Monday, July 30, 2012

No Fear





So many times I’ve lost my step, but never lost my way.
How Do You Know? Third Day


I may falter in my steps, but never beyond your reach.
Sometimes by Step Rich Mullins

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8: 38-39



There’s nothing in life that offers me as much hope as the knowledge that nothing can take Jesus away from me. It is especially comforting to know that even my own failures and bumbles won’t do it. It isn’t as if I’m going to go through life without sin. I may choose it. I may fall into it or I may get pushed but one thing I know for sure, there has been and will be sin in my life. I know this because I am not Jesus. I dearly love him but unfortunately I am not yet like him.

The song I quoted from Third Day talks about finger pointing. The singer asks, “how do you know what I’m supposed to be doing?” Most of us can relate to that. Our detractors or even well meaning friends all want to tell us how to do things. There’s always someone around to tell us what we should have or could have done. How do they know? How do I know when I’m the one giving advice? I love the confidence in the line I quoted, “so many times I’ve lost my step but never lost my way.” I want to yell, “Me too!” Why? Because Jesus is the way. If I stay attached to him, attentive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, I may slip and even fall but I won’t get lost. My choices may not be the right ones, losing my step, but if I confess my sin or even just admit my mistake, all is well. That means I haven’t lost my way.

The line from Rich Mullins offers even more encouragement. Rich said, “I may falter.” Tricia says, I will falter. I just hope it isn’t too often. For Rich, for you and for me, we are never out of reach of the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

There are tons books and songs about the love of God, the person of God and the promises of God. Pastors preach about God every week, some of them several times a week. What more do we really need to know? While I want to know anything and everything I can about each person of the Trinity, truth be told those verses from those two songs and from Romans, tell me all I need to know. I can never, ever be beyond God’s reach. As long as Jesus is my way I cannot be lost and nothing can take that away from me.

There have been times in life when I have felt that I’d lost my way. Looking back I can see that I chose to ignore the way. I wasn’t lost. I was ignorant. Have I faltered? Is this a day that ends in the letters d-a-y? Then yes, I’ve faltered. I falter because I doubt me or because I look to a human to do what only God can do and then become disappointed.

I’ve been lost and I have faltered. Thankfully, I’ve been found and I’ve never, ever been forsaken. No matter how far I may have tried to run the hand of God has been on me. We are not talking fingertips here. We’re talking big, strong, capable hands that hold on in the toughest of storms. Those hands hold on no matter how hard I may try to shake them.

There is another song I love by Tenth Avenue North. One line has God speaking to us and saying, “please don’t fight, these hands that are holding you.” I don’t know about you but I fight hardest when I feel most unworthy. My guiltiest moments are my squirmiest moments. I can be pretty squirmy but he hasn’t dropped me yet and I am very confident that he never will.



Sunday, July 22, 2012

Empowered



For in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said,
“We are his offspring.” Acts 17:28


Every morning when I wake up I have a choice. I can choose to live in Christ, to walk through my day with the knowledge of who I am and whose I am or I can choose to give into the pressures of the world. For months now I’ve gone back to a practice I started as ha new believer. It’s one I’ve revisited several times over the years. My only question is why I ever stop doing it. It’s a simple thing. When I wake up, before any thought, good or bad, can really register in my mind I say, “This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24)

Regardless of what the day holds, its very existence is ordained by God. Of course there are days when things don’t go my way. There are days that involve tragedy and suffering, or even just a mild illness, that don’t seem joyous and yet, if I believe what I say I believe I have to know that there is a purpose in everything.

Yesterday my husband received the news that his cousin had died. It came as a shock and was compounded by the fact that it appears to have been a suicide. Otto being Otto, was very faithful about it all. Even as his heart was breaking he told me how hard it is for him to understand that choice. He said, “There is nothing in life that we can’t come back from, nothing that we can’t turn around, except suicide.” He’s right, of course. That is a strong and faithful statement from anyone, but it comes from a man who has endured, conquered and survived, a lot. This isn’t someone who’s lived a charmed life where the worst thing to ever happen is a hangnail. This is a man who has tested the promises of God and found them to be true. He knows that there are seasons in life and that some are more pleasant than others. He knows that some seem unbearable and perhaps are, if we try to bear them alone.

In him we live and move and have our being. In him. I love those words. I love them almost as much as I love, but God. It seems to me when I hit a bump in the road or fall into a pothole that the words but God are like a lifeline. I could wallow in my fear, hurt or anger. I could be defeated by the lies of Satan, by financial troubles, by rejection, humiliation or loneliness but God shows up and changes my focus.

God shows up because I invite him. Which is a polite and pretty way to say I rant and rave and carry on and he in his infinite mercy hears those “prayers” and answers me. He doesn’t always give me the answer I want. In fact he often doesn’t give me the answer I want and that’s great because his answers are far superior to mine. He does show up, however and he does answer because in him we live and move and have our being.

John 15: 5 tells us that Jesus is the vine and we are branches. The second half of the verse includes the words, “apart from me, you can do nothing.” Let that sink in. Apart from him we can do nothing. He gives us the ability to do anything and everything we do. Which means, yes, sometimes, too often, we use that power in ways that break his heart. It’s not like we are empowered by God to do good but when we sin we pull from another source. There is no other source. It’s like giving your child money for lunch only to find they’ve used it to buy drugs. That’s a flimsy analogy because our children can get money from other sources but hopefully it paints a decent picture.

We are given life from the One true God. What we do with it, unfortunately is up to us. I agree with my husband, the stuff of this life is survivable if we hold onto Jesus. If, God forbid, we lose our grip, I thank God that he holds onto to us, tightly enough so that we won’t perish.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Little Things

Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown is a prophet without honor.

He could not do any miracles there except lay hands on a few people and heal them.
Mark 6:4-5 (emphasis mine)


That line always gets me. “He could not do any miracles there except lay hands on a few people and heal them.”

I don’t know about you but I count it a decent day when I do no harm and perhaps bring a smile to a face or two. I call it a good day when I’m able to give something or bless someone. I call it a great day if I can bless more than one life, give something and bring a smile to a face or two. If I could heal one person, just one, I would call that a monumentally stupendous day! If I could heal a few people…. Hmm, most likely someone would then have to revive me. But here we are in Jesus’ “hometown” and the poor guy just can’t do much of anything, oh yeah, except heal a few people.

There are myriad stories of Jesus miraculous powers. They’re in the Bible of course, but we also hear from people through other writings or personal connections about the many miracles of Jesus. Jesus is literally a walking miracle in Mark 5. In chapter 5 a woman touches his cloak (Mark 5:24-34) and to quote my son, “wa-pow” she’s healed. Jesus doesn’t even know she’s there until he feels power go to her. Keep in mind that event occurs as he’s heading to Jairus’s house to heal his daughter, let me clarify, to heal the man’s dead daughter. Oh and that journey is occurring shortly after he orders Legion, a group of nasty demons out of some poor tortured man.

If you read the account of the same day’s events in Matthew (8-9) he tells the story of a paralytic being healed as well. In fact in Matthew it goes something like this, day one, heal some leprosy, take care of a sick soldier, heal Peter’s mother-in-law, explain a few things to the guys, calm a storm, throw out some demons. Day two, heal the paralyzed guy, grab another apostle, do a little teaching, walk with Jairus to raise his daughter from death, on the way heal a woman who’s been suffering for twelve years. Then, restore sight to some blind people and speech to a mute (again by throwing out a demon) and tell the guys we need a little help getting people on the right path. When you look at it that way, healing just a “few people” maybe doesn’t seem so huge.

All lightness aside, I do understand the hometown thing. Those closest to us, the ones who knew us when, sometimes have a hard time seeing us in a new role. When we become new men and women in Christ it isn’t immediately evident to those who’ve known us forever. To the people from home, Jesus was “just a carpenter.” The idea that he was the Messiah was laughable I’m sure, to people who’d seen him in diapers and watched him learn his father’s trade. The problem was they didn’t know he was born with the ability to do his Father’s work.

Still I can’t help but smile when I read that verse. “He could not do any miracles there, except lay hands on a few people and heal them.” No miracles, a few little healings, not much to talk about. Well, oooookay. I love it because it makes Jesus so real. His nearest and dearest didn’t get him, at all. Can you relate? I can. I also love that it must have frustrated the human Jesus that they didn’t because he mentions it. “Only in his hometown is a prophet without honor.” A polite way to say, “Can you believe these morons? I’m here in their midst to give them whatever they need and they don’t even see me!” Oops, I guess Jesus really does live right around here, right here in fact with me because far too often, even with all the evidence we have, my neighbors and I don’t get it either.







Monday, July 16, 2012

Lavishing Love



How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
1 John 3:1


For several weeks the first half of this verse has been in my head. To be called the daughter of God is a ridiculously huge privilege. Beyond that I love the wording. “The love the Father has lavished on us.” I’m a word girl. I love words, especially when the way they sound indicates their meaning, like conquer or conquerors. Say that a few times. It sounds strong doesn’t it? Conqueror. Now try lavished. It sounds like something that would flow over you, cover you, make you feel warm and secure. Then consider that the love being lavished is from God. Amazing right?

For the last several weeks I have been praying for my friend Charlene a lot. Due to a major change in her life we have also been in pretty constant contact. At some point in all of our conversations, be they live, on the phone or through text, we share some way in which God has blessed us. Even with the struggles Char is experiencing, or maybe because of the struggles, she feels love being lavished on her.

My life in these same weeks has been, just life, with its inherent ups and downs. My heart breaks for Char. I am irritated by the behaviors of some of the people nearest and supposedly dearest to me. I have the regular day to day struggles and some great times. Through it all I feel the love of the Father being lavished on me. How blessed we are, Char and I, how blessed we all are, to be called the sons and daughters of God.

Today when the verse caught my attention I really saw the second half. The world doesn’t know us because it didn’t know our Father. What is our mission then? To make him known in the world. Okay! So get your boots on, the ones made for walkin’, get your Bible and your best evangelist voice and start stepping. We’ve got work to do! Hmm, no, I don’t think that’s the best idea. What then? How do we get the world to focus on God?

In these same weeks I had the immense privilege and pleasure of taking a cruise with my daughter and granddaughters. Since our return I’ve shown the pictures and told the stories over and over to anyone who will look and listen. Several of those people have said “Oh man, now I want to go on a cruise.” Why? My excitement is contagious. They can hear in my voice and see from the pictures what a great time we had. Hmm, maybe that’s it.

As I said, Char and I share the movement of God in our lives with each other and with other like-minded friends. When I’m talking about the cruise I don’t hesitate and wonder if the person is interested in cruises. I don’t think, “Oh, I hope I don’t push them away from cruising.” No, I just share my joy.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know that I have to find a way to share my joy in the Lord more obviously. I need to be more open about why and how I have the life I have. In good times, I need to “show the pictures” of what God has done and is doing for me and in me. In hard times, I have to be open about the struggle and how I’m facing it, with the help of my Father.

God is willing to call me child, daughter and he is willing to lavish love on me. Now that is something to get excited about, to brag about, considering it is all to his glory. I want the world to know him and to see him in me. It’s time to do something about that.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Peace at What Price



“They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious.
‘Peace, Peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.
Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct?
No, they have no shame at all;
They do not even know how to blush.
So they will fall among the fallen,
they will be brought down when they are punished,”
says the Lord. Jeremiah 8:11-12



When I first read the words, “they dress the wounds of my people as though it were not serious” I felt a bit convicted. I’m a fixer. That’s nice and can be helpful, if the situation requires an easy fix, a few “there there’s” or a nice snack. I can offer a listening ear and even, on occasion a bit of decent advice but sometimes I’m tempted to put a Band-Aid on a patient needing open heart surgery simply because I can’t stand to see him or her hurting. The quick fix can often be more harmful than no help at all as it gives a false sense of healing or acceptance.

On further reflection I saw the words as a bit more severe. This is the state of our world today. These words do two things for me. First they affirm that this is truly the Word of God. What was true in Jeremiah’s day is true today. This is prophecy for sure. The second thing was that I can see by reading these words that I am not overreacting to the state the world is in nor am I wrong when I realize how few people are really aware of this. On the second and third read through I could almost hear the voice of one of my favorite people in the world, my little friend Brianna. She loves to say, “That’s what I’m taltin’ [talking] ‘bout.” Yes, Bree-bree, this is what we’re talking about and if we aren’t we should be.

In an effort to have “peace, peace” and not rock any boats we ignore far more important words like “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5) We offer platitudes about love and tolerance to people behaving in abhorrent ways. We allow sin to run rampant in the form of heinous display of disrespect to the one true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, in the name of peace. We don’t want to be judgy. We’re Christians after all and it’s all about love. Love, yes, but what kind of love? Real love that invites us to grow and become more like Jesus? Or look the other way love that isn’t really love at all?

Jesus in following the will of his Father, told us to love everyone, not just our neighbors, but our enemies as well. Why? Turns out they are also considered our neighbors. If we truly love them do we offer them some kind words or a nice cookie when what they really need is a wake up call?

The verses above point out that the blatant sinners of Jeremiah’s day were not ashamed. I love the words “they don’t know how to blush.” Seems like then, as is true now, nothing was sacred and nothing was private. Go ahead air your dirt laundry, no one is going to say a word. We want “peace, peace” you know.

No! We want to live as God intended. We’re all sinners but as my friend B.E. says, the difference between the saints and the rest of us is that they know how to repent faster. Faster? Heaven help us, people these days and apparently in Jeremiah’s time didn’t feel compelled to repent at all. Note the last bit of the Scripture, it says that behavior will not go unpunished. God does love us. He loves us enough to say, “You, my dear, are way out of line.” I believe he asks us to love each other enough to do the same. He instructs us to do so all through the Scripture, Matthew 18:15-19 and Ephesians 4:15, to name just two.

Peace is lovely. I wish there were more of it in my own life but I won’t compromise God’s word to get it. God’s way is the right way, all of the time and that’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout.



















































































































































Tuesday, July 10, 2012

In Hiding, Sort Of



Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.


Psalm 139: 7-10



Have you ever tried to hide from God? Did you think you were successful? I’ve tried it and I fear I may try it again, although I hope not. It doesn’t work. God doesn’t look the other way. There is no place he won’t go or can’t see.

I have a friend who does not believe this, or so he says. I’ll call him Billy. Billy is a great guy. His major flaw is that he is his own authority and therefore his own worst enemy. Without a guiding force in his life, Billy relies on his own limited view of the world, his own narrow experiences and scariest of all, the things of the world. His gospel, if you will is not the Gospel, but whatever popular opinion is sweeping our nation. What causes him the most stress and the deepest pain is that Billy knows the actual Gospel, very well. He knows God, not about God, he actually knows God. Unfortunately God’s ways are inconvenient to Billy right now. So Billy is attempting to hide from God. How do I know? He’s hiding from me too.

Billy and I go way back, which means he knows me pretty well. He knows that I have great faith and great reverent fear. He knows that I want to please God. So when Billy is making choices that he knows are wrong, when he is living in a way that offends God, he hides from me too. Why? I’m not terribly subtle. If he asks me my opinion I’ll tell him and I use words like sin, responsibility, grow up, words he doesn’t want to hear.

The pattern goes like this. When the sinful behavior starts we still have communication. He gives me a little information just to see how I will react. While I’ve gotten quite adept at remaining calm and not judging I still hold to what I know. I still speak the truth with as much love as possible. Ah, but the truth is the problem, so Billy pulls back. By the time he’s pulled back from me, he’s run as far from God as he can.

That leaves me with a limited idea of what he’s doing but God still knows. Billy, like all of us, can hide from humans. We may know, or have a pretty good idea, what is going on, but God absolutely knows. He knew before we did. He knows everything. We can water that down, talk about free will, blah, blah, blah but at the end of the day, the middle of the day and the beginning of the day God sees all and knows all.

I wish Billy would stop his self-destructive behaviors. I wish he would talk to me and at least try to listen to some truth. I wish he wouldn’t hide. Right now, he’s pretty deep in hiding. I know where he is but I can’t get to him. Billy is my friend; he’s dear to me. It is extremely unlikely that I will ever give up on him, but it could happen.

God adores Billy, warts and all. Even now in the midst of deep sin, lousy behavior and total denial, God loves Billy and is watching every move he makes.

Where can Billy go to hide from God? Nowhere. Which means Billy will never get beyond the saving power and grace of God. When he chooses to submit, God will be standing right there. Isn’t that fantastic?

Monday, July 2, 2012

None the Less





Return O Israel to the Lord your God,
Your sins have been your downfall.


I will heal their waywardness and love them freely.

Hosea 14:1, 4a



There is a song by Third Day that is pretty much a summary of the book of Hosea. The lines that speak to the most say, “She’s forgotten her first love. He’s forgotten that she ever went away and broke his heart.” Wow! That says it all to me. I can’t recall, nor do I care to, the number of times I’ve walked away from God, forgotten my first love. I know I have repeatedly broken his heart and yet, he has forgotten. How is that possible?

I have four children, all of whom I dearly love. Through the years there have been offenses, of course. Some I remember too clearly, others are vague and still others may have happened but they are gone from my mind. Some are gone, not all. Whenever a new incident occurs I try very hard not to see it in light of things that came before. I cling to, “love keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5) and often that helps. It fails for sure when my past wrongs are being thrown in my face. It fails as well when I am being accused of not loving enough or caring enough. I want to shout out, “Are you kidding me? Do you know how many times I’ve ignored the fact that you’ve shown me disrespect? Or given me the cold shoulder? Or mocked me?” I do not shout these things as I realize that they are not only hurtful and valueless but that they will have little to no effect on the listener, i.e. the injured party.

In sharp contrast I look at the way my Father in heaven treats me. As I said, I have forgotten God, hoped like crazy that he was looking the other way and in other varying ways chosen to ignore his existence. What does he do in response? He loves me and forgets that I leave and break his heart. I ask again, how is that possible? Nowhere does it say that God wants to shout at me, “Are you kidding me right now? After all I’ve done for you? After all your talk about how closely you follow me? With no due respect, grow up!” But he doesn’t. He waits. He beckons. He hopes, that I will grow up, use my brain get a clue and come back but he does not rant and rave. He waits and he loves me, as the song says, “none the less.”

That’s another phrase that gets me. In conversation it can be a throwaway phrase. We tack it on in places where it rarely belongs. It’s a cousin of things like “not for nothing” or “in a manner of speaking.” Sometimes those phrases fit but often they just fill a space. The use of the words, “none the less” in the Third Day song are used like this, “He deserves the very best; but he loves her none the less.” He [God] loves her [unfaithful Israel and feel free to pop your own name in there if it fits] none--- the--- less.

Think about that. We leave. We sin. We question his authority. We rant and rave. We complain. We beg. We break the heart of the God of the universe, the Creator, the reason we’re here. And what does he do? He loves us none the less. Not a smidgen less! His love waits pure and whole for us to reach out and pluck from his open hand.

In the book of Hosea, Gomer, Hosea’s wife, is a piece of work and a half. She’s a prostitute, a liar, a big ole’ mess, as they say here in the South. God says to Hosea, “go get her and bring her home.” (Hosea 3:1) Hosea does not say, “Awe gee Dad! Do I have to?” He just goes. Is his heart in it? Would yours be? Ours is not to question why. Ours is to be obedient. Go, do, be, give, spend, save, work, rest, forgive, love, accept, whatever the command the response should be the same. “Yes, sir.”

He [God] deserves the very best. We should give it to him. But don’t worry…. He loves us all, none the less.