Saturday Spotlight: Elizabeth

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When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby moved within her. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and said in a loud voice, “You are the most blessed of all women, and blessed is the child you will bear. Why should this great thing happen to me, that my Lord’s mother comes to visit me? For as soon as I heard your greeting, the baby within me jumped with gladness. How happy you are to believe that the Lord’s message to you will come true.” Luke 1: 41-45

 

Elizabeth had her own miracle going on when Mary arrived. In her old age, Elizabeth became pregnant after a long, childless marriage. More than that, her son John was to play an important part in God’s plan. How delighted and honored she must have felt. Even so, when she realized her cousin Mary was to give birth to the Savior of the world, Elizabeth still had room in her heart for joy and awe!

 

Someone else’s good news or success can threaten or overshadow our own, but there wasn’t a single drop of jealousy when Elizabeth greeted Mary. She didn’t need to bask in her own limelight. Was it humility or self-esteem that enabled Elizabeth to honor her younger-some might say upstart-cousin?

 

I suspect Elizabeth must have been grounded in acceptance. Secure in her own place and her son’s place in God’s plan. Elizabeth could rejoice at Mary’s good news and look forward to the birth of Mary’s son. It’s no wonder that years later, Elizabeth’s son, John the Baptist, was able to say “{Jesus} must become more important while I become less important.” (John 3:30) Elizabeth set the stage.

 

How about us? Is there something in us that feels threatened by someone else’s success? What might make us comfortable enough to be glad when others do well? Humility is not thinking less of ourselves, but valuing ourselves to know that we have worth apart from our accomplishments. Then we can let others shine without having to compete, one-up them, or bring them down a peg.

 

Prayer: Lord, enable me to rejoice with those who rejoice.

 

Reflection: When is it easy to be happy for others? When is it difficult? What makes the difference?

Wednesday’s Words: Unreliable Support Networks

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Israel is suffering oppression; she has lost land that was rightfully hers, because she insisted on going for help to those who had none to give. Hosea 5:11

 

Ever looked for help from someone who had none to give? People can’t always supply what we need. Looking for encouragement from a pessimist, for example, is like “going to the hardware store for bread.” We don’t have to deny our needs, but insisting they be met according to our expectations is setting ourselves up for disappointment.

 

Even when friends and loved ones want to help us they can’t always “be there” for us the way we’d like. Maybe they’re overwhelmed by their own issues. Maybe past hurts have made them emotionally unavailable. Maybe they never learned how to offer emotional support. For whatever reason, people aren’t always equipped to provide what we need when we need it. We don’t have to judge them.

 

In fact, sooner or later, everyone we lean on will probably let us down because they’re only human. Whether there’s a reason we can understand—like physical illness or family issues—or a reason we can’t even fathom, human beings are fallible. There is only one source of help that is open 24/7, always available, always listening, always capable of understanding. That one is God.

 

Yes, we need other human beings. God created us to live in community and will surely lead us to the cheering squad or sounding board we need when we need it. But turning to those who have no help to give instead of turning to God and his guidance is like Israel turning to foreign nations rather than the God who led her out of slavery. Israel’s choice had consequences. So do ours.

 

Prayer: Lord, guide me to the support you know I need.

 

Reflection: Who or what are you relying on today?

Saturday Spotlight: You

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…If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. 2nd Corinthians 5:17 (RSV)

 

Who are you? Can you see yourself as a new creation?

 

Much of our self-image as has been shaped by the past—both positive and negative experiences. Sometimes our self-perceptions have been influenced by people—well-meaning or not—attempting to mold us to their images of who they thought we should be. Sometimes we’re overwhelmed with regret.

 

What leftovers from the past do you struggle with? Bad habits? Negative self-talk? A sense of shame or inadequacy? Sometimes we bury parts of ourselves that we fear might not be acceptable, but that doesn’t make them go away.

 

Alone, we can’t change ourselves into who we think we should be. But if we’re in Christ, we are a new creation. We can become who God created us to be, who he intended us to be when he called us by name. Who are you really? To find out, it might take willingness to let added-on layers slip away. That can be scary, but it’s safe to trust God. It’s safe to be who you are. You’re a new creation. So am I.

 

Prayer: Lord, I belong to You.

 

Reflection: Who are you in Christ? How is the new creation different from the old?

Wednesday’s Words: Ego Craving

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Too much honey is bad for you, and so is trying to win too much praise. Proverbs 25:27

 

It’s not wrong to want approval. After all, confidence is built on positive feedback and encouragement. Like honey, praise is sweet. But, also like honey, craving too much praise is unhealthy.

 

Ironically, people who brag about themselves or constantly fish for compliments might not have big egos at all. If they were secure in their self-worth, there’d be no need to keep proving it. Showing off might be a cry for approval from others. Unfortunately, it generally has the opposite effect.

 

“People don’t want to be impressed; they want to be appreciated.” Anonymous

 

Egotism gets old pretty fast. It can even drive people away. Rejection deepens the need to bolster shaky self-esteem. And so the cycle continues.

 

When we’re starving, honey might taste sweet, but a steady diet of it isn’t nourishing. A steady diet of praise won’t nourish an under-developed sense of self-worth, either. How can we nurture healthy self-esteem? Someone said that if you want self-esteem, take actions that are esteem-able. When we think well of ourselves, our self-worth is less likely to be determined by other people’s opinions.

 

Even more importantly, we can take time to be with the God who loved us into existence. God loves us right now as we are, with all our strong points and weaknesses, our successes and failures. His unconditional love invites us to love ourselves in a healthy way. As we do, we’re better able to forget about the impression we’re making on others. Instead, we can love them, too. When we do, we might find the loving relationships we were hungry for all along.

 

Prayer:  Lord, help me trust that who I am is enough.

 

Reflection: God loves you right now, exactly as you are. Can you love yourself?

Saturday Spotlight: Gideon

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Gideon replied, “But Lord, how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least important member of my family.” The Lord answered, “You can do it because I will help you. You will crush the Midianites as easily as if they were only one man.” Judges 6:15-16

 

After [the Midianites had been defeated] the Israelites said to Gideon, “Be our ruler—you and your descendants after you. You have saved us from the Midianites.” Gideon answered, “I will not be your ruler, nor will my son. The Lord will be your ruler.” But he went on to say, “Let me ask one thing of you. Every one of you give me the earrings you took.”…Gideon made an idol from the gold and put it in his hometown, Ophrah. All the Israelites abandoned God and went there to worship the idol. It was a trap for Gideon and his family. Judges 8:2­3-27

 

When God first called Gideon to rescue the Israelites from their enemy, humble Gideon sought reassurance from God. Relying on God, Gideon obeyed His command to send over 15,000 soldiers home, and faced the enemy with only 300 Israelites. (God wanted it very clear that any Israelite victory was due to God’s power, not their own strength.)

 

Gideon should have known better than anyone the victory was God’s not his own. Whatever possessed him to build an idol? The danger of complacency is insidious. During crises, we turn to God as a source of strength greater than ourselves or our problems. When things are going well, it’s easy to think we’re doing just fine on our own.  We forget we need God even though—since we don’t manufacture the air around us—we’re dependent on God for every breath we take.

 

What are we to do? Should we hope for endless disasters to keep our faith up? Of course not. It’s fine to enjoy the good times when they come. Contentment and complacency aren’t the same thing. I think the difference is gratitude. Good health? Secure job? Loved ones? It’s highly unlikely we came up with these blessings completely on our own. If we remember to thank the Giver for the gifts, we’re in less danger of thinking we owe no one but ourselves.

 

Prayer: Thank you, Lord.

 

Reflection: List the good things in your life. How many can you see as gifts from God?

Wednesday’s Word: Greed

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…Greedy people are proud and restless—like death itself they are never satisfied. Habakkuk 2:5a

 

Which came first, the greed or the never being satisfied? When we’re dissatisfied, we want more, thinking that will bring satisfaction. But there’s not enough jewelry, gadgets, booze, or anything else to bring lasting contentment. If they could bring permanent happiness, we wouldn’t have to keep buying more. We can be greedy for intangibles, too: fame, fun, attention, approval. The final “aha” is always the next purchase, achievement, or pat on the back.

 

Maybe greed develops when we rely on things to do a job they can’t do.  Money, designer clothes, or recognition can’t fix a fragile ego. If we don’t think much of ourselves, no amount of expensive trappings or lavish praise will change that…not for long, anyway. Greed—like death itself—is never satisfied.

 

When we’re at peace with ourselves, we don’t have to lust after things to bolster our self-image. So how can we acquire inner satisfaction? Someone said if we want self-esteem, we have to do things that are “esteem-able.” When we do things we feel good about, we feel good about ourselves. A sense of integrity goes a long way toward inner contentment. It’s not that we don’t need positive feedback from others, but it won’t sink in if we don’t like ourselves. Ironically, coming to terms with our flaws may help us accept ourselves better. Recognizing that we aren’t perfect—and we don’t have to be—can help us accept ourselves. When we don’t have to prove anything to ourselves or others, we can begin to feel contentment.

 

When we get in touch with God’s unconditional love for us, we begin to feel a deeper sense of security and reassurance. We’re able to give and receive genuine care. We accept others as less than perfect just like we are. We may find that was what we were hungering for all the time.

 

Prayer:  Lord, fill my emptiness with your love.

 

Reflection:  What are you trying to fill your inner empty spaces with? Is it working? What can you try instead?

Saturday Spotlight: Hagar

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Abram had intercourse with Hagar, and she became pregnant. When [Hagar] found out she was pregnant, she became proud and despised Sarai…Then Sarai treated Hagar so cruelly that she ran away…The angel of the Lord met Hagar at a spring in the desert…He said, “Go back to [Sarai] and be her slave.” Then he said, “I will give you so many descendants that no one will be able to count them. You are going to have a son, and you will name him Ishmael, because the Lord has heard your cry of distress…” …Hagar asked herself, “Have I really seen God and lived to tell about it? So she called the Lord, who had spoken to her, “A God Who Sees.” Genesis 16: 4-13

 

Sarai, Abram’s wife, couldn’t have any children. In an act of misguided but selfless love, Sarai, had given her slave Hagar to her husband to produce an heir. As a slave bearing Abram’s child, Hagar finally had some clout. It’s understandable that it went right to her head and felt contempt for Sarai. Hagar was proud–even though she hadn’t had any choice about sleeping with Abram or the fact that she was physically able to become pregnant. It is human nature to wield what little authority or advantage we have.

 

But there was backlash. Hagar was, after all, a slave, not the free woman and wife. Sarai’s harshness drove Hagar into the desert. That’s where she encountered the “God Who Sees.” Isn’t that always the way? God saw Hagar when she was enslaved. He saw her when she—not of her own free will but because she was ordered to—slept with Abram. God saw her when she became proud and belittled her mistress. But Hagar didn’t see God or realize He saw her until she was driven to despair. Why is it that we don’t look up until we have nowhere else to look?

 

Are you going through a good times right now or challenges? Either way, remember to look up to the God Who Sees.

 

Prayer: Loving God, help me remember that you see me right now and love what you see.

 

Reflection: When God sees the depths of your heart, what does He see? Can you believe He loves you right now, as is?

Wednesday’s Words: Counting What Counts

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Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net ashore full of big fish, a hundred and fifty-three in all; even though there were so many, still the net did not tear. John 21:11

 

Who counted the fish?

 

You’d think after seeing Jesus risen from death and still providing miraculously for them, they all would have been focusing on more important things than counting the exact number of fish.

 

The gospel account describes an encounter the apostles had with Jesus after his death and resurrection. He appeared on the shore as they were returning from an unsuccessful fishing expedition. He called out to them and told them to lower their nets and they caught so many fish they couldn’t haul the net back in. Jesus invited them to come and eat, and gave them fish and bread.

 

It’s astonishing that someone present at this miracle not only thought to count the fish, but took the time to do it. There has been much speculation on the significance of the number 153. One theory is that 153 was believed to be the number of varieties of fish in the world, so symbolically Jesus was instructing the disciples to spread the good news to people of all races and nationally. I’m not so sure. In Marks’s gospel, Jesus told them in plain language to “go throughout the whole world and preach the gospel to all people.” Why couch the message in symbols?

 

Is it possible that someone present at this miracle actually did take the time to count the fish? That makes me wonder if we sometimes get so caught up in practical matters that we miss the miracles right under our noses. Are we so busy keeping score or focusing on our accomplishments that opportunities to share love fall by the wayside?

 

I, for one, like crossing things off my “to do” list. As a working mother when my daughter was little, those lists were extensive. To tell the truth, sometimes it seemed easier to keep the house tidy and cook from scratch every night than deal with less concrete issues. I did the best I could, and had some quality times with my little girl, but how many miracles did I miss because I was “counting fish” instead of enjoying the moments?

 

Prayer: Risen Lord, help me focus on true priorities.

 

Reflection? When is it easier to pay attention to distracting details? Why?

Saturday Spotlight: Onesimus

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It may be that Onesimus was away from you for a short time so that you might have him back for all time. And now he is not just a slave, but much more than a slave; he is a dear brother in Christ. How much he means to me! And how much more he will mean to you, both as a slave and as a brother in the Lord! Philemon 15-16

 

When the slave Onesimus ran away from Philemon, he probably financed his getaway with Philemon’s money. In his travels, Onesimus met Paul, became a Christian, and helped Paul in his ministry. Nevertheless, Paul sent Onesimus back to his master. Paul asked Philemon to forgive the runaway slave and welcome him—not only as a returning slave—but as a Christian brother!  That was asking a lot. Perhaps expecting Onesimus to willingly go back was asking even more. There was no guarantee that Philemon would welcome him with open arms. Onesimus returned anyway.

 

I wonder what Onesimus felt as he headed back. Was he afraid? Reluctant? Hopeful? Eager to make up for the wrongs he had done? When we make amends for wrongs we have done to others, we become truly free. Our integrity doesn’t depend on how others receive our apologies but on our choice to make them.

 

In his letter to Philemon, Paul told him that if Onesimus owed him anything to charge it to Paul’s account. Then he reminded Philemon of how much he himself owed to Paul, setting the stage for an atmosphere of forgiveness, healing, and the chance to relate on a different footing. When we need to forgive others for wrongs they have done us, it’s easier when we recognize how much we owe God who forgives us for the things we have done.

 

Prayer:  Lord, may the grace of your forgiveness lead to healing.

 

Reflection:  Think of someone you have wronged; say a prayer for them. Think of someone who has wronged you; say a prayer for them, too.

Wednesday’s Word: Reminders

iStock_000003550839XSmallAnd so I will always remind you of these matters, even though you already know them and are firmly grounded in the truth you have received. 2nd Peter 1:12

 

“I have amnesia and I forget that I have amnesia.” Anonymous

 

We all need reminders from time to time. It’s easy enough to jot down an important date or appointment, but what about other things?

 

We learn by repetition. Learning by rote gets a bad rap. Yes, just parroting facts without understanding their meaning can be pointless. And yet, some lessons can only be learned by repetition. Then they become second nature.

 

The first time I got behind the wheel of a car, I was very conscious of how to turn on the ignition and when I was applying the gas and brakes. If I had to think that hard about the mechanics of driving every time I drove, I’d be unable to follow the rules of safe driving, read street signs, or keep an eye out for pedestrians. Musicians have to practice basic scales until they become ingrained before they can play a piece of music with feeling. Doing certain tasks over and over builds proficiency. Remember your first day on a new job? How much more effective are you now?

 

The same is true of our spiritual development. We can’t rest on our spiritual laurels. We need to repeat the actions that lead to spiritual growth in order to continue growing and help others grow.  Reading the bible or other spiritual material and sharing in our faith community reminds us of the truth of our faith and what it means in our daily lives. We can hear the gospel or a rousing homily on Sunday morning about love or forgiveness and forget about them when someone cuts us off on the drive home. We need frequent reminders of who we are in Christ and what that calls us to. We can’t live it out without God’s grace and the support and fellowship of the believers he puts in our path.

 

We may know intellectually the principles of our faith, but we need reminders to immerse ourselves in them as a way of life.

 

“Repetition is the only form of permanence nature can know.” George Santayana

 

Prayer: Holy Spirit, remind me who I am.

 

Reflection: Who reminds you of the goodness, faith, and love we share in our spiritual journey? Who can you remind today?

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Meditations

But Jesus answered “The scripture says, ‘Human beings cannot live on bread alone, but need every word that God speaks.’” (Matthew 4:4)

 

All Bible quotes are from the Good News Translation unless otherwise noted.

 

It is reassuring that Jesus called fishermen and tax collectors to be his followers. These were laymen, not Scripture experts. It is wise to seek guidance from religious scholars and clergy who have studied Scripture to avoid errors in interpretation. But the Bible is also a gift given to each of us, to use as a basis for prayer and meditation.

 

I’m not a Biblical scholar; I’m an expert only on my own experience. Following the Scripture passage is a brief meditation along with a question or two as a springboard for your own reflections. Please feel free to share your own thoughts or insights on the passage by adding a comment. All comments are moderated, so please allow some time for your comment to be posted.

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