The Power Of True Blessings

What we say really matters

Family photos surround communion for the blessings.          Photo by Karen Zanellis

On Valentine’s Day this week, I officially joined the ranks of those over 60! I am one of those different types who enjoys being, and celebrating being, older. I worked hard to get here. In order to give God the credit for lasting this long and to renew my commitment to follow our Creator, I had a birthday and house blessings party last Sunday. I have been in my new home for over a year. It seemed a perfect time to bless it to eternal purposes.

I did not make the connection at first, but after a day or two I noticed a distinct difference in me. Since the formal blessings of Sunday, I sense a lightness in the house and freedom in my spirit I have not had for a long time. Is it a coincidence? I sincerely doubt it.

In my experience, the power of the spoken word, for good and ill, is far more impressive than we usually understand. When we read the creation narrative in Genesis 1-3** we see the Creator spoke the world into existence. “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. …”

We humans are the only beings created in the image of God. And we have dominion, that is responsibility, to rule and reign over the earth. “Then God said, “Let us make man [male and female he created them] in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over … all the earth….” (1:26 & 27)

As children of God and disciples of Jesus we speak on behalf of our Creator like a prince or princess  speaks for their King. When we speak negatively we can wither fig trees like Jesus did in Matthew 21:17-19. We can also wither people with our cutting words. Fortunately, our kind words can bring life and blessings just as easily.

One of several blessings.               Photo by Karen Zanellis

On Sunday several people prayed blessings for the house as well as for me. We also shared communion to recognize the work of Jesus on the cross in bringing forgiveness and freedom to His creation, and on this occasion, specifically to me and to space I live in. I cannot explain the shift in the house and in me apart from those corporate blessings.

I share all this to remind us that what we say, and how we say it, really matters. Furthermore, intentionally setting time apart to bless homes and people can also really matter.

I bless each person who reads this post, with grace and wisdom to speak words of blessings to others. May our powerful words be used to encourage, build others up, strengthen and guide each one in the love of Jesus who gave His life for us.

 

**Henri Blocher wrote a marvelous book on the biblical creation narrative called In The Beginning I highly recommend it if you are at all curious.

Winterscapes

Winterscapes

Confession of a once a week blogger: I had a post half written with clear direction to the finish then, due to technical difficulties, I lost it all! (In more ways than one?=} )

Considering the effort it took to get that far coupled with the thought of re-creating it in time for my regular deadline, you will instead get to contemplate some of my photos this week. Besides, by this time next week we will be in Lent, which was not my topic. So, try these winterscapes on for size.

Natural designs in the ice.

In all honestly, I chose these winterscapes with Lent in the back of my mind. Up where I live, Lent begins in winter and with rare exception it ends without snow in the spring. Like winter, Lent is a time to assess and re-evaluate. (This is possibly a great segue to my re-created post for next week.)

Black and white, light and dark together. A season of contrasts.

There is limited light in winter. Spiritually, Lent often feels dark as we voluntarily deny ourselves some pleasure for a season so we can draw closer to our Creator. Often for me, my self-denial, however small, can heighten my sense of the beauty of even the smallest things.

Snow gives the sense of cleanliness. Can you imagine the smell of the crisp air around this snow-covered tree?

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lordthough your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” Isaiah 1:18

I do not always give something up for Lent. For several years now I have prayed about if and what it might be. Sometimes it is nothing. I think I know what I “should” do this year, but since “me, myself and I” don’t really want to, we will discuss it between now and Wednesday with the only one who loves us all perfectly. If that is indeed the scenario, I already know the outcome. Obeying is always better in the long run, and more often than not, surprisingly fun in the short run.

I hope you will go back and contemplate the winterscapes. One or all may elicit totally different responses from each of us.

I pray you leave this posting with a combination of humility, awe and wonder. What does that look like for you? I love feedback=}

What Do You Expect?

Would you expect an Osprey nest on a supermarket lamp-post?

“Expect it to be different from whatever you expect it to be.”

That quote is one of the sagest pieces of advice I was given before I moved to Africa for the first time. I have found it useful in many other areas of life way beyond cross cultural living. How much of our lives do we spend rehearsing events and conversations in our minds only to find our assumptions are off the mark when the time comes?

For example: If we look back a couple of years, who in the world expected us to have a President Donald Trump in the White House? Regardless of what you think of the man, he defied all conventional wisdom, all expectations. That’s only one example of things not being as we expect. It is both good and important to know God is not ignorant of our circumstances, globally, nationally and personally or physically, emotionally and spiritually.

How does, “expect it to be different,” apply to our spiritual lives? Did anyone expect the Messiah to come when & especially how he did? “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” John 1:46

Human expectation demanded He be a King. One clothed in splendor. Instead, he came, clothed as the son of an average carpenter, not even as a recognizable priest or king! He was not even recognized as Messiah by his closest followers until the end of his time on earth. And then Thomas, one of the 12, needed physical proof.

Why talk about expectations? Things are not always as they seem. I have written on shifts, and shadows before. Again, I sense we are entering a different spiritual season.  One that will be hard to miss, but it can be easily mis-interpreted if we are not open to hearing from our Creator.

We can look at our circumstances up close, as we might normally do, or we can step back, way back, to “see” our spiritual surroundings. What is Creator up to? Isaiah 43 tells of new things, and I think we are there again. [Emphasis mine.]

18 Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.
19 Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

I have seen the African Sahel change in a day from what seemed like an arid wasteland after six months with no precipitation. Then one day, after one rain, there was a verdant carpet of life springing out of the ground everywhere! I did not expect that to be possible.

So what are we looking for? That’s just the point, we don’t know what to expect. So rather than looking for signs, let’s look to the one who made us. Let’s read the Bible, follow Jesus, and ask questions then sit quietly to listen for the answers.

If you hear accusations, that is not of God.

But if you feel conviction for something specific, that is the Holy Spirit. Agree with God and turn from it.

If you hear instruction in line with the Word, obey.

Then join me in one of my favorite prayers when I have direction and discernment questions:

Abba, I don’t know exactly what I should expect, but thank you in advance That you will let me know when I find it and what to do when I get there. Thank you for being more interested in me understanding and doing what you want than I am.

There is so much more to this topic, but for now let’s seek the face of God. Let’s deepen our intimacy so we can be ready when we face the unexpected.

True Legitimacy Comes From The One Who Made You

This week brings another guest post from Sylvia Gunter. The first time I read this, I began reading quickly, taking some things for granted, but I found myself slowing down, even stopping, because the truths hit their mark forcing me to receive. Noises from culture are constantly questioning our legitimacy, attempting to define us in ways we were never intended to be defined.

Understanding our true legitimacy invites us to stand out like Cardinals on a gray winter day.

For anyone who has a penchant to get hung up on gender designations, please remember, just as we are all part of the Bride of Christ, we are also all beloved sonsMay Abba touch and heal those places in each of us that cry out for belonging.
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Receive God’s Word in John 17:23 NLT. “I in them and you in me… Then the world will know…and will understand that you love them as much as you love me.”
At His baptism and transfiguration, God affirmed His love and pleasure in His Son. He said to Jesus, “You are the Son I love. I am well pleased with You” (Mat. 3:17; 17:5). Because you are in Him, the Father loves you with the same love (John 17:23,26). You are God’s beloved; that is the most intimate truth about you. It has to be true, because Jesus said it. Be blessed to live from the blessing of belovedness, not trying to attain it.
You are precious to your Father. He celebrates your existence. You were infinitely loved before you were wounded. That’s the truth of your life. There is no burden on you to prove you are worthy of being loved, of being heard, of being respected, honored, and given dignity. Your life is an unceasing “yes” to the truth that you are beloved because of God’s great love. In Him you are accepted and valued.

It is your spirit connection with your Father that matters. People do not give you legitimacy. True legitimacy comes from the One who chose you with everlasting love. Your Father says, “I called you by name from the very beginning. You belong to me. I know you as my own, and you know Me as your own true Father. I carved you in the palms of My Son. I hide you in My embrace. You have My infinite tenderness.”

Say “Yes” to your belovedness, your significance, your worth, and your belonging. His “Yes” is engraved on your heart. Rise up to discover how to fulfill your deepest essence of who you are, beloved in God your Father and kept in His Son.

Be blessed in the name of the Beloved Son.

Matthew 3:17 NKJV
Taken From Safe In The Father’s Heart: Finding The Love You Have Always Wanted, page 111. © 2014, Sylvia Gunter.
Click here to learn more and order a copy of the book. 
An archive of past devotionals is available on the website.

Our Hearts Are Restless

By Deacon Adam Salter Gosnell

The answer to a restless heart. St Augustine holing a burning heart,

Today I offer an article from my churches weekly letter. The adult class is reading Confessions. I resonate with this more than I care to admit. [I have added all italics, bold and underlining.]

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I’m so pleased that we, as a community, are reading Augustine together. He’s the single most influential thinker in Christian history. He’s been influential in my life as well. I have a passage from his Confessions that I’ve typed up, printed out, and taped in the front of my bible.

“Great are you, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is your power and infinite is your wisdom. Man desires to praise you, for he is part of your creation; he wears morality around him, carries the evidence of his sin, and the proof that you resist the proud. Still he desires to praise you, this small part of your creation. You have prompted him that he should delight to praise you, for you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

I look at it often, recite it even. It’s a passage of beauty, but more than that it reminds me of who I am and how I want to live in the world.

“Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

As I’ve reflected on the passage, I feel like Augustine is offering a prophetic indictment. So often, when I’ve had a long day, I want to disengage. I play games on my phone or binge on Netflix.

But when I read Augustine’s quote I wonder if I can truly call that disengagement “rest.” “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you” seems to call me to something more, something deeper, something more quiet.

In the last several years, I’ve taken up silent prayer. I turn off my phone, I sit on my couch, and I am silent before God. I contribute nothing, I offer him nothing but my time and attention. I only “am” in his presence. It makes me wildly uncomfortable. But, interestingly, it doesn’t make me uncomfortable because I’m particularly concerned about maximizing my productivity. I actually feel, in myself, a recoil against the silence. I notice how much damage my high-sensory input-lifestyle has done to my soul. It’s crippled me, even, from the capacity to rest deeply.

I see you grasping for rest, Augustine seems to say, but rest only exists here, in reality, because the God from whom it comes himself only exists in reality. Read this way, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you” is a call to arms, a call to recognize my own restlessness, to step away from distraction, and to meet God in silence.

I challenge us, today, to indulge the idea. Let’s sit in silent prayer for two minutes, and see if you don’t also feel like you are stretching an atrophied muscle. Then, I suspect, we will be all the more ready to hear what Augustine has to teach us.

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May our hearts burn because He first loved us! Join me in Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians:

3:14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

 

*Image from: image St augustine

Wide Eyed-Wonder

I am freshly in wide-eyed wonder over a particular paradox of our multifaceted God. The complete transcendence, the “otherness,” of our Creator who, in complete humility, became a human in Jesus of Nazareth. Going even further, those who have a personal relationship with Jesus also have the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of the living God is inside of us to guide and comfort. This is one of the most wonder inspiring aspects of the Christian faith.

I understand why this does not compute for many people. It did not make sense to me either when I first heard it.

The following is from King David’s prayer before his son Solomon began to build the temple. Try reading it slowly to let his descriptions sink in a bit. Meditate on the hugeness of the one David describes.

11 Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. 12 Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. 13 And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. (1 Chronicles 29)

What impressed you most? Did you see anything new?

Next, meditate on Isaiah’s prophecy that was fulfilled by Jesus of Nazareth.

53:2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Does this sound anything like David’s description?

When I compare these two passages, at least on the surface, I don’t see anything in common, yet they are both speaking of the same Creator God…. That is what makes my eyes go wide with wonder.

In an attempt to close the loop for today, meditate on this passage for a bit.

Jesus said in John 1415 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. 18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. …23… “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

How personal can the God of David become?

Again, this is mind bogglingly wonderful!  For instance I don’t think I’d ever noticed before the end of John 14:23:  “…make our home with him.” Father, Son & Holy Spirit all reside with those who love them. This is even one more example of wonderful things to contemplate.

Abba, Thank you that all these seemingly divergent truths hold together in You. You are truly multifaceted! You created everything and are worthy of all praise. Everything we have comes from you. Thank you for entering our world then giving us your comforter. May we have eyes to see and ears to hear how these realities make a difference to us.

2018 Is Beginning Big, So Trust For Big In your Life Too

As I write, the super storm that swept up the east coast this week is still dumping over a foot of snow outside, in only about 12 hours. Also, the Dow Jones industrial pushed through the 25,000 mark today, closing over five thousand points higher than a year ago! 2018 is beginning big so trust for big in your life too.

Depending on your perspective, both of these big events today could be good or bad. For those who snow only means shoveling then, your out of luck. But if it means winter sports, then you’re a winner. Some are afraid the rapid rise in the stock market will soon lead to a major crash. If you are one of those then you are probably nervous. If you have money in the market that is doing well and you see indicators that bolster your belief in continued economic growth, then you are likely smiling.

Either way we look at these, focusing our trust the One who made and sustains us is the best focus. We do not know what the future holds, but we can know that one who holds the future.

“Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.” Psalm 37:5

I have yet to see God shovel my snow, though on rare occasions, some strategic drafts of wind have made my job easier. When I devote myself, and my choices to Creator,  I see things fall into place almost miraculously at times.

I’m not going to commit my way to the stock market, but to the maker of Heaven and earth. Can I invest? Yes, I can, but in the end I’ll apply myself to what Abba has called me to be. That is  increasingly Christ-like. I’ll also apply myself to what He has called me to do. For me some of it includes writing, praying, encouraging others and helping them in their journey into Christ likeness…definitely not in that order=}.

My long time favorite promise for facing big challenges is Thessalonians 5:24. “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” Both these verses end the same, it’s the beginning of this one I especially like. When I am sure Abba is asking me to take something on, then I know I will have all the resources, physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially to see it to completion. Because He promised do it.

It is Abba’s idea after all, so I figure it is his responsibility to make it happen. As long as I am committed to His purposes we will see it through. If I give up, Abba will find another to make it happen. I find it almost easier to trust for big things. Little things can become routine.

What big thing do you want to trust God for? Pause for a bit and pray. Ask then listen. Listen for what I now call a “Holy hunch.” Is there a dream you’ve sat on a long time? Is there a new one? Does it seem impossible, or just too much? If it came to mind in prayer, have a conversation with Abba about it. If the idea came from Him….

This is a great year to trust Abba for big….

 

Joseph Was An Exceptional Guy

God knew Joseph was someone he could entrust with a crucial part of His divine plan to redeem all of creation.

A painting of young Jesus with Joseph, from Orvieto Italy

How would you feel if you were Joseph? This man was legally Mary’s husband, but they had not yet celebrated or consummated their marriage. Think about how you might respond to the news that your wife was pregnant and you knew there was no way you were the father? Personally, I suspect my first reaction would include feelings of anger, betrayal, confusion and more, not necessarily in that order.

Matthew tells the story. I have emphasized potions for you to think about. Try to read slowly and imagine yourself in his proverbial shoes.

1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying,

Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us. 24 And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25 but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.

Wow! Joseph was the man for the hour and the task ahead. God chose him to be the earthly father figure for the savior of the word. We often think about the shame Mary had put on her. And yet neither one of them could hide in the small village where everyone knows your name.

I can only imagine the emotional, spiritual and physical weights Joseph carried by choosing to accept the invitation to cooperate with the Creators plan. Abba was gracious though, because he gave Joseph an unforgettable encounter in the form of a supernatural dream. The young man’s personal intimacy with God allowed him to recognize the invitation was from Creator himself. God knew Joseph was someone he could entrust with a crucial part of His divine plan to redeem all of creation.

I wonder how many times over the rest of his life, Joseph replayed that dream in his mind. And because Joseph believed and obeyed, that encounter was not the only one he had in his adventure called life. (Keep reading in Matthew to learn, or be reminded.)

What about us? Do we recognize when Creator invites us into his plans, large or small? Or are the “distractions of life” to bold for us to notice the often still small voice? Are we people Abba can trust when he offers us those invitations?

The Good News is, regardless of how we answers those questions right now, the path to choose runs straight through Jesus. God became human to reunite us with our Creator. “And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26

May Abba bless you with being attentive and faithful like Joseph as you celebrate the divine plans and invitations of our Creator.

The Christmas Story Can Become Too Familiar

By Elizabeth Gunter

A hand carved cresh from Mali, West Africa. The shepherds are Fulani herdsman.

This week I bring you a guest writer. I really appreciate Elizabeth Gunter’s reminding us of the uniqueness of the Christmas story. She writes for thefathersbusiness.com My prayer is this will help reinstill some wonder into our Advent season.
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For those of us who grew up celebrating the birth of Jesus, the Christmas story can become too familiar. It easily slips from a story of awe to simple facts of history. We rattle off these events, such as Mary gave birth to Jesus and then the shepherds and wise men came to see Him, with the same ease that we describe what we did last weekend.

When you stop to really consider it, the story of Christmas is anything but normal. It is absurd. It is full of biological impossibility, strained family dynamics, emotional turmoil, supernatural encounters, a failed assassination attempt, and people asked to do the craziest things.
This is an invitation to deeply experience the Christmas story.
How would you feel if God told you that you are bearing His Son? Feel the fear of telling your fiance and parents that you are pregnant, and Joseph is not the father. Sense the shame as the village whispers about you. Imagine the weight of knowing you are carrying God’s Son, hoping that you don’t mess the whole thing up.
How would you feel if your beloved comes to you and says she is pregnant and you know that the baby is not yours? Feel the betrayal, rejection, and heartbreak of Joseph, based on wrong conclusions about Mary, until God sends an angel who straightens things out.
How would you feel on a ordinary night taking care of your sheep if an angel of the Lord showed up to say, “Drop what you are doing and go”? Feel the fear of such a supernatural event, followed by the doubt that creeps in to say, “Did I make that up?” What about leaving the sheep which are your sole source of income? Sense the wonder, fear, uncertainty, and hope of the shepherds as they come to meet the Savior.
What if you were one of the servants in the entourage of the magi? You are following your master who is basing his journey on a star. It is not a short journey either. It was weeks, months, maybe even years before you arrive at your final destination. How long would you keep walking to a place you don’t know to meet a person no one else seems to know about with only a star as a guide?
Then as the story continues, when is the last time you had a dream that you woke up from and knew that you, your wife, and child were to leave immediately to live in a foreign country? What was that discussion like? Would you leave friends and family behind to go to Egypt, based solely on a dream your spouse had ?
The story is full of one crazy event after another. Beyond recording the details of Jesus’ birth, the Christmas story reveals to us the otherness of God and how He longs to partner with big-spirited people to do the impossible. His reality is so much greater than ours. While we are thinking about getting married and settling down with a family in our hometown, He is planning to partner with us to fulfill His plan for the world.
The joy of this season is that with each twist and turn in the story God finds people who choose to live from their spirit and follow when they are challenged to believe what they have not seen and do what they have never done before.
That is the adventure He is calling each of us to live.
This Christmas marvel at the outrageous and awesome lengths to which God the Father will go to give you the perfect gift. Give Him the gift of the same reckless abandon of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the magi to pursue and follow your King Jesus.
May your spirit be so large and in tune with the Holy Spirit that when God shows up in the middle of your ordinary day with an extraordinary plan, you are ready to follow Him regardless of how absurd it might sound.
As 2018 approaches, open your heart to God-size dreams. Wait expectantly for God-sized visions, and don’t be surprised as He does exceedingly abundantly more than you can ask or imagine.
—–
© 2010 Elizabeth Gunter
An archive of past devotionals is available on the website.

You Tell The Story

Most of you have probably heard the joke about a children’s Sunday School teacher asking the children, “What is furry, with four legs, as swishing tail and loves nuts?” The young ones all look around at each other hoping someone else will answer. Finally, a little girl answers the teacher, “The answer’s gotta be Jesus, but it sure sounds like a squirrel.” Well, today’s blog let’s you look at some photos so you can tell the story. And no, the answer is not Jesus. (Though Jesus might be found at some level in our stories.)

Please take a few minutes with each photo, or take time with one today then another later…. I chose animal pictures to give a little “personality.” There is a bird feeder behind my home that backs up to woods. I see a lot of wild life every day. It is therapeutic and I have plenty of  “wild kingdom” stories to tell. (I’m showing my age, unless you remember Wild Kingdom too.) I think we can agree that nature has a lot of lessons to teach us, at the very least because it is part of creation.

What do you see beyond the obvious? Where does your mind go? How does it make you feel? What does that tell you about yourself? What might the photo tell you about Creation, and the Creator?

For the more easily creative and artistic people it might be easy to use the image to create a story. Others might be reminded of something from their own experience, a dream or a wish.

What are your eyes drawn to in any of the images? Take a moment to wonder why you are drawn to that part. Pray. Ask first for a sanctified imagination, then talk with our Creator and ask whatever comes to mind. Then be still for a bit to listen for that still small voice.

Is there one of these you prefer over another? Why? Of course there is no right or wrong answer, but maybe you can learn a little more about yourself and the one who made us in the process of enjoying the beauty and diversity.

I hope this exercise of letting you tell the story this time is a blessing even if it is possibly a little more work than I usually give. My prayer is that something in one of these images unlocks some hidden treasure for you. I hope you will respond to let me know how my prayer is answered!