The Table…

We’re invited. We’ll be satisfied. We’ll have the perfect seat. We won’t ever want to leave.

Banquets or parties can be awkward – what to wear, where to sit, who to talk to and about what.

The there’s this: I have a hard time just relaxing and letting go when it comes to having people over. I obsess over getting everything clean, everything just so. Once everyone is there I’m good, but the lead-up causes me to often not want to invite people in the first place. And then I remember, Jesus took me just the way I was – lots of cleaning up needing to be done. People don’t come for clean floors, they come for sincere friendship.

“Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” (Romans 12:13 NIV) God’s people who are in need – that’s all of us, right? In need of walking this life with more and more of Jesus. In need of knowing we aren’t the only ones who mess up. In need of practicing what we believe.

So about that table. Picture it. Full of people you know, whose hearts are transparent and pure. Covered in serving after serving of endless grace and peace. We won’t go away hungry: “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.” (Luke 6:21a NIV) This is the table we long to gather around – in just a little while.

For now – if you’re in America – this week you have a chance to gather round a table. Whether it’s at a homeless shelter or in a mansion – maybe in the break room at work cause you took that shift — just gather. Because Who we give thanks to is all that matters. “My mouth is filled with Your praise, declaring Your splendor all day long.” (Psalm 71:8 NIV)

Is your table missing someone this year? Is your table empty? Is your table full of strife? Maybe your table is just the way you want it. There is One who can fill the empty spot, calm the hurts, make it better than the perfect place settings. Invite Him and share so that all may “…know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:19 NIV) No one will want to leave.

 

To the Brim…

Say there were no consequences for overeating your favorite thing – what would it be? This time of year it would be pecan pie for me, but ask me another day and I would choose fries and a Coke.

We fill up on all kinds of things everyday – not just our tummies. Our minds.

When our children were growing up we used to find all kinds of ways to help them see that what they allow into their thoughts will eventually come out in their actions. They, like us, push those boundaries. Ever think about all the mess in the world around us and where it comes from? Minds filled with selfish ways, minds so far led astray they are filled with evil intentions.

A bit closer to home – ever think about why our troubles loom large? Just like food for our bodies, our souls need us to fill up on God’s Word. To acknowledge we are filled with the Holy Spirit and be full of all that is of God. It is then fears will fade.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10 NIV) The thief – not only the enemy of our soul, but the selfishness of a world bent on filling up with that which is temporary. Jesus didn’t come to give us a temporary high, a momentary rest – no, Jesus did all He did that we could have life – forever! A life so full it spills over to those who are hungry – and so full it carries us through all these temporary troubles straight into eternity.

We go around like we’re waiting on God to fix everything – what if we went around knowing He already has? Didn’t Jesus do away with death – with our every wrong? YES, and so much more. There is this time between when He went back to the Father and when He will return for us – the filling up time. Oh Father help us not to waste now on worry. “Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh the joys of those who take refuge in Him!” (Psalm 34:8 NLT)

Taste, just try it – a bit of His Word, a bit of prayer. Oh, it is good. Fill us up, Holy Spirit, to the brim – let us be so full of all that God has for us we will never settle for temporary fixes.

Just A Little Bit…

Are things going just the way you planned?

I’m guessing each of us smirked or exhaled ‘no way’. Now I know not everybody lives by a plan, an agenda, a ‘this is the way it should be’ idea. But I’m thinking most of us have this picture of the perfect life, or at least ‘it’s supposed to be this way’ life.

Most days much of the world would settle for just a little less chaos. And that’s what we do, we settle. This is not a pep talk about striving or becoming, this is filling up on what can be, what is.

In the book of Mark in the Bible there is the story of man whose son needed some serious help. The man had heard of Jesus and found a way to bring his boy to Him. When Jesus spoke to the man about his son the father finished his plea with “But if you can do anything, take pity on us.” (Mark 9:22b NIV) What happens next is me – you, each day in the uncertainties of life: “If you can?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:23-24 NIV)

So here we sit letting the enemy stir up fears, letting worries swirl. And answers, God’s answers, not ours, are only a prayer away.

When we lay it out for God and think only the answer we seek will be enough, we forget our big God has so much more. What we need to fill up on are the promises that never fail. He fills us up with the Holy Spirit and we find all His promises: love, joy, peace. Fears can’t steal our peace, tragedies can’t squelch our joy, and our longing hearts overflow with real love.

Help our unbelief. Just a little more trust. How? Laying down ourselves before God, praying with all our might, hugging His Word tight, holding on to real hope. Not the kind that, in this world, is elusive – but the kind that comes from faith and is oh so genuine. Faith – a gift from God – it’s never a matter of not having enough, it’s a matter of exercising it. Choosing this day, at this juncture, to say I believe, I trust, I can’t see the outcome, but I can trust my God.

So how much faith do we have? If we can answer: “just a little bit more than the day before” – we have all we need. And if we can’t – it’s ours for the humble asking.

Lips to Give…

A friend said she makes her list then asks God what His agenda is – instead of bless her list, she asks what on this list is Your agenda, so it can be blessed.

Mouth hanging open. Simple. (I think I’m slow.) Yes, of course, in our own way we do this – but really, how about making it that transparent? Not what we feel must be done, not how we think we should pray for someone. What, Father, do You want done – how do you want me to pray for them?

“The instructions of the LORD are perfect, reviving the soul. The decrees of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.” (Psalm 19:7 NLT)

His instructions revive us. His decrees make us wise. When we’re counting up the tasks, maybe we should count on Him. Funny to think this is how long God’s list for us is: “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never counts against him.” (Romans 4:8 NIV) In Jesus all sin is removed, nothing left to count, to put on the list.

In that case, since we are given such amazing grace, maybe we need to spread it around. Yep, I want to yell at the guy doing work on the house when he botches it. Grace says: we all make mistakes – don’t yell, ask if he can fix the part that didn’t come out right. “The lips of the righteous nourish many.” (Proverbs 10:21a NIV)

Nourish versus starve. Quick retorts, anger unchecked – those lips starve.

When agenda overshadows compassion, grace is lost. Yes, Father, here are our lists. You know we have much to do in this hurried world. Don’t let us miss the beauty, the hurting, the others frazzled just like us. Let us rest in the truth that if we follow Your list, then everything that we worry didn’t get done, won’t really matter. And as Ann Graham Lotz said in a prayer once: “Open our lips to give Jesus.”

Let our lips and our agendas reflect the God who is beyond time and the God who holds us secure.

 

 

 

 

 

You Are Qualified…

Thirty-four years – celebrating a life together. As strong ocean breezes toss my hair, I wander back in time.

Years ago a prideful young man and a selfish young woman found a grace-full God and determined they would live a life with God at it’s center. It sounded so easy back then. Many lessons have been learned. Many rough edges have been smoothed.

This is how you spend thirty-fours years together: “being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience” (Colossians 1:11 NIV) (confession: God brought it all, we were so naive).

Ever feel no strength, no power?

Us too. Many times money was way short, moods were dreary, and never enough hours in a day for all to be done. The presence of other believers, the prayers of many, and the unrelenting love of a glorious Savior saw us, and sees us, through all things.

Just what is the purpose of prayers for those God puts in our path? “And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10 NIV) But for those prayers and God’s grace, pleasing Him would not be on the radar for we are all self-centered. And bearing fruit – that of patience, kindness, goodness – those are hard to come by in the struggles of life. Only by way of God.

Whether you are single, five years or fifty years into your marriage – this world is going to fight against any relationship working out. For we are told to grab ‘happiness’ not to spread it. We are told to protect self not sacrifice for others.

Know why it takes a life time to know God? Why eternity is ours who believe right now but the fulfillment of it is yet to come? Because it takes a life time to learn that in all things, at all times we are to be: “joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in the Kingdom of light.” (Colossians 1:12 NIV)

You – me, we are qualified to make a marriage, parenting, friendship be all it is supposed to be – not because of anything we bring to it, but because God has set in our hearts His Holy Spirit making all things possible and working all things for the good of those who love Him.

Growing Up…

Recently I discovered I had made a mistake that bruised my ego in many ways: I looked foolish, like I had no attention to detail – and it could have caused some real problems. Oh how hard it was to fess up to the error. And then the anguish and problems it caused the one who had to take care of it, made me want to run and hide.

Years ago I would have had a hard time even confessing it and I would have had a string of excuses why. I feebly offered a reason, which sounded ridiculous even as I said it. But grace was poured out. Instead of anger and ‘how could you’ there was ‘give me the info, I’ll take care of it’ – and afterwards it was like it never happened.

Hmmm, is that our reaction? How much grace do we pour out – or at least sprinkle here and there?

“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2Corinthiiians 9:8 NIV)

And He does – from the moment we realize our pitiful, selfish ways right on through the moment of salvation and then every day thereafter – so much grace overflows. So how about us? If grace flows through us, do we keep it just for ourselves? Is it possible that it abounds so that we might share a little?

Growing up is a life-long process. Some never do. Without the Holy Spirit right there in us, it’s impossible to leave selfish ways behind and become who God created us to be. “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1Peter 2:2 NIV) Crave a life that reflects Him, a life that rests in Him, a life directed by Him. He is our very breath and sustains us.

Have children (adult or at home)? Have co-workers? Have a spouse? Have relatives? Have contact with other humans? They will disappoint us, and us them – a little grace goes a long way. And this great gift of grace that we don’t even have to work for, makes way for all to grow up – up towards Him. “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever! Amen” (2Peter 3:18 NIV)

What is Unseen…

This life is all about changes – for a girl who doesn’t like change, it’s a bit unsettling. Ask my husband. I can live in the same house all my days and be content, order the same thing at my favorite restaurant and laugh through the meal like it’s the best ever. But take me out of my element and smiles fade.

And yet I see the hard of this world and know things need to change. A few thousand years separate us from once perfection. Only the first man and woman knew what it was like before the downward spiral we now find ourselves in. They were also the first to trust that the God who they intimately knew would somehow make a way. Hope.

Hope – still sustaining us all these years later and assuring us there is still perfection for those who believe. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV)

You and I can’t see beyond the dark curtain of guns firing randomly from hotel rooms or hearts failing and leaving us alone. But we can be certain that God is never caught off guard and glory is being made from it all. Don’t let lies tell you God can only use good deeds – there is no evil act too powerful for God not to bring forth greatness we can’t fathom this side of eternity.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2Corinthians 4:16 NIV)

As much as change will accompany all our days, we can rest in the one thing that never changes: God’s love for us and that He has made a perfect way. The same God who made endless galaxies and tiny tree frogs – who set in motion changing seasons and hearts longing for no more tears – is the same God who holds all our brokenness and is making wonders beyond anything we can imagine.

No we don’t see how He does it, that’s where faith comes in – and He even gave us the faith. He provides it all and He reminds us to “Fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2Corinthians 4:18 NIV)

Re-Do…No DIY Here

Too many times I need a re-do – my attitude, my words, my actions, even my thoughts.

There’s mom-guilt, forgot to say thank you guilt, bad judgement guilt, selfishness guilt – and the list goes on. So wishing we could re-do: wipe out the things we wish we had known better than and erase the things we did know better than.

“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2Corinthians 5:17 NLT)

What – we do have a re-do? Belong to Christ – guilt can be gone…and we can have a new attitude, kinder words. Can have now, will have in eternity. Now is a choice. We have the Holy Spirit in us and He is ever true and present. We can be made new now but we have to cooperate with God, we have to say no to self – yes to Jesus. Let go of guilt that imprisons us – instead of just burying it – and be set free.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1 NIV)

Stand firm – that’s our part – but like a toddler learning to walk, God takes us by the hands and helps us toddle ever closer to standing our ground in Him. The more we live in His freedom the more the old life is gone. Oh someday we will toddle right into His waiting arms, for now He wants to show us the way.

“Jesus answered ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6a NIV)

So, yes, you and me, we do need a re-do – and the great news is, we get one. The moment we say ‘Yes’ to Jesus, the re-do begins and someday it will be complete. In the meantime, all those trying times, all the things we regret, all the changing that will happen – that’s how it is here. We grow more through our weaknesses than our strengths. In our strength it’s all about us, in our weakness we learn it’s all about Him.

Yes, Father, re-do us and help us let worry, fear, regret, and guilt be removed as far as east is from west – let us live in our new life that has already begun. (No DIY here.)

Today…

With calendars chock-full weeks ahead of time and what seems like an endless list of special days (birthdays, holidays, national who knows what day) we tend to live in tomorrow. So much to be done, to look forward to or to dread.

Sometimes I’m guilty of looking at the days as a check-off list. Got that birthday cake made, sent that card, made that call – check, check, check. I think that is the enemy’s strategy, make life one big check-off list and humans are too busy to see the wonder and thank the Creator. Get them fearful about what tomorrow may bring and there’s no time to rest in the care of the Protector.

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of it’s own.” (Matthew 6:34 NIV)

Each day has enough trouble but also enough awe and miracle. Sunrises, clouds over a hot day to cool it down, babies crawling, apple picking and so much more. Sure peek at tomorrow’s schedule but then let’s lose ourselves in this day, in this moment. This is the day the Lord has made – “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”  (Philippians 4:4  NIV)

Living in tomorrow started in the garden. Eve wanted to control circumstances, to know like God knows, to be in charge. But only God has walked all the tomorrows and faith is all about trusting that our times are His. He knows the number of hairs on our heads – He knows the joy and the sorrows. He knows that someday faith leads right into eternal joy. He wants us to know that too – and assures us that living for Him moment by moment gives the peace that passes understanding.

A perpetual calendar sits on my desk – the past few days have started in with the author saying what he is thankful for alphabetically, then it’s my turn. Today was the letter C – his was chocolate, mine was clouds. Oh I could have been spiritual and said Christ or emotional and said children – but I chose the clouds outside my window. I choose to live today and to remember:

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8 NIV) He’s already done all the checking-off, today will you choose wonder?

With All My Heart…

Marriage – a pledge to love despite obstacles and with all your heart. Parenting – we commit to meet their needs and love them with all our heart. Friendship – requires a lot of work (and a good one is worth it) – and needs our whole heart.

Hmmm, most of the time I love my husband with my whole heart – until he makes me mad then we’re guilty of letting it wane a little. I adore my children – but sometimes I just want to shake them when I see the pitfalls they could avoid. My dearest friends are a source of strength and I care deeply for them – but still I let them down at times.

What is love with one’s whole heart? “[Jesus] answered: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Luke 10:27 NIV)

That’s a tall order – good intentions. Do any of us do it perfectly – no not one. However, we have a pattern to follow: Jesus opened wide His arms and loved us with all His heart – dying that we can live forever and ever. That’s whole heart love.

So how do we die to love God? Our neighbor? Die to self. When my hubby makes me mad, it’s all about me if I’m honest. And so it is with every relationship. A little dying to self could bring a whole lot of life to our weary world. It’s the same in our relationship with God. When we surrender ourselves and accept Jesus, we die to the ways of the world and come alive to the ways of God. No perfection expected, because Jesus is the only perfection we need. And little by little He will help us to love with more and more of our hearts.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5 NIV)

Our understanding sees with eyes that can’t see our friend’s heart or our child’s either. Knowing that God does, we can trust that all He has planned for them He will bring about. And the most comforting truth: God loves us with an unfailing love – all His heart. Because of that: “I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify Your name forever.” (Psalm 86:12 NIV)

Mandy Hughes

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