neighbors, which Jesus equated with loving God with our whole heart. Before leaving, Sarah and I shared a hug. I said goodbye and she responded by saying that she wasn’t going to say goodbye…that she had a feeling we would see each other again. Not hearing goodbye from my new friend touched my heart.
Sometimes my view of this world is a little bleak. I look at what is happening around me and it can be difficult to make sense of it all. And I don’t like seeing God’s creation suffer. So my thoughts turn to what heaven will be like, and it chokes me up a bit. Because I know that not only will it mean time in God’s presence, but “there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4). There are many near-death accounts where people speak of having visited heaven. I don’t know that I have experienced exactly that, but many years ago something happened to me that made me wonder if I had been given a glimpse of heaven. I fainted in a college class. When I woke up, my professor told me that I had hit my head and that my heart had stopped beating. While unconscious I remember opening my eyes and seeing a man in a sash reaching his hand down toward me. I grabbed it and we began to walk up a winding path. I do not remember any words being spoken, but I do remember a feeling of being “filled up.” I felt joyful and complete, as if I was lacking nothing. I also remember thinking about the people I knew who were back here, and although I loved them, I knew things would be ok. I did not feel a longing to go back. The next thing I remember is opening my eyes and seeing the worried look on my professor’s face. At the time, I was disappointed that I was back. I cannot say for sure what I experienced that day, but I wonder sometimes if I was given a preview into what heaven might be like. I am so grateful for the life that I have and that God has given me the opportunity to learn more about Him as time has passed. At the time of the incident, I believed that God existed, but I didn’t give much more thought to it than that. Whether or not that experience was a peek into what heaven is like, there is something in my heart now that can’t help but think that the “filled up” feeling I felt during those moments was an indication of what it will be like to be in God’s presence; there will be a sense of lacking nothing.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.” – Psalm 23:1
Nearly every day I hear the sound of a dove cooing outside of our window, and each time I hear it, I am reminded of when the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus “like a dove” (Luke 3:21-22). In the book of Matthew, Jesus referred to doves as “harmless” (Matthew 10:16). So the Spirit of God took on the appearance of a harmless creature as He fell on Jesus. God is powerful, as we see in the story of the parting of the Red Sea. He is the Creator of all things and has dominion over all things. As He reminds Job, He “laid the foundations of the earth” and “kept the sea inside its boundaries” (Job 38:4, 8). At the same time, through His Spirit, God chose to appear in the form of harmless dove at Jesus’ baptism. I’m glad that although God Has the ability to move mountains, He also places value in the gentle, harmless way of a dove.
“You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great.” – Psalm 18:35
What is Still?
What is still?
It’s the ceasing of wind
It’s the cat at my feet
It’s a leaf’s gentle bend
It’s the silence at night
It’s a crescent of light
Where the moon sits just right
above an earth in flight
It’s a small child’s hand
It’s the breaking of man
When he falls to his knees
because love had a plan
It’s a snail en route
It’s a flower in bloom
It’s the fragile, green shoot
where the ground has made room
It’s a smile through tears
It’s a hand held through years
It’s a trickling stream
filling softly, the ears
It’s the skimming of palms
over glowing wheat fields
It’s the watching of clouds
and the shapes that they yield
What is still?
It’s the sky at twilight
It’s when blue looks its best
when it’s up against night.
“Be still, and know that I am God!” – Psalm 46:10
Jesus stressed the importance of humility. When He and His disciples feasted with Matthew and Matthew’s friends, the Pharisees and teachers of religious law questioned the disciples, asking why they would eat with “scum.” Jesus responded, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent” (Luke 5:29-32). Jesus made it clear that God was searching for those who were willing to admit that they had problems, their fundamental problem being that their sin separated them from God. It can be tough to view ourselves as sinners who need to be reconciled with God, but the way I see it, none of us can really say that we’ve never fallen short of even our own standards of what “good” is, and because God is perfect and Holy, it would be tough to claim that our “goodness” lines up with His righteousness. Also, when we give it thought we realize that sometimes the things we think, say, and do, surprise even us, which can serve as more confirmation that we are in need of new hearts that are God-facing. Like the Pharisees, we can view Jesus as a radical troublemaker, or like Matthew and his friends, realize that we are in need of a savior, find a spot at the banquet table, and feast.
I remember that soon after I became a Christian I was impressed by the fact that the Jesus I was coming to know was consistent with the Jesus I was reading about in the Bible. It was as if the love, gentleness, kindness, compassion, and understanding that He demonstrated, and the truth that He brought had been gently set down inside of me; to teach me, guide me, and comfort me. The Bible says that when we trust in Jesus to be our Redeemer, God’s Holy Spirit makes His home in our hearts. This was when the words on the page also became the Voice in my soul.
“And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” – Galatians 4:6
It is very clear to me that I need God’s help in determining how best to navigate my relationships with others. Since He knows the heart of every person, there is no better Counselor in these matters. When I have taken these types of concerns to Him, He has answered my prayers in different ways. When I was only able to see the negatives about a person, He opened my eyes to their good qualities. When someone left me frustrated, He put empathy in my heart for them. He has also helped me to leave things in His hands so that I had a greater measure of peace. Each time I have done this it has strengthened my faith, as I have witnessed God respond to my petitions for help.
“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” – 1 Peter 5:7
“So commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these words of mine. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates…Show love to the Lord your God by walking in his ways and holding tightly to him.” – Deuteronomy 11:18-20, 22
These verses from Deuteronomy give us a good indication of what pleases God. Although God was speaking to the Israelites, it is clear to me that He desires these same things from us today. He wants us to remember His words and to keep them so close that they sit just above our eyes, on our foreheads, and at the front of our minds. He wants us to teach them to others, and to speak of them so often that they flow from our lips at home, as well as when we are riding on a plane, getting our coffee, or waiting for a bus. When we are tired and scooping our feet off the floor at night, and when we awaken in the morning and lift ourselves from bed, He wants us to be speaking of His ways. He wants His words displayed for others to see, on our gates and on our doorposts. He wants us to walk in His ways and to hold onto Him tightly. He asks us to stay close, to cling to Him, and to remember His words.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God.” – Psalm 51:10
Every day we battle thoughts that aren’t so kind about our neighbor, or we realize that our motives aren’t always completely honorable. As someone who loves Christ, God has ensured me that His Holy Spirit lives in me and that He has given me a new heart. Even though this is the case, I still battle the old habits within me, and sometimes neglect loving my neighbor as I should. Deficiencies like this lead me to pray the Bible verse above. It is a reminder that God is the One who creates a clean heart within me. When unkind thoughts plague us, it can be easy to go down the path of self-condemnation, but when we turn to God and ask Him to work on our hearts, we can’t go wrong. Maybe we don’t always feel freedom from those thoughts right away, but at least we know that we have put them in the right Hands.
Some of you know that I enjoy singing and songwriting and from time to time I share my songs via my blog posts, along with brief explanations as to what they are about. Today I am sharing my thoughts on a song I wrote called, “Don’t Expect Much.” It’s about that drive we all have as human beings to collect earthly goods, and how, at the end of our lives, all of the things we have collected will not matter. When we realize this, we start thinking about what lies beyond this life. Not sure about you, but I spent many years going my own way, and although I always believed that God existed, I did not spend time seeking Him out. Then I met someone who began to share her faith with me, and by the way she treated me, made me want to know Him better. She even gave me a Bible to boot. It was the best gift she could have given me because it inspired me to learn more about Him. (*If you are interested in receiving a free copy of the Bible let me know by filling out the contact form at the bottom of this post. I will send them out while my supplies last.) For an audio clip of and lyrics to “Don’t Expect Much,” see below.
Don’t Expect Much, Audio (click play):
hey God, i’m sittin’ here lookin’ at all my stuff
and i’m thinkin’ i won’t need it where i’m goin’
but another thing that occurs to me
i got no good place for my soul to be
and i remember someone tellin’ me
bout livin’ with You in eternity
well, i don’t know You
so, i don’t expect much
cause i have gone my own, my own way
but i’m beggin’ You today, save me
didn’t think i’d be needin’ You
or this hole inside would come bleedin’ through
but every step i took, know now You knew
the good of a God who won’t leave when we do
can i be with You in paradise
you will be with Me in paradise
hey God, i’m sittin’ here lookin’ at all my stuff
and i’m thinkin’ i won’t need it where i’m goin’