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How to be Great!

‘At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”‘ [Matthew 18:1-6]

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When I was younger, this text mystified me a bit. I mean, on the surface its meaning is obvious… innocence… simplicity… yadda yadda. But when you know children, I mean really get to KNOW children… they can be a real pain. Hence, my confusion.

I mean, frankly, while this seems like a lovely image… have you honestly ever met a “humble” child? Really? I haven’t. Children can be brutal. They clamor for status and primacy. Some of the cruelest people on the face of the earth I’ve ever known have been children.

So… what is Jesus saying here, really?

I’ve finally resolved that for myself, but if your ponderings lead you to a different place, that’s fine, too. Just thought I’d share this.

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The disciples are in the time where Jesus is preparing them for His crucifixion. He has told them He is going to be killed, but that He will rise again three days later. He is extremely clear about who He is… Son of Man, Son of God. So, in the midst of sorting these confusing things out, they ask a question only someone in His unique position could answer…

“Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”

Pretty big question. Pretty bold question. I suspect they were expecting a pretty big bold answer. What about you? If you had been standing there listening, or even if you had had the chance to ASK this question, what answer would you expect?

Something like, “He who does the will of the Father, He is the greatest…”

Or, “He who upholds the Kingdom in righteousness, He is the greatest…”

Or, “He who speaks the truth of God, He is the greatest…”

Right? I would. Or perhaps they were thinking of all the history… the patriarchs, the prophets, the judges, the kings, King David. Perhaps they expected Him to name one of those.

But no. As per usual for Him, He does something totally unexpected. He calls a little boy to Him from among the bystanders, and has him stand in front of the disciples like an artist’s model. He answers them in a very odd way. He does NOT tell them WHO is the greatest in the Kingdom. Instead (again consistent with how He usually does things), He tells them HOW to BECOME the greatest in the kingdom. (Perhaps that’s really what they wanted to know in the first place, bless their competitive little hearts.)

“Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

WHAT?

I bet they didn’t see THAT coming! Remember, they’d just shortly before been at the Transfiguration. Peter, James, and John had seen Jesus, Moses, and Elijah appear before their very eyes, and take counsel with Jesus. Peter wanted to make a shrine on that mountaintop. So I am more than certain that when they inquired about heaven’s greatest soul, they weren’t expecting some little kid in the street!

So what was so special about kids? Or… what was so special about THIS little kid? What do kids have, that we don’t have? Why does Jesus use words like “converted” and “become like” as He points to this boy? How did this boy so dramatically “humble himself” that Jesus uses him as a model for the greatest in heaven?

Only in recent years have I figured it out. What do kids have, that we don’t? What did this little boy show, that we lose over time and must be transformed to recapture?

Trust

Children raised by loving healthy parents, learn “Trust” from the cradle. At least, trust of their parents. They learn to trust that they are provided for… mom and dad will make sure they have something to eat. They learn to trust that they are safe and protected… mom and dad will make sure others don’t hurt them, that they don’t get lost or injured. They learn to trust that they are valued, treasured, affirmed… they will carry on the family legacy, delighting the heart of their father, bringing joy to their mother.

As trust grows, obedience grows apace. When a child is secure that mom and dad seek only their good, their provision, safety, and security… parental directives are far more likely to be seen in that light. The child may wonder, or even ask, “Why?”. But the question is more likely to come even as the child is assenting and obeying, as opposed to the suspicious argument and immobility of the child who has learned NOT to trust.

Are there such children? Untrusting children? Those who have learned to be insecure, suspicious, perhaps rebellious and disobedient? Oh, yes. Both kinds of children surround us all the time. We adults, parents and others, can send a child down either of these two paths. Jesus tells us how in the lament that follows:

And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me;  but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

Jesus didn’t pose as His model just a “little boy”, but rather a “TRUSTING little boy”. Why do I say this? How do I know this? Because the text says Jesus “called a child to Himself and set him before them“. Let’s see… Jesus calls on a stranger boy in a crowd, as He talks Kingdom-of-God-stuff with His disciples… AND HE COMES!

[Pause]

Think that through a minute. So… imagine yer a kid in the street. Maybe you’re alone. Maybe you’re passing by with mom and dad. Maybe you’re standing there with them listening to this (now) notorious or famous Preacher-Guy everyone’s talking about… and He looks your way with a simple, “Please come here a moment…” What do YOU do?

Ever been called up onstage for a Magician… or a hypnotist? Ever been there when this happened to a friend? It’s SCARY! But this kid COMES!

Why? Because the kid trusts Him and obeys Him. OR… perhaps it’s more accurate to say… this kid obeys Him BECAUSE he has been taught to trust adults in the first place.

This boy obeys, yielding to Jesus’ invitation and will, TRUSTING that nothing bad will happen to Him because of that trust. Or, he may have trusted that his loved ones nearby would make sure nothing bad happened to him.

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Gentle Reader, I believe we’ve lost that capacity. I think the disciples, like ‘most all adults, had lost that capacity. We have to weigh the alternatives, look at it from both sides, consider the pros and cons, and come to a reasoned decision about what to do.

Want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven? Want to attain greatness there?

Gotta find another way to live. Gotta rediscover “trust”. Gotta get “reborn”, and then “grow up all over again”, reestablishing the sort of trust for God that we once knew as little one’s with our loving parents. When we do, we discover that God will ALWAYS provide for us, ALWAYS keep us safe, and ALWAYS cling to us as the delight of His heart and apple of His eye.

When we honor that trust in one another, dealing uprightly, sacredly, honestly with one another… we fulfill the promise of His last words on this. Sometimes, our trust is abused and we are betrayed. Sometimes, even though we walk  in trust honoring Him, we will be hurt by others. It is not our role to protect from that, or avenge it. Our part is to forgive. But Jesus is unmistakably clear that when we honor our Kingdom citizenship, living in trust and transparency, the King Himself, Our Father, will deal with those who abuse our trust.

Jesus closes with His lament of such foolish people…

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Good news? Bad news? Well, it is certainly unexpected news… do you aspire to greatness in the Kingdom? Then aspire to Trust and Reliance on the unknown will of God. Trust Him enough to obey. Treat others as equally sacred children. And as gradually our trust transforms us into yielding to Him (as we lose our self-protective fear), watch what happens!

 

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Man Push or God Pull — Pick One

WisdomThis Advent morning I’ve wakened in the early predawn hours with what I can only describe as a tremendous sense of joy and gratitude.

I often rise on Sundays and pray for ministers who today will lend their voices to the Lord, that He touch hearts, minds, and souls of His beloved children.  I will, in fact, have that privilege today as I serve in place of a friend who is a bit under the weather at the moment.

I have this overwhelming sense of this “Good News” I come to bring. To “lift Jesus up, that HE draw all men to Himself”. I need not draw or push them, they need not work or beg or force that to happen. Christians, with such frequency, tragedy, and futility try to “climb to the mountaintop of God”, or “purify themselves to warrant His grace”, and so on and so on. My heart breaks in the presence of such misunderstanding.

I have a friend who once lamented: “On my best days my highest thoughts of God are yet so poor as to be slanderous. He receives my thoughts of Him as a loving parent receives the rough crayon pictures drawn by their little boy.”

And that’s TRUE, Gentle Reader. I cannot gainsay that. It’s like setting a matchflame alongside the inferno of the Sun, and imagining that to be anything but pathetic. Yes, I agree.

But here’s this incredible thing… this ebullient joy I’m filled with this morning, that I almost feel as if welling up inside me…

Because GOD HIMSELF knows all that… Because He Himself yearns for our intimacy and closeness… HE has done ALL the “heavy lifting”:

  • He pulls… we need not push.
  • He lifts… we need not climb
  • He embraces… we need not thrash about to cling
  • He offers… we need not beg
  • He reveals… we need not dig

All He requires of us is trust and faith. The amazing thing about our matchflame, is that He Himself sucks it into the center of His heart, and melds us there… our limited little selves, utterly united with Him, and all that that means.

All that that means, though, is vastly more than our little selves can encompass, comprehend, understand, or express. Nonetheless, we certainly CAN “experience it”. We can live through it, know it, know that it is real, and be nourished by and grown from it.

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Today many of us will go off to worship, to praise, to fellowship with God and one another. All our words, all our songs, all our expressions of love and adoration, will… assuredly… fall pitifully short of doing justice to the glory that is Him.

But watch this… “Ecce!”… “Behold!”… “Look at this!”

KNOWING that, God has done this incredible thing that it is very easy to lose sight of. WE DON’T WORSHIP of our own selves. We cannot. We cannot create “good” apart from Him. It is He Himself, within us, in His Infinite Self who is the Holy Spirit, who is responding to Him with worship in the first place. We merely “ride along on His coat tails” anyway.

So… do you want to praise, pray, worship Him “worthily” (whatever that truly means)? Then “hush”, listen and ride along with the wordless Holy Spirit as HE worships the Father this day. When you feel your heart soar or flutter at an unexpected moment… go with it… don’t look about or read the bulletin to “quit being distracted”. Should tears come unbidden or silence come to your lips during the music, don’t shake yourself, wipe your eyes, and clear your throat for fear of embarrassment before neighbors. Should the sermon prompt in you the need to affirm some incredible truth, and you feel moved to go to the front and share that affirmation in words before a witness, don’t staunch that grace for fear of what the deacons will think. You’re not there for them, you’re there for Him, and He is here for all His family.

This is a wondrous day, Gentle Reader… Beloved Brethren. He came to declare “Jubilee” and fulfill all the requirements of the Law because we cannot and could not. Go forth this day and Celebrate that… with all the joy in your heart!

Grace to thee — The Little Monk

 

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Journey – Getting to Town

JerusalemOur Journey is drawing to a close. We are now in Holy Week. Different religious traditions deal in a variety of ways with the “rhythms” of the Liturgical Year. But no matter the tradition, there are few who fail to sense the increasing intensity and background hum of the Passion of Christ as we approach Easter Sunday.

Jesus, just ahead of us, has just made His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.

When He approached Bethphage and Bethany, near the mount that is called Olivet, He sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you; there, as you enter, you will find a colt tied on which no one yet has ever sat; untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of it.’” So those who were sent went away and found it just as He had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord has need of it.” They brought it to Jesus, and they threw their coats on the colt and put Jesus on it. As He was going, they were spreading their coats on the road. As soon as He was approaching, near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles which they had seen, shouting:

Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord;
Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” [Luke 19:29-39]

It has been this last line that has captivated me in recent weeks. “Crying Stones”… “Talking Rocks”. I know that may sound strange, but that was what struck me about this passage. I mean, Jesus SAID that. I’m kind of used to just blowing past that in the text, but this time it stopped me dead. Usually, I just pass over it, unconsciously covering it with a “poetic license” or “hyperbole” label. But recently, I’ve learned not to do that. I’ve learned not to assume that Jesus could speak anything less than the truth.

So I found myself pondering how stones could cry out. To be honest, I haven’t figured it out. My brain, my mind, cannot comprehend how rocks… can speak. But there’s lots of things Jesus taught, that stretch my reasoning beyond the way words are typically used. Things like being born again, or dying to save one’s life, or worshiping in neither mountain nor temple. I believe Jesus utterly, but I also acknowledge that there are times He uses words differently than I do.

So I took this Truth, that stones could praise Jesus, and looked across scripture for other similar applications. In short, I came to realize that there are many times “inanimate creation” does “living things”. All the way back to Cain and Abel, blood can call out to the Lord. Many Old Testament passages state that the blood of the righteous call out to God. Balaam’s mount clearly spoke in defense of her actions. Trees and mountains will obey a command uttered in sufficient faith. All these thoughts and reflections blended together into what seemed a single truth.

That all of creation is a unified whole. Everything “lives” in God, and He is God of All. We, His children, are a PART of that, but we are part of a greater life that is all of creation itself. All of creation praises and worships Him, and while we are blessed to be graced with free will, we are not the only creatures who inhabit His Kingdom.

This scripture seemed to echo:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. [Colossians 1:15-20]

“In Him all things hold together…”

That phrase arrested me as well. He is Life Himself.

I still cannot say I “understand”, in the sense of “comprehending”, or being able to contain and constrain this truth by my reasoning and logic. Nonetheless, I KNOW that Jesus spoke the truth of creation praising Him. There are moments, like in the quiet of the night or extremely early morning, where I can almost hear the praises of nature and stars as they sing to Him.

And beneath all of this, there is great joy in knowing… we are not alone. We are never alone. Not only does God Himself wrap us in the arms of His embrace, but we are surrounded by a creation that is held together at each and every moment in and by Him. We are inextricably woven into the fabric of Creation, and all of that, is woven in Him.

 

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No Comma… His Kingdom!

Night Castle“When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.’” [Luke 11]

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“Your kingdom come.”

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Your mind’s ear may hear that the same way that mine does… as “THY Kingdom come.” If so, that’s fine. We are about a process that started with the Post, “Whose What???!!!” exploring what seems to me like a beautiful Rose. It is the gift of the Lord’s Prayer, first unveiled by Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount, later repeated in a leaner form as instruction to His Disciples on how to pray.

This little “mini-journey” into the past, into trying to “hear HIM as He spoke this” to both the Multitudes and the Disciples, is rather a “prayer laboratory experiment”. I am not trying to “teach” here. The task is not for me to take information, or even insight, garnered from my OWN prayer and experience of these scriptures, and communicate that information to you. The task is vastly more subtle, and more fun, to pick up and examine this extraordinary Gift in myself and my own spirit, make a few gentle and general observations, and encourage you to pick up and examine this Gift in your own spirit… and it will thus be different, look different than mine… and see where the Holy Spirit in YOU guides your consideration.

We are considering the Lord’s Prayer like the unfolding petals of a gorgeous Rose, planted by the Lord and nurtured in the prayer garden of spirit, where we have all the time in the world simply to admire it, watch it unfold, and marvel at its beauty. We are taking one line at a time, considering and savoring the experience, as we let the Spirit echo, reverberate, indicate, and whisper… like sensing the fragrance of this Rose’s perfume, letting the Spirit wash over and through us with whatever He would have us see and know.

This Post considers the line, “Your kingdom come.”

It has been a couple days since the line before was considered, because I have struggled… terribly… with “how to do this”. I needed to sit, ponder, listen, and take instruction of the Lord as to what to type here.

What’s the problem?

Well, for one thing… “God’s Kingdom” is a scripturally gargantuan concept. Old Testament, Gospels, Epistles, to Revelation… the Kingdom of God is a HUGE chunk of understanding, or even RELATING to God as Our King. I needed to sit still, get out of ALL THAT… theology… commentaries… word studies… (one day, you may want to go check out the distinctions between “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven”… both generally translated in English Bibles as “kingdom of God”… lol… you have no idea!) All that “stuff” just tends spontaneously to “spring up” around the phrase “Your kingdom come”, like weeds seem to burst forth in a rose garden. I KNEW getting lost and entranced in and by all that minutiae is/was simply NOT what the Lord would have of this post.

Second, there’s Greek. (There is a reason for the phrase, “It’s Greek to me!”) This line of the Lord’s Prayer, and the one that follows use an unusual form of language that is very difficult to express in English. This post is NOT meant to be a technical consideration of exegesis (the fancy term for figuring out what Greek really says). To let myself get lost in that, beautiful though it is, would quite defeat the mission here. This blog is NOT a consideration of technical theology or the skills thereof. This is, hopefully, a simple consideration of Jesus Christ and His grace in the lives and walk of those who love and choose to follow Him.

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So there I have sat, Gentle Reader. Perched like a frog on a toadstool, asking Jesus for help… trying not to let my “cat herding nature” distract me into chasing a number of very enticing directions. He just said, “Sit! Wait!” And so, I sat and waited.

Finally, today, He answered. I did not expect quite the answer I got… but here it is…

Jesus said I should, “Focus on the comma that isn’t there…”

What? I heard it repeated. It reminded me of a famous Sherlock Holmes exchange between him and Inspector Gregory in the story “Silver Blaze”…

“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.

And then I understood. Here’s what I can tell you about “the comma that isn’t there”.

When I was young, learned this prayer, memorized this prayer, said and repeated this prayer countless times… in my heart and mind there was always a “COMMA” between “Thy Kingdom” and “Come”. As though it were a command. “Yo! Kingdom! Come HERE!” See? Not that I would express it in so rude a form to Almighty God, but much gentler… yet and expression of command, or maybe of petition.

But later, when I got into higher education and was sentenced to study Greek, I discovered an odd thing here. This word “come” is written in an unusual Greek form, almost like a “magic verb”, that can encompass all sorts of situations in the single word. Past, present, future… completed action, ongoing action… already here, yet coming. As I said, sort of a Mr. Clean Magic Thingy of words. (* tries to avoid twitching at flashback memories of Greek class… wonders if one can get PTSD from surviving Ancient and Koine Greek in consecutive semesters… hopes other survivors of Greek Class out there reading this don’t explode looking at this kind of description *)

Any… wayyyyyy….. (* tries to slide past this extremely sticky wicket with a minimum of stickitude… *)

What I want to suggest, as you look at and handle your own Rose of this verse, is:

What happens when we release all boundaries around the word “Kingdom”? And when we release all boundaries around the word “come”? And when we make sure there is no comma in the phrase?

Like, “What is a Kingdom?” How big is that? Is that a ‘territory’, or a ‘place under authority’? Can one always see the borders and boundaries? Does everyone living there always know they do? All that… any of that…. And the scriptural issues… Where is it? When is it? Is it after we die, out there, up there, somewhere? Is it wherever Jesus IS? Is it within us? Is it among us?

And what if “come” is just vastly bigger than we ever thought. Is it invitation? Yes. But is it statement of something done? Yes. Something happening right now? Yes. Something to happen in the future?

So many echoes. So many ideas. So many meanings… AND HERE’S the COOLEST PART! As God unfolds these incredible petals, one after another, they HARMONIZE like notes in a chord! It is not discord and confusion, but harmony and music! At least, it is if we don’t push or pull… if we just let Jesus highlight and unfurl the Rose.

Great phrase I read a few weeks ago… “You can’t push the river”.

God really marked that for me, especially about prayer and grace. Sometimes, you just enter the water to float with the current, knowing that God alone sets the pace. You can get in or out if you choose, but you cannot stop it, you cannot slow it, and you cannot push it. Once you’re in, you’re in HIS domain, and you can trust that He will handle that perfectly.

Enjoy your Garden, Gentle Reader. Grace to thee! – Little Monk

 

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Paul’s Song

The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.

Day to day pours forth speech,
And night to night reveals knowledge.

There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard.

Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their utterances to the end of the world.

I stand at the edge of the Omniverse ask, “Am I? Do I Exist? Am I a Figment?” and wait… silence.

Then Omniverse answers, “You are, because I AM.”

“Why?” I ask.

“That I may Love Thee.”

“What must I do, to be so loved?”

“Continue to exist. To be. To live.”

“What more?”

“Nothing more.”

And from the silence, the darkness, I begin to hear… The music comes, the rhythm comes, the pulses of praise of worship, from hearts and voices without lips or form. The music builds, layer by layer, to a chorus beyond count. Songs without words. Music without notes. The very humming of the IS… the ARE… THEMSELVES.

“What… What is that? What do I hear?”

“You hear the IS… it comes from I AM… this is Worship, this is Life, this is Love, this is to BE!”

I listen… I hum… I vibrate… I AM… I live… I love… No longer just me… Now we… Us…

The Omniverse, and all within hums, vibrates, thrums… Is He/She the Source of the vibration? Or does the hum answer Him/Her?

“Yes… and No… Both!”

“I do not understand.”

“I know. But that does not matter. It is all right.”

“But what IS all this?”

“Love. My love.”

“But Who AM I?”

“Love. My love.”

But WHY is all this?”

“Love. My love.”

“But What is it all about? Why is there life? Why are there others? Why is there freedom? Why can some do good, and others do ill?” and as if in some gigantic canyon, some cosmic canyon of stars and galaxies, I heard my wee small voice echo…

WHY?… WHY?… WHy?… Why?… why?…”

And the Stars, and Galaxies, and Universes, picked up my echo, and all vibrated with…

WHY!… WHY!… WHy!… Why!… why!…” But from THEIR voices, it was not a question, but a statement…

The Omniverse completes the statement… “Love. My LOVE!”

And I see. I know, but not comprehend… the answer to all “Why?”…

“Love. His/Her Love.”…

“Yes.”

The Song… It is so beautiful… I no longer hear it… I no longer sing it…

I am a… a Note. NO! More than a “note”, I am a Harmony WITHIN it! Yes!

The Song is:

Love… MY Love…

The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.
Day to day pours forth speech,
And night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
Their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their utterances to the end of the world.In them He has placed a tent for the sun,
Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber;
It rejoices as a strong man to run his course.
Its rising is from one end of the heavens,
And its circuit to the other end of them;
And there is nothing hidden from its heat.

The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.
10 They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them Your servant is warned;
In keeping them there is great reward.
12 Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults.
13 Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins;
Let them not rule over me;
Then I will be blameless,
And I shall be acquitted of great transgression.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer. [Psalm 19]

 
3 Comments

Posted by on January 15, 2014 in Quiet Time, Uncategorized

 

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The Gift Box

The BoxIt was Christmas Morning at the Magic Monastery, and all the monks were filled with joy and excitement. A wondrous Christmas Tree stood in the Great Hall, and St. Nicholas had come and gone the earlier night, leaving beautifully wrapped gifts for all the brethren.

I could scarcely contain my excitement as my name was called and a brother brought me a gorgeous gift box with a great scarlet bow on the top and a card reading, “Merry Christmas, Little Monk, from Your Father.”

“What could it be?” I wondered, as I shook the box as discretely as possible. It made no sound. In fact, it had no sensation at all. It seemed… empty… which disturbed me a bit. I began to worry.

Was the box truly empty? Had I displeased the Father this year? Had I misbehaved? Sinned? Treated others as less than sacred? Had I disobeyed Him, or crossed His will? These fears shot through my heart like lances of ice.

I thought through the year, all my challenges, temptations, falls… my shortness of temper, impatience, mistrust, lack of faith… my carelessness, my selfishness, my failures in grace. For just a moment, it seemed overwhelming. Of COURSE, this box was empty! What ever made me think that I deserved a Christmas present from the Father of Lights? I was, and had been all year, an utterly undeserving child. Why should I even bother to open the box?

I sat, dejected.

Then, my name was called to open my gift, as all the brethren sat around me with smiling encouragement and the joy of grace on their faces. I wanted to weep. I wanted to tell them my box would be empty, for I’d earned no gift from the Father this year.

But an older monk, a few seats away, just nodded and smiled at me, as though he could see deep into my heart.

“Ah, Little Monk… you are filled with fear. Do not be afraid. All of our boxes are light. Be brave, Little Monk. Trust the Father, and open your box. See what lies within. You cannot see with eyes of fear, look inside with eyes of trust,” his gentle voice intoned, as he encouraged me.

So I took a deep breath, removed the bow and wrappings, and found a carved wooden chest with the most beautiful scrollwork engraved all around, inlaid with silver and gold. The box itself took my breath away. And when I opened it…

There was not “nothing”. Within the Box… was “Everything”. Inside the Box was all I ever needed or would ever need, all my friends and the family of God, all joy, beauty, truth, pleasure, and beyond everything else… love. There were no words to describe… either the Gift, or my heart at receiving it.

As I gazed, rapt in awe, at the contents of my Box, a scroll seemed to float upwards among the infinite contents, and catch my eye. I grasped the scroll and drew it out, as the Box sat warmly on my lap.

“Read it,” the old monk prompted, as the brethren looked on.

The Scroll said: “My dear son, Little Monk. Merry Christmas, and enjoy this Box and its contents in this new life, this new beginning, this new year that I give to you. Never forget, My presents do not come because you deserve them, or because you have earned them. I do not ‘compensate’ My children as employees. I, your Father, give My children GIFTS, simply because I Love you, and for no other reason. I Love you, I seek only your good, always… and I keep My promises. You can always trust to that.

“Remember this, written by My great musician… ‘Trust in the Lord and do good; Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, Trust also in Him, and He will do it.’

“This Box is My ultimate Gift and contains all other gifts. The name… is Grace. You delight in Me, Little Monk. That is mutual. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.”

And the scroll was signed, “Your Loving Father.”

All around me, the brethren smiled, nodded, and simply said, “Amen”.

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2013 in Quiet Time, Uncategorized

 

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The Day Before Christmas!

I awoke with this rolling through my head this morning… I needed to get it down and share it with you. Merry Christmas to you all! Blessings and Grace to thee, Gentle Readers!

Twas the Day Before Christmas!

T’was the day before Christmas, and all through God’s Kingdom
His children were pondering how to be right.
So much preparation! The shopping! The travel!
The wrapping of presents on Christmas Eve night!

“This time should be Sacred! A Holy endeavor!”
Declare countless critics, most solemn in tone.
“This shopping is frivolous! Music commercial!
There’s nothing that honors Our God on His Throne!

“The Yule Log, Saint Nicolas, Stockings by Fireplace… all Pagan!” these holy ones sneer.
With voices of outrage, these judges condemn all
The joy and the laughter, to them empty din,
“These people should be on their knees in repentance,
Just muttering thanks that God came for their sin!”

At the opposite end, there are those who’ve forgotten that
There is a God in the heavens at all.
For these, Blessed Christmas is simply a holiday
Break from their workload to party with all.

And here in between there are millions of followers,
Worshipping God as their Father and Friend,
But hearing rebuke from the pious and critical,
Now fearful that Christmas traditions offend.

Now I am a simple Monk, not very bright, I fear…
Studied in all the right subjects, I guess.
All the right “ologies”, customs and languages,
But even this Little Monk, ponder as hard I might,
Couldn’t determine what God sought to bless!

So off to my closet I trudged on this Christmas Eve,
Finally sick of the whining and strife.
I thought, “Surely God will be willing to share with me,
What the Nativity means in my life.”

So down I sat, pouring two coffees and waiting,
When much to my shock, the Great Father appeared…
I started to kneel, He at my little table,
He shook His head smiling, said, “Sit down right here.”

“Don’t be so flustered, My loving but Little Monk,
Jesus has made it quite clear,
that each time you sit drinking coffee across from Him,
you drink with Me.
Son, there’s nothing to fear.

“You want to know, ‘Who is Right’ in this debate of yours?
How do I want to see this time of year?
Those who have lights, tinsel, presents, and parties,
Or those who seek sacred remembrance austere?

“O My dear Little Monk, when will you ever learn?
Though I applaud that you bring this to Me…
It’s not in the forms or the outward appearance,
But what’s in the heart of the child that I see.

“To answer your question of who’s right and who’s wrong,
I tell you quite clearly, you don’t see aright.
The question’s not whether there’s presents and tinsel,
But rather are gifts being given with LOVE?
When gathered in love, peace and joy at His coming,
My Son’s there, in midst of them, all through that night.

“For others who walk with Me daily and deeply,
Who live by My breath and each heartbeat they hear,
The sense of the sacred seems poignant and stately,
They sometimes mistake that all see Me so clear.

“Don’t JUDGE, precious Little Monk, one or the other,
It’s not just a question of ‘wrong’ or of ‘right’,
Like meat bought from temples, a person of conscience
Must simply do what My Spirit instructs THEM,
And no one but Me can condemn them that night.

“The one thing I want you, like any who love Me,
To do as you celebrate My Son’s great Birth,
However you choose to make merry and gather,
Is simply invite Him to join you on Earth.

“Let Jesus take part in your party or service,
Imagine Him sitting there, singing along.
For always He loves to take part with Our children in gathering,
The Gospels show as often He partied as preached,
He spent as much time in the houses of sinners AND Pharisees,
As ever He went to the Temple to teach.

“So there, Little Monk, I have answered your question.
‘Who’s right?’ or ‘ Who’s wrong?’ has no meaning to Me.
‘Why do you gather? Is love, peace, and joy there?
Have you invited My Son there to join you?’
These matter, not whether you tinsel a tree!

“Keep asking your questions, My sweet son, thou Little Monk.
One day you may yet grow up and be wise.
For life’s not a test, that you worry to pass or flunk,
But seeking to please Me is grace in My eyes.

“So much do My children fret, worry, and ponder,
That this course or that is the line of My will.
Their fear can unhinge them, just freeze them immobile,
They seek to be pleasing, they stop and stand still…

“I wish I could tell them, they’ve already done it!
I’m pleased when they look to Me first!
The left or the right path is far less important to Me,
Than asking Me which best or worst!

“In asking, they please Me. I’m simply a Father
who loves them and seeks all their best.
I manage My Kingdom, it does not depend on their
Efforts or strength in the test.

“I seek to be with them, as always I have from before the beginning of time.
Tonight let us celebrate, ‘God Come Among Us’,
(‘Tis one of Our greatest of triumphs, you know)
Quit fretting and judging,” He tousled my hair as He rose,
Then gently He said, “I must go.”

And He walked away, slowly.
I knew that I had to get paper and pen in my hand.
To share such a moment, such comfort and warmth,
On so cold a day all through this land.

I shall celebrate Christmas, the Birth of Our Savior,
With family, and tinsel, and lights,
And sacred remembrance of price that was paid,
For my love, joy, and peace in this Night.

I love you, my Family, all brothers and sisters! Let’s celebrate Birthday of  Jesus the Son!
For one night, no differences as we stand arm in arm, Children the Father’s made One.

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2013 in Quiet Time, Uncategorized

 

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Scenic Overlook

HawaiiHail to Thee, Gentle Reader! I hope this is, or has been, a wondrous day for you!

This is just a quick “sniglet”, a note, to mention this really cool little thing God did the other day as I woke up.

As you may know, if you follow this blog, I’ve sort of felt like I’m on a “quest”, a “journey” as the Lord helps me learn and grow in understanding of whatever it means to be a dweller in His Kingdom. Since Spring that has focused with ever greater intensity on Him and His Name as “Love”. Day by day and week by week, this incredibly patient and longsuffering Lord of Hosts works to teach me what that means.

As I hike along this path of gradually growing understanding, I try to leave little milestones along the way for others, through these posts. Thank you, Gentle Readers, for your ongoing prayers and encouragement in these travels… without that, progress would be much slower and harder.

Well anyway, sometimes it feels a bit “uphill”, and sometimes I feel like I’ve made a bit of progress, but then there comes this huge “wake up call”, as God turns a page to a new chapter, and I can feel like I’ve learned nothing at all. Know what I mean? Not deep discouragement or depression or anything like that… just the sense that I wish I were better at this. Or, that I wish I were better, period! lol

It’s one of those stark moments of self-honesty and clarity where we share Paul’s frustration, “The  good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.” (Romans 7:19) Do you ever have those moments, Gentle Reader? Moments where you just look at that, sigh, turn and walk on? Well, from time to time I do. And the other day was just such a day, the Lord kindly brought to my awareness and began to work on a frailty of mine that I thought I’d outgrown… *sigh*.

Well, a couple days ago I awoke to the Lord ever-so-gently waking me, as if with a big smile and gentle hug. Then He said the strangest thing…

“Just remember, Little Monk, the Father is not nearly so concerned with you ‘getting it all right’, or that you DO everything in a way that pleases Him. THAT is not what gives Him the greatest joy. It is the fact that you DESIRE to be pleasing, and the effort you make to get there. THAT’s what gives Him His joy. He is fulfilled by the love of a child that seeks to please Him, far more than how successful the effort!”

It was like pausing for a wonderful rest break on this trek… pulling out onto a scenic overlook… just sitting in quiet wonder alongside Jesus… admiring His view of His Kingdom.

“Encouragement”… Gentle Reader. It was a moment of great encouragement, and I share it with you. If you also journey on this trek, seeking to be and become what the Loving Lord would have us to be… then remind yourself once in a while, it is not the success or failure of our daily efforts to grow in Christlikeness that give Him the greatest pleasure. We’ll have good days and less good days with that. It is the fact that this is the passion of our hearts, fueled by the love we bear Him…

This gives Him great joy indeed!

We’re all in this together. Thank you for praying for this oh-so-frail “work in progress”. Grace to thee! — The Little Monk

 
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Posted by on October 23, 2013 in Quiet Time, Uncategorized

 

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Sinless Rules — Part IV: Love Yourself

Continuing with Rule Four referred to in the current series:

Four Rules for Me Never to Sin Again as Long as I Live:

  1. God is Sovereign (“Remember this, Little Monk!”)
  2. Love God with All I Am, Above all Else that Is. (“Revere God = Holiness”)
  3. Love My Neighbor as Jesus Loves Me (“Treat All as Sacred = Righteousness”)
  4. Love Myself as Jesus Loves Me (“Treat Self as Sacred = Humility in Sacredness”)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Wouldn’t you think, Gentle Reader, that this would be the easiest Rule to comment on? I certainly did, until I started to try. Turns out, this is the most difficult of the lot, because it is the most fraught with illusions, delusions, and misdirection of the enemy.

Right here is the heart of the matter

Visual ParadoxThe eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is clear, your whole body also is full of light; but when it is bad, your body also is full of darkness. (Luke 11:34)

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. (I Corinthians 13:12)

The woman left her waterpot, and went into the city and *said to the men, “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?” (John 4:28-29)

All these verses address my difficulties with Rule Four.

Here is the cold, hard, truth: We are unspeakably challenged to love ourselves as Jesus loves us, because we do not see, CANNOT see, ourselves as Jesus SEES us! He sees us FULLY. He sees us TRULY. He sees us without distortions, deceptions, or darkness. His eyes are clear and full of Light.

The Samaritan woman at the well was transformed by her encounter with Jesus, from a broken, shame-filled public scandal, who went to the well in the heat of the day most likely to draw water alone and apart from the sidelong glances and mocking sniggers of her neighboring “more respectable” women… into a “messenger of the Christ” who boldly returned to her city to proclaim her amazement and delight at being FULLY KNOWN! Stop a moment! Ponder that! Shouldn’t that be TERRIFYING? For someone to tell her all the things she had done? But no! She is not frightened or ashamed… she is overcome with joy and delight, and seeks to share that with everyone else!

How many times… how many examples in the Gospels? How many broken, shame-filled people do we see cringe their way to Jesus, only to have Him SEE THEM, with His eyes of tender love and acceptance, and go their way after that transformed, healed, and set free? Woman with the issue of blood…. 10 lepers… woman caught in adultery… even Peter after his denial.

Yet ALWAYS working against that, challenging that, trying to negate that TRUTH… the truth that Jesus sees us as we are, accepts us, and loves us totally and without remainder… there is always the lie, the delusion we are heir to because of Original Sin. The Great Lie is… “Because we are now fallen, we are unlovely and disfigured. We are abominable, we can no longer stand transparently without shame. We must hide ourselves, cover ourselves up, not to be seen by one another. Beyond even that, we must hide and conceal ourselves even from HIM, even if that’s just to duck behind a tree.”

THERE is the challenge, the heart of the matter, Gentle Reader. That is the challenge the Lord sets before me with Rule Four. It is a challenge to trust, a challenge to trust to the Truth, despite appearances, distortions, and experiences with people.

We grow up surrounded by relationships that communicate a simple message. The message is, “I will know you, relate to you, and accept you just as long and as far as you meet my expectations and criteria of acceptability. I will love you unless and until you fall short of my requirements. THEN, if you disappoint me, I will cease to love you, and/or I will cast you out of my presence and break relationship with you.”

This is “conditional love”, or “transactional love”. This is our legacy from the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden. This is what we experience around us all the time. So, we learn to “keep within the lines”, and we subtly and deeply learn that to “be loveable”, we must meet the expectations of others, meet the expectations of God, and… tragically… meet the expectations of ourselves. Once this programming takes root in our childhoods, once we learn the deep insecurity of knowing “I am loved if I behave well, but if I misbehave badly enough, they’ll not love me anymore…” then years of therapy may not even make a dent in the armor of pain, anxiety, fear, and abiding loneliness that results.

What a tragedy! Because it is all false! And this poisonous taproot undermines our entire access to love and loving trust and relationship… with God… with others… and most deeply, with ourselves.

It is an amazing thing, really… we can get tangled up in this Lie so readily. “If others knew me as I REALLY am, they could not love me, so I must hide myself from them. If God knew me as I REALLY am, He could not love me, so I must hide myself from Him. If I knew me as I REALLY am, *I* could not love me, so I must hide myself from ME!”

The problem, of course, is that we then project a “false self”, an “acceptable self”, out there somewhere into relationships. Like a photograph, sitting on the sofa to represent us. People can chat with, or hug and kiss that photograph all day long, and we won’t feel a thing! The “love can’t touch us”, and thus we stay empty, insecure, anxious, afraid, and alone. We can become aggressive, protective, defensive over that effigy… since it represents us! We can attack others, if we feel that proxy self is threatened. We invest in the Proxy… we protect it, caress it, nurture it, groom it, take better care of it than anything else in our lives… and IT GIVES NOTHING BACK! It CANNOT! It is not ALIVE in the first place.

Ironic, isn’t it? But so the Enemy loves to work. It is the irony of it all. We hunger and yearn for love and acceptance, which Jesus freely offers and gives. But yet, the Enemy can trick us into fleeing and hiding from the presence of Jesus, through generating in us the fear that He will reject or abandon us! PRECISELY the thing we NEVER see Him do, and that He specifically CAME to proclaim… the unrelenting love of the Father, and the Redemption and Union offered through Himself.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So how do we escape the trap? How do I learn to “love myself as Jesus loves me”, totally, infinitely, unconditionally?

Well, here’s a few techniques I’ve found helpful…

1. Don’t worry about “untying the Gordian Knot”, just start with a fresh string. It is time to come Out of the Closet! The old man has passed away, and Jesus has made all things new. We are “born again”. We are buried with Christ in His death, and raised with Him in His Resurrection in newness of life. We were “taught to hide” in Adam. We are taught to “Come Out” in Jesus.

2. Exercise “faith” to believe that Jesus is the beginning of all Love, and Loves you (me) completely just as we are! Walk “as if” you were OK, as if you had nothing to hide. Understand that since Jesus has sanctified you with His love and redemption, this is actually True…. we ARE “OK”! Let’s imagine, one day at a time, that Jesus is not a liar, that the Bible is not a Nice Book filled with Wishful Thinking and Fairy Tales, and that maybe, in Christ Jesus, all things are made new… even ourselves.

3. Understand, remind ourselves, that if we have nothing to hide and no tender wounds of shame to protect, we have no need to be defensive or aggressive. We protect tender egos against being bruised and battered by the disagreement of others. Know what? We don’t have to do that. We don’t have to be right. We don’t have to correct others. We don’t have to condition our awareness of our own loveability by the acceptance. judgments, or opinions of others at all.  None of that has anything at all to do with what makes us OK, or loveable. Jesus Himself, and how the Father loves and treats us, is the ONLY grounds for our “acceptability”. If you claim to “love what God loves”, then you HAVE to love yourself. You have no alternative.

Last but certainly not least….

4. Praise and thank God for the infinite grace of the Freedom you have, to love and be loved unconditionally in Him, to love others unconditionally, even though most of those others themselves, only know conditional love.  You may become the only person they ever truly know on earth, who loves THEM unconditionally. Now here’s the sad truth… almost everyone you know loves “conditionally”. No matter what they say, no matter what assurances they give of their undying devotion and acceptance of you as you are, most people are fooling themselves (and therefore you). Because THEY THEMSELVES have not yet learned to love and accept themselves as fully as Jesus does, they do not know how, they CANNOT know how, to give such love to others (or rather, allow His love unconditionally to pass through them, to others).

So, painfully at times, you will do something, say something, believe something (or even NOT do any of these, but just be perceived as doing so!), and find that you’ve crossed into someone’s “Unacceptable Zone”. You will be rejected, denied, cast out. You will find boundaries erected against you, and people who have declared lifelong dedication will turn on you, betraying the trust they asked you to invest in them.

Here is the ultimate challenge of “loving in Christ”. It is at just such moments of betrayal. Are we grieved? Of course. But…. where do we go from there? Do we lash out at them, “giving as good as we get”, attacking them for the pain we feel? Do we (as I so often hear), “forgive but not forget”, saying, “well, I forgive them, but I’m never going to TRUST them again!” Do we “defend ourselves”, taking on the situation point for point in argument, not attacking them or their sacredness, but denying whatever perceptions they have, denying their validity? OR, do we curl up in an emotional fetal position, feeling all dejected and abused, nursing the misery of our state, or castigating ourselves for generating such a situation?

Divorces, lies, addictions, thefts, broken family relationships and betrayals of trust, broken friendships. Time and time again, we see and deal with hurting people in these situations. Over and over we see these ineffective strategies used to try to mask, deny, or heal the pain in their hearts.

All of these are responses I’ve seen frequently, and to be honest, I’ve responded in all these ways myself, at one time or another across my life.

But none of that…. NONE OF IT… is “loving in Christ”. I’m not saying I have the “Perfect Answer”, or that He is finished with me here yet, but I can share what I HAVE discovered in such situations… There are some REAL, SIMPLE (not “Easy”), scriptural guidelines I’ve found. They work for me, and if they bless you, if your spirit affirms them as true, then grace to you. If your spirit does not affirm them, please cast them aside.

When I discover the “conditional boundary” to someone’s avowed “unconditional love”…

First, examine the conscience and see if there is “offense”. The question is, “Have I treated this person, in any way, as less than sacred? Have I devalued her/him in any way?” If so, scripture is really clear. Go be reconciled. Apologize and seek forgiveness. If not, then what?

Second, if there is no offense… if there has been no desecration or devaluation of the other, then is there a “misrepresentation of fact” here? Has there been a rumor spread, or some false belief at work, an error of “fact” involved? Is there a lie, a falsehood, present? Then one time, reverently and sacredly, it is ok to “state the case and set that record straight”. “Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil;” (Romans 14:16). That is, do not allow someone falsely to believe that you have violated your own conscience. Either you have (offense), or you have not (innocence), but it is important that there be only the Truth present. This declaration is not “argument”. It is not a matter of the other person accepting or believing this, or of our having to convince anyone. It is simply a mandate to be sure the truth is SPOKEN. Whether or not it is believed is irrelevant here.

Third, (and here’s the glorious and beautiful part of GRACE)… NOW, you just go on, and proceed moment by moment, day by day, in exactly the same unconditional love, infinitely flowing the love and grace of Christ, forward and onto EVERYONE, with no further concern for the event. If you do not embrace a blow, it does not and cannot wound you. If the wholeness of your heart is based on Jesus’ love for you alone, and your acceptance of yourself in that…. NOT in the acceptance, endorsement, or expressions of love or unlove by others…. there is no “Offense”. You need not even “forgive”, for there is nothing TO forgive. “Love… does not take into account a wrong suffered,” (I Corinthians 13:6)  The operative words there are “take INTO”. Am I making any sense?

I wish I knew how to say this more clearly, but when you “reset your anchors”, your ego, into Christ this way… you cannot be hurt or wounded anymore, so you don’t have to be defensive or broken. Um… YOU, become SAFE, in HIM. Now, your “reputation” may suffer. Your standing in the community, your job, your social circles, your influence…. any of that. People can “harm” your “outside stuff”, without question. But I am speaking here of “inside stuff”. Of your self-worth, your true value, your Self before your Self, and man, and God. Once that is anchored in Him and His unconditional Love, once your own acceptance of yourself is secure, you are truly SAFE. The Truth has set you free.

Thus, despite criticism, misunderstanding, hurtful words, accusations or namecalling, betrayals of trust… despite ANYTHING AT ALL…. you remain totally free to love and be loved. You remain free to return unconditional love in Christ, even to your attacker, taking her/his agenda as more important than your own, and pouring yourself out for the other… because YOU HAVE NOTHING MORE TO PROVE! God Himself has “proven you”. God Himself stands for you. You can let it go, and love freely. Trust again, pour yourself out. You don’t have to argue and struggle to justify yourself or what you did. God Himself is the one who justifies! You can let it go, and love freely. Trust again, pour yourself out. See?

This is a WONDROUS place to stand. (Would that I myself, stood here ALL the time! But let me be truthful, I have my moments of doubt and insecurity just like everyone else.) But the key is to KNOW THIS! This is Truth, this is Jesus, this is Sermon on the Mount, this is Paul, this is John…. over and over, time and again throughout Scripture, we see this lesson repeated. But for years, read through it though I might, I did not SEE it, didn’t GET it!

So I offer this to you, Gentle Reader. Here is the Key Understanding to Rule Four. I am to “love myself as Jesus loves me”, because when I do, in those moments when I embrace this wholly and totally, THEN I am “Free” to love others as He loves them, and to allow His unconditional love to flow through me as vessel of grace into the world.

Pray for me, Gentle Reader. So much a work in progress! Blessings and grace to thee — Little Monk

 
 

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15 Minutes of Sabbath

Whether you interpret “Sabbath” as “Rest” or as “Worship”… I offer you a link to a 15 minute music recording that has just gobsmacked me with its impact. I have no words in me to share with you, Gentle Reader… but to offer this “Moment of Rest and Worship” to and for you…

May this bless you in His grace! — Little Monk

Fire by Night

28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” [Matthew 11]

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2013 in Quiet Time, Uncategorized

 

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