Thursday, March 29, 2018

On Endings and Beginnings


The first Lines from Leanna blog was posted 9/23/2013. Four-and-a-half years later, Lines from Leanna has moved to a new home. Leannahollis.com has been revamped and the process of moving old blog posts is well underway. 

Since the change, I've struggled to get everything done in the mornings and double-post to the old blogspot site, as well. Posting to the new site is more time-consuming, but I believe it's worth the effort. 

My recent eye problems have prompted me to reevaluate everything, including the amount of time I spend on the computer. In the interest of avoiding eye strain, I've decreased my screen time and radically changed my work schedule. Yes, friends. I'm taking breaks for the first time in my life. I'm not writing as much, but I'm spending more time with each post and, I think, the writing reflects the extra care. 

New posts will be available three times a week instead of every day. The plan for now is to post on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. For the first time in nearly five years, I'm taking weekends off from writing.

If you've received the blog posts by daily emails in the past, I've exported your email address to the new email program. It won't come daily, as it has in the past, but you'll still receive an email (for now, every two weeks) and the links to recent blog posts will be included at the bottom of the email. 

I hope you'll choose to stay in touch by adding a bookmark on your device (computer/tablet/smartphone) to leannahollis.com/blog. 

Here's what you can expect. By now, you should have an email from me in your inbox. (Check spam if you don't see it.) The emails have one bit of ministry or blog news, one prayer request, and one freebie. Sometimes it's a free printable. Sometimes it's an exclusive story or some other treat. 

Today's email contains a link for a private 3-part blog post to use over the Easter Weekend. It's only available to email subscribers and you'll need to use the password (included, along with the link in the email) to access it.

This is a little bittersweet for me. I've loved sharing my life with you - my struggles, victories, and joys. You've laughed with me, wept with me, and prayed me through and I'm forever grateful. As we moved the names over to Mailchimp (my new email program), I prayed for you all by name. You are more precious to me than you can possibly know. 

So...let's continue to do life together from our new home. I believe we'll enjoy the change.

God bless you all. 

Leanna Hollis 

ps - if you know someone who'd like to receive the newsletter, they can go to the website and sign up at the bottom of any page.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Becoming a House of Prayer: Five Simple Steps to Change Your Life




I sipped from my first steaming cup of coffee this morning and remembered today is Palm Sunday. I thought it might’ve been one of the best days Jesus had while He was on earth, but I read the account in Luke 19 again, and realized a stunning fact. 

While the people cheered, Jesus wept. For Him, it was one more hard day in his long sojourn this side of Heaven.

The countdown to the cross began when Jesus arrived as a tiny baby. Thirty-three years probably seemed like a long time at the start. By the beginning of the week we call Holy Week, the countdown was measured in days and hours. Time was short and the hardest part loomed ahead.

The Holy Solid-Rock-Star Parade

Jesus rode a borrowed donkey colt into the city as the crowds shouted Hosannas and waved palm branches. The people surrounded him before and after. It was a holy solid-rock-star kind of parade as He passed through the massive Golden Gate and entered Jerusalem. 

The Pharisees rebuked Jesus for the outrageous display of love and support from His followers, but, that day, they couldn’t be stopped. There was no need for the religious leaders to fear. Jesus knew their praise would change before the week was out.

Jesus wept 

As He approached the city, Luke tells us (Luke 19:41-44), the crowds shouted Hosannas and Jesus wept. “If you had only known…” He cried. 

The one for whom they’d waited so long was at the gate, but He didn’t bring the political change they wanted. The Kingdom Jesus offered required a change within, and most people would have none of it. In less than a week, He would lay down His life for people who didn’t care. 

His first stop set the tone for the week.

Jesus went straightaway to the temple, where he turned over the tables of the money changers and the seats of the dove sellers. (Matthew 21:1-13) He quoted Isaiah as he spoke words that are too easily overlooked.

“My house shall be called a house of prayer…” (Matthew 21:13)

The religious leaders were irate. They made money from the temple vendors. How did Jesus dare to disrupt the status quo? Their “system” was badly in need of cleansing and redemption, but they couldn’t see it. They chose not to see it.

The beautiful temple was supposed to be a place dedicated to prayer to our Heavenly Father. It was anything but. 

We’re the temple now.

The Apostle Paul taught that we, the body of Christ, are His temple because the Spirit of God now abides in us. If we are the dwelling place of God, then we are also supposed to be a dwelling of prayer. 

Selah. Pause and consider that for a moment. 

Jesus’ first act after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, His kingly procession, moved the focus from material things and established the preeminent importance of prayer. Instead of the right coins or the perfect animal sacrifice, we must approach God with the right heart, the right relationship.

Relationship over ritual

Jesus did more than flip tables that day. He flipped everything about religion and changed it from a series of rituals to a lifetime of relationship. Becoming a house of prayer presumes a life of intimacy with our Heavenly Father. 

Ritual’s easier, isn’t it? 

There are times when a litany and a ritual seem much easier than stillness and obedience. Some days, I’d rather DO something than BE something. What about you?

As we begin Holy Week, let’s recognize one important truth:

Being isn’t optional for the disciple of Christ.

James’ words ring in my heart. “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” James 1:22. Today, why not begin with the words of Jesus on that holy day so long ago? Choose to be a house of prayer. 

What does it mean to be a house of prayer?

In the model prayer, Jesus taught his disciples a simple formula. It’s a good model for living a life of prayer, as well.

1.  Begin each day with praise and honor for God. 

Read the Psalms and use them as a starting point for prayer.Make thanksgiving a regular part of our prayer time and our day. Meditate on Scripture and allow it to infuse and change our lives.

2. Surrender to God’s will and God’s glory instead of our own. 

The Bible gives clear direction on God’s general will. Love Him first. Love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Love other believers. If we love as He commands, we’ll have made a good start on obeying His will and not our own. It’s important to seek His will in the specifics, too, but always begin with love.

3. Live simply and be content. 

Present our requests for daily needs to God, not the extravagant desires of our materialistic society. We don’t need every piece of new technology available. It’s not necessary to have the newest phone or the most stylish clothes. We can    be satisfied with less, but we must choose contentment.

4. Practice forgiveness. 

Confess sin and request forgiveness, but be quick to offer it to others. Bitterness destroys joy and robs us of happiness. Stop rehashing our hurts and let them go. Forgiveness helps us far more than the one we forgive.

5. Pursue holiness. Ask for protection from evil as a declaration of our intent to avoid it. Study Scripture to understand holiness from God’s perspective, then put what we learn into action. Allow Him to change us, understandingthat His ways are not the ways of our world.

Jesus’ first act after His triumphant entry was to declare the importance of a life of prayer. We’d do well to take note and pursue His priority. 

What will we choose? 

The fans in the crowd during Jesus' triumphal entry cheered in celebration but failed to change in surrender. Their choice cost them dearly. 
We too must choose. We can cheer with the crowd or change for our King. Which will it be?
Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 1 Corinthians 3:16-17


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Friday, March 23, 2018

Should You Love Your Neighbor if You Don't Like Him?



I found a treasure this morning in a place I least expected. It was more like a jeweled dagger than a pot of gold, however, because the word went straight to my heart like a blade. The story of Ananias and Saul has been the focus of my daily reading for the last week or so, and I thought I’d mined it pretty well. This morning, I read the story again and was struck to the core by one simple word. (Acts 9:17

Brother.

This word literally means united as brother of the same mother or father or united by a common cause. In this instance, it means both. Because God claimed Saul as his own, Ananias accepted kinship with Saul even though he appropriately feared this well-known terrorist who, a few days earlier, had intended to imprison him. 

Looking past the past.

Ananias didn’t disregard Saul’s past. It terrified him and he voiced his concerns in prayer. “Lord,” he said, “this man came here to arrest us all.” His valid complaint did not stop him from obeying Jesus. Love your neighbor as you love yourself isn’t a touching suggestion. It’s a command. (Matthew 22:39) In the story of Ananias and Saul, we see it lived out in despite-his-fear boldness.

Saul’s days as a terrorist were over, but Ananias had no way to know that when he met Saul and called him brother. All he knew was that God had chosen Saul and intended to use him in a mighty way. Ananias stepped over Saul’s past and their differences to embrace this man God loved, and so should we. 

He loved anyway. He accepted anyway. Despite the past.

Only God can replace a heart of stone.

It wasn’t Ananias’ job to change Saul, and it would have been futile to attempt it. Only God can change a heart and transform a life. Ananias’ job was to pray and lay hands on Saul in person, and that’s exactly what he did.

The first word Ananias spoke demonstrated the decision he’d made. It was a “nevertheless” kind of word that said, to Judas, Saul, and to God that he had chosen to see Saul through the filter of Christ’s love.

What does my first word say about my obedience?

My initial impression of people radically different from me is not always one of having positive intent or as being beloved by God. It should be, and I wish it was. Sometimes, though, I see people through the filter of their past. The drug addict or alcoholic who’s been through rehab numerous times doesn’t always look like my brother and sister at first glance. I don’t always see how God plans to use them from the beginning. It’s the same for the serial… whatever the sin. 

Sometimes, I see the sin before I see the sinner, just like Ananias did, but I don’t always make it to “beloved brother” or “precious sister” as quickly. This morning, I’ve repented of that sin, for I should be willing to love the one Christ loves as my brother or sister from the start. 

I was not required to prove myself in order to be redeemed, and no one else is, either. 

What about a relapse?

Ananias went to Saul and called him brother without a promise of change on Saul’s part. He had no way of knowing Saul would become Paul, nor about the missionary journeys he would make. Would a potentially murderous relapse on Saul’s part have changed Ananias’ responsibility for obedience? No. Ananias’ imperative to obey had nothing to do with Saul’s.  Nor does mine or yours.

Even “tough love” begins with love. The difference between loving the sinner and enabling the sin is distinct and important to recognize, but that’s a topic for another day. 

Our job always beings with love.

The greatest commandment is to love God, the second to love others. The new commandment Christ gave, to love others as He loved us, reinforces one truth. (John 13:34) We must view everyone through the lens of love. If we are obedient to the royal law of our King, the law of love, we live with everything done in love, and our lives filled, focused on, and radiating love. How radical is that in this me-first world in which we live? 

For today, let’s that a deep look at our own hearts. Are they filled with love for all, even those who are different? If not, why not and what do we plan to do about it? If we lack love, change is required, so let’s get started. 

“Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend.” John 15:13

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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Worship at the Judas Rock: When We Identify With the Betrayer



One of the most unusual things I encountered in Jerusalem was in an out-of-the-way church on the Mount of Olives. It was adjacent to The Grotto, and filled with beautiful artwork. Some of the paintings appeared to have been restored, while others were nearly obscured beneath centuries of grime. 

I made my way around the room as I looked at the paintings and finally arrived at a glass-enclosed shrine. Inside, there was a large rectangle of rock. 

The Judas rock.

It was (reportedly) the rock on which Judas stood when he betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. (Luke 22: 3-6, 47-48) A narrow opening under the lid was just wide enough to allow a piece of paper to slip through. The rock was covered with randomly scattered money and hastily written notes. I stared at the slips of paper and money and wondered…

 Why is there a shrine to the betrayer?

Why identify with Judas? Why leave letters on the Judas rock? Why leave money?

I struggled with this for days. Did people think Judas could answer their prayers? That the money would redeem their sin? It took me a while to come to the conclusion that no one wants to identify with Judas. We already identify with him because we, too, are betrayers. 

Our focus, like Judas, is all too often on money, possessions, success, and prestige. We put what we want before the call of Christ. Pleasing ourselves comes before our relationship with Him. 

I include myself in that corporate "we," for, though I hate to admit it, I still put my own desires before Jesus. My first thought is, far more than I’d like to admit, what I want in a particular situation, rather than what Christ wants. Although I usually find my way to seeking God's will, the first burst of "Leanna worship" is a betrayal of the higher call to the will of God. Neither dollars nor letters of contrition can change that. 

Only the grace of God is sufficient. 

It's the greatest paradox that our Holy God would exact the price for our sin from Himself, but He did, and He offers that redemption to all who will receive it. 

What can wash away the stain of sin? The black shroud of betrayal? Nothing. Nothing but the blood of the spotless Lamb of God. 

Today, let's choose to love God first and love others as we love ourselves. In so doing, we live as those who have been redeemed. 

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

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Monday, March 19, 2018

When the Hand of God Restored My Hope



My appointment with the cornea specialist was scheduled for 2:30 pm. I planned to leave work early enough to have time for a quick lunch near the doctor’s office. 

“You should get something good,” one of my coworkers suggested. “What do you like to eat?”

“I’ll probably find a salad somewhere. I prefer Middle Eastern food, but how likely is that to be near the doctor’s office?”

“Not likely,” we both agreed.

A surprising series of events begin to unfold.

GPS took me straight to the office in less time than I’d expected. I drove into the parking lot and found a huge surprise. A stone fountain in front of the building bore the words of one of my favorite verses in bold letters.
Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Proverbs 29:18

I stopped the truck and stared. “God is in this,” I thought, as I sat in stunned silence. It felt like a sign of blessing. 

I intended to have a light lunch before the appointment and get something more substantial on the way home. My early arrival meant I had time for a sit-down meal. The “Around Me” app listed restaurants in the area. 

A Middle Eastern restaurant was next door.

The waiter greeted me with a menu and a little surprise. “I have some very tender lamb if you’d like a kebob today.” 

My favorite meal.

After lunch, I returned to the doctor’s office to check in. The receptionist greeted me with the usual clipboard and papers to complete. To the left of her desk were a chair and table. A large-print Bible was positioned prominently on the table with a stack of smaller Bibles to the side. 

God’s hand was evident. 

By the time I took my place in the waiting room, the sense of God’s hand at work overwhelmed me. The Middle Eastern restaurant next door, my favorite meal, the verse on the fountain, the Bible on the desk — any of it was possible, but all together? It was more than a coincidence. 

I knew it was the hand of God.

Every person in the office treated me with kindness and understanding, including the specialist. Despite his frightening words, “We’ll use this medicine for a year…chronic…remission is possible…might recur…,” I felt blessed when I left. 

Hope returned.

In the midst of the seriousness of the eye disease, the hope I didn’t realize I’d lost surged in my heart again. Four seemingly-random things, so perfectly aligned with my preferences and desires, restored my sense of God’s watch-care. 

Our omnipresent God was with me. 

The Omniscient One saw me.

My loving Father cared for me.

Fear fled in the presence of Hope and left an overwhelming sense of peace. The following days were not all easy. My eye still hurt a while longer. The medicine was hard to tolerate at first.

Could I do this hard thing for a year? Until I was gently reminded of an important fact, I wasn’t sure. I don’t have to do the next year today. I need only live one day at a time, and I have all the strength I need to do just that.

Fear not.

Fear not. It’s what angels always say when they greet someone with terrifying circumstances. Those words are worth remembering.

Fear may be a natural and easy response to the storms of life, but for those whose trust is in Christ, we have a choice. Fear or faith. 

There’s no need for fear. Our circumstances have not caught God by surprise. He is not powerless, even in our most difficult situations. 

No matter what we face, we don’t tackle it all at once. We do it one moment at a time. It’s not too much for us, even when it’s horrible and hard, because we are not alone and we need not rely on our own strength. We have One who loves us, is with us, and helps us. He will carry us through.

“For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’” Isaiah 41:13 nasb

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Saturday, March 17, 2018

Biting Cat and the Spring Clean Up of Repentance



Several years ago, I decided I needed a cat at the barn to control the massive mouse population, so I hired Spike and his mama. I deposited them in my tack room with a litter box, fluffy bed, and food and water. Mama Cat ran up the wall, jumped onto the top of the freezer, then out the open window. 

I never saw her again. 

She left little Spike behind. He wasn’t happy without his mama, so I adopted a second kitten, Max, to keep him company at the barn and help him catch mice. 

The partnership didn’t work well. 

The two kittens lived at the barn until their little legs grew enough to carry them down the gravel road. As soon as they were able to make the trip, they followed me back to my house. I returned them to the barn. They scampered to the house again the minute I turned my back. On and on it went. Day after day.

They never caught a mouse. 

I don’t know what happened to Spike, but he eventually disappeared. Max stayed but refused to catch mice or go to the barn. He had a tendency to wander away for days at a time but, mostly, he hung around my back door. 

When Max was a young kitty, a bed fell on him and he was crippled, or so I was told. By the time he arrived at my house, his physical recovery was complete. 

His mental/emotional recovery was not as successful. He wouldn’t snuggle, couldn’t purr, and he bit anyone who picked him up. We changed his name to “Biting Cat.” One of my veterinarian friends called him “the devil cat.” Both names fit.

The problem of cat-dreadlocks

Max had another problem. He wouldn’t groom himself. Instead, he opted for dreadocks. Over the course of a winter, his dreadocks grew so long it was hard for him to walk. 

“You should do something for that poor cat,” Sam (my neighbor) told me.

“I’d have to shave him,” I insisted.

“You better put him in a feed sack to hold him before you try that.”

“Sam, if I put him in a feed sack, I can’t shave him.”

We went back and forth. Finally, I convinced Sam to hold the cat while I used the clippers to shave off his dreadlocks. Max bit Sam before the clippers touched him, and he let the cat go.

“You should sneak up on him while he’s not looking,” Sam suggested. We pondered that a while. Finally, I found some small, quiet battery-operated clippers. I stalked the cat and waited for my chance. 

One day, Max (AKA Biting Cat) was asleep in a chair on the patio. I tiptoed over, turned on my clippers, and raked his side. Several dreadlocks fell off before he awakened, growled, and ran away. 

The next day, I tried a different technique. I patted him with one hand and shaved a section with the other. This worked better, but was so awkward that I conned Sam into taking over the petting job. Because of the previous biting episode, Sam was skittish but agreed.

Days went by as we shaved one patch at a time. The cat looked pitiful. Finally, the dreadlocks were gone. Most of Biting Cat’s hair was gone, too. His few remaining patches of hair looked even worse than the dreadlocks.

Sam stared at the cat for a long time before he spoke. “I wouldn’t tell anyone that was my cat if it was me.”

The shaving project was an educational experience.

We repeated the shaving program every spring. After a few years, Sam and I grew more adept in our technique and Biting Cat grew accustomed to the spring shave. He let me hold him for a few seconds. He learned to purr and caught a mouse or two. 

This past Christmas, Max (AKA Devil Cat) had an unhappy encounter with my grand-dog, Bento, who wanted to play. Unfortunately, Biting Cat wanted to do what he does best. Bite. I’m not sure what happened next, but Biting Cat left in an angry huff and didn’t return for several weeks. 

Another spring brings more dreadlocks

I thought Max died in the winter cold, but no such luck. Sorry, Cat Lovers. I meant, I was so happy this mean biting cat found his way back home. He arrived covered in dreadlocks again, yowling like a demon-cat at the back door. I dished out one bowlful after another of cat pate until he finally quit howling.

Max apparently tired of his dreadlocks when the weather warmed up. He began to rub against my leg with his lumpy dreadlocks every time I walked outside. The first time, it surprised me so much I jumped off the steps onto the patio. He yowled and tried to rub my leg again as I went back inside. I wanted nothing to do with those freaky dreadlocks.

Max needs a spring shave, but this is my first year without Sam, who moved to heaven not long before Thanksgiving. I’ve lost my cat-shaving partner. If anyone is interested in the job, which pays nothing but is good for a few laughs (or a few bites) leave your comment below.

Max needs more than a spring shave

There is no way to describe how bad Max looks with his winter dreads. He’s in dire need of a spring shave, which will greatly improve his appearance. Cleaning up the outside of Max will make him more presentable, but it won’t help what’s wrong on his inside. 

As far as cats go, Max is grumpy and mean, even to the people who care the most about him. He bites indiscriminately before he stops to consider, “Is this the lady who feeds me very nice cat pate every day?”

Max needs a spring cleanup on the inside, too. What he needs most is a change of heart.

I realize I need a spring clean-up, too, but I need a repentance clean-up.

I’ve had a hard few months. I don’t deny it, but I don’t mention it as an excuse, either. One hard thing after another came in quick succession, then the eye problem began. Eye pain alternated with eye blurriness and, most of the time, I had them together. I struggled to get the new website going, made much harder because part of the time I could hardly see my computer screen.

The longer the eye problem lasted, the more discontented I became. I wanted it to be over. I was tired of discomfort. Ready for clear vision. Uncertain about the future. Fear crept in and grew like kudzu. I rebuked it with only temporary success. 

I took a digital break, then slowed down the blog.

Finally, I quit writing.

I didn’t tell anyone except myself, but I grew tired of the struggle. What difference does it make if I write or not? I asked myself. 

It doesn’t matter at all, I replied. 

Thank God for friends who speak the truth in love.

A friend yesterday said, “You never write anymore. You never even post on Facebook.” I denied it, but I knew it was true.

Later, my sweet mentoring partner and I met for coffee and to catch up. I finally voiced my distress.

 “You need to go back to what God told you to do and keep doing it until he tells you to do something else. What did He say about the blog?” 

“Well, it was His idea in the first place,” I confessed.

“Did God tell you to stop writing?” she asked me.

“No…not really.” 

“Sounds like you better get back to writing then,” she said with a smile. 

I laughed. “I’ll have to repent first.”

And so I did. I confessed my disappointment, my disillusionment, and my fear. Then, I repented of my refusal to persevere and asked for one more second chance, which God freely gave.

I doubt I’m the only one who grows weary in the midst of difficulties and wants to give up. Am I the only one who, in the midst of a hard time, secretly decides to quit what God has called me to do? Am I the only one who needs a spring heart clean-up? Probably not. 

Here’s good news. 

We serve a God who’s already paid the price for all our sin and is both ready and willing to forgive and cleanse us. He doesn’t lurk for a chance to pounce on us or sneak up on us with punishment. 

He simply waits for us to confess so He can forgive and do what only He can do. Cleanse us completely. It’s spring cleaning at its finest.

We can be washed white as snow, if we admit our sin, confess it, and sincerely repent. (Isaiah 1:18) Why not join me in a spring heart-cleanup? I think you’ll be  glad you did.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

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