Why I Don’t Feel Guilty About Oversleeping and Skipping Church


 


Last Sunday, my husband and I slept late and skipped church. That might not have seemed like a big deal to most people, but it could be a very big deal if you are one of the pastors of a church. Fortunately, John was not scheduled to preach. In fact, he asked to be excused from his usual duties so that we could celebrate our wedding anniversary. 51 years is a big deal.

Surely then, out of gratitude to God for blessing our marriage, shouldn’t we attend church? I could have chosen to feel guilty for skipping church. I considered that option—but not for long.


 

Instead of binding myself to the restriction of a self-imposed, you-must-never-skip-church law, I chose to live in the freedom of God’s grace.

 

Does that mean that I think church attendance is unimportant? No. It simply means that I can live in the freedom of grace, as Jesus did. He understood what the purpose of the Sabbath was and is.

Something designed to bring rest for our bodies, refreshment to our souls, and renewal to our spirits. Not something to be used for attaining performance points.

 


Rest, refreshment, and spiritual renewal come to us when we simply receive God’s grace and live in his presence.

His presence is not limited to the square-foot dimension of any church building. Jesus, the Creator and Sustainer of every universe is present everywhere in it.

As John and I walked among the trees and flowers of the arboretum in Ottawa, we knew that God was with us. 

Our bodies, souls, and spirits were refreshed and renewed. Will we go to church next Sunday? Yes, indeed! We seldom miss a service.

 


When we worship with like-minded brothers and sisters—having the eyes of our hearts focused on Jesus and desiring his presence—he comes in awesome ways to teach, comfort, strengthen, and heal us.

Why don’t I feel guilty for oversleeping and skipping church? Because I don’t go to church in order to earn brownie points from God. He doesn’t like me better when I go.  I’m free to go or not to go. He respects my choice. Most of the time I chose to attend church. Not because I have to. Because I want to.

I hope that’s the same for you.

     

 

 

 

 

   

This entry was posted on June 8, 2018. 8 Comments

How to Feel Sorry Less Often

 



“If you were really sorry, you would never do that again!” Has someone ever said that to you? Or have you ever said to yourself, if I were really sorry, I would never do that again! In many ways, I’ve vowed that I would not make the same mistake and then stumbled in the same old way. I wish this were not true. 

Last week I volunteered to help a neighbor who is moving pack her boxes. Then, I got busy with other things. My husband and I made a decision that required unexpected time and energy. Consequently, I forgot about the promise I’d made to my neighbor.

My husband also made a promise to our neighbor. When she appeared at my door on Monday morning to receive the help he had promised, he came through with it. I asked her if she needed help with her packing. “No,” she said,” I’ve finished. I only need help to move the larger things. “

I felt sorry that I had not provided the help that I’d earlier promised. I scolded myself for not keeping a commitment that I’d made. And I realized, once again, I’d made a promise and not kept it.

How can I break this habit? How can I change any unhealthy pattern of behavior?
These are some of my choices:

1. A) I can live in denial, pretending there’s no problem, or
    B) I can honestly look at how my behavior pattern affects others, as well as myself.

2. A) I can live in regret, allowing a condemning conscience to beat me up, or
    B) I can humbly confess my failure and accept forgiveness.

3. A) I can demand instant and complete perfection, telling myself I will never do that, again, or
    B) I can recognize that change is a process and find out what that process involves.

4. A)  I can blame my failure on circumstances, the devil or others, or
    B)I can accept responsibility for making changes in my life and learn what the causes are.

5. A) I can place total reliance on my ability to change, or
    B) I can admit that I need the help of a power higher than myself and rely on my Creator.

6. A) I can struggle with the same old problem year after year, or
    B) I can secure accountability that will help me address the issues that lie behind my destructive habit, give me encouragement, and rejoice with me over victories I gain. 

7. A) I can focus so much on my performance (am I making the right choices?) that I’m consumed with worry, or
    B) I can focus primarily on who God is, trust in his power to transform me and rest in his grace.  

In regard to choice number 7, I  quit worrying about my performance when my neighbor said, “you are the best neighbor I’ve ever had.” 

Sometimes, the “A” choices that I’ve listed attract me. They’re the default mode of operation of the sin-nature. They feel so right. Why would I want to make the more difficult and less attractive “B” choices?

This is my motivation: “No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way” (Hebrews 4:11 NLT).

I want more of the peace that comes from right living. I want to feel sorry less often. My intention this week is to make more “B” choices than “A” choices. I hope that you will join me. 

Questions for reflection:

1. Which “B” choice is most challenging for you?

2. Which “A” choice do you make most often?

3. What other “A” and “B” choices do you have to suggest?

This entry was posted on June 1, 2018. 4 Comments

Enjoying Lilac Blossoms and Letting Them Go

 At the edge of my driveway stands a row of lilac bushes. I’ve been watching the blossoms develop, waiting for the day when I could take a good photo. Finally, the day arrived. The blossoms were almost in full bloom and the sky was overcast—perfect for taking a picture. I grabbed my camera and headed out the door.  I was not pleased with the first few photos that I took.  This is one of them: 

New lilac blossoms are barely visible. They’re hidden behind dead branches and dried stems of previous year’s blossoms.


I put down my camera, took my branch cutter off its hook in the garage and sniped off last year’s dried stems and dead branches. Then, I took a few more photos. This is one that I like:

The dead branch has been cut off and the beautiful new blossom is visible.


Last year, one of my friends told me that if I wanted to have lots of lilac blossoms every year, I must cut off the stems of each year’s blossoms as soon as they quit blooming. Well, I didn’t bother doing it. I don’t know why I would want to hang on to an old, dead branch. It’s never going to bloom again. Still, I hated to snip it off.

I thought about my life. What “branch” that once produced fragrant and beautiful flowers in my life is now unneeded, dead, and must be trimmed off?  As I hesitate pruning my lilac bushes, so I reluctantly prune the unneeded “branches” in my life.

Each season, God has new gifts of grace. In order to make room for them, I need let go of the old, familiar, comfortable things. Maybe I don’t recognize them as dead branches. I remember the joy that they brought me and try to revive or resurrect what I was given in the past. What happens if I don’t cut off the dead branches? They distract me from seeing the new growth that God wants to produce in my life.

Jesus knows we are reluctant to give up the old. He said,”No one who drinks the old wine seems to want the new wine. ‘The old is just fine,’ they say” (Luke 5:39 NLT).

Yet, I can’t have any passion for the new thing that God wants to develop in my life unless I give up that old thing.  


Questions for your reflection  

What new (blossom) dream or vision has God given to me?

What once beautiful but now unneeded or dead branch must I prune from my life in order to pursue it?

What choice will I make? Keep the dead branch or cut it off?

 

This entry was posted on May 25, 2018. 8 Comments

Chicken Broth and Chocolate-covered Mints ???

 



Chicken broth and chocolate-covered mints. Doesn’t sound like a good combination.  Why would I even think of it? I did not think of it until one morning this week when I found it in the bottom of a mug.

Wanting a mid-morning snack, I pulled a large coffee mug from the cupboard and poured into it the contents of a pouch of concentrated chicken broth. I was about to add water to the mug; thankfully, before I did so, I glanced into it. To my surprise, I saw six chocolate-covered mints swimming in a pool of chicken broth concentrate.

I assumed that my husband, who usually makes a mug of hot chocolate in the morning, had forgotten what he started to do. He put the chocolate-covered mints in his mug and absent-mindedly placed the mug back into the cupboard. Or maybe earlier in the day, I, myself, had put the mug into the cupboard, assuming that it was empty.

I love chocolate-covered mints. I also love chicken broth. But I was not risky enough to try chocolate-covered mints mixed with chicken broth. So, I picked out the mints, rinsed them off in cold water and set them on a paper towel to dry. Maybe they would still be good. What can I learn from this I wondered?

Hmm. What happens when we don’t look into our “cup”? The one we’ve been given in life. Do we wrongly assume that our cup is empty? Might there be unseen sweet treasures in the bottom of it? Perhaps some unfinished project that we’d enjoy completing, an unanswered letter or a photo that stirs up a happy memory. Maybe some good desire that we’ve set aside and quit pursuing.

Could we take these sweet things out of the bottom of our cup and give them some attention? Like those chocolate-covered mints in the bottom of my mug, that desire, goal, project, or memory might have the potential for placing joy in our lives. And bringing joy to others.

What do we fill our cup with?  Chicken broth? Satisfying work. Chocolate-covered mints? Rewarding play. Always one? Never the other? Maybe we unsuccessfully try to work and play at the same time. I enjoy my work but trying to play at the same time does not prove very satisfying to me. On the other hand, if I never take time for play (my tendency), I become drained by my work.

Chicken broth and chocolate-covered mints. What’s the balance? Although the two don’t mix well, separate portions of each can fill our cup with satisfaction and joy.


 

This entry was posted on May 18, 2018. 6 Comments

The”D” Word We Prefer to Deny



During my vacation, along with walking in the California sunshine, taking photos of flowers, and relaxing with my children and grandchildren, I read several books. One of them was Thoughtful Dementia Care: Understanding the Dementia Experience by Jennifer Ghent-Fuller.

You might be wondering why I would read such a book while on vacation. Wasn’t it depressing? Who wants to think about dementia at any time? Not many of us.  It’s not my favorite topic of conversation. Probably not yours, either. But I hope you will keep on reading.

I chose to read this book not because I am greatly worried about my mental decline (although I do have some short-term memory loss) but because I want to understand the challenges that some of my friends and family members are going through. I want to understand the process of dementia so that I can be helpful to them.

Jennifer Ghent-Fuller points out that most books about dementia are written with the family and caregivers viewpoint in mind. That’s why she wrote hers differently. It’s written from the viewpoint of those who are experiencing dementia–people she taught, supported and cared for during 25 years of her life as a nurse.                 

This book was difficult to read. I could not read it straight through. As I began to see dementia through the eyes of those who have it, tears came to my eyes. I had to stop reading for a few hours. Why? Because I discovered that people with dementia are very emotionally sensitive.  I have not understood that fact and lacked compassion.

As Jennifer points out, understanding their experience and viewpoint can help us see beyond their behavior problems, which might be our primary focus, and act with patience and kindness instead of anger and irritation.

I’ve tended to get impatient with them, as well as with myself when I forget something.   I’m changing my attitude. I want it to match God’s attitude. He does not devalue those with a loss of brain power. From his point of view, who among us is not in some way lacking? 

We might be children learning skills or we might be seniors losing skills. Either way, God loves us. We are spiritual beings not just physical bodies. Our spirits can connect with his Spirit even when our minds cannot.


God, give me a heart that beats like yours
When friends of mine stumble in this course–

Can’t find the pathway to their door,
Can’t reason as well as they could before.

Give me patience while they are losing some skills.
May I gently help them wipe up their spills—

May I never berate them or call them cruel names;
Help me speak with kindness, remembering my frame.

Help me gladly supply what they lack—
Explain by example, never attack;

Bear with their ignorance, their slowness, their fear;
Help me act wisely and do it with cheer.

Give me grace to stay, as their minds fade away,
For I might walk in those shadows, someday.

Because my spirit is alive . . .

 



During the last part of April, John and I spent some time with family members in the California sunshine. We brought back many good memories and photos. The above photo is one of many that I took during an evening walk through the Sacramento Capital Rose Garden. The roses were in full bloom. I wish I could have included the fragrance in my photo. 

According to rose growers, in order to thrive roses need lots of sunshine, at least six hours a day. If I were a rose, I would not do very well during April in the north country!  Thankfully, even in cloudy, rainy, and windy days, I can thrive. How? By replenishing my inner self, my spirit, in the overflowing warmth of Jesus’ love. 

That’s what I was reminded of when I opened my Bible this morning and read these words of Jesus: “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love.10 When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” (John 15:9-11 NLT).

How is your spirit, today?  Thriving or wilting? Full of joy or weighed down with the cares of the day? l hope that you will spend some time soaking up Jesus’ love. Then, no matter what your circumstances, you will thrive like a rose.


Because my spirit is alive
In the midst of pain, I can thrive.

Thriving is more than surviving;
It’s resting instead of striving.

Resting in the fact I am loved;
Greatly loved by the Father above,

Father of Lights, giver of life,
Who protects my soul day and night

From the Evil One’s devices.
I have learned God’s ways are wisest,

Though they include some suffering.
Despite the suffering, I can sing.

Because I see the joy ahead
And by the Spirit, I am led

Into places that I’d never go.
It’s in those places that I grow

Stronger, braver, wiser, kinder.
My lack serves as a reminder

That I have something more to learn;
So, with humility, not scorn

I’ll receive a kind correction.
And if it’s not gently given

Be willing, still, to learn a lesson–
Make a needed thought-revision,

With gratitude, not resentment.
That’s the pathway to contentment.

If I do these things, I’ll thrive
My spirit will be kept alive.

5/3/2018 Jane Ault

This entry was posted on May 4, 2018. 6 Comments

A Psalm of Hope and Joy

 



 I love the Book of Psalms! Within its pages, every life situation is encountered and every human emotion is expressed. All of the struggles and all of the victories of life are recorded.  Through reading it, I find encouragement, insight, and wisdom.  the Holy Spirit often inspires me to write a psalm of my own. 

I hope that you will enjoy it and, then, consider writing a psalm of your own. Don’t think that your poem must be structured like mine, with every two-lines ending in rhyming words. I just do that naturally. Your poem doesn’t have to be a long one. There are very short and very long psalms in the Bible. Everyone’s psalm, like everyone’s prayer, is unique to the person who writes or speaks it.

A psalm is simply an expression of our heart-song to God. Sometimes it’s joyful and sometimes it’s not. So, whatever is in your heart, I pray that, along with reading mine, you will read one of the 150 psalms in the Bible and respond by writing one of your own. If you want to share it, that would be lovely!                                                             


A Psalm of Hope and Joy

I bless you for the morning light
For protection through the night

For sweet assurance you are here
And knowledge you won’t disappear

Because of this, my spirit sings
Like a bird, I lift my wings

And fly above this earthly pain
From sin’s tug, I will abstain

Jesus, you’re so beautiful
You are precious to my soul

I bless you for your saving grace
What joy ‘twill be to see your face

Walk with me throughout this day
And fill this body, made of clay,

With power that I may fulfill
Your plan for me, do all things well

I bless you for the morning light
For protection through the night

For sweet assurance you are here
And knowledge you won’t disappear

Because of this, I have hope
Because of this, I can cope

With difficulties of this day
Annoyances that come my way

Jesus, you are wise and good
Oh, that the whole world understood

The meaning of your life and death
Your love for all you’ve given breath

Walk with me, Lord, on the street
Use my mouth, my hands, my feet

Through this body that I own
May your truth and grace be known

Jane Ault 2/8/2018

This entry was posted on April 13, 2018. 6 Comments

What it Means to Thirst for God

 



 “Come, everyone who thirsts,
     come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
     come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
     without money and without price. ” 

(Isaiah 55:1 ESV)


I recently listened to an audio version of Seeking Allah: Finding Jesus  It’s the story of a Muslim man, Nabeel Qureshi, who converted to Christianity. The narration of the book is by Nabeel, himself. He speaks with great tenderness, sincerity, and passion. Once I begin listening I could not put his book down. I listened to it straight through. 

This man’s desire for God was intense. So intense that he was willing to pay an enormous cost. God used his story to deepen my desire to know Jesus and to more fully trust him with my struggles and pain. I, also, gained a greater awareness of what crucifixion is and feel awed by Jesus’ love in submitting to it.

And I  gained a great appreciation for peace-loving Muslims, of whom there are many. In regard to valuing and honoring family members and friends, Christians could learn some lessons from them.

This is God’s promise to people of all cultures: You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13 NIV).

It’s not in the huge challenges of life that we most often fail to call on Jesus; it’s more often in our smaller, everyday struggles. I hope that you will read Nabeel’s book and choose to more fully call on and trust Jesus in dramatic ways. I hope that you will read my poem and choose to call on and trust Jesus in your everyday struggles. 


Call on the Jesus of history

Whatever your struggle
Whatever your pain
Don’t be afraid, and don’t complain

Call on the Jesus of history
The ONE who died upon that tree
The ONE who arose in victory

When no one can fix you
When nothing has worked
Don’t give up and imagine the worst

Call on the Jesus of history
The ONE who died upon that tree
The ONE who arose in victory

When your sleep is disturbed
With dreams terrible and odd
Don’t believe that these are from God

Call on the Jesus of history
The ONE who died upon that tree
The ONE who arose in victory

When family or friends
Leave you out of their plan
Don’t withdraw in anger, again

Call on the Jesus of history
The ONE who died upon that tree
The ONE who arose in victory

Jane Ault 3/30/2018

This entry was posted on April 6, 2018. 4 Comments

A Good Friday Meditation

 

 



He was wounded because of our rebellious deeds,
crushed because of our sins;
he endured punishment that made us well;
because of his wounds we have been healed. (Isaiah 53: 5 NET)

___________________________________________________________________________

Disfigured and ugly because of our sin,
He bore hell’s full rage, as we lashed out at him.

Jesus laid down his rights, as Creator and King—
Because he so loved us, he said not a thing.

Bleeding and mangled, just took up the cross,
While loudly we mocked him; it should have been us.

But we in rebellion and arrogant pride
Spit in his face–and our guilt we denied.

Our sin was not simply a slip or mistake,
We made it a habit to lie and to hate.

We earned all the judgment of death and of hell.
Yet, Jesus was wounded so we could get well.

Yes, Jesus was wounded; he stood in our place
And felt the rejection when God’s turned his face.

My mind cannot fathom such love and such grace.
He cleansed me from shame and my guilt he erased.

What can I offer him? What can I give?
He suffered in agony that I might live

Devotion and gratitude–all that I am.
Jesus is worthy—the Glorified Lamb.

Jane Ault 3/25/2018

This entry was posted on March 30, 2018. 8 Comments

What Am I Chasing After?

 



Recently, a freak accident killed the 33-year-old son of some friends of ours. It happened on an ordinary workday. He did nothing unusual. I felt not only grieved but shocked. This event made me seriously think about how I am using my time.

Being a senior citizen, it’s clear to me that the number of years I have left on this earth is less than the number of years I’ve already spent. Yet, at what age, can we confidently assume that we will not be the victim of a freak accident or the flu virus or a terrorist’s bullet?

How crucial, then, that we think about our values and our direction in life! What gives us the most joy? Lasting joy!  In what ways do we, or can we, intentionally design the minutes and hours of our day to pursue that joy?

Jesus’ apostle Paul clearly knew what would bring him ultimate and lasting joy, and he pursued it with all his heart, mind, and strength.  For him, the value of knowing Jesus Christ surpassed everything else in life. He wasn’t talking about the intellectual knowledge of Jesus–historical facts, although he considered them important; he was talking the kind of relationship with him that is secured by faith. That was what he chased after. (Philippians 3:7-10) 

As a follower of Jesus, I asked myself the following questions. Perhaps you might consider them.


What am I chasing after?

What am I chasing after?
What am I running toward?
Is it something I can capture?
Will it bring me a reward?

Is this prize worth pursuing?
Is it substance or wind?
Is it a venture God will bless?
Will I want it in the end?

What is the risk I’m taking?
Have I counted the cost?
Am I doing what I need to
So my days and years aren’t lost?

What will make me a winner?
Where must I never go?
By what things am I distracted?
To which friends must I say “No”?

Can I succeed by myself?
Or do I need support?
Am I willing to secure it?
To whom will I report?

In making my decisions,
Do I engage my mind?
Or go with whatever impulse
Delights me at the time?

When time for me is over—
This body’s laid to rest—
With what words will I be greeted?
Will my faith have passed the test?

What am I chasing after?
What does my soul crave for?
The righteousness of Jesus Christ—
This alone; nothing more!

3/16/2028

This entry was posted on March 23, 2018. 6 Comments