The God of now

As entertaining as movies and television are, I think sometimes that Hollywood has really messed us up.  I mean, I know it’s all about entertainment and part of that means making people feel good, but I tell ya, it really gives us a skewed vision of what life is supposed to be like.

Romantic comedies where the guy always gets the girl or military movies where one Rambo type takes on a whole army.  Cop movies where stuff gets blown up and it’s cool, or cowboy stories where the good guy always wins.

Because we know in real life the guy doesn’t always get the girl…for that matter sometimes the guy doesn’t even know the girl exists.  When one Rambo type tries to take on an army, he’s not cool, he’s crazy.  A cop can barely write a ticket anymore where he’s not being scrutinized by the public and I highly doubt the Wild West was called that because the good guys always won.

We romanticize these things because it gives us an escape from our daily life.  It’s part of the reason I love to read.  Reading allows me to drift away into another place for a bit.  Nothing wrong with that.  We all need downtime.

It’s when I start looking at these things and comparing them to my own life that I run into a problem.  Comparison is a dangerous thing.  Especially when what I’m comparing myself to is an unattainable reality.

We all have hopes and dreams and expectations for our lives.  We want this or that.  We have our 5 year or 10 year goals or we envision where we see ourselves this time next month or next year.  And then that time arrives and maybe it’s not what we expected.  I’m guessing it seldom is.  We look around at others’ lives and want what they have without fully understanding what it took for then to get it.

And all the while?  We are missing what’s right in front of us.  The beautiful reality that is us.  The perfect moment of now.

Maybe that now for you comes with pain and seems like anything but perfect.  Maybe your now is filled with agony of disease or loss, sadness or discontent.  Your now seems like the longest now you’ve ever experienced and you want nothing more than this now to be then.

Or maybe your now is overcome with joy, celebration and pure unadulterated glee.  Maybe your now has new life, a long awaited change, or hard fought for victory.  You look around at your now and everything seems to be glorious.  Oh, that this now could last forever.

Either way…this now is your now.  Don’t miss your now.  Because God is doing something in your now, whether you can see it or not.  God is not one to sit on His holy hands.  He is not an idle God.  He is a God of plans and creation and beautiful new things that spring forth from once hard dry ground that’s been soaked with Living Water.  He is the God of your now.  And today’s now will lead into tomorrow’s now like building blocks in this story that He is writing just for you.

So while you might find yourself entertained by the imagined now on the big screen, or admire the now of your neighbor, don’t forget to live YOUR now.  It’s yours…and there is beauty to be found in it.

What’s your now look like?  Is it a joyful now or a painful now?  Take a moment to offer up praise to God in your now, whatever it may be, knowing that He is there in it with you.  Depending on where you are in your now, spend some time today offering up thanksgiving or maybe seeking solace in His presence.   

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Happy 2016!

Happy 2016 to you!  These first few days have been great.  While I haven’t come up with my “one word” for the year or laid out a plan for my new eating habits, I have managed to pack up two boxes worth of books from my bookshelves to give away and cleared out several boxes of miscellaneous whatevers sitting around the house.  The kitchen junk drawer and my desk junk drawer is unjunked.  The hubs cleaned out his closet and the boys both went through their rooms and got rid of excess and got organized.  I tackled my closet yesterday and got rid of a few pairs of shoes, two piles of clothes and a bunch of old purses.  The house feels lighter and less cluttered already and let me tell you, it makes my day!

I’ll get around to the word and the food thing here shortly, but for now, I’m thrilled to pieces with the reduction of stuff.  I told my other half day before yesterday that as far as I was concerned he could back the truck up to the front door and just haul everything out and we could just sit on pillows on the floor for all I care.  I’m telling you, I’m about over it, ya’ll.  We just have too much stuff.  And the more stuff we have have, the more stuff I have to dust and keep clean.

Why do we do that?  Just keep on having all this stuff.  I’ve got like 20 t-shirts in my drawer and I probably wear two of them.  I probably have 10 Pyrex dishes and look, I’ve only got the one oven.  How many casseroles can a person cook at one time for crying out loud?  And do not even get me started on the number of towels sitting in my linen closet.

Why do we hang onto stuff?  I mean I guess partly it’s because I suspect as soon as I sell it at a yard sale or give it away, I’ll need it five minutes later.  That and I suppose the sentimental value of a lot of it is what keeps it sitting on my shelves.  I just hate to part with some of those things that belonged to grandparents, or things my kids made, or things that are pretty, or old things, or things someone gave me, or…well, shoot.  I could come with just about any reason to keep any of it I guess.  I save all these little things, but if the truth be told, with some of it, I couldn’t tell you where it came from or why I keep it.  I just know I’ve had it for a long time so it must be special, right?

I think we can be like that spiritually and emotionally too though.  We hold to all these beliefs about ourselves that we have because either somebody said it to us or its just been an attitude we’ve accepted about ourselves.  We believe lies about who we are and those lies just become reinforced over time by habit or low self-esteem.  We allow our spiritual lives to get cluttered up with half-truths or outright deceptions about who God is and what His word says and we never actually go and check it out for ourselves.  We just take somebody else’s interpretation and sit it on our shelf without ever seeking the validity of it.  And so instead of stopping and really taking inventory of all these beliefs we have, we just keep dusting them off and allowing them to sit around inside our heads and hearts.

And so while with the new year often comes a cleaning out of closets and cabinets and pantries, maybe we can also remember to take stock of what we have sitting around in our hearts and minds.  If we’re gonna get a fresh start, lets start from the inside out!

Let’s take inventory!  Are there lies you are believing about yourself that you need to clear out?  Are there things about God and His Word that you have accepted as truth that aren’t?  Maybe spend some time over the next day or two seeking answers to those questions.  

My feral cat and God’s wild kids

So not long ago, this cat took up residence under our storage barn in our backyard and proceeded to have kittens under there.  There are four of them and they are adorable.  And apparently they have all decided they live here now.  Of course the fact that I have been feeding them for weeks may possibly have something to do with why they are still here lounging around on my patio.

The momma cat is evidently feral (which I recently discovered basically means wild) and will have nothing at all to do with me.  In fact, if I start to walk towards her to put food in the dish, she’ll hiss at me like she’s going to tear my head entirely off my shoulders.  And then I scream and jump and she runs under the barn.  This is how we roll.  Hiss, scream, jump, run.

But what’s cracked me up in the last few days is that I’ve noticed that the momma and the kittens (which aren’t all that little anymore) seemed to have realized that we’ve developed a little routine here, and so at about the same time each morning and each evening, they start coming out from under the barn and meandering around the patio.  It’s like they know it’s time for food.  And yesterday, at about feeding time, I happened to glance out the window and the momma cat was sitting there, looking back at me.  If cats could tap their foot, I imagine she would have been tapping hers as she waited impatiently for me to come out with her dinner.  But then, guess what.  Same routine.  I come out, walk to the food dish, she hisses, I scream and jump, and she runs under the barn.  Good grief, how long have we been doing this thing for crying out loud?  So I dump the food in the dish and sit in the patio chair and eventually she comes out and eats and we’re good.  Good, of course, meaning that I sit as still as possible, no sudden movements, I don’t dare even think about trying to pet her and she eats while taking side glances at me between bites to make sure I’m not looking at her.  All this time of feeding her and not even trying to touch her or the kittens, and she still doesn’t trust me.

And it occurred to me today how much that can be like my relationship with God sometimes.  All this time we’ve been doing this thing and I still act like I don’t trust Him half the time.  Never once has He withheld His blessings, never once has He been anything other than good to me and I still bristle at His hand.  All this time that I have seen His goodness and His outpouring of grace, all this time that He has called me His and welcomed me into His holy family and I still act feral, operating in my own instincts and lashing out at Him like He’s some stranger I just met.  And I wonder if sometimes, God just looks at me and says, “Girl, how long have we been doing this thing and you still don’t trust me?

The Bible gives a description of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.

It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

The Bible also tells us that God, Himself, is love (1 John 4:8).  And when I read that description of what love is, knowing that God is Himself all those things, I can’t help but wonder what synapse in my brain is misfiring for me to think that God wouldn’t be trustworthy or that He wouldn’t always without a doubt have only good intentions towards me.

So I’m reminding myself of this, as I remind you, too, friend.  That God is good.  He is all good, through and through, all the time, and there is no darkness in Him.  His love for His children is unmeasurable and His blessings flow like a beautiful river that has no beginning and no end.  He sought us out, loved us before we even knew what love was.  He is faithful even when we are not and He is kind even when we are wild and self-serving.

Have you been fighting Him?  Always on your guard in His presence, afraid to leave your wilderness behind and completely surrender yourself to Him?  He can be trusted, sister.  He is for you, brother.  Do it…give Him your fears, your doubts, your worries, your shortcomings.  Come in from the wild, ya’ll and feast at His table.  There’s plenty of goodness to go around.

Just give me that old time religion…

Just this morning, I read an article a couple of friends posted on Facebook by Rachel Held Evans regarding millennials and why they are leaving the church.  I’d encourage you to read it here if you haven’t already before reading my post further.

Surprisingly, I agree with her on just about everything she says in this article. I have felt much of all this of myself…a restlessness with all the hoopla of flashy church and a deep yearning for a stripped down sacramental worship with pastoral readings followed by responses from the congregation, the deep theological hymns, the traditional liturgical scripture readings. I thought maybe I was just getting old when it makes me uncomfortable to see a pastor reading scripture from an iPad instead of a paper bound Bible or when I feel exhausted (and a little saddened) by all the time and effort that goes into the campaigns and camera angles and interior design and media. But I guess I’m not the only one?

The place where I get stuck with her though is here:

“The sacraments are what make the church relevant, no matter the culture or era. They don’t need to be repackaged or rebranded; they just need to be practiced, offered and explained in the context of a loving, authentic and inclusive community.”

Inclusive? And this is where the whole rub comes in with it all I think. Are millennials really leaving because they want a sacramental church that’s loving and authentic and inclusive, or are the leaving because they want a sacramental church that’s loving and authentic and accepting of any and all lifestyles without question?  Because there’s quite a difference.

And just so you know, I realize I’m probably not going to change anybody’s mind here.  If you’re reading this and you agree with me, you’ll likely keep agreeing with me, and you may even write a comment giving a hearty Amen.  And if you don’t, you’ll probably keep not agreeing with me and you may even comment that I’m one of the reasons why people hate Christians or that I’m close-minded, or you may just think all that to yourself and not comment at all and then talk about me and other Christians later.  But either way, I’m not expecting to change anyone with anything I’ve written…mostly just to get it off my mind and make sense of it all myself.

Here’s the problem I see with “inclusivity.”  I think you’ve got to be more specific than that.  Are you looking for a Church that welcomes you regardless of your current state of sin?  Because in my experience with the Body of Christ, or at least the part of it that I’ve come in personal contact with, I’ve found Jesus people to be very loving and authentic and inclusive.  The Jesus people that I know just want you to know Him and find freedom in Him and share Him with others and grow the kingdom of God.  Now, the Jesus people I know (including myself) aren’t perfect.  We do a lot of stupid stuff and we still struggle with sin.  We sometimes forget who Jesus says we are and fall back into worldly patterns.  We hurt each other and make mistakes.  But we also recognize our depravity and our need for a Savior.  The Jesus people I know want you to know that Savior too because we know what He’s done for us and for you, and we want you to love Him and His Word and develop a deep relationship with Him and find your identity in Him.

I recently shared a bit of my testimony with a women’s group I’m a part of on Wednesday mornings.  This is a fairly large group of women and I revealed some pretty ugly things about my past.  And as I stood in front of these women (some of which I knew, but many I didn’t) and I exposed my darkness, I felt more vulnerable than I may ever have before.  And the response I was met with was not cold or judgmental.  There were tears and hallelujahs and a kinship in understanding the bondage of sin and the joy of redemption.

God continues to work on me in areas of my life and I know that I have some wrong beliefs, habits, and attitudes.  I know I can’t continue to live fully into all God has for me while these things cloud my view of Him, and while I don’t know where exactly to begin to change them, I know that they have to change.  I have to be willing to change.

And that brings me back to my question of inclusivity.  If by inclusivity, you mean that you are looking for a Church that welcomes you regardless of your current state of sin…and where all your brothers and sisters in Christ just stand there blind and tight-lipped or worse, whole-heartedly support choices you are making that are outside of the Word of God, then I’m not sure exactly what sort of Church it is you are looking for.  I know Ms. Held Evans is specifically referring to the LGBT community because that’s the spotlight issue currently, but as we are constantly reminded, we can’t single out one sin over the other.  If I am in an adulterous relationship and my Jesus brothers and sisters know and my pastor knows and they don’t address it at all, how is that helping me? How are they being Jesus to me?  If I am operating my business in such a way that is unlawful or deceitful and my Jesus friend knows and never says anything to me about it, what sort of accountability is that?  If I have unhealthy (a.k.a. gluttonous) eating and exercise habits (which I do) and I continue to complain about my weight, and none of my Jesus girls say to me, “Sister, have you thought about changing some of your habits,” are they really doing me any favors? (Thankfully, I have Jesus girls who have said, “Sister, have you thought about changing your habits,” and I have and I am.)  Maybe I’m a little off, but I thought that in addition to loving each other and serving each other, part of the reason for the Body was to hold each other accountable and help each other through the weak moments.  The last thing that I personally want in my life is someone who will encourage me in my sin.  God help me.  I do that well enough on my own.

I get more and more confused about what it is that people want anymore.  I guess we have to be honest and ask ourselves, what are we really looking for?  Do we want a Church where we can work out our faith and our doubts, where we can screw up and still be loved, where we can ask questions and be okay with not always having the answers?  Or are we looking for a Church where we can keep certain areas of our life unquestioned and live with no intention of ever changing those things that we know are unbiblical…or worse, not feeling like we should even have to?  Because if it’s the latter, then I’m just not sure how to make sense of it.  I don’t want a bunch of fluff and flash and feel good because at the end of the day, I don’t have anything there I can stand on.  I need accountability.  I need truth.  I need to be called to repentance.  I need the whole Word of God.

And that brings me back to the original article.  I’m having to ask myself a lot of hard questions lately and doing a lot of a soul searching.  I’m having to take some deep honest looks at my walk with Jesus, at the things I hold of greatest importance and see where my idols are, what things have taken root in my heart that don’t belong there.  And I’ve walked with Jesus for a long time.  I believe in Him and I believe Him.  I know the Bible is true and I know without Jesus I am lost.  But I also know that my attention is easily diverted and my thoughts are almost always cluttered.  The world is a chaotic mess are everything is bigger and flashier and instantly gratifying and egocentric and loud and so we run to the Church to get away from all of that and then are distraught to find that the church service is slowly starting to look the same?  I hear you, Rachel.  I hear you.  But the funny thing is, if you ask a lot of people in the Church, or at least a lot of people that I know?  They’ll say the same thing.  There’s a yearning for something deeper, something less topical and self-helpy and more straight-out-of-scripture that seems to be brewing under the surface.  An ache for the holy things and the things of worship.  Kinda makes you wonder who’s pushing the “cool” then, doesn’t it?

And so while, this paragraph was where I had to stop and question Ms. Held Evans’ reasoning, I have to admit that this paragraph is also where I resonated with her the most.

“What finally brought me back, after years of running away, wasn’t lattes or skinny jeans; it was the sacraments. Baptism, confession, Communion, preaching the Word, anointing the sick — you know, those strange rituals and traditions Christians have been practicing for the past 2,000 years. The sacraments are what make the church relevant, no matter the culture or era. They don’t need to be repackaged or rebranded; they just need to be practiced, offered and explained in the context of a loving, authentic and inclusive community.”

Happy New Year!

Today has been quite a busy day.  We have cleaned this house from top to bottom.  I’ve been on my hands and knees scrubbing the bathtub and dusting baseboards.  The whole of Christmas-decked halls has been packed up and put away, which is a pretty big change for me since I usually fight tooth and nail to leave it all up well into January.  We have cleaned out cabinets and cleared off counters.  My arms ache so bad from all the scrubbing that my brain had to pep talk me into typing this post.  I just couldn’t go to bed on this new day of this new year without getting a few thoughts out first.  (Not completely sure if it’s all the scrubbing or if I’m catching the flu from my little one.  Please, oh, please let it be the scrubbing.)

For the past few years at this time, I’ve chosen one word that would sort of define what I felt God desired to speak into my life for the coming year.  I guess I thought if I had just one word….one single bunch of letters forming a meaningful unit…that surely I could manage to apply that word.  It’s not like it was a list of stuff.  Not like a bunch of resolutions that would never make it past the third week of January.  It was just a word.

But honestly right this second, I can’t even remember what my word was for last year.  Or if I even had one for that matter.

I think I was drawn to the vagueness of one word.  Just one word should be easy to apply throughout the year, right?  Apparently not.

So this year, when I started to think about my one word, I felt like God was clearly saying, “No more vague.  It’s about time we got specific.”  And you know what?  And when specific gave me a feeling of relief, I was kinda surprised.  Because vague is usually how I roll.  By keeping things vague – not setting any really specific goals, not nailing down a really intentional plan, not “boxing myself in” anything that’s on purpose – it means any failures would be pretty vague, too.  Like did I really fail, since I really didn’t set a goal or have a really solid plan the first place?

I did still ask about the one word, but instead of one (and in addition to a little list of 2015 to-do’s), He gave me four:

Less stuff.  More love.

I’m sure there’s lots to be unpacked in those two little phrases, but initially here’s what I see.

I am overwhelmed with stuff.  Clothes and knick knacks and pots and pans and Pyrex and books and I feel my eyes crossing just thinking about all the stuff I own.  And all the stuff my kids have.  And all the stuff my husband has.  We have so much stuff.  And it’s that much more we have to clean.  And that much more space needed to keep it all.  And that much more wasted money or time or whatever else spent on all this stuff.  Less stuff indeed.  This year will be the year of simplicity and downsizing in the stuff department.

And love?  Yes, love.  If there is one question I have asked God over and over in this past year, it is this:  How do I love others well?  Love my children well, love my husband well, love my friends and family well, love the stranger well, love my enemies well?  Show me, Lord, how to love my neighbor.  Teach me how to pray for my enemy.  After a conversation with my very wise friend Daniel at church this past weekend, I started to realized that I spend quite a bit of my prayer time, my journal time, my one-on-one with God time just pleading for God to change me.  For Him to fix this in me or remove that from me.  If I think back and read back over my journaling, it’s a lot about me.  So I’m thinking maybe God’s trying to help me get my mind off me and onto others.  More love.  For them, for Him.  Yep.

I also have a list.  It’s not a huge one.  And not a hard one.

Here’s what I have so far:

1.  Intentionally make a date night with the hubby once a month.  I know for some people, this one is a no-brainer, but for us it hasn’t been.  This past year has been a pretty rough one for our family and so I guess date nights were probably the last thing we’ve thought of.  But it dawned on me yesterday that I’ve missed my husband!  So yes, please.  Once a month date night.  Check.

2.  Read the Bible – the whole thing – this year.  Something you’d think I would have done in my 30 plus years of walking with Jesus, huh?  It’s not that I haven’t ever tried before.  I’ve had lots of started attempts.  (I’ve probably read Genesis more than anyone else I know.)  But I’m an impatient one and so my efforts at reading the Bible have been like a lot of things I do.  I’ve tried to do it in as little amount of time as I can, but then I fall behind, get frustrated, and quit.  This time will not be rushed.  I will savor the Word of God.  Bit by sweet bit.

3.  Memorize scripture.  This is the other thing I’ve had a tendency to rush…and thereby be unsuccessful at.  I give myself a few days to memorize a piece of scripture and then move on to the next one, but then I end up forgetting what I learned because I didn’t really let it sink in good.  So I will be spending two solid weeks on each scripture.  Sometimes it might just be one verse, sometimes it might be several.  But regardless to whether I have it memorized in three days or if it takes the whole two weeks, I will not rush.  I will stay with the same selection for the full two weeks.  I will also keep this simple.  No big chunks or whole chapters, just one or a few at the time.

4.  I will pray less for myself and more for others.  One of the many little tidbits I gleaned from my conversation with Daniel is the reminder that God has my back and He will take care of me….and I can find rest in that.  And resting in that means that I can focus my prayers on others – my family, my friends, my church, the world, those who’ve never heard the gospel, missionaries, and whatever else and be assured that God will cover me.  That I don’t have to beg and plead and pray the same prayers over and over a million more times.  I can intercede for others with the same desperation that I’ve prayed for myself, and be at peace knowing that Jesus is interceding for me.  I’ll write my prayers in my journal and will intentionally pray for at least one person/place/thing each day.

5.  Be intentionally thankful.  I love Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts.  (If you’ve never read it, you should add it to your 2015 reading list right now.  Do it.)  So much joy to be found in being thankful.  I’ve kept gratitude lists before and will do that again this year.  I will write down at least one thing each day that I’m thankful for…one unexpected blessing, one sweet moment, one kiss from God…something to remind my heart where every good and perfect gift comes from.     

6.  Keep it simple.  I have such a knack for complicating the snot out of something, whether literally or imaginatively (as in thinking something is going to be way harder than it is).  In the past, in an effort to be organized (ha!), I’ve had a journal for my thoughts, a notebook for prayer requests, a gratitude journal, etc.  So for the sake of simplicity, I will have one journal.  Everything goes in there.  Prayers, scriptures, gratitudes…all of it.  One thing to carry around instead of three or four.  This particular bit also applies to the whole “less stuff” thing.  I got a pretty decent head start on the house today and will keep that going this month.  I think January will be the purge month.  Just get rid of stuff I don’t use, can’t wear, don’t like and clear out the clutter.  I don’t really need 6 rectangle Pyrex dishes, right?

So that’s what I have so far.  In all this however, there is GRACE.  Grace to screw up.  Grace to start over.  Grace to rethink.  And the neat thing God showed me about this list is that it is unfinished.  Usually when you think about making resolutions, you think about changes you intend to make for the whole year.  But this list is just for right now.  And next month, maybe we’ll add something else to the list.  Maybe we won’t.  I’m sure there’s going to be some getting healthy and exercise in there eventually, but for right now, I guess we’re starting with the heart.

So Happy New Year to you and yours.  I’m looking forward to a year of simple…less stuff, more love.

What about you?  Do you do the one word thing or make a list…or just pass on resolutions altogether? 

Tell your own story

A few years ago, a friend of mine was caught up in the middle of a mess.  Without divulging anything too personal, let’s just say that while her church could have used this as a teachable moment, they instead chose to shame her for it and she eventually after much prayer decided to attend church elsewhere.  The whole situation made me so angry and my heart ached for her.  It felt like there was no one on her side, no one trying to walk her through it because they were so busy pointing out all her mistakes.  In fact, it made me so angry that I actually stormed into that church office and demanded to speak with one of the pastors.  I spent the next hour unloading on him about how awful I thought the whole thing was, how horribly my friend had been treated, and asking what kind of church this was to do something like this to one of their own.  The arrogant response I got from him just made me even angrier and I left there glad that I got to speak my peace, but also with the realization that likely nothing I said had made any difference and that probably the only thing I accomplished was to have them look down on my friend that much more…not to mention having labeled myself as some sort of crazy person.

While I realize that my response to that situation was very un-Jesus like, my intentions truly were noble.  Her church’s response to her situation felt more like damage control than anything remotely close to a loving rebuke.  Thankfully she was strong in her faith and used that time to draw closer to Christ.  I hate to think of what would have happened if she’d been a new follower of Jesus.  We could have had one less sheep in the flock.

I got so deeply involved in that situation because I loved my friend and hated seeing her go through all that.  I carried that burden with her, which is I know what we’re supposed to do, but somehow I think I transferred part of that to myself.  I allowed what happened to her cause me to be offended on personal level to the point that even after she’d made peace with it in her own heart, I still was quite bitter about it all and for a long time I carried a lot of resentment towards that church because of it.  I had taken it upon myself to own her pain because, well…it felt like the right thing to do.

And I’ve noticed that pattern in my behavior.  I tend to own other people’s pain. And while I think it’s certainly okay when our hearts hurt for others, we can’t take on their story and we can’t own their pain. (A deep heartfelt thank you to my dear sister MK for being bold enough to point all this out to me yesterday.)  I’ve really been mulling over this whole thing and I think I’ve come to a conclusion about it all.

It’s really just all about control.  Well, and also lack of trust.  Yes, control and lack of trust.  See there are so many crappy things that are happening in this world – starving kids, homelessness, wars, diseases – and all that feels so outside of the realms of anything I can change.  So much happens in the day that I feel utterly powerless to stop, so when this thing presents itself and it’s close to me and I think that I might be able to get a face to face moment with someone else that could actually change the situation, I latch onto it.  Because for a few minutes it makes me believe that I might be able to take something crappy and make it right, and for a few minutes it feels like I can control this one small part of the world even when everything else is completely whacked out.  And while all that part sounds good and right, that’s not always the way it happens.

Sometimes the face to face moment with the person or persons responsible for a friend’s pain never presents itself and so then not only am I owning pain that’s not mine, but I’m owning guilt for feeling like there is something I could do to stop the pain but I don’t.  The reality of course is that even if I did try to do something to stop that person’s pain, it nearly always won’t turn out as awesome in real life as it does in my mind.  Kinda like that time in high school when my best friend was being lead on by this guy and I got sick of seeing him hurt her and I told him off (Again, un-Jesus like.  I’m not making excuses here.) and then she got upset with me because he wouldn’t talk to her anymore.  Not the turnout I was expecting obviously.

But also there’s the fact that sometimes there’s strength to be found in pain and while we want to stop the pain of those we love, doing so would rob them the good that God is desiring to bring from it.  Unless we are the actual causers of the pain (in which case we most certainly should cease and desist!), we aren’t always going to be in a position to stop it and generally our energy is best served in prayer and by listening and loving the one hurting.

On the other hand, sometimes my actions are an issue of trust…lack of trust.  When I see those situations that aren’t actually mine and I think somehow I can get in there and do something about it, but my actions are based on anger and vengeance, I’m demonstrating that I don’t trust that God will fight that fight.  Basically what I’m saying is that I don’t believe that God will actually do anything about that situation and so I’ll be needing to take that deal into my own hands and square it all away.  Or else that God isn’t handling the situation properly, not dishing out enough retribution for the one wronged, and the offender needs to clearly be made aware of their offense and realize just how wrong the thing they did was. (Sounds a bit less noble when I put it that way.)

Now I’m not saying that if you see someone being mistreated – like abused or threatened or something that could be harmful – that you shouldn’t speak up.  Heaven forbid.  By all means, we must help protect those who can’t or won’t protect themselves.

But I guess what I am saying is that more often than not, if I checked my motives – really got down in there deep to see what the true heart behind my desire to act was – I would probably find out that what’s driving me to “do something” stems from the need to be in control or from a lack of trust in God’s intentions…which is basically the same thing.  I must control because deep down I don’t think God will…at least not the way I’d want Him to.

And I guess that’s the clincher really.  That God’s ways are not like mine.  My ways are wonky and often self-serving.  He is full of grace and mercy and His manner of sorting things out is always fair and good and beneficial.  There are things that He sees and knows that I could not, even if He and I were staring at the exact same moment together.

I’ve prayed this prayer so many times, but here I pray it again.  Lord, please let my knee jerk response always be to love, even in the face of injustice.  I again surrender control to You for the millionth time.  My heart’s desire is to trust Your intentions, to rest in Your goodness and love.

So today, I am again reminded that I have a lot of growing in Jesus to do and much to learn about how to love others well.  And I’m so grateful for a God that doesn’t run out of do-overs.

 

Good reads along this subject line?

How to Stop the Pain, by Dr. James B. Richards

The Search for Significance, by Robert S. McGee

What to say?

I’ve been asked a million times lately how we’re doing.  Considering the circumstances, I am deeply appreciative of the concern expressed by friends and acquaintances.  And I have mostly tried to keep my replies to a minimum as best I can because if I’m not careful, all the hurt and anger comes bursting forth like a flood having been barely held at bay.  It all still feels a bit surreal.  Like it didn’t really happen.  Except for that it did.

And I’ve not been up here to write anything since the last post because honestly, everything that was in my head felt silly.  I mean, I guess when you go through something that’s life changing and overwhelming and devastating all at once, you feel like somehow that thing should completely rule and reign in your mind and over everything you do and to try to write about something lighthearted like joy and cookies and gardens and Legos feels fake somehow because you know what’s happened and everybody else knows what’s happened and well, who can write about growing watermelons at a time like this?

And while I’m still not really over the whole thing, I can surely look around me and see God at work.  And working in some pretty unexpected ways at that.  Healing is a slow process, but now beginning to really see God’s hand in it all is like a soothing balm on a burning wound.

I can’t lie.  For a little while there, it kinda felt like He was missing the whole thing.  Like blow by blow, the hits just kept coming and God was just standing there with His holy hands in His pockets.  In my heart, I know better, but sometimes you forget to operate out of the truth of what you know and you let your eyes drift away from His face.  I’ve talked a great game about faith and trusting in Jesus, but can I just admit here that sometimes it’s just been talk?  Because if I was Peter on the water, I’d have sunk several times already, that’s for sure.

Sometimes I feel like a crazy person.  One minute my faith is strong and intact and I know that I know that I know.  And then the next minute, I feel like a lost sheep on a hill somewhere in the middle of nowhere, bleating like mad, and then running away like an idiot when I see the Shepherd coming.

Tell me I’m not the only one?

And I don’t know how to resolve all that except to say thank you to the Shepherd who keeps coming.

Because this crazy sheep needs Him.

Even when I think I don’t and I’m running away angry and scared.

And even when I know I do and I’m falling into Him.

I need Him.  You need Him.  We need Him.

Help me Lord.

 

So next time, can we just talk about Legos?

Trial by fire

As holy week progressed, each day marching us closer to the cross and to the death of death and the birth of new life, we here were marching into the fire. The ugly and the messy have gotten uglier and messier and a few times this week, I’ve wanted to dissolve into the ground and sprout up somewhere else.

I have felt the accuser claw at my back, his nails stabbing into my flesh like the wound of a friend turned enemy…only he was never my friend. Words of people I don’t know have pierced me on behalf of one I love and I have cried and screamed and ached for him. I have wanted to lash out – to destroy those people with my own carefully crafted words, returning fire with precise aim, and have called on every piece of restraint I have not to.

These people don’t know me. They don’t know him. Nor do they love me or him. They don’t care for us. We are nothing to them. So why do their words settle inside me like a bitter root desperately trying to take hold? Lord, may your truth be like poison to the lies that are circling like vultures.

In my heart, I am crying out for redemption. Demanding a righting of the wrongs. Desperate for a restoration of things torn down. For the mouth of the lion to be shut.

And then I am reminded of a silent Lamb who walked the dirt, bleeding, dragging a cross that became a sword that cuts off bitter roots. A sword that cut a new covenant in blood poured out at the Place of the Skull. This Warrior Lamb has defeated the evil one, crushing the serpent under His feet.

And I take a breath remembering that the mouth of the lion is powerless with its toothless bite.

And I pray for the courage to be at peace.

 

 

Even in the ugly and the messy.

Do you ever catch yourself making something a lot harder than it has to be?  I know I sure do.  I can take something that is so simple, so easy, and make it such a big knotted-up mess.  I tend to over think things or else I let my mind wander into places of fear and anxiety.  I’ve even caught myself a few times owning somebody else’s issues and getting myself torn slam out of the frame over something that’s not even my thing to carry.  I think I’m better about all of this now that I’m on medication (haha!  but, seriously).  I don’t let things get quite as blown up as I used to…but it does still happen now and again.

And then there’s those times when the thing that you’re dealing with really is that bad.  It really is a big mess and it really can have major effects on your life and you have a legitimate reason to get torn out of the frame.  I’ve seen some of those times, too…in fact, I seem to have found myself right in the middle of one of those things here lately.

So what’s a person to do?

Well, I guess when we find ourselves in the middle of a situation that’s tough, or scary, or life changing, or down right all around crappy, we have a choice.  We can choose to be owned by our situation and let it drag us down into the pit.  We can hang our heads and let the darkness swallow us alive.  We can sink into the sea of despair.

Or.

We can reach out for the hand of Jesus and walk on the water.

Something occurred to me here just a minute ago.  In Matthew 14 starting in verse 22, we read about a time when the disciples were out in a boat and it’s kinda windy and the waves are beating the boat around.  They look out and they see what they think is a ghost walking on the water.   That’s when Jesus speaks to them and they realize it’s Him.  And Peter says, “Lord if that’s you, then tell me to come to you on the water,” and Jesus simply says, “Come.”  So Peter gets out of the boat and starts walking on the water towards Jesus, but when he looks up at the wind, he gets scared and starts to sink.  Jesus immediately reaches out his hand and sets Peter back into the boat.

And I noticed something just now that I don’t know that I’ve really considered before.  When I’ve ever read or been taught about this story, the focus has always been on Peter’s lack of faith and how he allows his fear of the wind to cause him to take his eyes off Jesus and therefore start sinking in the water.  And keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus is certainly a definite lesson to be learned from this passage.  But something else caught my attention this time.

Jesus didn’t stop the storm.   And Peter didn’t ask him to.

Jesus didn’t tell Peter, “Hey, hold up there, guy.  Let me calm this wind down and then you can come to me.”

And Peter didn’t say, “Lord if that’s you, then tell me to come to you…I mean, like right after you settle this crazy wind down.  Geez.”

It wasn’t like Jesus couldn’t have eased the storm a bit first.  He surely had authority over both the wind and the waves (Mark 4:35-41).

And it wasn’t like Peter couldn’t clearly have noticed the wind before he got out of the boat.  The Bible says the boat was “battered by the waves because the wind was contrary.”  Battered?  That sounds rough.

But in that split second faith decision Peter made to get out of the boat, the only thing he was thinking about in that moment was getting to Jesus.  Right up until he let the fear of his circumstances get bigger in his mind than the God who called him into them.

Nevertheless…this whole walking on water?  It was a success.  Sometimes we get fixated on the fact that Peter got scared and started sinking, and I think I’ve been missing the awesomeness of the moment by not looking even further into the thing.  See, maybe Peter didn’t walk ten miles, but the fact is that he walked and he got to Jesus…or rather Jesus got to him.

It’s kinda like coaxing a baby who’s just learning to walk to come to you.  They’ve watched you do it so they know it’s a doable thing.  You hold out your hands and they take those first wobbly steps and usually end up right on their bottom.  And so what do we do?  Do we write off the little one right there and say, “Oh well, you’re done.  You can forget about walking.”  Of course not!  We go to them, pick them up, set them back on those little feet and keep coaxing, keep teaching and little by little, they start to walk more and more until eventually they’re not just walking, but they’re running and jumping and bouncing and getting into everything and…anyway.

Jesus was teaching Peter to walk.

And not only that?  Jesus was teaching Peter to trust Him enough to walk even when the situation was less than optimal for walking.

Sometimes Jesus will calm the storm you’re in.  Sometimes He won’t.  And when He doesn’t?  You get on out there and walk right in the middle of that storm knowing that He’s right there.  Go after Him no matter what.  I don’t know that it’s so much about the awesomeness of walking on the water (although that was pretty darn awesome and all the other folks in the boat sure thought so).  I think it’s about teaching us to trust Jesus even when everything is all messy and ugly and not going at all like you planned or prayed for.  You can stand firm knowing He’s right on the water with you.  And He’ll be there if it all gets to be too much and you start to sink.  And when it’s all said and done, He’ll be there with you in the boat when the storm is gone.

Don’t give up, friend.  Keep learning.  Keep taking those baby steps of faith.  Keep trusting in Him.

Because He is good.

He is faithful.

He is trustworthy.

Believe it.

compassionate and gracious

God is good.  God is faithful.  God is trustworthy.

No matter where you are or what mess you find yourself in today just remember,

God is good.  God is faithful.  God is trustworthy.

We cannot always know from one day to the next what life will bring us, but this we can know…

God is good.  God is faithful.  God is trustworthy.

Maybe you need to be reminded of that today?  Maybe your soul is parched and you feel as if you’ve been left for dead…and you just need to drink that in?

That God is for you.

That God loves you.

That God is a never-ending always-flowing river of grace and mercy.

That God is a mighty warrior who battles for you.

That God will never turn His back on you.  Ever.

That God is good.

That God is faithful.

That God is trustworthy.

Drink that in, soul.  Drink it in deep.

But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,

slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.

Psalm 86:15