grace

Wednesday’s Words: Earthy Glimpses of Heaven

 “Jesus told them still another parable:  ‘The Kingdom of heaven is like this.  A woman takes some yeast and mixes it with a bushel of flour until the whole batch of dough rises.’”  Matthew 13:33

 

Have you ever baked bread from scratch?  I have.  The process is an interesting partnership of activity and rest. Flour can’t rise by itself. You begin by adding yeast to flour and other ingredients, but that isn’t enough.  Yeast is a living organism.  The rising of the dough is a result of the yeast’s growth. In order for the yeast to make the dough rise, you have to knead it all together.  Kneading, which involves pounding and stretching the dough, takes time and effort.  It doesn’t yield immediate results.  After kneading, the dough has to be covered and left alone in a warm place. Only after this quiet time will the dough rise.

 

Jesus tells us this is what the Kingdom of heaven is like.  What this means to me personally is that God’s Presence is like the yeast: a living entity.  Taking it in, whether through reading Scripture, receiving sacraments, or prayer and meditation, is not enough.  If I want God’s Spirit to be active within me and engender my growth, it will take effort on my part.  The kneading is the wrestling between Spirit and Self. Sometimes I feel pounded and stretched. Other times the process feels like a massage.  Either way, I’m pre-occupied and seldom see results during this process. Sooner or later, the effort stops.  I come to the end of what I can do or perhaps circumstances downshift. The quiet comes.  I might seek out the warmth of being with family or friends. I might take cover from my restless thoughts with simple diversions. I go on about my life.  Often when I least expect it, awareness comes. I may notice myself reacting differently to a situation that used to bother me.  Or an insight will occur to me “out of the blue.”  But it isn’t really out of the blue.  It’s just the dough rising.

 

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, thank you for showing us glimpses of heaven in the earthy ways we can understand.

 

Reflection for sharing:  What in your life could use some ‘kneading’ today?  What in your life needs quiet time in order to grow?

 

Wednesday’s Word: Interruptions

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The apostles came back and told Jesus everything they had done. He took them with him, and they went off by themselves to a town named Bethsaida. When the crowds heard about it, they followed him. He welcomed them, spoke to them about the Kingdom of God, and healed those who needed it. Luke 9: 10-11

 

The crowds interrupted Jesus’ private meeting with his apostles. How did Jesus respond? He welcomed the intruders.

 

When I’m interrupted, I’m a lot crankier. If unexpected events frustrate my agenda, my exasperation is as plain as the thinly disguised frown on my face. Although I usually rise to the occasion, it often involves working towards acceptance rather than being instantly welcoming.

 

Why is that? Because I forget that my agenda is not God’s agenda. I forget that I was created to know, love, and serve God, as my childhood Baltimore catechism told me. I forget that serving God does not mean flawless execution of my itinerary, however noble my intentions. I forget that God’s definition of success is not my own—or the world’s—definition of success.

 

If Jesus is my role model, success is welcoming others warmly when they interrupt me, sharing God’s love with others—whether that means offering them encouragement, listening to them, or just not snapping at them for getting in my way.

 

Someone—I wish I could remember who—once prayed, “Lord, may I take every interruption as coming from you.” What a powerful thought! Interruptions might be sent by God to jar me out of my prideful, narrow focus. God’s plan is better than mine, but sometimes I need reminding. How about you?

 

Prayer: Lord, help me welcome the people and events you send my way today.

 

Reflection: When we call on Jesus, he’s never too busy to welcome us warmly. Can we pass it on?

 

Wednesday’s Word: Blessings

iStock_000003550839XSmallCome and listen, all who honor God, and I will tell you what he has done for me. Psalm 66: 16

 

If we wanted to tell others what God has done for us, where would we begin? We should probably start by telling ourselves. Want to try it?

 

You might make a timeline. Turn a blank piece of paper so the widest part runs horizontally. About half-way down the page, draw a line from left to right across the entire sheet to represent your life from birth to the present.

 

Beginning with your earliest recollection from childhood, write the milestones or other significant memories in chronological order. Note the happy events on top of the line; note the hard times underneath the line.

 

Continue to review your life through your school years, your teens, early adulthood, and so on, noting both positive and negative times up through today.

 

Review your list. The blessings on top of the line may give you plenty to share when telling others what God has done for you, but don’t stop there.

 

Think about the items beneath the line. What got you through those challenges? The support and love of other people? That’s a blessing. The strength and willingness to keep plugging along when you felt like giving up or running away? That’s a blessing. An inspiring word or phrase you read or heard in a song at just the right moment? That’s a blessing, too. You get the idea.

 

Maybe the blessings that come in the midst of our pain are the sweetest. I’ve been richly blessed with family, friends, career, and more, but the consolations I treasure most are the times God met me in my sorrow, fear, grief, and desperation. I know for sure that God’s blessings got me through those struggles because in those dark times I had absolutely no resources of my own.

 

C. S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures…but shouts in our pain.” When has God whispered or shouted to you?

 

Prayer: Loving God, open our eyes to all your blessings.

 

Reflection: What has God done for you?

 

Wednesday’s Words: Accepting Forgiveness

iStock_000003550839XSmall“I will renew my covenant with you, and you will know that I am the Lord. I will forgive all the wrongs you have done, but you will remember them and be too ashamed to open your mouth.” The Sovereign Lord has spoken. Ezekiel 16: 62-63

 

Why is it so hard for us to accept forgiveness as the gift that it is? We want to deserve forgiveness or earn it. We can’t. If we deserve it, it’s exoneration, not forgiveness.

 

When we try to excuse or deny the hurt we’ve caused others or the damage we’ve done to ourselves or to our relationship with God, it gets us nowhere. When we create alibis to prove what we did wasn’t so bad, it does us no good. When we acknowledge our wrongs and are truly sorry, God forgives us. We’re better off honestly acknowledging our weaknesses. Then we can recognize the truth:  forgiveness is about God’s goodness, generosity, and love, not our worthiness. We don’t have to open our mouths except to say thank you.

 

Once we accept God’s forgiveness as the free and precious gift it truly is, there’s no reason to keep wallowing in our misdeeds and mistakes. We can stop going on and on about it. We don’t need to dwell on our sins once we have honestly laid them at God’s feet. Once forgiven, we are free to move on and do likewise.

 

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for the gift of your forgiveness.

 

Reflection: Can you trust God’s forgiveness enough to let go of your regrets?

 

Wednesday’s Words: True Self-worth

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My child, keep your self-respect, but remain modest. Value yourself at your true worth. There is no excuse for a person to run himself down. Sirach 10: 28-29a

 

It isn’t prideful to think we deserve respect. We all have inherent dignity as God’s children. Our worth isn’t dependent on our personal achievements, looks, bank accounts, or anything that sets us above others.

 

By the same token, we are not beneath other people because we have faults. There is no reason to put ourselves down because we aren’t perfect. Nobody is. We all make mistakes. No one succeeds at everything. Welcome to the human race.

 

True self-respect comes from honestly acknowledging our total self-not just the parts we like to show the world, but the shadowy parts we all have as well. That’s enough to keep us modest.

 

We all have talents. We don’t have to hide them out of false modesty. We can acknowledge our gifts without fear of being prideful when we remember to be grateful to the Giver. We can feel good about ourselves when we use our gifts to be helpful to others rather than to show off.

 

We’re delightful, unique, flawed creatures loved by God. We don’t have to stick our noses in the air or hang our heads in shame. We can be who we are because we have, not false pride or false modesty, but true value.

 

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for loving me as I am. Help me become what you want me to be.

 

Reflection: What is your true worth?

Wednesday’s Words: Rest in God

iStock_000003550839XSmall“Make the people sit down,” Jesus told them. John 6: 10

 

The first thing Jesus did before miraculously feeding the five thousand was to have the people sit down.

 

When we’re spiritually hungry, the first thing we need to do is rest in God. He can’t satisfy our hungry hearts if we’re frantically trying to fill our emptiness on our own. Pre-occupation with busyness and trying to pull ourselves up by our spiritual bootstraps is self-defeating. It leads away from God. I once read a translation of Psalm 46:11, “Be still and know that I am God,” that makes it even clearer: “Stop struggling and know that I am God.” Why is it so hard to stop struggling and rest in God?

 

Yes, we must do our part. God will certainly guide and strengthen us to take the actions we’re meant to take, but we never have to do more than we are able to. When we’ve done our best we can trust God, who “lets us rest in fields of green grass and leads us to quiet pools of fresh water.” (Psalm 23: 2)

 

What if, when we are frustrated in our strained attempts to help others, we entrust them to God’s care, too? We don’t have to be anyone’s savior. Like the disciples who helped feed the five thousand, all we have to do is trust, obey Jesus’ directions, and share what we’ve received.

 

When we’re running on empty, if we allow ourselves sit down and rest, we might be astonished at how we’re nourished and our strength is renewed.

 

Prayer: Lord, may we rest in you.

 

Reflection: What is keeping you from resting in God today?

Wednesday’s Words: Life-giving Love

iStock_000003550839XSmall…Every sinner will be destroyed. Isaiah 29: 20

 

Although destruction of sinners might conjure up harsh images, it reminds me of an Abraham Lincoln quote. When told he should destroy his enemies instead of trying to befriend them, Lincoln asked, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

 

It would seem that God’s amazing plan for destroying sinners is to offer them his mercy. We’re told that God is love, a love demonstrated by Jesus’ death and resurrection. He lavished unconditional love on us by his willingness to suffer and die for us. He lavished forgiveness on the enemies who mocked, abused, and crucified him.

 

God chooses to destroy sinners—and we’re all sinners—by forgiving us and welcoming us back into the loving relationship broken by sin. But God is a lover who respects the free will he gave us. He won’t force his will on us. He leaves us free to accept or reject his invitation, an invitation that involves dying to self and rising to new life in him. The choice is up to us.

 

Prayer: Lord, lead me away from the self-destructive choices that keep me from your love.

 

Reflection: What in you needs to be destroyed by God’s unconditional love?

Wednesday’s Words: Gratitude as Lenten Sacrifice

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Let the giving of thanks be your sacrifice to God… Psalm 50: 14a

 

Gratitude’s not the first thing we think of when we think of sacrifice. Where does gratitude fit in with our traditional Lenten offerings of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer?

 

Fasting: When we give thanks to God we fast from the ego-feeding illusion of independence. We fast from the presumption that we are self-sufficient. The truth is that we cannot, on our own, even guarantee our next breath. Gratitude means sacrificing the comfortable notion of self-reliance. Recognizing ourselves as recipients of God’s gifts puts us in vulnerable position of recognizing our dependence on our Creator.

 

Almsgiving: We can’t give what we don’t have. Whether we donate financially or through acts of service and charity, our giving is sharing what we ourselves have received. Our talents, skills, and finances—including the ability to earn a living—are all gifts from God. If we think of giving to others as passing on what we’ve received, we can’t help but feel gratitude. Offering our personal or financial resources to those who need them is gratitude in action. We sacrifice self-centeredness and self-indulgence when we consider the other people we share this planet with.

 

Prayer: Prayer involves a sacrifice of precious time in our often hectic days. We make room in our crowded agendas to reflect on God’s sacrificial love for us and to offer our thanks. During this Lenten preparation for Easter, we think about the sacrifice Jesus made for us. He willingly accepted the agony in Gethsemane and his suffering and death on the cross for love of us. He offered his life to do for us what we could never do—redeem ourselves from the power of sin. What could be more natural than to express our gratitude in prayer?

 

Prayer: Source of All Good, thank you for all I have and all I am.

 

Reflection: What gifts has God given you? How can you offer him your gratitude today?

 

 

Wednesday’s Word: Reflection

iStock_000003550839XSmallHe made the bronze basin and its bronze base out of the mirrors belonging to the women who served at the entrance of the Tent of the Lord’s presence. Exodus 38: 8

 

The priests had to cleanse themselves before they approached God’s altar.  The basin they used was made up of mirrors. Preparing to enter into God’s presence involves reflection.

 

An honest look at ourselves reveals what’s really within us instead of what we wish was there. Only by seeing ourselves as we really are can we know ourselves as God already knows us. Once we see what blocks us from moving closer to God, we can cooperate with the cleansing process.

 

We don’t have to be afraid to look within. God already sees our truth and loves us as we are—warts and all. As we are refreshed and cleansed by the living water God provides, we’re empowered to enter more fully into God’s presence. Chances are the more we reflect on his image, the more our lives will come to mirror his. The women mentioned in the above passage originally used the mirrors to see their own reflection. Eventually they served at the entrance of the Tent and helped others prepare to draw closer to God. May we do the same.

 

Prayer: Lord help me see myself clearly.

 

Reflection: What do you see when you look within? Can you allow God to shine the light of his love on your imperfections?

Wednesday’s Word: Blessedness

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While [Jesus] was saying this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!” Luke 11: 27-28 NRSV

 

Jesus’ comment sounds a bit like cold-hearted indifference to his own mother. But Jesus isn’t saying he doesn’t love his mother. He’s saying that everyone who hear the word of God and allow it to change their lives are “blessed.” There isn’t any nepotism in God’s kingdom.

 

Those who follow God’s plan for their lives are blessed because they’re open to receive what God has in mind for them. How can those who have no use for God be touched by blessings they don’t want?

 

Does Jesus’ response leave Mary out in the cold? Of course not. Who on earth heard and obeyed God’s word more than Mary? Her “yes” allowed God’s Word to become flesh and grow within her. Her “yes” bore fruit and saved the whole, hurting world. Her “yes” opened the blessing of salvation to all of us. Mary truly is blessed among women. The angel Gabriel told her so before Jesus was born. Jesus confirmed it when he said those who hear and obey God’s word are blessed.

 

Blessings are meant to be shared. Love always reaches outward.

 

Prayer: Blessed is the fruit of Mary’s womb, Jesus Christ.

 

Reflection: How have you been blessed by the Living Word of God?

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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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