Throwing off and Putting on

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We traveled north down some winding roads.  There was a spectacular show going on outside the windows of our vehicle.

The beauty of autumn surrounded us.

I said, “Isn’t it amazing that all this brilliant color is a result of dying”?  My husband nodded.

Autumn in its brilliance looks spectacular, beautiful, vibrant, lovely and all because of death.

I think that’s true of us in a Spiritual sense as well.  I’m thinking of the act of dying to self that Jesus was referring to in Matthew 16: 24-25 and Mark 8: 34-35.

When we die to self and come alive with Christ we are being transformed into something beautiful.  Just like the autumn trees.

It’s not because of anything we have done but everything that Christ has done and we simply decide to yield to His life in us.

It’s the exchanged life and an act of putting off the old self and putting on the new self.  See Ephesians 4:22-24.

The leaves are in the process of death.

We are in the process of dying to what we once were and becoming like Christ.  It’s not an overnight miracle but the more we put off what belongs to our old self and put on more of Christ the more vibrant we become.

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As we allow Christ to have more of us everyday, we become more attractive as believers.  There will be a Christ-radiance that will emanate in us and through us.

Dying daily to our selfish nature isn’t easy.  That’s why it’s often called a process.

Jesus said, For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”  (Matthew 16:25)

So the goal in death is LIFE–here on earth and on into eternity.

The exchanged life cannot be seen more clearly than in Saul of Tarsus (who later became known as the Apostle Paul).  In regard to putting off his old self and putting on the new…what a contrast!

He went from hatred to love, killing to offering life, and from persecuting Christians to becoming one of the greatest Christian teachers of all time.  There isn’t another person in all of scripture, apart from Jesus, that shaped the course of Christianity more than the Apostle Paul.  His conversion story is in Acts 9.

Paul, even with his strong personality, yielded his life to Christ.  Yet he also admitted that he was in process and that he hadn’t fully arrived.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 3: 12-14

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And Paul even referred to himself as the chief of sinners in 1 Timothy 1:15-16.

He was shown mercy but he was in process, daily choosing to take up his cross and follow Christ by dying to himself.

How do we do this thing called ‘dying to self’?

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trail of trees - CopywdpI think it comes with practice–the practice of throwing off our old tendencies and putting on a new way of life–the Jesus life in us.  The more we do it, the more likely it will become easier, but I don’t think it’s about changing our personalities.

Look at the disciples.  They were called by Jesus but had their own distinct personalities and gifts.  I think it’s more about dying to self-will, control, ego, pride and anything that places us on the throne of our life and at the center of the universe.

Anytime we feel the pain of rejection, heartache, disappointment, experience something bad or unpleasant, illness, hardships, trial, suffering, when we’re treated unfairly–we can choose to throw off our old way of reacting with pride or ego and die to ourselves.  We die to sin and self.  We throw off the old way of reacting and respond in a new way.

So this autumn as I enjoy the beauty of the dying leaves on the trees, I’m reminded that the more I keep choosing to die to self the more beautiful I’ll become–not from outward appearance but by what comes out from within.  Death brings life and dying is beautiful.

Written by: Nancy Janiga©2014

Unplug to Plug in

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I made an effort to get up earlier than usual this morning.  It was quiet, still, peaceful.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.  (Mark 1:35)

Just give me an hour with you, Lord.  That was my prayer.

Then came a ding from my cell phone.  A text.

Already?

Then the ring from our land line.  Those political phone calls start early.

Bob was up bright and early too.  He wanted to call our internet service company about our weak wifi connection.

So our day began with a service representative on speaker phone with all of us trying to trouble shoot our wifi problem.

After being on the phone for an hour, I still don’t think the problem has been solved

Life is loud.

It seems we stay connected 24/7.  Everything is instant and there’s more news and media coming at us than ever before.

We get pictures in real-time, see the events of friends happening right before our eyes, games, offers, advertisements, slogans, recipes and more come at us as we scroll down the news feed on facebook.  Then there’s instagram, pinterest, twitter and who knows what else that may keep us connected with others non stop.

We’re on high alert…always plugged in.

I read an article recently where the author (a psychologist) stated that social media is robbing people of their attention span.  One of the points she made is that we have re-trained our brains to want and need never-ending stimulation.  Being silent and still is foreign.  Settling down and being quiet is hard to do.  We have a whole nation that is becoming more and more ADHD.

Trying to turn our brains off seems harder and harder these days.

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places to pray.  Luke 5:16

We don’t like lonely.  Solitude is becoming a lost experience.

Jesus taught us how to pray (and continues to do so as we follow him through the gospels)  Also, he shows us the value in finding a quiet spot, away from distractions where the only other person present is God the Father.

If our own Lord needed to pull away, we too need it and more than ever today.

Jesus was fully God and fully man.  His humanity knew how necessary it was to stay in complete communication with his father.  There was a dependence that he perfectly models for us.

Not only that, the trinity communicated with each other.  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit had complete unity and interaction with one another.

The Holy Spirit leads us in prayer and interacts with God the Father as well and–teaches us how to pray.

That prayer I prayed earlier for an hour of time?  It’s being answered now.  It’s quiet in my house again.  My phone is off.  I’m unplugged from the internet.  I need this silent space, and feel compelled to focus on Jesus and his alone time.  What an example he is to me and a true leader in the blessing of solitude and prayer.

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Jesus would dismiss the crowds so he could be alone with his father.  (Mathew 14-22-23)

He would spend the night alone praying.  (Luke 6:12)

Jesus interceded for his followers.  (Luke 22: 31-32)

He petitioned God on behalf of others. (Luke 23:34)

He gave thanks to God for answered prayer.  (John 11:41-42)

Jesus was truthful about his emotions with God.  (John 12:27-28)

Jesus prayed for his disciples and for all believers.  (John 17: 6-26)

He cried out loudly to God to save him from death. (Hebrews 5:7)

I like the contact that I have with family and friends on facebook.  That’s my only social media connection.  I enjoy hearing from others, seeing their pictures, learning how I can pray for them…rejoicing through the good and mourning through the bad with them.

I don’t think I’ll be giving up that connection but I do need to unplug from our modern-day devices to plug into God who recharges me with his power and life.  That’s a connection that I can’t afford to lose.  If Jesus couldn’t live without communication with his father, I certainly can’t live without it.

Written by:  Nancy Janiga©2014

What not to carry

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A friend of mine mentioned to me today that she’s done carrying the burdens of others.  She declared, “I’m learning how to put things in their proper place, like taking them off of my shoulders and placing them on a shelf, so to speak.”

“So you’re going to care but not carry?” I asked.  She chuckled and said, “Yes and stop trying to FIX!”

She shared how hard life was getting, because so many of her family and friend’s issues were consuming her thoughts and time.

“We aren’t designed to carry a load that heavy,”  I told her.  “That’s God’s job.  We will surely be crushed beneath the weight if we don’t lay it down.”

What I was saying to her is what I have to continually tell myself too.

The nurturing, compassion, caring, helping, qualities (especially in women) are beautiful God-given gifts that when expressed properly result in a blessed heart, not only for those we help but for us as well.

It only becomes harmful when we allow all those wonderful qualities to push us into overdrive.

I can think of several times when I’ve gone into overdrive–driving myself to the edge of exhaustion by thinking that I could fix a problem by trying to gather the pieces of a situation and (like a puzzle) try to put them back together again.

That’s a good way to create undue anxiety.

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A verse that comes to my mind now is Galatians 6:2 — Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (NIV)  In that verse we’re called to carry one another’s burdens BUT we were never called to try to fix the burdens.

What does it mean to carry the burdens of others?   I think it means we pray, help when we can, guide, point in the right direction, comfort, mourn with, listen to, be there, but we can’t repair anything.

The Merriam Webster Dictionary definition of fix is: to make (something) whole or able to work properly again: to repair (something): to deal with or correct (a problem).

We can love, care, help but we can’t fix.  That’s God’s job.

Those scattered pieces we see may actually be the way God will get the undivided attention of the person we are trying to help.  If we zero in and start picking up all the pieces for them–well maybe, just maybe we’re interfering with a bigger plan.  It’s impossible to see the big picture from our finite perspective.

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Quick fixes don’t last.  Healing does.

God is the expert at picking up the pieces of broken lives and putting them back together again and only he knows where the pieces fit to create the big picture and it will be immeasurably more beautiful than we can ask or imagine.

Think about your life.  If there was always another person there to rescue you from distress, stop you from hurting, picking up your pieces, where would you be today?

For me, most likely, it wouldn’t have gotten me to the place of — if I may use the cliché–letting go and letting God.

It was when I humbled myself, admitted to God that I couldn’t pick up my own pieces that he came to my rescue.  It was giving up control and allowing him to gather the pieces and put them back together the way they were exactly meant to go together.

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Another person can’t do that for us and we can’t do it for others.

Jesus said in Matthew 11: 28-30:   “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

His yoke is easy and his burden is light. 

My friend who is learning how to put things up on the shelf has uncovered the truth.  She was carrying things to a point where her burden was not light anymore.  Actually, it became so heavy that she began to break under the weight.

Helping when really needed, praying, doing what she can then taking all the concerns and placing them on a shelf is releasing my friend from the heavy yoke others were placing on her shoulders.

God never places heavy yokes on us but people can and sometimes do.

Jesus’ yoke is easy and it creates rest.

In the literal sense a yoke in biblical times was a bar of wood that was constructed to put over two animals, like oxen, to unite them. This made it easier to pull equipment used in farming.  One animal would have a harder time pulling the load.  Two yoked together made the job easier.

To be yoked to Jesus makes our journey easier and lighter to bear.

I also read recently that farmers used to yoke a young ox with an older more experienced ox for training purposes.  The older ox would take the major load and the young one would walk next to the older one learning how to walk.

I think that’s a beautiful picture of what Jesus offers to those who are exhausted, weary and burdened.  It truly is comforting to know that Jesus walks along with us teaching, guiding and strengthening us every step of the way.

We don’t have to do it alone and he doesn’t want us to do it alone.

I like the image of placing things on a shelf that my friend described.  She said, “I’m actually letting God have control of them” and He knows it.

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It’s like having several baskets on a shelf and taking all our concerns and placing them in the baskets.  Putting the burdens that we weren’t designed to carry inside the baskets doesn’t mean that we don’t care.  What it means is that we know what our job is and what God’s job is.

Then we pray.  We tell God about the concerns (all those complex puzzle pieces of life) that we put in the individual baskets.  We ask him to take care of them and to put the pieces together in a way that only he knows how to do.  Then we trust.  Then we rest.

Written by:  Nancy Janiga©2014