Freedom

Wednesday’s Word: Freedom

 

 Live as free people; do not, however, use your freedom to cover up any evil, but live as God’s slaves.  1 Peter 2:16

 

How can we live as free people and God’s slaves at the same time? By not using our freedom as an excuse for evil, according to the above quote. It’s easy to see how, in the name of freedom, we can claim the right to do whatever we feel like doing—including those things that might harm ourselves or others.

 

“If it feels good, do it,” as the saying goes. Unfortunately, so many things that initially seem to “feel good” lead to problems, pain, and suffering. Lashing out in anger might release pent up emotion but hurt others and damage relationships irreparably. Excessive self-indulgence—whether with substances like alcohol, unhealthy romantic relationships, or a host of other behaviors—can trap and victimize us and hurt those we care about. Of course these activities are appealing initially—that’s why they’re called temptations. Those temptations can be subtle and patient. Who would be tempted if the pain were evident right off the bat?

 

In serving God’s plan for the greater good we become truly free—free from being bullied by whims, addictive behaviors, or out-of-control emotions. Every time we make the hard right choice instead of following the path of least resistance we’re exercising our free will. One hallmark of maturity is the ability to delay gratification, to sacrifice short-term pay-offs for a greater good. As we grow in our ability to choose and act on what’s good in the long run, we’re increasingly freed from pressures that do not have our best interest in heart.

 

Prayer:  Lord, free me from the tyranny of self-will.

 

Reflection for sharing:  What is the best thing you can do with your freedom today?

 

Wednesday’s Word: Forgiveness

“For God has made all people prisoners of disobedience, so that he might show mercy to them all.”  Romans 11:32

 

Sometimes we mess up. Maybe, if you’re like me, you get down on yourself when you do.  I should have known better.  Why can’t I keep my mouth shut? I’m hopeless—what’s the use?

 

Maybe we should give up.  Give up trying to be perfect, that is. Give up trying to earn salvation by being good enough. It’s been said that if God wanted us to be perfect, he wouldn’t have made us human.

 

Does that mean we shouldn’t try to do what’s right? Should we ignore those twinges of conscience?  Of course not.  But it is okay to acknowledge our weaknesses and failures.  Instead of trying to cover up our mistakes, make excuses, or beat ourselves up, let’s turn to God’s mercy, grace, and love.  He’s waiting to forgive us – but how can we receive forgiveness if we’re too busy kicking ourselves or trying to justify our own behavior? That keeps us focused on our own egos instead of God.

 

Honest acceptance of where we are – faults and all – leads to healthy humility. Instead of wasting time wallowing or rationalizing, we can give thanks and praise to our loving Father, who, through Christ, does for us what we can never do for ourselves. Freed from guilt and regret, we can become who we’re meant to be. Confession really is good for the soul.

 

Prayer:  Thank you Lord, for your mercy and love.

 

Reflection for sharing:  How can savoring God’s forgiveness help us forgive ourselves and others?

 

Wednesday’s Word: Reassurance

 

“The Lord rules over the deep waters; he rules as king forever.”  (Psalm 29: 10)

 

Although I got good grades all through school, in the real world, nobody asks or cares if I made the honor roll. What matters is how I act in the situation at hand.

 

In real life, there isn’t always time to reflect or reason out how to respond to an irate client, a sudden calamity, or a child’s question as she races for the school bus. Sometimes we have to trust our instincts. That can be scary for those of us who like to study the manual before making decisions. So often there is no manual.

 

Then, too, feelings come up that our brains can’t always get a handle on. So much goes on beneath the surface. If I can’t reason out what’s going on beneath the conscious level, how can I know what my inner self is up to?  What a relief to know that God rules over the deep waters of my heart.

 

When I start my morning with prayer and meditation, I surrender my whole self—not just my mind—to be under God’s guidance and protection. As I go through the day, even if I forget about God in the heat of the moment, I can rest assured that He won’t forget about me. Some things are too deep for my rational mind, but God is never in over His head.

 

Prayer:  Lord, rule over the deep waters of my heart.

 

Reflection for sharing:  What reassurance comes from knowing that God is in charge?

 

 

 

Wednesday’s Words: Looking Back or Moving Forward

But Lot’s wife behind him looked back, and was turned into a pillar of salt. Genesis 19: 26

 

The Bible doesn’t say how long Lot’s wife looked back, but however long it was, it stopped her from moving forward.

 

Like Lot’s wife. I spend a lot of time looking back. When I do, it can stop me from moving forward, too.

 

On the one hand, acknowledging my mistakes and imagining what I could have said or done differently can help me avoid making the same mistakes again. It also shows me if I need to make a change—or an apology.

 

On the other, there’s a difference between looking at the past and staring at it. Wallowing in remorse doesn’t help me or anybody else. Dwelling on my regrets keeps them alive—but only in my head. It doesn’t change the past or help me take positive action in the present. It keeps me stuck.

 

The rear-view mirror is smaller than the windshield for a reason. We need to glance back, but focus on where we are and what lies ahead. That’s how we move forward.

 

Prayer: Lord, You love us in spite of our imperfections. May your mercy help us move forward in love.

 

Reflection: How has dwelling on the past kept you from moving forward?

 

Wednesday’s Words: Choosing To Praise

iStock_000003550839XSmall  [Job] said, “I was born with nothing, and I will die with nothing. The Lord gave, and now he has taken away. May his name be praised!” Job 1: 21

 

Job lost his children and all his wealth in a single day, but still praised God. This doesn’t mean he didn’t have feelings, grieve the loss of his children, or fear his new-found financial insecurity. It simply meant he did not blame God for his misfortune.

 

Job was able to praise God because he recognized that all the good things he had been blessed with were gifts, not entitlements. Job may have felt sad, scared, overwhelmed, or even angered by his loss, but he didn’t feel wronged by God because of it.

 

Are we fair-weather friends of God? If we’re in it only for what God can do for us, that’s not much of a relationship.

 

I have Multiple Sclerosis. During an M.S. attack, I suffered an excruciating headache for days. I wanted to trust God but was shaken to the core by pain and overwhelmed with anguish. I shared my frustration and despair with a spiritual mentor, who suggested that perhaps there was a bit of spiritual warfare going on, an attempt to get me to turn my back on God. I’d never thought of it as a temptation, but in the story of Job that’s exactly what was going on. Satan’s theory was that Job worshipped God only for what he could get out of the relationship and would turn his back on God if his blessings were taken away. The book of Job shows otherwise.

 

Right after the conversation with my mentor, a contemporary Christian song came on the radio affirming that we can choose to praise the Lord whether things are going well or terribly.

 

Hearing that song at that moment, made it all click for me. I sang along at the top of my lungs in spite of my pain. As I sang, I felt a wave of victory come over my spirit such as I can’t describe. There is power in exercising our free will. No person or circumstance can take that away from us.

 

Prayer: Lord, blessed be your name.

 

Reflection: What might happen if you praise God in the midst of a problem?

Wednesdays Words: Liberation from Ourselves

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Some were living in gloom and darkness, prisoners suffering in chains because they had rebelled against the commands of Almighty God and had rejected his instructions.

They were worn out from hard work; they would fall down, and no one would help.

Then in their trouble they called to the Lord, and he saved them from their distress.

He brought them out of their gloom and darkness and broke their changes in pieces.     Psalm 107: 10-14

 

 

God’s not out to get us. Darkness and pitfalls are just the natural consequences of not following his loving guidance. We want an easier way. We want a more pleasurable way. We want our way. The problem is—if God is who he says he is—if he really is all wise and all loving, he has our best interests at heart. There is no easier, more pleasurable, or better way than following his plan for us. In a way, sin is thinking we know better than God. When we don’t do what’s in our best interests, the results lead to problems.

 

No one starts out deciding they want to be an addict. They just want to relax or feel “good.” But the booze, drugs, candy, or shopping spree doesn’t provide lasting satisfaction. The process has to be repeated over and over. When physical, mental, or emotional dependence takes hold we become bound by our own pleasures—even when they stop being pleasurable.

 

Maybe we work hard to earn the approval of others because we’re afraid of rejection. We resent it when we don’t get praise and puff ourselves up when we do. That type of validation doesn’t last either. Trying to grab the limelight, instead of giving us the reassurance we hope for, alienates people instead. We end up lonely and defeated.

 

Maybe we put all our effort into trying to make things turn out the way we think they should. We try to control others through flattery, manipulation, or intimidation. Why do we do it? We think forcing things to go our way will make us happy. Instead we create friction in our relationships and set ourselves up for disappointment.

 

Fear, pride, and self-will keep us trapped in the burden of going it alone. We’re afraid to surrender and trust God.

 

When we’re in enough pain, when we’re worn out enough, when we’re tired of going nowhere fast, we can call to the Lord. When we do, we’ll find him waiting with open arms, to guide us and to do for us what we finally realize we can’t do on our own.

 

Prayer: Lord, save me from myself.

 

Reflection: What self-defeating attitude or behavior is wearing you out? Are you ready to ask for God’s help?

Wednesday’s Words: Detaching With Love

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…I am sending [Onesimus] back to you now, and with him goes my heart. Philemon 12

 

Because of Paul’s deep affection for Onesimus, his spiritual son, it wasn’t easy for him to say good-bye. Paul sent the runaway slave back because it was in Onesimus’ best interest. Returning home created the opportunity to heal the relationship with Philemon, whom he had abandoned.

 

Love is a choice to act in another’s best interests. That can mean letting them go when we’d rather keep them close to us. A mother sending her child off on the first day of kindergarten or the first semester at college could also say, “…and with him (or her) goes my heart.”

 

Clinging to other adults and trying to keep them under our protection isn’t love; it’s self-centered co-dependency. We stunt our loved ones’ growth and do them a disservice when we micro-manage. We deny them the opportunity to develop and grow. God gave them free will. Who are we to take it away? That doesn’t mean we can’t offer suggestions, but we leave the decisions, and the outcomes, in the other person’s hands.

 

When we love someone we encourage them to think things through on their own, gather information, pray, and seek sound advice from reliable sources. We don’t try to control them. Risky? Maybe. Hard to let go? No doubt. The healthy and loving thing to do? Absolutely. Our hearts can go with them as long as we leave our hands off.

 

Prayer: Loving God, help me remember you love my loved ones even more than I do.

 

Reflection: Where do you need to let go?

 

Wednesday’s Word: Comparisons

iStock_000003550839XSmallYou should each judge your own conduct. If it is good, then you can be proud of what you yourself have done, without having to compare it with what someone else has done. Galatians 6: 4

 

Comparing ourselves to others is a lose/lose situation. Tempting as it might be to prop up a fragile ego when we seem ahead, it’s a set-up for vanity and looking down on others. On the other hand, if others seem more talented or accomplished, we open ourselves to envy, resentment, or feelings of inadequacy. What have we got to gain except a false sense of superiority or inferiority? Why bother? Life is not a contest.

 

That doesn’t mean we can’t shine. If we focus on what we are doing and we’re doing our best, we can feel good about ourselves. We can take healthy pride in our best efforts and their results. We can be grateful for the abilities we’ve been blessed with and the opportunities to use them. It doesn’t matter how that stacks up against someone else’s gifts or accomplishments. Besides, there’s never a level playing field. We are all individuals with different physical traits, backgrounds, opportunities. Why compare?

 

What’s stopping us from feeling good about ourselves? If what we’ve done is good, it’s good. Other people’s achievements can’t take away the goodness of our efforts. Other people’s lack of achievement can’t make our efforts any better than they are.

 

Judging our own conduct keeps us grounded in reality and focused on what we have control over—ourselves. That sounds like freedom to me.

 

Prayer: Thank you Lord, for my abilities. Help me focus on using them as you want me to today.

 

Reflection: What have you done today that you can feel good about?

Wednesday’s Word: Willingness Good Friday Meditation

iStock_000003550839XSmall“Father,” he said, “if you will, take this cup of suffering away from me. Not my will, however, but your will be done.” Luke 22:42

 

Jesus didn’t want to suffer but he was willing to suffer. Even though he knew suffering and death waited for him in Jerusalem, he’d set his face like flint and headed there. His prayer in Gethsemane expresses the tension between his desire and his commitment to follow his Father’s will, all for love of us. In his beautiful, heart-felt cry Jesus asked his Father to take the suffering away. That was what Jesus wanted, but he deferred to his Father’s will.

 

We can learn from this. We don’t have to pretend we don’t have wants or feelings. It’s more than okay, it’s essential that we’re honest with God about what we truly want. That doesn’t mean demanding that he do things our way. We can lay our wants at God’s feet and leave the choice up to him. We can exercise our free will by choosing to give our will back to God. We hold our faith hostage if we insist God do things the way we think he should. Insisting on our way may seem like freedom, but it’s not. Freedom is the choice to act without being bullied by our feelings.

 

Jesus’ prayer is a beautiful balance of honesty and surrender, of requesting and accepting instead of insisting. We have a choice at every moment: to insist our will be done or to lovingly entrust our will to God’s wise and loving plan. It isn’t easy. It will cost us. But I have to believe it is worth it. I have to believe that God isn’t cruel or abandoning us if pain isn’t taken away on our terms. I have to believe he will give us what we need to get through whatever challenges we face and will somehow bring good out of it. I’ve seen it happen. Besides, if God can bring good out of the crucifixion, he can bring good out of anything.

 

Prayer: Father, thy will, not mine, be done.

 

Reflection: Where are your wants flexing their muscles today? Are you willing to surrender them to God’s care?

Wednesday’s Words: Mercy, Hope, and Joy

iStock_000003550839XSmall“O Lord Almighty, God of Israel, from the depth of our troubled, weary souls we cry out to you. Hear us, O Lord, and have mercy on us, because we have sinned against you. Baruch 3:1-2

 

Troubled, weary souls have been around a long time. If mankind could have gotten its act together on its own, it would have done so by now. Instead, we continue to cry out to God. If we’re honest, like Baruch, we can admit that we need mercy because we have sinned against God. The fact of the matter is, if we could save ourselves, then “Jesus died for nothing.” (Galatians 2:21)

 

So we cry out from the depth of our troubled, weary souls. And we have hope because God has done—and continues to do—what we could never do for ourselves. We anticipate with joy celebrating the birth of Christ who brought us the gift of mercy and freedom from the bondage of self-defeating sin. That beautiful carol, O Holy Night, describes what we feel: “a thrill of hope; the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”

 

Prayer: Lord, thank you for coming into our troubled, weary hearts and world.

 

Reflection: Where do you most need the thrill of hope 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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