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Vulnerability

© SimplyStunningPhotographybySara

A few years back, I heard a song titled Arms Wide Open. The song talks about how Jesus loves. He loves with arms wide open, bleeding. He’s naked and nailed to a cross. He is completely exposed. Unprotected. And while many of our pictures of the cross show Him raised well above the crowd, it’s more likely that He was just off the ground, eye level with everyone who walked by.

A few years before that, I participated in a Beth Moore study on Daniel. At some point  during our 12 weeks, I realized that if I was going to speak about Jesus, my faith, or God’s desired changes in our lives, I was also going to speak about my messy past. Getting real with people about who I was and what I  had been would be part of the process. If Jesus has come to set us free, to set me free, what did He set me free from? And that was going to take some real vulnerability.

Fast forward to a few weekends ago at church, our Youth Director gave the first message in a series called Be Brave. The title of his message: Bare it all!

Vulnerability requires great bravery.

I have blogged about my past battles with anxiety and depression, neither of which were really an issue until I became a Christian. And while that may seem strange to some, the reality is that it was easier to protect myself before my relationship with Jesus. If I didn’t want to talk to someone, I just didn’t. I could be mad, walk away, talk about them, and puff myself up all for the sake of protecting myself.

But once I became a Christian, I was going to be exposed. I had to willingly admit my sin. That’s repentance. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven as come near.” (Matthew 4:17) Jesus commands it. But not only do I confess and repent to Jesus, I need to be willing to share my story of faith with others. If I can now see, what was I once blind to? If I’ve been found, where did I go and what did I do when I was lost? Why did I even need to be found?

And, most importantly, I needed to be willing to talk about Jesus with people who don’t know Him and maybe don’t agree. It’s great to talk to people who do agree! It’s encouraging and inspiring and comforting to know I am not alone. We lift each other up and move forward together.

At the same time, others need to know Jesus. There are people who are blind and lost, and they have no idea. It’s not a matter of being wrong so much as it’s a matter of not understanding. There came a point in my seeking God that He asked me to make a decision. What did I make of Jesus? Who did I really think He was? And how would that decision change my understanding of my faith, my sin, and where I would go next in my relationship with God?

As I sat in a church service 13 years ago, I recognized Jesus as the Messiah, God himself. And He made it clear that things would change. Over time, anxiety grew as I recognized the ways Jesus was calling me to step out in faith. I was continuing to look to myself and others to protect me. One day, Jesus made it very clear that I was not trusting Him to protect me. That day, as I repented of my lack of trust, everything changed. There are still times when I’m tempted to give into anxiety, but I recognize it as an opportunity to pray and be honest about what’s going on in my heart and mind. To be honest about our feelings, cares, concerns or whatever is causing us to pull back from God or others is to be completely vulnerable. Not everyone will be gentle and compassionate. Some will take the opportunity to stomp all over you, emotionally, mentally, potentially physically. Some will shut down the conversation, maybe even the relationship. Not everyone will be vulnerable in return, but without it we have superficial rather than authentic relationships.

I’m still in the learning process. I assume I always will be as God calls me deeper into my relationship with Him and calls me out into real relationships with others.

Something to Consider…

What risk are you willing to take to grow in vulnerability and be brave for God? What fear keeps you from moving forward in the ways God is calling and wanting to grow your faith and trust in Him?

If you experience anxiety or depression, seek help. There is no shame in admitting your struggles and you do not need to go into the battle alone. God calls us to bring into the light what we want to keep hidden in the dark. It’s where we are truly set free to love with arms wide open.

Rooted and Established

I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” Ephesians 3:16-19 (NLT)

© Deposit/sonerbakir

© Deposit/sonerbakir

In Christ, the Spirit of Christ lives in you. You are in Christ. Christ is in you.

Do you see how fighting God could make you frustrated? You’re one with the living God and you’re trying to work in opposition to Him.

It’s not that you don’t understand God, at least in part, it’s more that you do. You realize deep down what it’s going to take to follow Him fully. You realize what you’re going to have to give up, what will be sacrificed in your journey with Him. And less than money, position, influence or relationships, but more of your pride, excuses, vices, comforts and conveniences.

But here’s the deal: fullness of life comes from God, not these other things whether material or self-satisfying attitudes and motivations.

When we hold back even one part of our heart from the saturating living waters of the Holy Spirit, we lack fullness. Our relationship with God can seem stagnant, but it’s not. It’s always moving. We are always moving. He is the same. He is constant. We are always moving closer to Him or farther away. We can choose to let His fullness invade our hearts or we can close off more and more pieces to Him. Because when we find reasons and justifications to keep one area closed, we’ll find reasons and justifications to close Him out of others.

Even a tree planted by streams of water, a tree that has no mind, knows that it’s best to grow deep roots into the ground that’s saturated with water. And it’s best to be saturated with the Spirit.

Streams of water move. The Spirit within us moves.

Ground saturated with water from streams has a fresh supply of oxygen. The stream feeds fresh water in while pushing old water out the way our lungs pump oxygen into our blood and our hearts move it through every part of our body. And just like our bodies know how to dispose of toxins, this flow of water in the ground allows for drainage of anything that may hinder the growth of the tree.

The stream flushes the ground and the Spirit flushes our hearts.

A heart saturated with the Holy Spirit has a fresh supply of God’s fullness. The Spirit brings all of God’s goodness and glory into our hearts and we can tap into this fullness through the roots we grow. When the Spirit reveals those things in our hearts that are damaging or harmful to us, we need to let the Spirit remove them. We have to let go and stop fighting Him.

God’s resources are unlimited. He will never run out of what we need to live, move or have our being in Him. As He empowers us with His strength through the Spirit, we learn to trust Him more. Our roots grow deep. We choose Him sooner, we choose Him first. We look to Him to satisfy rather than other people, other things or our surrounding circumstances. As we come to understand how deep His love runs, we realize our roots will never outgrow Him. His love is long and wide. There is nowhere He won’t go to find you and no pit too deep for Him to pull you from. How high is His love? Higher than any cloud, any star. Higher than the most powerful telescope can see.

This is the love that loves you.

When you allow your heart to be saturated with Him, every dark and secluded corner filled with His light and love, there will be nothing that can bring you down. He will establish you in a firm foundation and strengthen you with His strength that stands for eternity.

Something to Consider…

Does the understanding of God’s great love for you escape you? Do you feel like you have too many questions and not enough answers? God wants to you to ask your questions with a willingness to listen. He wants you to know Him in the depths of your heart. He is strong and His love for you can handle any question you throw at Him.

Do you have a hard time letting Him into the deep recesses of your heart? Does the thought of what He will reveal worry you? He already knows what’s there and He knows how to bring healing through the living waters of His Spirit. As cool water refreshes our bodies, His Spirit refreshes our hearts and our souls.

Every success and accomplishment along with every difficult decision or situation will cause you to choose where your roots will grow. Find your satisfaction and fullness of life in Him.

Reconciling Relationships

“But when the set time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” Galatians 4:4-5

“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” John 3:17

2016-treeIt’s December 1st!

My husband and I love the 1st of each month. We like Mondays as well. Really, we do! And the best is when the 1st falls on a Monday. The 1st is a new beginning. Mondays are a new beginning.

And I need reminding that new beginnings are possible because I almost always feel like I’m in need of one. There are so many things that are good and right in my life. People, activities, places and work, so many things going well. And then there are relationships that are just difficult. I don’t know what to say, what to do, and the pressure of getting it right is a heavy weight. Of course, I worry a bit about how well I perform or achieve in my work, how well a meal or project comes together, but most of the concern is over how it will be received by others. Thus, I’m back in the relationship camp.

Relationships can be joyful, but they can also be really difficult.

And what I’m learning is that my attitude in relationships is more about what’s going on in my own heart than it’s about what’s good, bad, right or wrong with the other person.

God’s attitude in every relationship is Love. He is love. He does what love requires Him to do. He can do nothing else.

And with the help of the Holy Spirit, I can choose to love with the same love with which He loves me. Even the difficult people. Even those I’m not sure I like. Even those I’d rather avoid. Those that are rude, self-centered, needy and inconvenient.

Because at some point, I’ve been all these people in my relationship with God … and He loves me still.

He loves me and He loves you. He loves the whole world so much that He sent His Son to enter into relationship with the most difficult people who ever existed. This includes all of us. God had this plan from the very beginning, to demonstrate His love by doing what we can’t: reconciling ourselves to Him.

“Christmas is the beginning of God’s plan being made manifest and coming to fruition. God, the King of kings and Lord of lords, had made a declaration in the garden. He could have let His judgment stand and we could have been left to live our lives according to the law. But instead, He stepped in and fulfilled the law, the obligation He declared, and took upon Himself our judgment and punishment. He brought about a completion of the original declaration in such a way that it still stands and yet there is a way for it to be fulfilled.” ~ Excerpt from Prepare Your Heart for Christ, The Christ Reason

As December begins and Christmas approaches, let us remember the new beginning God provided through Jesus. A new covenant was proclaimed, not one born of law, but born of love. When we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we celebrate a reconciled relationship with God AND with each other.

Something to Consider…

Which relationships do you find most challenging? Which relationships do you avoid? What specifically makes this so?

In what ways have you experienced these same issue in your relationship with God? What was His response to you?

How can God’s love for you move you to love these same people differently? How does loving them display your love for God or God’s love for them?

 

Prepare Your Heart for Christ: The Christmas Reason available now!

What new thing is  God calling you to do out of worship for Him? How is God growing you in your relationship with Him? Is God asking you to sacrifice to serve Him and others in a greater way? Do you celebrate the fullness of all God has done when you come to Him in worship? Christmas is the beginning of God’s plan coming to fruition. It may not be realized until Jesus dies on the cross and is raised to new life, but today we have the gift of a baby. God has come to dwell with and save His people.

PCH Front Cover

 

 

 

Visit www.marikeisling.com to check out other studies available.

Give Thanks

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.” Psalm 100:4-5

© DepositPhotos/satariel

© DepositPhotos/satariel

My husband and I love to host gatherings at our house. Whether it’s a formal dinner, potluck barbeque or snack-filled game night, we eagerly anticipate time with family and friends.

There are definitely times of stress leading up to our events. Do we have enough food? Have we cleaned everything that needed to be cleaned? Are we on the same page about what we are trying to accomplish before everyone shows up? Will our guests enjoy their time? What if they don’t like anything we’ve made?

And as I consider all of these questions and concerns I realize how much I love to prepare for the arrival of my guests. I want everything to be just right. I hope they know how much we appreciate them and are able to relax and enjoy their time with us.

Today, as I was preparing dinner knowing we still had to figure out how we were going to fit everyone into the same space, Jesus said, “I’m preparing for your arrival as well and am excited for the day when you are finally home with me.”

Jesus is not passively waiting to return. He is actively preparing hearts and minds. His Father’s house has many rooms and they all need to be ready. He is not worried about space. There will be room enough for all who respond to His invitation to come.

We are imperfect people flawed in our thinking, our behavior and our handling of relationships, and yet, I can’t wait to spend time with those I love. How much more does Jesus look forward to the day when His people will be made complete in Him? When we finally enter the courts of God’s kingdom, we will give Him all our praise with great thanksgiving.

Something to Consider…

We get to practice now for life in His kingdom. We give Him our first thanks as we recognize that He alone could and did make it possible for us to enter His kingdom courts.

What will be your attitude when you walk through the doors to meet with family and friends? Do you focus more on the people or the concerns as you prepare your home for others?

Love as He loves and give Him thanks.

Why Do I…

W“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” 2 Corinthians 5:14-15

Sometimes, I imagine conversations with others. I’m not sure if it’s a writer thing, an introvert thing or just a strange habit, but it happens.

I’ve been struggling with the “why” of what I do. Everyone has reasons for what they do. Reasons that to them, make what they do worth doing.

There are a lot of really good things that I can be doing, but each day I need to choose certain good things over others. It helps when I see the end result of my work or receive feedback and appreciation for what I’ve done. There are also times I just need to do the good thing because it’s the right thing in the moment.

So I imagined someone specific asking me why I blog. This is what I said:

I believe God has laid it on my heart to share with others what He’s sharing with me. He teaches me about Himself every day. He shows me things about myself as well. Ultimately it’s all about my relationship with Him. And He has given me an opportunity and desire to share those things with others.

God knows us and loves us and He wants us know and love Him as well. He has really good things for us.

For example, there was this time when my dog was just a few years old. He was a bit temperamental and we were working with Him to help Him learn to trust us. One day, I just stopped and said to Him, “Why don’t you just listen to me? I give you everything you need. You have food to eat and a warm place to sleep. I play with you and take you for walks. I am happy to just be with you. I don’t want to have to put you in your kennel because you’re not doing what I tell you to do. Don’t you know I just want to love you?”

And I stopped and heard God ask me, “Don’t you know I just want to love you?”

He has provided everything I need. He enjoys me simply because I am me. There is joy in our time together. He doesn’t look to give me consequences, but sometimes He has to. He just wants to love me. And that love requires a response.

And that’s why I write:  God loves me. And in order to experience His love, I need to be in a relationship with Him. That’s how we each experience His love – in relationship with Him. Which means we need to acknowledge Him, look to Him and trust Him.

I hope what I write encourages others to do that, to turn to Him and trust Him. I hope others don’t just know they are loved but experience His love in real ways every day.

I didn’t really consider His response in my imaginary conversation, but I realized it was again, a message worth sharing.

God loves you and wants you to know Him.

Something to Consider…

How has God shown His love for you?

Today, how will you respond to His love for you?

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” 1 John 3:1a

Three Nails

Three Nails“Two others, both criminals, were led out to be executed with him. When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on his right and one on his left. Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.’ And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice. The crowd watched and the leaders scoffed. ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘let him save himself if he is really God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.’” Luke 23:32-35 (NLT)

My oldest daughter lives a few hours away so whenever she comes home, we pray for her safe travels. Her car had been parked at a gas station when, as she was getting ready to come home, she realized she had a flat tire. With her fiancé’s help, they were able to remove the tire, put on the spare and drive to the repair shop. After waiting a few hours, they were told the nail was too close to the edge and thus the tire was unable to be repaired. She was going to have to buy a new tire. Not the news a college student wants to hear. She purchased the tire and they were soon on their way.

The next day we were able to meet up with family members for lunch. We had a wonderful time only to come home to another flat tire. Her car had been parked in our driveway all day and yet, there it was, a different tire flat as a pancake. Her dad was able to help her get the tire off, put on the spare, and bring the tire to the repair shop. This time it was able to be repaired. Knowing her financial situation, we willingly paid for the repair. Her dad was able to replace the tire and she was on her way once again, this time to see friends.

A few days later, we were out shopping and running errands. When we returned home, guess what we found. Unbelievably, another flat tire. A third nail in a third tire. Her car had been parked in the street in front of our house. Since it was not completely flat, we tried filling it only to notice the pressure dropped as soon as we turned off the pump. Again, her dad was able to help get the tire off and the spare on, but because of the time, we couldn’t take it to the repair shop until the next day. We worked out how she would get around in the meantime. Again, the tire couldn’t be repaired. A little more money, a little more time, a little more frustration.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18 (NIV)

When we found the third flat, she said she felt like she was being punished. Did she do something to bring about this fate?

I admit, it seems like more than a coincidence that she would have three nails in three different tires in five days. What are the odds? And if she’s not being punished, what would be the point of this situation?

Maybe a better question is, what did God want her to know about Him through this situation?

As we talked, she admitted she felt like she had no control, was helpless, angry, and frustrated. We then talked about how God is always in control, is our help and is never frustrated by our circumstances. So why did this happen? How would this help her trust Him more and draw her closer to Him, rather than push her away?

She realized that she had always been parked, never on the road and she always had help. She was also always able to keep moving. These hindrances didn’t stop her from what she needed to do.

The next day, as we were driving home, I asked her another question. “What did these three nails cost you?”

She said money and time and peace. It was inconvenient and stressful.

Then I asked her, “What did three nails cost Jesus?”

Her answer: His life.

“Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” John 19:28-30 (NIV)

Jesus Christ took the three nails so we could how much God loves us. Jesus Christ took three nails because only He could accomplish this purpose. He took the three nails so we could be completely reconciled to God and live with Him in peace forever. These three nails were not a hindrance to God’s plan; they were the plan.

How might God want to use the difficulties and hindrances in your life to draw you closer to Him so you could know His love more deeply?

What difficulties are you willing to endure so the love of God can be made known to others?

Lord God, as I see the troubles of this world, experience the difficulties of life and struggle through my own frustrations and desires. Help me remember that it’s nothing compared to what you endured for me. The problems we face are real, they are hard and painful. They wear on us and try us in ways we didn’t expect or ask for. But in You we have hope. In you, we know there is more. You are our ever-present help in trouble. You are our refuge and strength, our shield and strong tower, our joy and salvation. Thank you for your protection, your help and your strength to keep moving. In Your precious and most holy name, Jesus. Amen.

Daddy! I need you…

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“the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” Romans 8:15b-16

I saw this in the grass the other night when I took our dog out before bed. It looked like a little bird, but I had no idea what it was. It’s still there and I still don’t know.

photo (2)

 

This morning I saw something next to it. Now, some of you may know exactly what it is and I would certainly appreciate it if you would share you knowledge with me, but it’s got me a little befuddled!

Is it some type of exotic mushroom?

Is it a hive or nest of some kind?

Is it a seed pod from a tree or a body snatcher pod from the movies?

If I get a long stick and try to flick it, will something fly out of it?

Will it know I flicked it and come after me?

Will my neighbors know I flicked it into their yard?

I would love to put this off and leave it for my husband to remove. (I do that on occasion, but don’t tell him.) The problem is that he’s not going to be able to deal with it for a while and it’s right where we take the dog out so it would be easy to forget and overlook. The last thing I want to do is accidentally step on it or have the dog try to eat it.

And even as my mind goes through all the scenarios of what could be and how I could take care of it if should I choose to accept the mission, I am reminded of another such situation over a decade ago.

In our family room two houses ago, we had a bar type counter with a space for a waste basket. I was cleaning, bent down to remove the garbage and in the corner of the cabinet was a big, dark, furry looking creature. I was armed with a bag of garbage, an empty can and a broom. Maybe some of you can relate to the idea that this was not going to cut it. The bag wasn’t heavy enough to crush it if I should get it out with the broom. If I was able to capture it with the can, how would I then get it out from under the can? And besides, it would probably grab onto the broom and climb up the handle before either of these could be valid options!

So what did I do while my husband was at work?

I called my dad.

Yep, at the time I was a thirty-something wife and mother and I’m calling my daddy to kill the bug. Of course, that meant my mom would come as well. Never mind that they are older and move slower than me so whatever reaction time I was worried about with my own abilities would be cut by some fraction. Never mind that they lived half an hour away so I would need to wait and keep an eye on the cabinet lest it get away. Never mind that they were always out and about enjoying the retired life so they might have to stop what they are doing to come to my rescue.

In spite of all this, I called anyway.

And my daddy came; He answered my call. He always did. I never doubted that he loved me because his actions always showed me he did.

I understand this isn’t the truth for everyone. Not everyone has a dad who answers when called, who loves at all times.

But there is a heavenly Father who loves unconditionally; who is ready and waiting to answer your call for help and is already intervening in ways you don’t even know. He knows you, loves you and is for you. All you need to do is call out to Him.

Because of my dad, I’ve had a better understanding of God’s love for me which leads me to ask the question: will my children understand the love and sacrifice of Jesus better because I am their mom? Will they know the importance of faithfulness and kindness, peace and patience? Will they understand the difference between punishment and discipline and be grateful for me choosing to do the hard thing?

When I’m not sure if what I am doing is the best for my children, I know I have a Father in heaven who will answer my call for help and show me His loving ways.

By the way…the big, dark, furry bug ended up being a candy bar wrapper that missed its mark. My dad had a great laugh, too!

Something to Consider…

Do you know God as a loving Father? Why or why not? Who in your life has painted the picture of who God is to you?

Do you believe He is always available, ready and willing to come when called…already by your side in times of trouble?

Who in your life will know the truth about Jesus because you have given them an accurate picture of who He is through your words and actions?

“Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son (Jesus) into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba,Father.'” Galatians 4:6