What a Gift!!

Two weeks ago we had our Shoreline Women Collide Retreat. Friday night was spectacular. After it was over, I was wired and tired, and I stayed up a little too late after the evening ended. I had to get back to the Shoreline South building early Saturday morning, and so before I drifted off for a quick few hours of sleep, I set my alarm to be sure I’d get up on time. Saturday morning rolled around, and I did something I never do. I turned my alarm off in my sleep. I don’t even remember it going off. All I remember is waking up in a panic, realizing it was almost time for me to leave the house, and I wasn’t even out of bed yet!! Now, I am a girly girl, so I knew I was in trouble. So I quickly hopped up and got to it, only to get hit a few minutes later with texts from others already on their way saying IH 35 was at a complete standstill. The dark side of me was happy that everyone would be late also. But the more level headed side knew I just had to get there in time to be available to help set things up for Saturday to be a great day. David and I checked the routes, and I headed toward the toll road instead of IH35, which is the opposite direction I normally drive in the mornings. The toll road is east of my house, and as you know, the sun rises in the east. As I eased up to the stop sign leaving my neighborhood, I saw one of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve ever seen. I was captivated by the beauty of it, so many colors and textures, and I knew – this was for me – a special God touch of love as I started the day. It was like God was saying, “I am with you, and everything is going to be okay.” And, it was – I made it in plenty of time for things to run smoothly.  I didn’t do anything special that morning to earn such a display.  It was a God gift, and it made my day.

This past week, I was again reminded of God’s love and grace in a special way. I had gotten upset with David and lost my temper. I even threw my nail file at him during the heat of the moment. The next day, I felt so guilty. I asked for David’s and God’s forgiveness and felt better, but through out the day David was being so sweet, and the guilt tried to creep back in. For a minute, I went there, but then I heard a little Holy Spirit whisper, “What are you doing? You’re forgiven, all of your sins – past, present and future. Jesus bore them on the cross.” And I knew, it was for me. It was as if God was saying again, “I am here I am with you and everything is going to be alright.” Another God gift, unearned, unmerited – my burden lifted.

In each of those two situations, God’s gift of grace shined through. He didn’t pull away when I was rushing before Collide and mumbling under my breath, or when I was feeling guilty about fighting with David. He simply met me where I was in the moment; and He loved me there. Grace came to my rescue. What a gift! It reminds me of Ephesians 2:8-9, ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.’

Maybe you are feeling panicked about something today, or feeling like you have messed up,  or perhaps you are feeling like you need a special God touch today; a reminder of His love and grace. My prayer for you is that you will have eyes to see his love on display in the world and people around you and ears to hear his whispers as he calls your name and speaks words of love and grace to your heart. He is for you, He is with you, and He loves you beyond measure; rest in the beauty of His love and grace today.

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

Advertisements

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.

Waves of Love

1 John 4:1, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”

 

Your Love Washes Over Me,
It’s Warmth Floods My Body.
My Spirit Soars,
And I am Reminded
Of Your Faithfulness.
I Find Rest
In Your Presence;
Joy Abounds.
Like a Child, I Drink it In.
Your Love, Oh Lord, is Beautiful.

Copyright © 2009 by Amy O’Donnell. All Rights Reserved.

Lovingly Hemmed In

There is a sweet little boy who rides home from school with Brendan on Wednesdays to come to church with us on Wednesday nights. He has been coming with us off and on for two years now. He calls us mom and dad, and loves to feel like a part of our family, and that’s probably because his own family is broken. I don’t know all the details, but I know he neither lives with his mother nor his father. And I sense (you know how we mom’s sense things, even in our children who aren’t really our children), that he has been through a lot in his 10 years. The first time he came to communion service he cried during worship, and since then he has cried many times as others lift their hands and sing. I asked him one time why he cries, and he said I just feel so loved. This past Wednesday night he was with us again after several weeks of being unable to come. He was so distant, the light not on in his eyes. He sat alone, not singing and blankly staring; just two seats down from me until I called him next to me and put my arm around him. As he sat with me, he pulled his shirt up over his head to hide his face. I had no doubt the tears began to pour down his cheeks as I held him in my arm.

Until he moved next to me, he was right there; just two seats away, but he didn’t reach out. Right there in the presence of God, yet feeling separate. As I think on his story, I can’t help but wonder how many of us can relate? I would venture to guess all of us at times have felt unloved, unworthy, ashamed, hurt or alone, and instead of reaching out to God or others, we felt the need to isolate ourselves or cover up our pain; all the while sitting there and wondering, “Does anyone see me, does anyone care?”

If you can relate right now, I have good news for you. God always sees; God always cares. No matter where you are or what you are going through, God is with you.

Psalm 139:1-5 in the NIV says:
1O LORD, you have searched me
and you know me.
2You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O LORD.
5 You hem me in-behind and before;
you have laid your hand upon me.

The last verse above, Psalm 139:5 in the Message, explains beautifully what it means to be hemmed in-
5I look behind me and you’re there,
then up ahead and you’re there, too–
your reassuring presence, coming and going.

I want to encourage you – whatever you are walking through; you don’t have to walk through it alone. As the verses above beautifully depict, God says I’m right here – let me help you. Don’t try to hold this in – let me heal you. I’m walking beside – let me hold you. I have placed loving people around you – let my love flow through them to you.

My prayer for you today is that you will open up to Him. Talk to him as your Papa, your Abba, your Daddy, acknowledging his presence ever around you. I pray you will let his love heal you… let his love flood those dark places and hurt places and shine light in where the sun hasn’t shined in so long. I also pray that you will reach out to the people he has placed around you in your church family and allow Him to love you through them.

Today is a new day – a day of healing, a day of hope for you – a day to be set free and begin to walk in freedom.

Love,

Amy O’Donnell