Radical Generosity

I want to share with you a story of gratitude and generosity – about a woman whose life was so transformed by the grace and love of Jesus that loving him back with all she was and all she had was her natural, passionate response. Perhaps you have heard of her, her name was Mary. She and her sister Martha were very close to Jesus, they spent quite a bit of time with him, and he even brought their brother Lazarus back to life after he died.

During a very special meal, Mary poured expensive perfume, worth a year’s wages, on Jesus’ feet and wiped it off with her hair. Such an extravagant gift! Can you imagine taking a year’s worth of wages, spending it on perfume and then using it all at one time, for one purpose, on one person?

But for Mary,  pouring generosity back on Jesus was an outpouring of love from her heart for all that he had done in her life. He had taught her, spent time with her, and healed her brother! She had learned that as she put him first, she would be taken care of in every way, just as it says in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

To seek first the Kingdom, you have to seek first the king of the kingdom, and that’s what Mary did. She sought Jesus. She sat at his feet to the point that she got in trouble, when her sister thought she should be more hospitable. She learned to trust that as she sought Him first, everything else would fall into place.

Just as Jesus did a great work in the life of Mary, and in many other lives we have the privilege to read about in the Bible, He is still doing the same work in our lives today. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.” He is still in the miracle working business, still healing, still restoring and repairing, mending and forgiving.

Whatever you are in need of today, I hope this story is an encouragement and a reminder of who our God is, and that as you put him first he will take care of you in such a way, that you will not be able to hold back from pouring all you are, and all you have, back to him and the people around you – to bring him glory.

Copyright © 2011 by Amy O’Donnell. All Rights Reserved

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Unforced Rhythms

Have you ever picked up something only to find that it is too hard to carry? I do every time I think I am strong enough to carry one of my kids up to bed. All of them, my youngest included, are too old, too big, and too tall for me to be able to handle in any graceful way. In the recent times I have had to carry them, I may have gotten them upstairs & into bed, but I was beat… worn out, breathing heavy and weary by the time I was done. I accomplished the task, but at a cost to me. Whereas David seems able to just whisk them up and walk smoothly up the stairs, place them in their beds, and come down effortlessly. You can probably look at me and tell I was not designed to carry great weight over long distances. I am not strong enough!

 Some of us can relate to seasons where we have lived our lives that way – trying to carry loads we weren’t made to carry. Maybe we buckled under the weight of trying to measure up; to be successful in the eyes of the world. Or perhaps we bent under the strain of our past hurts and injustices, because they became so much a part of our identity, we didn’t know who we would be with out them. Or maybe we toed the line; in an effort to be a “Super Christian”.

 Jesus knew we would struggle in these areas, and He wants more for our lives. He wants us to learn from his example of what a successful life living for God looks like. In Matthew 11:28 (MSG), He said, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me, and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” 

Come… Walk with me… Work with me… Watch how I do it…  These are all action oriented statements. Christ wants us to lead active, productive lives, but it’s action from a place of resting in Him, fueled by His grace to live a life that brings glory to God. When we surrender our lives to God in this way, He is able to accomplish more of eternal value in us and through us than we could ever do on our own; our lives are no longer about keeping score or a test of how much we can carry or accomplish in our strength, but instead our lives become a testimony of how much he can accomplish through us as we rest in Him.

 My prayer for you today is that you will lay down anything you are carrying that is ill-fitting, anything that is causing you to stay trapped in the past, or is keeping you from being able to surrender to the life God wants you to live. And in exchange for what you lay at the feet of Jesus, I pray you will embrace the life, blessings and all things he has in store for you… serving, loving, and leaving a Godly legacy. There is no greater adventure, no greater sense of fulfillment than that which comes by living a surrendered, God-fueled life!

 Copyright © 2011 by Amy O’Donnell. All Rights Reserved

Expressions of Thanks

 

As I was thinking this week about what a joy it is to give back to the Lord a portion of all he has given us – of our time, talents, and treasures; I began to think about how amazing it would be to somehow have the opportunity to see all the lives that have been transformed as a result of our giving, loving and serving. As I pondered this thought, a popular Christian song by Ray Boltz came to mind about a man who dreamt he went to heaven. In his dream he was strolling along with someone he knew, and as they walked along, gazing at the beauty that surrounded them, people began calling out to them and coming up to them to say thank you – for teaching Sunday school, or for giving to a missionary through whom they came to know the Lord. After each person shared how their life was transformed, they said, “Thank you for giving to the Lord. I am a life that was changed… I am so glad you gave!”

I am a life that was changed-wow! What a great reminder that as we give back to God a portion of what he has given to us; whether it’s our resources, our gifts and talents or our time, lives are changed! People are on the other side of our giving.

When it comes to our tithe, honoring God with that first 10% of what he has blessed us with; we have the joy of knowing He can stretch and multiply what we place back into his hands, just as Jesus did with the loaves and fish in the Bible, in order to meet the needs of His people.  Chances are, those on the receiving end of our giving will never know the names of, and be able to say thank you, to each of us who had a part to play in helping fund the service they attended where they gave their heart to Jesus, or the meal they were served when they were hungry, or the backpack they received when they needed something to carry their belongings. But we still get the joy of knowing we had a part to play in Kingdom work. We get to enjoy the feeling of significance that comes with knowing we helped to make a difference in someone’s life, and we also get the pleasure of knowing our giving results in gratitude being offered to God. He gets to hear the thank-you’s of His people, just as it says in 1 Corinthians 9:12, “The service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.”

So, keep giving, keep loving and keep serving… You are making a difference!

Copyright © 2011 by Amy O’Donnell. All Rights Reserved

But God

Can you imagine sailing through life thinking you were living right, maybe even passionately pursuing God the best way you know how… only to find you were off track? In the bible, we can read about a man named Saul who lived the early part of his life that way. We first see him in Acts 7, where he was observing Stephen’s stoning. Any questions we might have had about Saul’s reaction to Stephen’s stoning are laid to rest in Acts 8:1 where we read, “And Saul was there, giving approval to His death.” You see, Saul was a Pharisee, and he was passionate about his Jewish faith.

After Stephen’s death, a great persecution broke out against the church, and Saul was at the heart of it, as he went house to house dragging men and women out and putting them in prison. The Christians scattered, preaching everywhere they went, and the church grew. But Saul’s plans to stop them grew as well. He got permission to travel to Damascus to capture Christians that had fled there to bring them back to Jerusalem. He was willing to go the distance and do whatever it took to stop the church from spreading! Permission granted, he was on his way until something amazing happened – Jesus met him on the road to Damascus, literally bringing him face to face with the truth of the gospel. Paul surrendered to Jesus, and His life was never the same.

This is a powerful story of God’s grace in action! Saul became Paul, and went on to become one of the greatest leaders, preachers and writers of the New Testament. These words found in Ephesians 2:4,5 (one of the books Paul wrote) show us how much his life was transformed, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”

Paul knew he was undeserving that day he put His faith in Jesus, after He met him on the Damascus road. Only love could explain the way God stepped in and turned his life around. You could say he had a ‘but God’ moment… ‘But’ because of His great love for him, ‘God’ stepped in and made him alive in Christ, and God does the same thing today for us as well. He reaches out to us where we are, he sees where we can be, and by His grace he gets us there.

Copyright © 2011 by Amy O’Donnell. All Rights Reserved

It is Finished

This past Friday my family and I had the opportunity to walk through Stations of the Cross, an annual Easter event our church puts on, which provides attendees an opportunity to walk through a fifteen station depiction of Jesus’ last hours on earth, to his death and resurrection. Being that this was the third year for our family to participate, I was focused on not taking it for granted. I wanted to take the time to reflect and pray; allowing God to minister to me where I am today and speak to my heart in new and fresh ways. So, I made a point to walk slowly through each station and really press in during the reflection time.

The first few stations were really, only minimally impactful for me. That all changed about midway through, when I came to the station with the standing cross with splatters of red representing Jesus’ blood, and a small cloth draped over it, representing the cloth Jesus wore at the time of his death. As I stood at the base of the cross, looking up at it; I began to picture Jesus on it, looking down at me, and I couldn’t help but wonder – If I could have been there that day, standing at his feet and looking into his eyes; what would I have seen in them? Would I have seen agony and anguish? Would I have seen a fiery, ‘Go get ‘em, Tiger’ look, something along the lines of- I’m dying for you now go and live for me?

As I pondered what his expression might have been, I saw none of those things in my mind’s eye. Instead, I saw misty eyes tenderly looking down at me full of sincere, piercing compassion – for all the heartache I have had to suffer, all the pain, for every hurt, for the affects of sin in my life – either by others or of my own choices. I began to cry. I couldn’t help but wonder how could Jesus, hanging in pain, be thinking of me; feeling compassion for my hurts and sorrow, for my pain and sin? But he did. And not only did he die thinking of me – he died thinking of you as well. Isaiah 53:4,5 says, “Surely he took up our infirmities (that’s mine and yours) and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds, we are healed.” He was thinking of you, he was thinking of me – he loves each of us that much.

And as Jesus was dying, He said the words, “It is finished.” These words ushered in at the end of His life, marked the end of us as we were, and the beginning of us as we were meant to be (L.Giglio). As Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Our sin earns us death and separation from God; those are the wages we deserve. But Jesus willingly paid the price for our sin, and in so doing He gives us the opposite of what we deserve. For all who put their faith in Him, he gives the gift of forgiveness and right standing with him.

As we celebrate His resurrection, we celebrate not only our appreciation for Jesus’ love and grace represented on the cross; we also celebrate that when he rose again he conquered death, hell, and the grave. We celebrate that God does what he says he will do; He who promises is faithful. We celebrate that no matter how bleak things seem, we are never with out hope. We celebrate the amazing power of our God, power we have access to daily in our lives through Christ. And we celebrate the relationship we get to have with Him both now in this life, and in the life to come… there is nothing like it. And it all comes down to grace – God granting us what we can not earn and do not deserve – an amazing gift available to us all. Thank you, Jesus!

 Copyright © 2011 by Amy O’Donnell. All Rights Reserved

Nothing is Impossible

I imagine, if I were to ask you if you have ever faced a situation that for all appearances seemed impossible, you would say yes. I think we can all relate; we have probably all had times when our faith has wavered, our dreams have seemed a million miles away, and it appears as if God has forgotten us.

 In moments like those, I love having the Bible to look back on to see how others walked through similar faith-challenged moments. We can look at stories like that of Abraham and Sarah, who waited 25 years from the time God promised them a son, to his actual birth. Abraham had been promised that He would be the Father of many nations, and he hadn’t even had the rightful heir it was all supposed to come through. When the time was approaching for Isaac to be born by God’s time table it seemed impossible from Abraham and Sarah’s perspective, because they were past childbearing years. God’s response to their faith wavering moment was this question, “Is there anything too hard for the Lord?”

In the New Testament, in Luke Chapter 1, we see a similar response given to Mary when the angel visited her to foretell of Jesus’ birth. She didn’t see how it could be possible for her to have a child when she had never even been with a man, to which the angel replied in verse 37, “For nothing is impossible with God.”

 We can also read of people being healed of diseases, raised from the dead, protected in a fiery furnace, and of one man who was rescued from a lion’s den without a scratch on him. We can read of prison doors opening miraculously, of words being given to speak when needed, of provision being met. And with all of these true life stories we are again reminded that with God all things truly are possible.

I don’t know what you are facing today, but I do know that it hasn’t knocked God off the throne! He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is still the God that moves mountains. Our God is still in the miracle working business. Nothing is too big or too hard for Him – For Nothing is impossible with God!

 Copyright © 2011 by Amy O’Donnell. All Rights Reserved.

Naked and Unashamed

Adam and Eve walked together in the garden, in perfect fellowship with God and each other. They were connected in a powerful way – there were no secrets, no sin, nothing to hide. Before each other and God they walked out their days, naked and unashamed (Genesis 2:25).

The time Adam and Eve spent in the garden represented God’s best for mankind; it was the ideal. If we break down the relational components, we see that God’s ideal was not just the relationship between man and God. God didn’t make Adam and say, ‘I’m done.” Instead, After Adam was formed, He said, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”(Genesis 2:20).

Then came that fateful day when Adam and Eve chose to eat of the one tree they were forbidden to enjoy. They elected to exercise their free will and take a chance to see if the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, really would make them more like God as the serpent persuaded them to believe (Genesis 3:5). They found instead their desire for independence from God brought sin, shame, and separation. Where they once walked in open fellowship, they now felt the need to hide the parts of themselves they felt were unacceptable to share.

The fig leaves used by Adam and Eve to cover themselves in the garden represent the barriers people still feel the need to place in their relationships today to hide those parts of themselves they are ashamed of or afraid to reveal. And, we still see the desire for independence from God and each other displayed by many, creating yet another obstacle for community. However God’s best plan for us has not changed, our lives are the most satisfying and enjoyable when we are connected in open, honest relationship with Him and with one another.

Thank God, that in his love for us he chose not to leave us in our sinful state, but to set a plan in place to restore us to Himself. A sacrifice was made; a sinless life was laid down to make atonement for the sins of all mankind. 2 Corinthians 5: 21 say, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” This sacrifice is available to all, but in order to take part in it we have to come to Christ through faith, and when we do, we are restored to a place of right standing, or righteousness, with God.

Thank God also, that through out the Bible we can read stories of biblical figures that show us the value of being connected not only to God, but to one another as well. 1 Samuel 18:1 gives us an example of the level of connectedness King David and Jonathon shared. It says, “After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself.” One is Spirit! He loved him as Himself? David was a man after God’s own heart and even with the closeness and openness he shared with God; he still recognized the need for companionship. He knew he wasn’t made to walk through life alone.

Jesus also modeled community in his time with the twelve disciples, as well as with the women and others who were in his close circle. He ate with his friends, prayed with them, had several accompany him to the garden of Gethsemane, and he appeared to them again after his resurrection. And, In John 17 we have the privilege of reading one of Jesus’ prayers on our behalf. Imagine you are sitting with in ear shot of Jesus as he is praying, and you hear these words he speaks in verse 20, “that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us…” He longed for us as future believers to share in community with one another and with God. To be one as seen in the openness shared between Adam and Eve; or like the friendship between King David and Jonathon… to be one in spirit, joined together in community; sharing life – naked and unashamed.

Scientific studies have proven the value of friendship and living life together. Studies have found those who are connected through meaningful relationships have been shown to have better brain development, stronger immune systems and less psychological vulnerability to all sorts of problems like depression, anxiety, addictions, etc. They also have a higher resiliency in illness, fewer heart problems, and are less prone to cancer, strokes and a myriad of other diseases. It is amazing that the benefits of community affect us body, soul, and spirit.

A popular song of the 60’s asserts that, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” While the words are catchy, they are slightly off. The truth is, and the Bible spells it out and science agrees, we all need people. When we are connected; we experience happier, healthier and more fulfilled lives.

So how do relationships help us through life? What value do they bring in the good times or the hard times, and how do they contribute to our growth spiritually?

Our Pastor shared a joke one Sunday about a Pastor who called in sick and skipped church to play golf. He had the best game ever; he hit the best shot of his life which resulted in a hole in one. As the joke goes, Jesus leaned over to God and asked him if he was going to let him get away with skipping church to play golf. God said, “Don’t worry about it… Who is he going to be able to tell?” When we have cause to celebrate, there is so much more joy produced in being able to celebrate together. Romans 12:15 says to, “Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.” It is heartwarming to share joy with others, and it is bonding to experience memorable milestones with our friends.

Mourning with those who mourn is equally as important. When we share in the grief of our friends, we enter in to their world and show we care by empathizing with them. It is healing for the hurting to feel comforted and listened to by friends and family. There is nothing worse than feeling alone during the hard times.

Lastly, our friends help us grow. Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” We know that with tools, the sharper they are the better they are able to accomplish the task they were made to accomplish. The same is true for people. When we are open to the encouragement, support, and even confrontation and accountability we receive from our friends we are fine tuned to better succeed in life. In this area, as in all the areas of friendship, love is the most important ingredient. 1 Corinthians 13: 4 -8, tells us that without love, we are only a resounding gong or clanging cymbal. In other words, we are only annoying to those around us. With love, we always have the greater good in mind – we are patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, proud, rude or self seeking. With love we are not easily angered and keep no record of wrongs; instead we protect, trust, hope and always persevere. Verse 8 ends by saying, “Love never fails.” Love is the strongest sharpening tool there is.

John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” We see here, just as we saw in the garden, the opposing plans of God and Satan. God intends us to have life abundant, and Satan intends to destroy that abundant life. The abundant life consists of both a good, vertical, love filled relationship with God and supportive, encouraging, and life giving – naked and unashamed – horizontal relationships with people. Relationships like these happen best in community, so if you are not already plugged in to a good group of friends in your church, it’s time to get connected.
Copyright © 2009 by Amy O’Donnell. All Rights Reserved.