Spaghetti

This is one of those weeks when my emotions seem to invade every piece of my life.  I am not a fan of days like these.  I like to feel in control of daily life.  This week, I feel like life is jumbled into a pile of spaghetti with pieces going in an endless array of directions, and I am not able to find the beginning or end of any one piece.

Have you tried to buy private health insurance lately?  I tried to buy mine for next year  only to be told I need to wait a month because they aren’t completely ready with the new plans for non-exchange customers.  Lovely.  I was hoping this chore was the one thing I could get accomplished this week.  I wanted to feel comfortable knowing this piece of life was taken care of.  Instead, I feel even more unsettled.

I went snow blower shopping.  To get the model that fits my property’s requirements, I will have to spend more than I had hoped, but the retailer will get rid of my old, broken machine for me and deliver the new one.  I could buy a less expensive model but it would probably break down sooner rather than later because I would use it beyond the specifications it was designed for.  I loathe buying machines.  I hate even more having to do it by myself, without a partner to share the burden, and the consequences.  Grief tries to flood in once again.

My five-year-old washer keeps giving me an error code partway into its cycles.  I looked up the code, and it seems I need to replace the filter screens in the water intake hoses.  Okay.  Not a big deal.  I should be able to accomplish this.  In my heart, though, it is another reminder I no longer have a handyman-in-residence.

I received the forgiveness I requested (“White Lie”), but I am still having trouble with moving beyond.  Let it go, I tell myself.  Just let it go.  They forgive you, feel it is of no consequence.  God forgives you.  What I feel is fear.  Fear that I will not see sin for what it is before I fall into it.  And next time the consequences may be more serious.  How can I forgive myself if my heart thinks I will just slip into sin again?  How can I feel spiritually safe with myself?

I heard on the radio a woman talking about her recent diagnosis.  She was expressing gratitude for the station’s programming which was encouraging to her in the difficulty she is facing.  I heard the fear in her voice, and the memories rushed in.  I remembered what it feels like to face medical uncertainty.  And I sobbed.  I asked God why this life has to be so hard.  I prayed for her, a stranger, to have the courage and strength I know too well she will need.

My inclination is to blame my current state of emotional confusion on hormones or on the time change last weekend.  Truthfully, both are playing a role, but fixing blame does not help me.  There is nothing I can do about the time change except wait for my body to adjust.  And hormones, well, I don’t have much control over them either other than the healthy habits I already avail myself of.

I could easily slip into a downward spiral of emotional morass, but I choose instead to see what God would have me learn:

Life is full of annoying chores.  Any time and energy I spend worrying about what might or might not happen tomorrow or next week or next month is wasted.  Eventually, I will be able to buy health insurance.

“‘So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.'”  Matthew 6:34

My loss is eternity’s gain.  This life goes on whether I participate or not.  Allow grief to lessen, knowing God leads me through my struggle.  Move forward with life, no matter how hard it feels.

“Precious in the sight of the Lord Is the death of His godly ones.”  Psalm 116:15

No matter how I feel, God never leaves me alone.  No matter what circumstances occur in my life, I do not face any of them alone.  No matter how disheartening.  No matter how frustrating.  No matter how upsetting.  I am never alone.

“‘Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you.  He will not fail you or forsake you.'”  Deuteronomy 31:6

God’s grace is always big enough for my sin.  God wants my heart, wants me to want to be with Him.  His grace makes His forgiveness always possible.  As His child, no matter how far or how often I slip, His forgiveness is always, only, one confession away.

“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

This life is not the end; each day is new; God is faithful to those who love Him.  The hard days of this life move me to want the next life, eternal life in God’s presence in a resurrected body, even more.

“Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness.  Surely my soul remembers And is bowed down within me.  This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope.  The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.  ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I will have hope in Him.'”  Lamentations 3:19-24

 This life is not going to be easy, simple, fair or always happy.  Because sin is a part of every day on this earth, because earthly perfection was lost with the first bite of the forbidden fruit, this life will have hard days, days of jumbled emotions and fractious thinking.  If I choose to endure and persevere, I will find blessing.

“Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”  James 1:12

All Bible quotes are from Zondervan’s Classic Reference Bible, New American Standard Bible–Updated Edition copyright 1999 by Zondervan

NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.

White Lie

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,…”  Hebrews 12:1

The sin which so easily entangles us…

I made my commitment to Christ when I was fifteen.  That was just under forty years ago.  I have a lot of experience being a Christian, walking with God, discerning and avoiding sin.  And still, sin easily, much too easily, entangles me.  A white lie, just a teeny tiny one about something completely unimportant, of no real consequence except that the deception itself turns it into more than it ever should be.  My only calculation that accompanies the ruse is that it is easier to let the lie stand rather than correct it.

I hate deception in any form.  I hate being lied to, which is apparent in my “Liar, Liar” post.  I have difficulty interpreting others’ actions and discerning character from someone’s behavior.  Gullible, yes.  Naive, probably.  Way too trusting, definitely.  I need honesty from those around me to do well in this world.  Yet, even I fall into creating a falsehood from time to time.  It is rarely something of any importance.  Letting someone tell me something I already know and acting as if I am learning it for the first time.  Asking a question I already know the answer to.  Letting someone believe one thing is true when it is really something else that is true.

Some might call this being polite.  Some might say it is okay to reserve one’s point-of-view in the interest of keeping peace or going with the flow.  Some might say if it is nothing of significant consequence, then it is no big deal.  Some might say that some people can’t handle the truth and they need to be protected from it.

My conscience screams at me.  But, it is much better, I think, for me to keep the deception to myself.  ‘What someone doesn’t know can’t hurt them.’  Until the victim does find out, and I see the disappointment and betrayal in their face revealing a deep wound.  The offended may be able to maintain a perspective on the trivialness of the offense and not let it affect how they think of me.  The one I hurt may be able to forgive my lapse in judgment.  Or, they may not and I have damaged something precious to me.  My conscience screams some more.

What a dilemma I have wrought for myself!  If I confess to the one I offended, then they will know what I have done and I may have to face their disappointment anyway.  If I confess, I risk putting the one offended in the position of temptation to react harshly and in an unforgiving manner.  If I confess, I feel my own embarrassment at being ‘found out’, rendered as the fraud I really am.  If I confess, I feel my shame.  If I confess, I verify that I am weak and sometimes foolish.  If I keep it to myself, perhaps no one will ever know…except for me and God.

Here are the most difficult parts of my dilemma:  Confessing to God what I have done and begging for His forgiveness as I strive to repent.  Forgiving myself for causing a stir over something that was easily avoided.  Forgiving myself for treating someone I value highly as if they were unimportant to me.  Reconciling the person of integrity and honesty I want to be with the person who is entirely imperfect and grossly flawed.  On my knees I go to petition the only One who can completely absolve me of my sin.  And I work on forgiving myself.

I don’t know if the one I offended will be able to restore our relationship to its prior status.  I am tempted to think, “If I had just kept quiet, they would never know and things between us would be okay.  There would be no forgiveness needed, no known offense.”

I sometimes wonder how Bathsheba felt when she discovered David had ordered her husband’s death so that he could hide their sin and have Bathsheba for himself.  Perhaps she never knew, but I doubt that.  Royal palaces are hotbeds of gossip.  Joab, the commander of David’s army, knew David ordered Uriah’s murder.  (2 Samuel 11:14, 15)  How it must have strained the trust and love between them if Bathsheba even suspected what David did.  Given the depth of lament David expresses in Psalm 51, I tend to believe David confessed to her himself and begged her forgiveness.  David and Bathsheba suffered deeply for their indiscretion, losing the child which came from it.  Yet, David and Bathsheba eventually became the parents of Solomon who would become one of Israel’s greatest kings.  They must have worked things out between them.

Deception is usually discovered at some point.  Satan likes to play with us, let us think everything is okay because we keep quiet. Then he orchestrates the revealing and laughs heartily at us as we squirm and suffer the consequences of an extended deception.  I choose to confess, sooner rather than later, to steal from Satan the opportunity to wreak more havoc than I have already accomplished myself.  I choose to do all I can to make right a lapse in my honor, to repent, so that God can forgive me.  So that I can forgive myself for hurting someone I care about.  So that the one I offended can forgive me.

“Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.  Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.  For I know my transgressions, And my sin is ever before me.”  Psalm 51:1-3

Sin always brings consequences…destruction, death…even the sins I think I hide so well.  Sin of every kind, of any kind, separates me from God until I repent of it.

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES.”  Hebrews 10:26

There is no hiding from God.  To maintain a deception is to sin willfully.  The one I offend may never know.  But, God will.  And, I will.

All Bible quotes are from Zondervan’s Classic Reference Bible, New American Standard Bible–Updated Edition copyright 1999 by Zondervan

NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.

First Love

“When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, ‘Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry; for the land commits flagrant harlotry, forsaking the Lord.’  So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.”  Hosea 1:2, 3

God tells the prophet Hosea to make a prostitute his wife.  He is showing Hosea in a very personal way the heartache He is suffering because of Israel’s chronic betrayal.  God has been warning Israel for years that they are testing His patience, that there will be a day of reckoning when He will strike them down.  Yet, they continue to worship Baal and Asherah in addition to the true God.  They build shrines to these gods and incorporate ‘sacred’ prostitution into their religious practice.

Israel makes a mockery of the first of the commandments God gives to them at Sinai:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.  You shall have no other gods before Me.”  Exodus 20:2, 3

They prostitute themselves to other spiritual loves.  Eventually Israel comes to consider the Baals more beneficial to them than God Almighty.  God makes it clear from the very beginning that worshiping any other god will have repercussions.  He is a jealous God and does not tolerate their hearts wandering to any other god.

“…for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”  Exodus 20:5b, 6

Israel’s mistake is to stop pursuing God as their first love.  In doing so, they lose their knowledge of Him, lose the connection they have to Him.

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.  Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest.  Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.”   Hosea 4:6

Israel doesn’t seem to know how destitute their plight is:

“The more they multiplied, the more they sinned against Me; I will change their glory into shame.”  Hosea 4:7

Hosea gains firsthand a glimpse into the heart of our grieving God.  Gomer’s betrayal leads Hosea into deep heartache that mirrors the heartache of the Creator.  Israel, His chosen love who would bring into the world the Messiah, His Son, no longer pursues Him, chooses to pursue false gods who have never been and never will be their savior and true love.  How do they not understand what they are doing?  They break the heart of God.

“‘I will punish her for the days of the Baals When she used to offer sacrifices to them And adorn herself with her earrings and jewelry, And follow her lovers, so that she forgot me,’ declares the Lord.”  Hosea 2:13

Do I betray my God, my only Savior and Redeemer?  How?  With what gods do I prostitute myself?  The god of pleasure or the god of success?  The god of recreation or the god of power?  The god of money?  The god of influence?  What in my life matters more to me than Him?  Do I matter more to me than He does?

When I ask myself these questions I feel myself recoiling.  “Of course I don’t prostitute myself to other spiritual loves!”   Now I ask the questions a bit differently.  Who would I rather spend time with, the God who made me or the gods who make me feel good?  Who do I trust, the God who redeems me or the gods who give me what I want today?  To whom do I surrender allegiance, the God who is perfect in His love and faithfulness toward me or the gods who exalt me among my peers?

In my shame, I start to understand how I break the heart of my loving God.  Most of my time is taken up by activities that enrich me in some way.  My life is tied more to this world than to my home with God.  When I have the opportunity to meditate, I spend more energy thinking about, worrying about, the affairs of this world than I do on the One who provides what endures for eternity.  Too many times, His Spirit is prompting me to pray before I choose to do it on my own.  When will I understand choosing anything or anyone before choosing Him is like slapping my mate in his face with ridicule and contempt?  When will I realize that trusting anyone or anything except the God who loves me with a passion that lasts through eternity is like stomping on the heart of my beloved after he reveals the depth of his love for me?

I don’t want to lose my first love.  I know what it feels like to lose a love.  My heart cannot afford to lose any more.  I don’t want to be like the Ephesians, stuck in my ‘rightness’ but far away from the heart of God (Revelation 2:1-5).  God makes it clear that He does not tolerate sharing the throne of my heart with anyone or anything else.  Do I take His jealously seriously?

Jesus teaches the first commandment is to love God with all that we are, heart, mind and soul (Matthew 22:37, 38).  No equivocation here.  Heart.  Mind.  Soul.  All.  I must pursue Him, and Him only, with all that is within me.

Just like Hosea buys back Gomer after she had become another man’s property, God buys back Israel and all of mankind through His Son.  God’s love of man is relentless and unending.  He is faithful beyond reason.  He is unspeakably generous.

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, And all that is within me, bless His holy name.  Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget none of His benefits; Who pardons all your iniquitites, Who heals all your diseases; Who redeems your life from the pit, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion; Who satisfies your years with good things, So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.”  Psalm 103:1-5

All Bible quotes are from Zondervan’s Classic Reference Bible, New American Standard Bible–Updated Edition copyright 1999 by Zondervan

NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.

Change

As a child and young adult, I enjoyed change.  Each day was new and sometimes exciting, bringing both good changes and bad.  I liked the challenge of learning new things and the thrill of new experiences.  Feeling destabilized faded in the face of meeting changes with my ability to analyze and assimilate them into my life.  My family moved three times while I was growing up.  Each move involved climate and cultural and social changes that felt difficult but not unconquerable.  As a child, I thrilled at the anticipation of moving to the next grade, thrived on learning new concepts and passing the tests to demonstrate my mastery of them.  Finally starting high school was a high point in my adolescence.  Going to college was a fabulous new adventure.  Getting married, the triumphant culmination of many dreams.

Somewhere along the way, I lost the thrill of life changes.  In my heart, challenges started representing losses instead of exciting voyages.  Relocating became frustrating and tiresome.  Learning new things became an unwelcome chore.   I found myself emotionally recoiling from change, anxious to protect what was mine and maintain the status quo.  Realizing the years were piling on faster than I wanted them to made me want to slow everything down and keep life stable and predictable, unchanging.

And now, I find myself in a season of change–unplanned changes I did not anticipate brought into my life by tragic loss.  To avoid this season would mean certain stagnation, getting stuck in my current frame of mind and heart, so change is the path I prefer.  Personal, financial, mental, emotional and social changes stare me in the face.  Many of the changes are blessings, new responsibilities which give me a sense of security, newly found footing that feels solid.  Some of the changes require me to expend a tremendous amount of energy to accomplish them.  Nearly all of the changes necessitate that I feel motivated to achieve them,  an emotion that is too often illusive.  For the first time in a long time, the choices are mine alone.  I now have options, but they materialize with no clear path as to which road is right or best for me.  I feel myself going with my ‘gut’ more often than I am comfortable with, relying on instincts honed by experiences I am not confident qualify me to make good choices.  Anxiety is a frequent and unwelcome companion.

Change in my life moves me to reach out for something solid, something unerringly reliable.  Change moves me to pray to God, my heavenly Father, the One who is always the same.  To seek not only His help, but His leading, His desire for me, His choices for this season in my life.  Not only His preference, but also His will for what comes next for me.

To pray before seeking any other activity to fix my dilemma is new to me.  I am a problem-solver, one who analyzes, assesses and chooses a solution.  I am fairly successful at this, consider it a gift I can use confidently.  I nearly always ask for God’s blessing, for His encouragement, in my life choices.  Now it is different.  I am different, changed by upheaval I was unable to prevent or stop.  Now life is upside down and inside out.  It is nonsensical and illustrates to me how little I know and how little I control.  I am unsure when or where to raise my sail, in what direction to move the rudder.  A boat on choppy seas, and all I feel like doing is curling up in a ball and wishing it would all go away.

So I pray.  I talk to the One who knows my ending before I know where to begin.  I seek the counsel and encouragement of the One who charts my path through all the turmoil of my human existence.  I learn to trust the One who loves me in ways I neither understand nor am able to emulate.

My prayers are no longer wish lists to satisfy me.  They are now recitations of gratitude for His care of me, for His provision of my needs and wants and comforts, for His protection of me from the Evil One, for His leading and strength and love.  I ask Him to continue His loving care of me.  I ask Him for His wisdom so that I make choices which not only please Him but choices that bring Him praise and glory.  I ask Him to lead me in righteous paths so that in no situation am I too far away from Him.  I ask Him never to let me let go of His hand.

With each prayer, He rebuilds my confidence, not in my abilities, but in His desire and  His ability to lead me into the best life for me, a life that keeps me close to Him, loving and serving in the ways He wants me to love and serve.  With each prayer, my anxiety subsides and I start to know that I am secure in what the future, which remains a mystery, holds for me.  The fear abates; the heartache at what might have been, what is forever lost, recedes from importance.  Life starts to make sense again.

“Blessed be the Lord, Because He has heard the voice of my supplication.  The Lord is my strength and my shield; My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped; Therefore my heart exults, And with my song I shall thank Him.”  Psalm 28:6, 7

All Bible quotes are from Zondervan’s Classic Reference Bible, New American Standard Bible–Updated Edition copyright 1999 by Zondervan

NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.

Nails of Arrogance

Sometimes I find it really difficult to get along with other people.  Usually, those I am trying to work with have an unspoken agenda that drives their choices.  That agenda can be rooted in their past experiences, in past or current hurts, or in selfish desire–things that may have nothing to do with the task at hand.  It seems everyone else sees the world a little differently than I do, or maybe I am the one who sees it from a different perspective.  Put a couple of dozen, or a couple of hundred or more, people like me together in a church, and the ‘fun’ really begins.

I live in a divided Christian world, but Jesus’ desire was that we would be united as His Body.  I have heard it said that He bestows unity upon us and that it is our responsibility to maintain it.  Whether I think we craft unity or merely maintain it, I know we fail miserably at unity.  And I see a Christian community that seems quite content with the status quo of division.

“‘I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those who believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may believe that You sent Me.  The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.'”  John 17:20-23

My testimony to the world of the One who sent Jesus is made plain by how well I reflect the glory, that is, the praiseworthiness, of Jesus as I participate in the unity of His Church.  No matter how I witness about Him in any other way, I must play a part in and be committed to the unity of God’s people in order to show the world Who sent Jesus, Who loves us, Who loves Him.  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit are one, unified for all eternity.  How well I love and take care of my family in Christ is a direct reflection of His glory in me.  If I participate in, encourage or put up with division in His Body, His Church, then I have no part in His unity.

The word ‘judgmental’ gets thrown around quite a bit whenever a discussion of unity occurs.  I find it interesting that those who use it to brand others are indeed exercising the very thing they rail against.  I am very happy to leave the word alone and talk about the real problem:  We don’t love each other the way God intends, the way He loves His Son, the way He loves us.

I, like most of the human race, think of love in warm, emotional fuzzies.  In my post, “Is It Love?,” I talk about what real love is.   How I feel about someone should have no bearing on how I love them.  If only I could figure out how to separate my actions from my feelings!

“Do nothing from selfishness or vain conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own interests, but also for the interests of others.”  Philippians 2:3, 4

Separate my feelings of selfishness and conceit from the workings of my mind.  Choose to treat my Christian siblings as more important than myself.  When my sister in Christ and I disagree, what does love demand that I do?  Think of her as more important than me, according to Paul.  Be humble in my mind, consider and protect her eternal best interests as much as my own.  To love my sister, it must cost me something.  Defer to her need for understanding, compassion, and consideration.  Refuse to create a stone of stumbling for her.  Suppress my own wants, even needs, to make sure she has what she needs to be whole and part of the unity of the Spirit in Christ.  I should be falling all over myself to maintain the unity between and through us.

“Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just to please ourselves.  Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, for his edification.”  Romans 15:1, 2

I have yet to meet the fellow Christian who wants to be thought of as weak, including myself.  Convinced of my opinion, I feel strong, I feel right.  My feelings shouldn’t matter.  How I treat my brother with whom I disagree is what matters.  If I treat him well, I reflect the glory of Christ and promote unity within the Spirit.  If I treat him poorly, negligently, running rough shod over him in my zeal to advance what I think and what I want, I trash unity by tearing apart what should be most precious to me–the Body of Christ.

“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.  Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.”  Colossians 3:12-15

At the end of time, when I am before Christ answering for my life on earth, what do I want to be able to say to Him?  Do I want to say that I used my God-given talents to make sure everyone who called themselves Christian towed the line?  Or, would I rather be able to say to Him that I led His people in righteous living by my example and did everything I could to preserve and strengthen the unity of His Body?

I can’t make anyone else do what God would have him do.  I can, however, demonstrate in my own life a righteous walk that shows others how to walk more closely with God.  I can love my church family, the Body of Christ, His hands and His feet on this earth, so much that I lay down my life for their spiritual well-being.  No agenda I might want to advance is worth alienating even one of my spiritual siblings.  When I teach, I can teach only truth.  When I serve, I can serve with only love.  When I walk, I can walk only in the Light, in an attitude of repentance and out of a desire to be faithful to the One who has always been faithful to me.

Christ’s Body, the manifestation of it on this earth, His Church, is the most precious blessing we have been given.  I do not want to treat it with the same contempt and disgrace it was subjected to while hanging on the cross on Golgotha.  He is crucified once for me already.  May I never be guilty of rending His Body with my sword of selfishness or of rehanging Him on a tree with my nails of arrogance.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you; that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  John 13:34, 35

All Bible quotes are from Zondervan’s Classic Reference Bible, New American Standard Bible–Updated Edition copyright 1999 by Zondervan

NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.

Bother Me

When my older daughter started talking, I don’t think she stopped until she turned fifteen.  She would talk about anything and everything under the sun.  On more than one occasion, I asked her firmly to stop talking because my ears were hurting.  As a mother, I recognized it was important to her development for her to exercise this ‘muscle’ that seemed to be so large, but it tested my patience to let her use it.  She matured into a bright and vivacious young woman who now uses her words to bless those around her.

My younger daughter tested me in different ways.  As a child, she was more subtle, more cunning and much quieter than her sister.  She was my cuddler and often attempted to use her gift to me to accomplish her agenda.  She tested my ability to remain an objective parent and not fall into her charming traps.  When she didn’t get what she wanted, she made sure I knew she was unhappy.  She matured into a sensitive and empathic young woman with a heart of gold and an artistic flair for life.

I wonder what it means to God as my parent to raise me from a freshly forgiven child into a mature and fully formed spiritual adult?  Does He get the thrill and satisfaction I get when I see my children become the self-confident adults I hoped they would become?  Does He feel the same heartache I feel when I see my children struggle and sometimes fail in their quest to be who they want to be?

One of the roles in parenting I liked least was making sure my girls followed through on the instructions I gave them.  Ragging on a ten-year-old was not my idea of fun.  I used several approaches to teach them the importance of doing as I said when I said it.  None of them really worked.  I grew up doing a list of chores, but I never instituted that system with my children.  It never seemed practical. Or workable.  My children were so different from each other and from me, cooperation was very difficult to achieve.  They approached cleaning up from very different perspectives, one of them getting so distracted that she rarely finished the effort.  Yes, I could have been much more diligent in my parenting, but somehow they grew up to be responsible, self-supporting adults in spite of me.

Thankfully, my Heavenly Father is the perfect parent.  He does not grow weary in directing my growth process.  He knows precisely what I need when I need it to help me mature in my faith.  He knows when I need to rest and when I need to be working.  He knows what works for me in my maturing process is usually different from what works for others.  His goal is to see me make my eternal home with Him, successfully withstanding every challenge and threat Satan throws my way.

One of the ways God seeks to mature me is in my ability to respond to His directions, to obey, to seek His will and then do it.  To choose to be His hands and feet on earth.  To follow through with my desire to serve Him.  So often, too often, I ask God to show me what to do next, to guide my steps, to give me direction, and I fail to listen or I fail to follow through.  Sometimes, I don’t like what He is asking me to do and I suggest He let someone else do it, someone else who I think would be more suitable for the task.  Sometimes, I don’t understand why He would want me to accomplish a certain task He puts on my heart.  It makes no sense, so I dismiss it.  Sometimes, I am so wrapped up in my own agenda that I do not hear His request.

I miss many opportunities for spiritual growth because I am not paying attention or I don’t want to know what God’s direction is.  When trouble comes, though, I end up back on my knees asking God to lead me out of it.  I find it hard to discern His voice from all the other noise in my life, though, because I am out of practice listening to Him.  I am out of practice following through on His direction.  My desire to please Him feels stale because I have been so lax in caring about what He wants.

So, my prayer is this:  Heavenly Father, show me Your will for this day.  Put on my heart what You want me to do and how You want me to do it.  And bother me until I do it.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.”  Psalm 139: 23, 24

All Bible quotes are from Zondervan’s Classic Reference Bible, New American Standard Bible–Updated Edition copyright 1999 by Zondervan

NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.

Liar, Liar…

I am much too trusting of people.  Yet again, it is proven to me that someone will lie to me over an extended period of time without batting an eyelash, and I will be clueless.  I extend the benefit of the doubt, ignoring the questions that circle in my head.  I expect trickery from the car salesman.  I assume fraud will come from a thief or a manipulator.  From someone who wears the name of Christ, lying shocks me every time.

I know ‘Christian’ doesn’t mean perfect.  I posted something to that effect on my Facebook wall this week.  We are all very flawed.  And we means me.  I make mistakes, I say things I shouldn’t, I hurt people.  But, I don’t string them along.  I don’t intentionally misrepresent myself to them.  I don’t take advantage of their good nature or their kindness, especially not for my own benefit.  To wear the name of Christ, to proudly make claim to the redemption He provides and still treat another of His family with such contempt–I can only imagine the heartache it creates in Heaven.  And it makes me feel like I have a target on my back.

I know how God feels about liars.

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”  Exodus 20:19

“There are six things the Lord hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him:…Haughty  eyes, a lying tongue and hands that shed innocent blood,…A false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers.”  Proverbs 6:16, 17, 19

“What is desirable in a man is his kindness, and it is better to be a poor man than a liar.”  Proverbs 19:22

I know the blood of Christ covers the sin of lying if I live in a repentant state, if I ‘walk in the Light,’ 1 John 1:7-9.  I know the one who lied to me has the opportunity to make things right with God, and I am most thankful.  Not one of us deserves His mercy or His grace, but He lovingly and in hopeful anticipation makes them available to us.  I pray all offenders take advantage of His great gifts.

I wonder, though, do we consider the damage we do to the body of Christ when we engage in deception of any kind?  Once discovered, my lies wound, if not destroy, my credibility.  Why would anyone believe my words or actions without questioning their veracity?  Even the little ‘white lies’ I utter in order to protect someone else or myself are injurious to my relationships.  Any flavor of deception is inherently disrespectful.  Withholding pertinent information, reframing the truth, presenting partial truths as if they are complete, or any false pretense, whether intended or not, expresses an attitude of condescension–I am better / smarter / wiser / more deserving than you, and I will decide what information I let you have.  Lying of any kind comes from evil in my heart, and it should set off a million alarms in my spirit.

“But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.”  Matthew 15:18, 19

I am certain I will be lied to again in very hurtful contexts.  I’m not happy about that, but when dealing with humans, even Christians, lying is part of the package.  I could let it create bitterness in my heart.  I could become closed off and reluctant to let anyone into my circle of acquaintances.  Believe me, the temptation to walk that road is great.  However, doing so would impair my ability to continue the work in the Kingdom which God wants me to do.  Doing so would thwart my efforts to be honest and transparent in a world that needs more honesty and more transparency.  Doing so would make me less like my loving, generous, straightforward Father who calls me to be like Him.  Doing so hands Satan a victory.

For my local church family and my earthly family, the offender is no one you know.  I ask for your prayers that I find the ability to forgive and move forward.

“But as for me, I will watch expectantly for the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation.  My God will hear me.  Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy.  Though I fall I will rise; Though I dwell in darkness, the Lord is a light for me.”  Micah 7:7, 8

All Bible quotes are from Zondervan’s Classic Reference Bible, New American Standard Bible–Updated Edition copyright 1999 by Zondervan

NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.

Faith or Fear?

I don’t think I have any true phobias.  I hate snakes but growing up in Texas can do that to a person.  I don’t like bugs but that may be due to my being a ‘bug magnet,’ and I strongly dislike them flying in my face.  I have issues with heights sometimes and would never do a Wallenda-type stunt, but I would love to experience a zip line.  I have a limit to how long I can be in a large crowd before I need to retreat and regroup, but that is because I am, by nature, an introvert.

Most of what I am truly afraid of involves losses from which I cannot protect myself:  death, economic upheaval, broken relationships, and lost time are the key ones.   Events that are beyond my control.  I live in a broken world where bad things happen, sometimes senselessly, even to really good people.  I can’t control what other people do.  I have no influence over how the financial markets operate or the events that mold them.  Sometimes, time passes unused or is spent waiting, waiting, seemingly wasted.  I find myself making choices trying to avoid these kinds of losses.  I am afraid of encountering them because it hurts me when I do.

In my “Friend of God” post from August 28th, I list five Hebrew words for faith.  They are usually translated “believe,” “trust,” “refuge,” “hope,” and “wait.”  Reading this list I see a picture of how to live in faith, not in fear.

Believe God is who He says He is.  The Creator of the universe, my Savior, the only Victor over evil, the Comforter of my soul, Father, King , the I AM.  Believe it enough to lean on Him when times are good and when times are not good.  Believe that He will be there to lean on.  Israel, delivered by God from slavery in Egypt, sustained in the wilderness by God, still did not believe Him enough to lean on Him.

“In spite of all this they still sinned And did not believe in His wonderful works.”        Psalm 78:32

Trust God will do what He says He will do.  This is about knowing God well enough to understand He is faithful to me.  Knowing God is essential to walking with Him.  When I try to walk with someone whom I do not know, it is usually a trying experience.  I have no basis for anticipating their next move.  I don’t know how fast they will go, if they will defer to me or take the lead.  If I am walking with a friend, I have experience enough with them to anticipate how they will handle a variety of situations and obstacles that arise on our path.  I know how to adjust my speed or my position to accommodate them.   If I have enough experience with God, if I have a well-founded knowledge of Him from His word and prayer and meditation, I know what He expects of our relationship.  I know He will take the lead.  I know how to watch Him to make sure I can follow Him closely.  I know He will be true to Himself.  If my knowledge of God is too limited, I will wrestle with Him for the lead position, stepping on His toes or tripping myself.

“Then Asa called to the Lord his God and said, ‘Lord, there is no one besides You to help in the battle between the powerful and those who have not strength; so help us, O Lord our God, for we trust in You, and in Your name have come against this multitude.  O Lord, you are our God; let no man prevail against You.'”  2 Chronicles 14:11

–Use God as my refuge.  This is the point on the faith continuum where I begin to see how to deal with fear, to see God as a refuge from what frightens me.  Seek Him out as my safe place from evil.  Use Him as a shield, my Protector from spiritual harm, when I choose to face my fear.  Remember that His promise never to leave me is always true.

“…for He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,’ so that we confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid.  What will man do to me?'”  Hebrews 13:5b,6

I have been at several places of choosing in my life where there didn’t seem to be a wrong answer or a bad choice.  The choices usually consisted of two potential paths, although once there were three options.  One possible path commonly appeared comfortable, familiar, ordinary.  It was full of budding experiences that have proven positive in the past and it felt safe.  But there was no apparent potential for Godly change beyond what was ordinary and harmless.  The other was full of unknowns, but it held a promise of spiritual growth and greater eternal blessing.  I know that God can and will use whichever I choose to grow me spiritually.  Am I cheating myself, though, if I forget that He is always with me and is my refuge, if I give in to my fear, and thus choose the more apparently secure path?

“My soul, wait in silence for God only, For my hope is from Him.  He only is my rock and my salvation, My stronghold; I shall not be shaken.  On God my salvation and my glory rest; The rock of my strength, my refuge is in God.  Trust in Him at all times, O people; Pour out your heart before Him;  God is a refuge for us.”  Psalm 62:5-8

–Stand firm on the hope God provides.  The healing salve of hope that enables the warrior to stay in the battle.  This life is not the end!  The Gospel story does not end at the crucifixion.  Jesus is resurrected!  HE IS ALIVE!  Nor does my story end at death or heartache or destitution.  God applies hope to my tragedy, gives it meaning and purpose, uses it to heal the spiritual wounds I sustain.  I can stand, face my fear, engage it head-on, knowing He provides the unwavering and certain hope that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God… .  (Romans 8:28b)

–Always wait on Him to lead me.  I often prefer to be out in front, taking the lead, taking charge.  I see life from a lot of different angles; I like to analyze a situation to the nth detail, weigh the possibilities and make plans to accomplish what I determine is the best course.  But God calls me to wait.  To wait on Him, His timing, His path, to accomplish His goals.  Wait and listen to Him, wait and watch what He is doing around me, wait and get out of His way.

“Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.”  Psalm 27:14

There is courage to be found in waiting for the Lord, knowing He will not lead me down the wrong path.  He may lead me on a difficult path, but as the shepherd who leads his flock through the dangerous mountain valleys, it is not without purpose.  He is leading me to the luscious mountain meadows where I will eat my fill of His goodness.  To get to the mountaintop with Him, I must follow Him through the valley of the shadow of death and face my fear.  By waiting on Him I am assured He will be with me, ready to protect me from any danger.

Faith or fear?  I aim to choose faith.  When my family and I moved to New England, it was an act of faith.  We had never lived or visited here, knew the numbers of faithful Christians were small, knew no one.  It was the riskiest of the choices we faced–spiritually and financially.  But God led us here.  My husband and I knew, without any doubt, deep in our spirits, this is where God wanted us to be.   It has not been an easy road and we faced many fearful situations, but I know it was the road God intended for us.  My children are faithful Christians today because they grew up in an environment where they had to own and defend their faith or lose it.   At the end of my husband’s life, he was a leader in God’s church because he saw how much he was needed.  He had been one who would usually sit back and let others more qualified than he (in his mind) take the lead; here, there were very few more qualified than he.  The riskier choice, the more fearful choice, was the path to deeper faith and a closer walk with God because God led us to it and through it.

“And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up.  Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, ‘Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?’   And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Hush, be still.’  And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm.  And He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid?  Do you still have no faith?'”  Mark 4:37-40

All Bible quotes are from Zondervan’s Classic Reference Bible, New American Standard Bible–Updated Edition copyright 1999 by Zondervan

NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.

Seeking Favor

I like history.  Historical fiction is my favorite genre to read.  I thoroughly enjoy movies with  historical contexts.  History museums, especially living history museums, fascinate me.  It thrills me to live in a community that was settled before the American Revolution and to see buildings and graveyards enduring from that era.  In the Bible, I see how the history of God’s relationship with His people brings depth and breadth to the story of God’s love for mankind.

I was an above average student in my history classes in high school.  I was a math major in college, but for an elective I took a second history class.  I was determined to get an ‘A’ from one of my favorite professors.  I did not succeed.  Memorizing the dates and treaties was not what mattered to me; it was the story I was most interested in–how the pieces fit together from one era to another; how people in all of their weakness and brokenness occasionally rose above mediocrity to propel human civilization to the next level of achievement.

As a student of God’s word, it intrigues me how the history of man’s relationship with God is so often repeated from one generation to the next.   We keep making the same mistakes, keep following the same false gods even though they change shape and name, keep expecting God to meet us on our terms rather than our meeting Him on His terms, keep trying to rewrite the covenant God Himself authored.  We think we walk with Him, only to find out He is on a different path going in a different direction.

To me, the most compelling biographies from the Bible are of the people who wanted God’s favor.  Abel, whose animal sacrifice was pleasing to God, wanted God’s favor and forgiveness and was murdered for it by his own brother.  Abram listened to a God he had never seen and followed Him to a strange land, away from the family he had always known.  Abram believed this same God when He told Abram at age ninety-nine he would be the father of many nations, even though he and Sarai, who was ninety years old, were childless.  Noah, Joseph, Moses, David, Nehemiah, Jeremiah, John, Peter, Stephen, and Paul and a few others were all imperfect human flesh who pursued God’s favor to the very end of their days on earth.  They persevered in faith in the face of great discouragement and persecution, seeking to please the God they served, to secure His favor.

“I sought Your favor with all my heart…”  Psalm 119:58a

 What makes one of us determined to seek God’s favor in the face of great obstacles and distractions and another of us struggle mightily with the desire to care if God notices us?  I know I have come much too close to not caring.  My life’s circumstances, my losses, my heartaches, my loneliness, my weariness too easily pull me in the direction of indifference to God.   I think back to Israel and their history of waffling between the true God and the false, man-conjured pagan gods.  Did they not care what God thought of them or were they so dissatisfied with the quality of their relationship with Him that they went looking for something more to their liking?  God called Israel a harlot (Hosea 9:1), betrayers of His covenant with them.  They stopped seeking His favor.

I do not want to stop seeking God’s favor, or succumb to the ache my circumstances bring, or drown in my own pity.  When I fail to remember what He provides for me, when I refuse to consider from what He has protected me, I am most vulnerable to losing my desire for His favor.  Whether my circumstances are good or bad, if I fail to keep the memory of His past favor toward me in my daily consciousness,  I lose my appreciation of who He is and what He does.

“When my heart was embittered And I was pierced within, Then I was senseless and ignorant; I was like a beast before You; You have taken hold of my right hand.  With Your counsel You will guide me, and afterward receive me to glory.  Whom have I in heaven but You?  And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.  My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.  For, behold, those who are far from You will perish; You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You.  But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, That I may tell of all Your works.”  Psalm 73:21-28

Who He is:  the Creator of the universe; the author of my salvation; the eternal standard for justice and mercy; the embodiment of perfect love and perfect grace; without equal in any of His abilities; Redeemer of man; Friend, Counselor, Comforter and so much more.

What He does:  He cares about me; He desires my love and devotion; He asks me to choose Him; He uses me, with my permission, to accomplish His will; He provides for my needs and my comforts; He helps me in my weakness; He disciplines me for my good, not His pleasure; He wants to be with me for eternity.

What other God can claim these attributes?  Not the pagan gods Israel prostituted itself to, not the Greek or Roman gods born of the fertile imaginations of spoiled human flesh, not the gods we make of wealth and power and influence and physical ability and attractiveness and self.  No other god ever known to man is as loving, benevolent, generous, caring, compassionate and doggedly persistent in His pursuit of us as the God who made us, the one true God.

“Sing praise to the Lord, you His godly ones, And give thanks to His holy name.  For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.”  Psalm 30:4, 5

“His favor is for a lifetime…”  Praise God!

All Bible quotes are from Zondervan’s Classic Reference Bible, New American Standard Bible–Updated Edition copyright 1999 by Zondervan

NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.

Is it Love?

If it doesn’t cost me anything, it isn’t really love.

During the most recent Bible class I taught, I challenged my class with the above statement.  It is my restatement of this quote from Phillip Keller’s book, A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm:

“The moment I deliberately do something definite either for God or others that costs me something, I am expressing love.”

I am still pondering  if my restatement is true to Mr. Keller’s intent.  I know I find his statement very challenging.  More importantly, I am examining whether my statement and Mr. Keller’s are true to who God is.

I have learned a lot about loving people.  I nurture, support and give of myself unconditionally to my children.  In thirty years of marriage, I learned that love was a choice and not a feeling.  I learned to put someone else before myself, to respect another person’s needs, feelings and preferences above my own.   In two and a half years of caring for my husband through cancer treatment, I learned how to pour myself out for another human being with no expectation of reciprocation.  Through friendship and sisterhood, I learned to accept people as they are, mostly, and to be a light in their lives that points to God.  In thirty-eight years of walking with God, I am learning God’s love is unsearchable and unmatched.

“We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”  1 John 3:16

To express love, according to Mr. Keller,

I must be deliberate,

I must act,

I must do it for God or for someone other than myself,

and

it must cost me something.

I must be deliberate.  Love is, indeed, a choice.  It must be intentional.  There is no such thing as accidental love; accidental affection, generosity, or compassion, perhaps.  To choose to love another person is to decide actively that I will provide for another person’s need or desire or best interest, freely, without reluctance or resentment.  If my will is not involved, then I am not expressing love, no matter how much the recipient of my haphazard activity feels blessed, no matter how much God may use my accidental endeavor to bless another.   Crumbs falling from the table that the beggar may grab before the dogs get to them do not come from love.

God gave me free will for this purpose–that I would choose to love Him and follow His example in love.

“Beloved , if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”  1 John 4:11

I must act.  Love is an action, not a feeling.  In fact, I can love another and not feel affectionate towards them.  My heart must be willing to act in another person’s best interest, but I can love another and have difficulty with how they behave toward me.  I can love another and still my relationship with them is broken.  However, I cannot love a person and continue to harbor ill will towards them.  (Matthew 5:43-48)  God’s perfect law of liberty is love.  It frees me to love the unlovable, to do what is best for them in spite of how I feel about them, just as He loves me.

“But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.”  James 1:25

I must do it for God, or someone other than myself.  When I act in the best interest of another by my choice, if it serves my interest in any way, it is not love.  I may be acting with affection, I may be sharing with kindness, I may be giving to satisfy a need, I even may be blessed because I act with the desire to serve another, but if I accept a benefit from it, if I gain from it in any way, it isn’t really love.  It may not be a bad thing, it may be a very good thing, but it is not an act of love if I gain anything from it–self-esteem, financial or material gain, social stature, or good will.  This is the place where I get stuck.  I want human credit for the good deeds I perform.  I want the feel-good experience and the pat on the back.  True love, though, is truly selfless.  True love knows its only reward comes from God Himself, and knows His recognition is more than enough.

“…it [love] does not seek its own,…”  1 Corinthians 13:5b

“Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor.”  1 Corinthians 10:24

It must cost me something.  Love is sacrifice.  It requires that I be ‘worth’ less after than before I give it away.  When I truly love, I pour out on another what I would have given to myself.  And I feel the loss.  I know that I am less in some way.  Whether it be time or energy or money or affection or patience or kindness or food or clothing or shelter or discipline or example, whatever I give selflessly, if I know what it costs me and I do it anyway for the benefit of God or for the benefit of another human being, it is an act of real love.  If I give out of my surplus, out of what I don’t really need, out of my wealth, if my serving does not challenge me in some way, it is not an act of love.

I need only to look to God Himself for the example of true love:

“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  Philippians 2:5-8

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  Romans 5:8

Deliberate–emptied Himself”

Action–“humbled Himself”

Selfless–“while we were yet sinners”

Sacrificial–“died for us”

God is good.  God is love!

“Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.”             Psalm 73:25

“The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”  1 John 4:8

All Bible quotes are from Zondervan’s Classic Reference Bible, New American Standard Bible–Updated Edition copyright 1999 by Zondervan

NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.