So Cold It Hurts (Part 2)


“Grief is the price we pay for love” ~ Elizabeth II (Queen of the United Kingdom, b.1926)

 

Once upon a time, there was a king. (You can read about him here.) Needless to say, he was not a good king. He was petty, unstable, and too heinously jealous to share his kingdom. A king in this time period had a lot of power, almost godlike. If you caught the disfavor of this king, it was often best to run and hide. Even a baby might be at risk from a king like this. In fact, many were, even his own sons were not safe from this king. Power in the hands of evil men and women is a fearful thing.

The name of Herod the Great has gone down infamously in history, like many before and after him. In the face of such overwhelming evil, sometimes it seems as if there is no hope, not even a hope of hope; but God always gets the last word. In the midst of the darkness and fear that characterized Herod’s reign, a tiny germ of hope was planted in the womb of a girl named Mary. This hope was greater than the darkness and evil of King Herod, because this hope had always been, from the beginning. This hope came before any man’s envy or malice or lust or pride. This hope was brighter than any man’s grief or suffering or hardship or humiliation or depression. This hope was everything. This hope was the world’s salvation.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” ~ John 1:1-5 NIV

I read a post on Facebook some time back from the Christian speaker Christine Caine that talked about overcoming discouragement, fear, worry, etc, by remembering (or perhaps realizing for the first time) that the power of God’s word is bigger still. Herod the Great could not stop God’s promise from being fulfilled. Herod Antipas (Herod the Great’s son) could not stop the fulfillment of Jesus Christ’s purpose, or defile it in any way. This was very encouraging to me.

I, for one, had a really aggravating end of 2014. As the time drew near for “Deck the Halls”, decking a human was looking more and more attractive. I am not overly fond of “Christmastime”….as in Martha Stewart, a gift for everyone, perfect house, have-to, need-to, shoulds. Christmas, as in the celebration of the birth of Christ I’m all about, don’t misunderstand. I also find that my children tend to test the flexibility of not only Santa’s naughty list but also my patience and love for them. The closer we get to December, the more the tempers flare, the mouths get mouthy, the chores are left undone, please and thank you are forgotten, and naturally, our bank account gets lower and lower. On years like this one, Christmas-ing is a sacrifice. I’m sure other parents can relate.

As things usually go, when your life is difficult, something will usually come along with a little sting to really grind home the point that you are not measuring up in one way or another. Whether it’s your family, friends, current or former classmates, co-workers, neighbors, housemates, or what have you, there will be friction between people of various kinds. Add to all of that the deaths, missed opportunities, regrets, and the rest of life’s sorrows, so much more poignant at the end of the year. The sharp edges in our lives often become most apparent at Christmastime. It’s not about that though…

“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” ~ John 1:9-14

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So here we are in 2015…..sound of crickets. Yeah I have many of the same stresses as last year, some added, some taken away. It’s been months since I blogged, or worked on my story, or did any graphic design, or felt really inspired, or victorious, or joyful…Yes, this on again off again people person with a sunny outlook and Pollyanna-esque attitude has been in some serious doldrums socially, spiritually, familialy, personally…..you get the drift. Then in the midst of all of that, my beloved compy took a permanent trip to that lost pile of hardware in the sky. I kept thinking there would be a jolt of happiness, or joy, or love, or SOMETHING, but day after day I drifted, having cut myself off from all my friends in some crazed plan to hide myself from anyone that could hurt my feelings or judge me….I felt God to be distant, though it was never true. One day as I was yet again using my hubby’s compy and our tax return was miles away, something struck me and it was this:

This struggle that we face as Christians, or even just HUMANS, isn’t always glorious, victorious, comedy, tragedy, or even noteworthy; BUT it is our personal decision that every day we will try; every time we fall, we will rise; every failing meets with an attitude of I can be better! It isn’t hard to fight when you have a visible, obvious threat. But when we are feeling apathetic, forgotten, pointless, helpless, hopeless, friendless….our fight is with ourselves. It is then our duty to move forward because it is the right thing to do. God is never too far away. He is always waiting, peering down the road waiting for his child to come home, to involve him, to walk beside him. Now, this blog post is not meant to be about me, specifically, I just thought I would share a bit of my own struggles for a moment, because none of us are ever alone in this, even when we feel that way. ❤ Let’s get back into it now, shall we? 🙂

 

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Sometimes, the big bad stuff in our lives seems soooo big and bad that we get the impression that there is no hope. Many early Christians must have felt this way with the overarching power so many of the rulers of the day held over their lives. Many things we face in today’s world can feel pointless and overwhelming. Thankfully, when we are able to lift our heads during a rare ceasefire, we can see that the Bible is full of examples of people in all walks of life who faced impossible, ending, embarrassing, threatening, and damning situations. These circumstances felt too big, too difficult; but then the wall crumbled, the whale spat them out, the sun rose, the enemy fled, the stones never flew, and the grave was empty. God showed up, and their lives were better than saved. They were changed.

John the Baptist paid the ultimate price and won the ultimate reward. Herod had him killed, but Herod didn’t defeat him. The picture at the beginning of this post of a silver platter is meant to remind us of John. It is also meant to point to not only John’s victory, but the final victory of Christ after the empty cross. Sin and death has it’s time, just as every dog has it’s day. The final word belongs to God. Maybe, during this time of Lent, when many around the world lay down their comfortable routine in remembrance of that long ago sacrifice, it would be good for all of us to take a moment and reflect on the gift of an empty cross, and the hope it represents for each man, woman, and child alive today. No matter the filth, the darkness, the hate, the prejudice, the fear, the POWERFUL love of Christ can lift us out of any pit.

 

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.” Revelation 22:1-5 NIV

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So Cold It Hurts (Part 1)


“How can you expect a man who’s warm to understand one who’s cold?” ~ Alexander Solzhenitsyn (Russian novelist, Nobel Prize for Literature (1970), b.1918)

‘Tis the season to give to charity, celebrate, be festive, give gifts, dress to impress, overspend,  and feel good about ourselves. No? Well, what do YOU see when you look around at your fellow man in December? What do you and I see when we look in the mirror? Thanksgiving was less than a month ago. The day after we sit down to give thanks, we rise up early the next day with greed and animosity to fight tooth and nail on Black Friday. Thus begins the tender and reverent celebration of the birth of Baby Jesus. But wait, there’s more…

December is the last month of the year, so when we pursue all this stuff, this window dressing, cake frosting, twinkle light decorated stuff, as beautiful and wonderful as it is and can be, we are ending the year on a false note. For many people, Christmas has become yet another thing to pay off and feel stressed about next year. Utility bills are higher, food bills are even more so, and  while there’s nothing wrong with celebrating with our friends and loved ones, we are missing the elusive “Spirit” of Christmas. Bigger than the biggest Christmas blowout, grander than the holiday buffet at a casino, brighter than the lights on your town’s most lit-up neighborhoods’ houses (the houses, not the neighbors), the Glory of Christmas stands alone: precious, pure, loving, enormous, and shocking.

Many of you are parents. I have several children myself and they are dear to me. I would protect them with my life, at the cost of my life savings (HAHA, raising a large family doesn’t easily allow for savings), at the cost of my health, my sanity, or my reputation. Knowing this, and knowing that so many parents feel the same, good parents mind you, it is unthinkable that we even have a reason to celebrate in December at all. I would not have given up my precious children to an amazing, loving family, no matter how wonderful they were. They are My Precious! MINE! I cannot imagine giving them to someone amazing, BUT God gave His ONLY child who is strangely part of himself as well to a rabid, desperate, cruel, thoughtless, selfish, depraved, abusive, unfaithful, greedy, hateful world. True, he picked some wonderful parents in Mary and Joseph; but you can’t hide at home forever. On top of it all, Jesus’ life path led purposely to a horrible death on a cross. He lived a hard, lonely life, and without the aid of an angel bodyguard. He stepped where we step. He ate what we eat. Sometimes he went hungry. Sometimes he was cold. Sometimes he felt stressed and over-tired and underappreciated.

Jesus was the most underappreciated person who ever lived.  It’s not that no one appreciates Him, but He is the Savior of the whole world; and even the most devout have only a sliver of an understanding of the amassed depth and sacrifice of this first Gift of the Season. Our cold hearts just don’t get it. It is a gift of pure Grace every time another piece becomes clear to us. It’s not like we seek to understand often. Like the huddled forgotten who line our streets and alleyways, we turn away as we rush to our comfortable “zone”. In many ways, each of us could star in A Christmas Carol as Scrooge. We are all struggling with past hurts, sorrow, regret, possibly financially. This is a hard time of year to be hard up. My own family has been eating a lot of beans lately….a LOT of beans. (Pardon me)

Yet at the same time, we are so wealthy with the lavish gift of free will we each possess. Each of us can make a huge difference in the lives of those around us for good or ill. I see the news stories that break my heart of a child who was hurt and then grew up to hurt another child and on it goes. A cycle of goodness also repeats. My dad tells often of his own father who was faithful to whatever he deemed his duty. He was on time or early everywhere he went. He didn’t call in sick, he didn’t make excuses. He just did what he believed was right. That made an impression on my dad. He is the most steadfast person I know to this day. As a child who was adopted later in my growing up time, I didn’t have the full lifetime of exposure to this hard to come by trait. I am often late, for one thing. I do admire this dependability, though. It just seems like such a reach. (I think of my dad like I would a superhero, possessing abilities I do not have.) I am glad, though, that when my arm is too short, my legs tired of climbing, when I feel like I just don’t make the grade, steep as it is, the Hand of Grace reaches down to bridge the gap. 

The wonder of Christmas is about faithfulness. God had been hinting and pointing and nudging and promising the Messiah for a long time, to get us ready when He came. This was a time of great learning, mankind was not a bunch of cavemen beating rocks together. We had no excuse; but our hearts were cold, and most people missed it. For pete’s sake there was a HUGE new star in the sky and we were so wrapped up in ourselves that we missed the birth of our Savior! Jesus was the answer for their questions. He was the balm for their hurts. He was the Friend for the lonely and forgotten. But the issues of day to day living were too big in the eyes of the world then. Today, we are no different. Perhaps if we remember a present for everyone on our list we will be filled with that elusive Christmas joy. Maybe if we attend every single community sing and Pops orchestra program, or at least catch them on TV, we will experience the wonder. Maybe if our house is covered in lights… We go broke. Our feet ache. We ache with mourning and loss. The Holiday have-tos bear down on us and the TV and radio and internet are all bursting with the message of give, give, give…..but give STUFF!! No wonder our hearts are so cold. We can’t warm ourselves with things. A mountain of gifts will not make anyone feel less lonely, or more-loved. Of course, we all enjoy receiving presents, but this is not the point. Our hearts are still cold. (To be continued…)

 “Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. ‘Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. ‘He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” ~ Revelation 3:17-22 NIV

 

Run On Your Face


“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” – Inscription on the James Farley Post Office in New York City

Sometimes in a race, the glorious competitors have inglorious moments. Sometimes the supreme athletes trip and fall. Olympians have bad days too; but what sets a champion apart from every other athlete? Maybe those who win aren’t the most talented or the brightest stars in the sky (take that however you like and you will surely be right). Maybe a winner is simply the one who keeps going? Maybe the champion gets up again, even if he/she has to hobble the rest of the way? Maybe sometimes a race is won by crawling the last stretch. Possibly you can only win if you choose to crawl the last bit. Sometimes, all we can do is crawl, barely moving, injured, heartbroken, weeping, bleeding, shattered both physically and mentally. Help is near, and relief is in sight; but not just yet……not just yet… Right now, it seems too cruel that you would be expected to get up with your hurts so fresh, your humiliation so current, your failure so complete. I have faced this situation numerous times, naturally; we all do, and have, and will. One time, in particular, comes to mind, when I was 22.

I was in the middle of my marriage falling apart, outnumbered and out-gunned by my in-laws on every side. I was a confused, whimpering, cowardly, cringing, craven mess! I was used to someone else taking care of things. I had a toddler to think about; and I wanted someone to just FIX IT. My ex has mental issues that blew us all out of the water right around the time of my birthday. His poor family didn’t know what to do either. At one point our frequent marital spats were blamed, at another point, I was. However, writing truthfully about past hurts is difficult. Honesty doesn’t always allow us to remain solely the victim, good, well-intentioned, and put-upon. Looking back, I know that I was not to blame for the abuse or the mental breakdown. There was a history of “off-ness”. I didn’t always help with my own choices and attitude, though. One thing became apparent over the several years I dealt with my ex’s mental fluctuations: the mind is a mystery even in this day and age. How much of a person’s behavior is choice, or hormones, or mental imbalance? How much of our wits are a result of past choices and their consequences? This is not going to be a post about mental illness. (I am absolutely not qualified to write that post. I am absolutely qualified to tell you about what I went through, however, so I will.)

The particular incident I wanted to relate was a quite memorable encounter with my brother-in-law, whom I was staying with at the time. He and his wife took me and my toddler into their home. There is always a lot of friction when someone does this. The negative bits of everyone’s personalities often “outshine” the positives because of the inevitable stress of living with someone else who is unfamiliar and doesn’t have the same priorities or worries as everyone else. I recall sleeping a lot, which did not endear me to my in-laws, let me tell you. I was depressed (did I mention my toddler and I were newly released from a battered women’s shelter?), and I was also newly pregnant. I suspected at the time, but felt so overwhelmed already that I was avoiding actually dealing with the possibility. The queasiness coupled with the stress of the situation took 15 lbs off of my weight. I don’t recommend using that particular diet plan, to be honest. 🙂

One day, tired of my complaining and crying, and no doubt longing for his home to be his own again, he confronted me. He laid out some steps I should take to start picking up the pieces of my life and take care of my daughter. I continued to whine and cry and bemoan my fate, when finally he lost patience with me and threw away the paper he had been writing on for me. He basically said “Fine then, don’t listen to me! I’m done trying to help you!” Well, it hurt a lot, and for a moment I decided he was just a hateful person and didn’t understand why none of it was my fault, and the constantly rehearsed stream of why-mes started up in my head….BUT suddenly, I realized that I didn’t have to like what he was saying for it to be right. I realized I had no other options and that he WAS actually taking his time to try and help me. Even after I had this begin to dawn on me, it was actually physically painful for me to get up, go to the garbage, take out the paper, and walk back to him and ask me to help me. My shredded pride was a tough thing to choke back while I was still so hurt and angry. My wounded emotions screamed as I did it, BUT I DID IT ANYWAY.

No, of course, there were a lot of rocky patches as I used my own wobbly decision-making abilities and determination to struggle up the long hill toward self-sufficiency. Many nights I cried myself to sleep, and it was several years before I could finally break free from my rocky marriage; but it was a start. I faced down my own pride and hurt feelings more times than I care to remember, and still do, and will, gosh darn it, though I hate to even type that!

Sometimes, moving forward means we can’t just sit forever in one cushy hospital bed, or hidey hole, or friend’s house, or relative’s home and nurse your wounds forever. Sooner or later, we must all stand back up, even if we have to crawl for awhile first. Crawl, if you must. Weep if you must. Fear if you feel fear, but do not ever give in!

“You whom I [the Lord] have taken from the ends of the earth and have called from the corners of it, and said to you, You are My servant—I have chosen you and not cast you off [even though you are exiled].

Fear not [there is nothing to fear], for I am with you; do not look around you in terror and be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen and harden you to difficulties, yes, I will help you; yes, I will hold you up and retain you with My [victorious] right hand of rightness and justice.

Behold, all they who are enraged and inflamed against you shall be put to shame and confounded; they who strive against you shall be as nothing and shall perish.

You shall seek those who contend with you but shall not find them; they who war against you shall be as nothing, as nothing at all.

For I the Lord your God hold your right hand; I am the Lord, Who says to you, Fear not; I will help you!” ~ Isaiah 41:9-13 Amplified Version

It Is Well…


When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,

It is well, it is well with my soul. – It Is Well with My Soul, hymn written by Horatio G. Spafford, 1873

 

I feel for you. Maybe your day is going a direction you didn’t plan for, or you are feeling the dull thud of disappointment inside right now. I feel for you. Let me give you a little background… Today started off quite well. It’s my husband’s birthday. He’s sleeping in because he works at night. The older kids are off to school. The 2 little ones and I are enjoying a peaceful morning…but then…

The 4 yr old started calling in that tattle-tale tone “Mooooooommyyyyyyyyy! Look what the baby did!” I look up from my coffee. It’s not pretty. The baby has thrown her breakfast over the floor. Did I mention I fed my kids sweet rice with cinnamon, sugar and milk? Yeah, it’s not pretty.(Did I seriously expect something different? Come on it’s a toddler with a bowl of potential nasty-mess.) We shall be referring to this in the future as Rice-Pocalypse. Then, after I am just getting over my pity party for that, I decide I would treat myself to a bathroom break and getting dressed in daytime clothes before the kids get home from school. I think indulgent thoughts sometimes. I get the occasional wild hair. Well, you can stop shaking your head because I was appropriately humbled and chastened. When I returned to the living room, feeling quite accomplished and ready for whatever the day might bring, my toddler one-upped me yet again. My desk, you see, is a staging area for all kinds of wonderful things. Usually, I will admit, it is a class action MESS! I recently cleaned it. BUT my precious notebook with tenderly scribbled notes for a pet children’s story lay open precariously close to my cup of warmed-over coffee, as did my keyboard, mouse, and speakers.

Sometimes, I like to take a little trip back in time to the moment before something truly terrible happened and live for a blissful moment in the ignorance and innocence of that moment. However, as I faced the sweet, brown puddle that was growing on my desk, seeping into every nook and cranny and POURING out of my keyboard when I turned it at an angle, I came to a hard realization. All the heel-clicking, no-place-like-home wishing, time travel to the time of Morlocks and Eloi, or plugging my ears and saying “lalalalalalala” would help me. I don’t know if it was the coffee in the keyboard or the growing stain of it soaking into my precious story, but something inside of me sprang a leak and it started to trickle out of the corners of my eyes as I tried to sop up the mess. Again, I felt sorry for myself. Again, I grudgingly admitted that this could have been prevented. The crush of disappointment for the day I hoped for was heavy on my chest. I did a stand-up impression of Eeyore for a few minutes. But then, words gradually came into my mind that I have heard a million times at church and funeral services: “It is well, with my soul.” 

It is often ridiculous to me when the “peace that passes all understanding” comes my way in insane situations. While I was cleaning up the soul-sucking coffee spill, my kids were fighting with the door of the movie cabinet and the toddler was asking for food, when her breakfast had only just been distributed across the floor, mind you. All of the above was done at high decibels, I might add. Still, I felt the words “It is well, with my soul.” God really has a quirky sense of humor sometimes I think. Naturally, I tried very hard to remember if I’ve prayed for any kind of personal character growth and maturity for myself lately. I always have a very fuzzy memory when it comes to things I decide to do that will be good for me.

So, in spite of the hurricane that blew through my morning, much of which I could have prevented myself, I find that it IS well with my soul. He’s got my whole mess in His hands. He will never leave me or forsake me (Deuteronomy 31:6), even in the middle of a fit. He’s not going anywhere, and he can get me through anything I face, whether it is a serious tragedy or just the day to day million straws that break the camel’s back kind of days. In the words of one of my very favorite preachers, I had to get on with it already. I cleaned up the mess and shut down my computer because my keyboard may be headed for that ever-growing pile of electronics in the sky and wouldn’t work a lick. I also put My-Lady-mess-a-lot down for a blessed, blessed nap. Now I’m typing this on hubby’s computer and enjoying a bit of respite as I am reminded that God’s got this. The world continues to spin and my life with it. Time to put on the big girl panties and be thankful.

God is, nonetheless, very, very good.

Psalm 146

Praise the Lord.[a]

Praise the Lord, my soul.

I will praise the Lord all my life;
    I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
Do not put your trust in princes,
    in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
    on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God.

He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
    the sea, and everything in them—
    he remains faithful forever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed
    and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
    the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
    the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the foreigner
    and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
    but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

10 The Lord reigns forever,
    your God, O Zion, for all generations.

Praise the Lord.

Are You Blowing Off More Than Steam?


Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” ~ St. Francis of Assisi

“Impossible! That will never work for me! I could try that, but it would never make a difference! You don’t know my situation. You don’t know my wife. You don’t know my husband. You don’t know my sister, boss, brother, mother, father, friend, neighbor, co-worker……” Have you ever said these things, or thought them at least? There are a great many promises and precepts of God in the Bible. He lays out the moral and spiritual cause and effect pretty succinctly for us. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Knock and the door will be opened. Forgive and you will be forgiven. These are statements in the Bible. We have heard them since childhood. The problem is that we know but we don’t really act like we believe it.

For example, I know that if I put God first and set my mind on him, I will have an inner peace in spite of whatever is going on around me. Because of this, I will be a nicer person, less hostile, less defensive, harder to offend, kinder, more patient, more like Christ. But, I get “distracted”, entertain negative ideas in my head, criticize people and institutions instead of praying for them; I complain, argue, stew over past hurts, get jealous, feel rejected, abandoned, etc. It tends to snowball. So by 9 a.m. I am all worked up and my intention to put God first in my mind is back somewhere in the dust of my train wreck of “doing things my way”. My way stinks. It’s even in the Bible.

“I WAS [ready to be] inquired of by those who asked not; I was [ready to be] found by those who sought Me not. I said, Here I am, here I am [says I AM] to a nation [Israel] that has not called on My name. [Exod. 3:14; Isa. 58:9.] I have spread out My hands all the day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, after their own thoughts–A people who provoke Me to My face continually, sacrificing [to idols] in gardens and burning incense upon bricks [instead of at God’s prescribed altar]; Who sit among the graves [trying to talk with the dead] and lodge among the secret places [or caves where familiar spirits were thought to dwell]; who eat swine’s flesh, and the broth of abominable and loathsome things is in their vessels; Who say, Keep to yourself; do not come near me, for I am set apart from you [and lest I sanctify you]! These are smoke in My nostrils, a fire that burns all the day. Behold, it is written before Me: I will not keep silence but will repay; yes, I will repay into their bosom.” ~ Isaiah 65:1-6
When it comes to people, I find it so hard to remember how much bigger God is than it all, yes, even than the seriously difficult people and circumstances in my life. We all have them, we may even BE them (we can be honest, it’s just friends here).  When I dredge up old hurts or things from people’s pasts, I’m engaging in a fruitless exercise. Much as I might wish otherwise, there IS no time travel. I cannot go back and call anyone into account. I do not have the ability or the authority. Would I want someone dredging up my past? Um, no thank you please. When I try to figure it out or “self-help, positive think” my way to a better, happier life, it’s like all those people so many years ago who tried to get advice from the dead or sacrifice to idols. Self is a massive idol, after all, so big we fail to see it many times. When I “distract” myself, it’s not by accident. I’m actually just acting out what I believe, deep down: I know better than God. The point I want to make though, in relation to blowing things off is this: when we make statements like the ones above about things being impossible, we call into question the very character and nature of God. If we deem the hard hardheartedness of someone as greater than the love of God, then we haven’t grasped yet that God is not only a God of power and love, but of reconciliation.
“Therefore if any person is [in-grafted] in Christ (the Messiah) he is a new creation (a new creature altogether); the old [previous moral and spiritual condition] has passed away. Behold, the fresh and new has come! But all things are from God, Who through Jesus Christ reconciled us to Himself [received us into favor, brought us into harmony with Himself] and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation [that by word and deed we might aim to bring others into harmony with Him]. It was God [personally present] in Christ, reconciling and restoring the world to favor with Himself, not counting up and holding against [men] their trespasses [but cancelling them], and committing to us the message of reconciliation (of the restoration to favor). So we are Christ’s ambassadors, God making His appeal as it were through us. We [as Christ’s personal representatives] beg you for His sake to lay hold of the divine favor [now offered you] and be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Christ [virtually] to be sin Who knew no sin, so that in and through Him we might become [endued with, viewed as being in, and examples of] the righteousness of God [what we ought to be, approved and acceptable and in right relationship with Him, by His goodness].” ~
2 Corinthians 5:17-21
So basically, after we get a good mind-scrubbing, we are left with this: God is the Creator. He makes things, and he makes things NEW. When we choose to look at people through the lens of their past, or our past, we discount God’s role as Creator and re-Creator. He doesn’t just patch us up. He is in the process of restoring us to the amazing purpose he had at the very beginning of things. Because I am being made new, I can trust that God has been working, is working, and will be working in the people and situations around me, just as he is working in me. When I have this firmly set in my mind, I can have peace knowing that God’s good plan includes some painful scrubbing of all the scrapes I’ve acquired, the diseases and infections that have set in on the inside of my spirit. Sometimes people can be a mirror. Nothing bugs a gossip like a gossip, or a know-it-all like another know-it-all. (That hurt a little for me too.) When I am able to keep myself from judging the inside of someone, which I cannot see, I allow God to show me some pretty amazing things like grace and mercy, peace and truth. God, after all, CAN see our insides. Many times when we see a stubborn, black lump, he sees a diamond in the rough, just waiting to be revealed. Moreover, when we give God his proper place it frees us from a lot of responsibility to “fix”, aka stew and fume and criticize (we are so clueless sometimes, aren’t we?).
An awful lot of expense (ie the suffering of Christ) has gone into God being available to us, because of us turning our backs on him in the first place. Ever generous, ever gracious, he has prepared a vast banquet for us, to share in his goodness, the majesty of his bounteous love and plain awe-inspiring self. Stop thinking of the burnt porridge and look at the table in front of you!
“Do not fret or have any anxiety about anything, but in every circumstance and in everything, by prayer and petition (definite requests), with thanksgiving, continue to make your wants known to God. And God’s peace [shall be yours, that tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and being content with its earthly lot of whatever sort that is, that peace] which transcends all understanding shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. For the rest, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of reverence and is honorable and seemly, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely and lovable, whatever is kind and winsome and gracious, if there is any virtue and excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on and weigh and take account of these things [fix your minds on them].” ~ Philippians 4:6-8

Living Your Life As You Like It?


“Before complaining that you are a slave to another, be sure that you are not a slave to self. Look within;…You will find there, perchance, slavish thoughts, slavish desires, and in your daily life and conduct slavish habits. Conquer these; cease to be a slave to self, and no man will have the power to enslave you.” – James Allen 

I recently read an article that made me change my mind….several times while I was reading it. This particular article advocated the life approach where one stops trying to live to please others and get approval from them SOOOO much, stop making excuses, stop apologizing, stop explaining, stop feeling that your life needs justification. Yeah, I thought. People pleasing never makes anyone happy. Your life is YOURS, after all. End of story, goodbye, see you later, right? Well, not so fast.

Perhaps we do not owe an explanation to every one of a dozen busybodies who seem oh so genuinely concerned when they ask about the reason little Johnny or Susie can’t attend their child’s slumber party. Maybe your kid doesn’t like them, or has a stomach bug, or is (GASP) grounded for being a less than lovely person themselves. Maybe you decide to have yet another baby, or quit your job, or go on a date with “them”, or go back to school, or take a self-defense class, or anything. Eyebrows may rise as the questions are asked. Well, so what? You don’t have to go into details. You don’t owe your life’s ambitions and dreams and details to anyone who crosses your path. Maybe they should, I don’t know, live their OWN lives for a change?

BUT, that doesn’t mean that we can blithely walk along with zero accountability, zero consequences, and zero fault. We have been sold the lie of do what you want with zero guilt for too many years by advertising companies selling us everything from divorce attorneys to whole grain bread. We cannot fall so easily for that line. There are always consequences. Our lives affect the people around us. Our choices have a ripple effect whether that seems comfortable to us or not. Of course we would all like to go merrily along without a care swinging our lunch pail as we skip down the road. This, however, is the attitude of children. Sooner or later, if we want to have our adult ambitions to come to fruition, we MUST grow up. Maturity means being OK with not always getting your way. Mature people understand that there are times when hard work is done and patience is exercised in order to make things happen for the better. We can’t just turn up our noses and tell everyone “none of your beeswax”; but we CAN, and should, set limits on the access others have to our life’s information. Some things should be off limits, like your or your spouse’s salary, whether or not you plan on having more children, medical issues, relationship concerns, etc.

I would like to add another accountability partner we all have, like it or not. (Deep breath I’m about to dig myself a BIG hole.) At the end of our lives, we will individually answer for our choices as we stand before God. Jesus told his disciples that the only way to God was through him, aka faith in Christ. I have recently been struggling with my long-held concept of what following Christ actually means. I always think I have things all figured out until I live a little longer and go through stuff. It isn’t so much that I have lost faith in God so much as I have lost faith in myself to be up to the task. I have been a follower of Christ for many years now and there are days when I think I am farther away than ever. Thankfully, God’s arms are always reaching, very stretchy, and they never let me go. I have never been and will never be abandoned by Him, not once. People walk away and stop caring and get jealous and force you out of your job or your comfy spot in the family or whatever else you may place too much confidence in keeping you happy. God does not change. He has the very highest plans for us, plans of abundant grace and joy and peace, soul-thriving, difference-making, lovely lives indeed. Why do we get that scrunchy leave-me-alone pout on so many times as we look over our shoulder at God like he’s some big meany who wants to just control us and tell us how to play with all of our toys? God is the BOSS. He doesn’t rant and rave about it. He gives people a lot of free rein. Many have a problem with that about others. Why do other people do so many evil things? Why does God allow other people to do bad things? Now wait a second here Folks, I have done some bad things, and yet I have never once had a set of holy handcuffs slapped on my wrists, have you? We ALL do bad things and also have the ability to choose to do good things. Why is it that we blame God for people misusing what was meant to be an amazing gift to every son or daughter that ever walked or is walking or will walk the earth?

We have all had bad bosses. No one wants to be under the thumb of someone who berates you, puts you down or micromanages you. The stories from work weary employees about their difficult bosses are many. Any mistreatment from a person makes you cringe at the thought of anyone else ever being in that position over you again. God, however, is not an abusive and insensitive employer. God is not an abusive parent or cheating spouse. He will never love you “if…”. He loves you, period. He also wants all of us to have the very best life that we can have. This includes not mistreating others or taking them for granted. Make good choices, because it matters, because it affects others as well as yourself, because you have eyes on you from above. Remember you are watched, not because God wants you under control, but because he loves you.

“Therefore, whether we are at home [on earth away from Him] or away from home [and with Him], we are constantly ambitious and strive earnestly to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear and be revealed as we are before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive [his pay] according to what he has done in the body, whether good or evil [considering what his purpose and motive have been, and what he has achieved, been busy with, and given himself and his attention to accomplishing]. Therefore, being conscious of fearing the Lord with respect and reverence, we seek to win people over [to persuade them]. But what sort of persons we are is plainly recognized and thoroughly understood by God, and I hope that it is plainly recognized and thoroughly understood also by your consciences (your inborn discernment). We are not commending ourselves to you again, but we are providing you with an occasion and incentive to be [rightfully] proud of us, so that you may have a reply for those who pride themselves on surface appearances [on the virtues they only appear to have], although their heart is devoid of them. For if we are beside ourselves [mad, as some say], it is for God and concerns Him; if we are in our right mind, it is for your benefit, For the love of Christ controls and urges and impels us, because we are of the opinion and conviction that [if] One died for all, then all died; And He died for all, so that all those who live might live no longer to and for themselves, but to and for Him Who died and was raised again for their sake. Consequently, from now on we estimate and regard no one from a [purely] human point of view [in terms of natural standards of value]. [No] even though we once did estimate Christ from a human viewpoint and as a man, yet now [we have such knowledge of Him that] we know Him no longer [in terms of the flesh]. Therefore if any person is [in-grafted] in Christ (the Messiah) he is a new creation (a new creature altogether); the old [previous moral and spiritual condition] has passed away. Behold, the fresh and new has come! But all things are from God, Who through Jesus Christ reconciled us to Himself [received us into favor, brought us into harmony with Himself] and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation [that by word and deed we might aim to bring others into harmony with Him]. It was God [personally present] in Christ, reconciling and restoring the world to favor with Himself, not counting up and holding against [men] their trespasses [but cancelling them], and committing to us the message of reconciliation (of the restoration to favor). So we are Christ’s ambassadors, God making His appeal as it were through us. We [as Christ’s personal representatives] beg you for His sake to lay hold of the divine favor [now offered you] and be reconciled to God.  For our sake He made Christ [virtually] to be sin Who knew no sin, so that in and through Him we might become [endued with, viewed as being in, and examples of] the righteousness of God [what we ought to be, approved and acceptable and in right relationship with Him, by His goodness].”  – Corinthians 5:9-21

In Blog We Trust


“Solitude gives birth to the original in us, to beauty unfamiliar and perilous- to poetry. But also, it gives birth to the opposite: to the perverse, the illicit, the absurd.” – Thomas Mann

I love technology! I love movies that I can watch at home, music I can listen to at home, games I can play by myself at home, social media which helps me communicate with friends and family at home. I can take technology anywhere and have it all at my fingertips. What an amazing thing to be able to do anywhere and everywhere. Technology is so amazing, however, that a large majority of us, myself included, are beguiled to a point that we no longer look up to see what living, breathing people are waiting to talk to us, show us something, climb into our laps, go out for coffee, ask for our advice in person, hire us, promote us, teach us, or learn from us.

How ironic is it that social media makes us less social? I was soo struck by the sad irony of this phenomenon, in fact, that I had to take a break in the middle of writing this blog post to turn around and ignore my computer instead of my family. It’s been several days now and I am actively trying to engage my family more and more often, in spite of the seductive pull of the “time-waster” sitting on my desk. Today is the last day of school for my four older children. I will have an entire summer of chances to interact with my kids since everyone’s schedule will be more flexible. Am I up to the challenge?

People are demanding. They want our actual attention when they talk to us. They talk about things we don’t want to talk about. They say things we can’t control. They feel. This can be uncomfortable, inconvenient and irritating at times, but wading through the “peopleness” of people is how we build relationships. It is also the way we connect with God. Thankfully, God is ever patient with his children. I’m sure we can be tiresome, especially when he knows that oftentimes we know better.

The point of this post today isn’t about tolerance for the sometimes annoying habits of the people all around us. I’m not trying to convince anyone that technology, in general, or social media, in particular, is evil. I LOVE these innovations! I am, however, advocating balance. It’s funny sometimes which words make people cringe. For Christians certain over-used “buzzwords” like balance, proactive, centered, empower, etc, can really be “deal breakers”. (Ha ha) Balance, however is a Biblical concept first advocated by God himself.

“Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise— why destroy yourself? Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool— why die before your time? It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes.” – ECCLESIASTES 7:16-18 NIV

Perhaps the answer to the dilemma of the time-sink that is the internet is not to be found in a cold turkey avoidance approach. Technology can be a wonderful tool. We would also be seriously kidding ourselves to think that we could dismiss it as a passing fad. Technology and social media are here to stay. We do need to establish some boundaries (another cringe-worthy buzzword). Just like the telephone or visitors to your front door, YOU are the one who has the power to set the limits for yourself and your family. Would you allow a guest to come into your house in the middle of the night for an unexpected, non-emergency cup of coffee? Does just anyone in the world have permission to enter your home? I seriously hope your answer is no to these questions. As the song goes, “We are the world.” Are you reading thios and other blogs when you should be doing something else, like plunging the bathroom sink, changing the baby, writing a report, reviewing your child’s homework, etc? These words will wait for you, life will not. The entire internet will wait for you. Your life is ticking away a second at a time, just as mine is. What is filling your time?

The mystery and beauty that is the internet is chock full of nuts certainly, but ultimately of dreams. As it was said by Dumbledore in the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling, “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” Since we cannot take Harry Potter as our ultimate authority for life, naturally, we must also look to what God says about this.

“KEEP YOUR foot [give your mind to what you are doing] when you go [as Jacob to sacred Bethel] to the house of God. For to draw near to hear and obey is better than to give the sacrifice of fools [carelessly, irreverently] too ignorant to know that they are doing evil. [Gen. 35:1-4; Exod. 3:5.] Be not rash with your mouth, and let not your heart be hasty to utter a word before God. For God is in heaven, and you are on earth; therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes with much business and painful effort, and a fool’s voice with many words. When you vow a vow or make a pledge to God, do not put off paying it; for God has no pleasure in fools (those who witlessly mock Him). Pay what you vow. [Ps. 50:14; 66:13, 14; 76:11.] It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. [Prov. 20:25; Acts 5:4.] Do not allow your mouth to cause your body to sin, and do not say before the messenger [the priest] that it was an error or mistake. Why should God be [made] angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? [Mal. 2:7.] For in a multitude of dreams there is futility and worthlessness, and ruin in a flood of words. But [reverently] fear God [revere and worship Him, knowing that He is]. If you see the oppression of the poor and the violent taking away of justice and righteousness in the state or province, do not marvel at the matter. [Be sure that there are those who will attend to it] for a higher [official] than the high is observing, and higher ones are over them.” – ECCLESIASTES 5:1-8 AMP

So much information can be found on the internet, for self improvement, for crafts, for DIY projects, for help with marital issues, and on it goes. The rabbit trails that we are led upon do not benefit us unless we turn from our “information gathering” and actually live them out! I have seen a small portion of the blogs available for perusal online. They have inspired and challenged me. I must live my life, though, not just read about living my life, not just sit by the window and dream like Bilbo Baggins.

When it comes to the passage above, it may seem rather confusing. If you see this in the light of daydreaming, it’s not too difficult to connect some dots. When we daydream, or use our imaginations, or over-think about things, including serious life situations such as injustice, oppression, and evil, we risk not ever actually doing anything about any of it. You and I may not be capable of righting all wrongs and saving every victim; but we can all do something about the day to day we are faced with in our own neighborhoods and lives. It doesn’t do us any good to get all worked up and show God our superhero capes during prayer and rant and rave about how much we can do when God is on our sides, if we never take any kind of action. (This is especially convicting to me I must admit.) Don’t only think about your life. Live your life. 

“Do you not know that the unrighteous and the wrongdoers will not inherit or have any share in the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived (misled): neither the impure and immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor those who participate in homosexuality,
Nor cheats (swindlers and thieves), nor greedy graspers, nor drunkards, nor foulmouthed revilers and slanderers, nor extortioners and robbers will inherit or have any share in the kingdom of God.
And such some of you were [once]. But you were washed clean (purified by a complete atonement for sin and made free from the guilt of sin), and you were consecrated (set apart, hallowed), and you were justified [pronounced righteous, by trusting] in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the [Holy] Spirit of our God.
Everything is permissible (allowable and lawful) for me; but not all things are helpful (good for me to do, expedient and profitable when considered with other things). Everything is lawful for me, but I will not become the slave of anything or be brought under its power.
Food [is intended] for the stomach and the stomach for food, but God will finally end [the functions of] both and bring them to nothing. The body is not intended for sexual immorality, but [is intended] for the Lord, and the Lord [is intended] for the body [to save, sanctify, and raise it again].
And God both raised the Lord to life and will also raise us up by His power.
Do you not see and know that your bodies are members (bodily parts) of Christ (the Messiah)? Am I therefore to take the parts of Christ and make [them] parts of a prostitute? Never! Never!
Or do you not know and realize that when a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her? The two, it is written, shall become one flesh. [Gen. 2:24.]
But the person who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with Him.
Shun immorality and all sexual looseness [flee from impurity in thought, word, or deed]. Any other sin which a man commits is one outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.
Do you not know that your body is the temple (the very sanctuary) of the Holy Spirit Who lives within you, Whom you have received [as a Gift] from God? You are not your own,
You were bought with a price [purchased with a preciousness and paid for, made His own]. So then, honor God and bring glory to Him in your body.” – 1 CORINTHIANS 6:9-20 AMP

What Would Scooby Doo?


“It’s no coincidence that in no known language does the phrase “As pretty as an airport” appear” – Douglas Adams

Life is full of things that may be seen as mere coincidence, or strange irony. Some things just have an odd order of appearing. For instance, I was pretty pleased with myself for taking all of the musty sleeping bags out of the freezer they’d been stored in and carefully washing and drying each one with plenty of detergent and bleach and fresh air and sunshine. I felt very good about myself as a mom…..until my husband, who hadn’t yet smelled the funk, told me our 11 yr old daughter already took one, before I could wash it, on a 5-day field trip with her class. Sigh. It would be great to be the mom of something besides children sometimes, maybe houseplants. I do love my children, fiercely, possessively, like a bear with donuts mixed with bacon grease. (I saw this once in a National Geographic special on grizzly bears. In NO WAY am I condoning bear baiting, by the way.) Sometimes the level of ironic coincidence can be overwhelming, however.

Remember those times you searched and searched for something, only to find it the moment after the need for it has passed; like when you send your baby clothes and toys and equipment to Goodwill or sell it at a garage sale, and then learn you are yet again expecting? What would you call it if you walked out of a job and then found out you had been in line for promotion, or the time you refused to say “I love you”, or “I’m sorry”, and then death made your choice a regret? The different odd happenings in our lives can be humorous, tragic, or seemingly inconsequential; but even in the trivial matters, God’s fingerprints can be seen.

Many people ran late on the morning of September 11, 2001. The causes for their lateness were the usual things that make us run behind schedule. On that day, the trivial had lifesaving ramifications. Sometimes we end up on the road in a hurry and stuck in traffic, or behind a slow driver who will not pull over. Sometimes, many times, these ironic and frustrating situations just might be saving our lives. Even a swarm of hornets can be an instrument of God’s plan. (Deuteronomy 7:20) The phrase “the devil is in the details” rings false. It is not the enemy of our souls who arranges the day to day circumstances we find ourselves facing, but God.

Perhaps your situation is more calculated than coincidence. Perhaps you are under some sort of trial that is the creation of your enemies. God has much in store for you as well. Remember that it is God who has the final say. In my house, I call it a parent’s ultimate veto power, on pretty much anything that goes on inside the house whether its movies, bedtime, chores, attitudes, rewards, punishments. Since we are all under God, whether we think so, believe so, or not. God has ultimate veto power, being God and all. In Psalm 67, David yet again cries out to God because he was under pressure from those who were pursuing his downfall and even death. He had done nothing to deserve their animosity, and yet they were out for blood, literally.

“HEAR MY voice, O God, in my complaint; guard and preserve my life from the terror of the enemy. Hide me from the secret counsel and conspiracy of the ungodly, from the scheming of evildoers, Who whet their tongues like a sword, who aim venomous words like arrows, Who shoot from ambush at the blameless man; suddenly do they shoot at him, without self-reproach or fear. They encourage themselves in an evil purpose, they talk of laying snares secretly; they say, Who will discover us ? They think out acts of injustice and say, We have accomplished a well-devised thing! For the inward thought of each one [is unsearchable] and his heart is deep. ” – Psalm 67:1-10

The story of Joseph which begins in Genesis 37, is chock full of situations that seem orchestrated to humble this man who though seriously talented and gifted had a bad case of conceit. He was not the way he needed to be in order to fulfill his God-given destiny. His character couldn’t support it. Pride, after all must go or we WILL fall.

Hebrews 11 talks about a number of people who lived during Biblical times who saw past the temporal now-ness of their circumstances and looked toward God, who they were certain had their future well in hand. Of course they saw their circumstances for what they were, frustrating, disheartening, heart-breaking, maddening, preposterous, and seemingly impossible. They faced things that we do; but God was bigger in their eyes than their situations.

What would Scooby Doo do? Most likely he would panic, then run and hide. What will you do? Will you see your everyday coincidences as threads in a grand tapestry? Will you see your life as a series of mistakes and retakes? Is it all just an accident, or is there a plan, even behind your pain?

“Consider it wholly joyful, my brethren, whenever you are enveloped in or encounter trials of any sort or fall into various temptations. Be assured and understand that the trial and proving of your faith bring out endurance and steadfastness and patience. But let endurance and steadfastness and patience have full play and do a thorough work, so that you may be [people] perfectly and fully developed [with no defects], lacking in nothing.” – James 1:2-4

 

 

The Wind in Your Sails


“For happiness one needs security, but joy can spring like a flower even from the cliffs of despair.” – Anne Morrow Lindbergh (American writer and aviation pioneer, 1906-2001)

There are times when being a Christian seems to entail a great deal of goal-setting and to-do list making. IF we pray without ceasing; and have faith to move mountains; and love our enemies; and bathe once a day at least; and speak to other Christians with songs, hymns and spiritual songs; and only wear a suit and tie or dress to church; and never swear; and wait until you’re married; and never judge our neighbor;  and on the list goes…..then we can be a good Christian and cross those things off our be-a-good-guy/girl list. Somehow, though, we never seem to remember all the things we are supposed to do, or do them well or often enough. We get bogged down with the serious metaphysical and theological questions of life, and we forget what it’s all about in the first place.

“But the fruit of the [Holy] Spirit [the work which His presence within accomplishes] is love, joy (gladness), peace, patience (an even temper, forbearance), kindness, goodness (benevolence), faithfulness, Gentleness (meekness, humility), self-control (self-restraint, continence). Against such things there is no law [that can bring a charge]. And those who belong to Christ Jesus (the Messiah) have crucified the flesh (the godless human nature) with its passions and appetites and desires. If we live by the [Holy] Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. [If by the Holy Spirit we have our life in God, let us go forward walking in line, our conduct controlled by the Spirit.] Let us not become vainglorious and self-conceited, competitive and challenging and provoking and irritating to one another, envying and being jealous of one another.” – GALATIANS 5:22-26 AMP

Yes, we want to work on improving as individuals in general and become more like Christ specifically; but Jesus did not come to die to bind us with rules and regulations that we could beat ourselves (and each other) over the head with when we failed to follow them exactly. Jesus came to free us and to help us along the way as we become sanctified through cooperation with his work in our lives. Jesus came to give us life!

“So Jesus said again, I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, that I Myself am the Door for the sheep. All others who came [as such] before Me are thieves and robbers, but the [true] sheep did not listen to and obey them. I am the Door; anyone who enters in through Me will be saved (will live). He will come in and he will go out [freely], and will find pasture. The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows). I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd risks and lays down His [own] life for the sheep. [Ps. 23.]” – JOHN 10:7-11 AMP

If we spend too much of our lives weighed down with the supposed rules and regulations of what a Christian is supposed to do, then we miss out on the JOY, which is our strength. (Nehemiah 8:10) Without this strength, our days are flat, dull, and empty of meaning. All the to-do lists in the world cannot make up for the hollowness of our accomplishments. Jesus’ own life was filled with turning aside from his routine, pausing, waiting, reaching out a hand to offer a healing touch, giving a word of comfort, of hope. His goal, you see, was people. You and I, those around us, both friend and foe, celebrities, drugstore clerks, the renowned, the forgotten; we are the goal, the prize Jesus died to win.

“Christ lived his life to bring hope, and died to become the bridge to ultimate love and joy and freedom and fellowship. Our lives can find fulfillment in taking hold of nothing less. So, the next time you find your joy taking a backseat to your ability to measure up, remember it’s not about what you can do, but about what Christ has already done.

But whatever former things I had that might have been gains to me, I have come to consider as [one combined] loss for Christ’s sake. Yes, furthermore, I count everything as loss compared to the possession of the priceless privilege (the overwhelming preciousness, the surpassing worth, and supreme advantage) of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord and of progressively becoming more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him [of perceiving and recognizing and understanding Him more fully and clearly]. For His sake I have lost everything and consider it all to be mere rubbish (refuse, dregs), in order that I may win (gain) Christ (the Anointed One), And that I may [actually] be found and known as in Him, not having any [self-achieved] righteousness that can be called my own, based on my obedience to the Law’s demands (ritualistic uprightness and supposed right standing with God thus acquired), but possessing that [genuine righteousness] which comes through faith in Christ (the Anointed One), the [truly] right standing with God, which comes from God by [saving] faith. [For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly], and that I may in that same way come to know the power outflowing from His resurrection [which it exerts over believers], and that I may so share His sufferings as to be continually transformed [in spirit into His likeness even] to His death, [in the hope] That if possible I may attain to the [spiritual and moral] resurrection [that lifts me] out from among the dead [even while in the body]. Not that I have now attained [this ideal], or have already been made perfect, but I press on to lay hold of (grasp) and make my own, that for which Christ Jesus (the Messiah) has laid hold of me and made me His own. I do not consider, brethren, that I have captured and made it my own [yet]; but one thing I do [it is my one aspiration]: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the [supreme and heavenly] prize to which God in Christ Jesus is calling us upward. So let those [of us] who are spiritually mature and full-grown have this mind and hold these convictions; and if in any respect you have a different attitude of mind, God will make that clear to you also. Only let us hold true to what we have already attained and walk and order our lives by that.” – PHILIPPIANS 3:7-16 AMP

Taking Off the Training Wheels


“You have to do your own growing no matter how tall your grandfather was.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

Today’s post was inspired by my cousin’s Facebook post of a picture of her daughter joyfully riding her bike for the first time without training wheels. First-time accomplishments are like that, exhilarating. I’m sure there have been many firsts for you as well; first driver’s license, first car, first place of your own to live, first morning of being married, being clean and sober, being debt-free, paying off a loan, first time you successfully made your favorite dish, first date, first kiss….and on it goes.

If growth and change happen as expected, no one stays in diapers forever. (Shout out to all those toilet-training moms and dads out there.) There is something wonderful about the first page in a new chapter of growth. We were meant to grow, to change, to improve, after all. We can’t remain the same with nothing new in our lives forever. If we do not change, it comes to us all the same; and our refusal to change from one life season to the next makes the life changes that much more difficult to accept. Every challenge (crisis, job loss, break-up, piece of bad news, piece of good news, major life opportunity, health diagnosis, etc.), every change we face in life is an opportunity for us to change. How do we approach the challenge this time? What we tried the last time did not work. How do we figure this out? How do we overcome this thing that comes back to haunt us again and again no matter what we do? We grow and we change and we mature into the men and women God would have us be.

A tender young seedling has to break free from the shell that surrounds and protects it, leaving itself vulnerable to the outside world full of seed-munching animals and extreme temperatures. Then there is a struggle against gravity, through the dirt that presses down on it before it can break out into the sun and air. Likewise, a child learning to ride their bike has to push their body to learn a sense of balance as well as the strength to pedal uphills and away from unfriendly dogs. They have to persevere through all of the scraped knees and elbows until they reach the day when they are ready to ride without help of either a parent or their training wheels. There is so much more you can accomplish without those beginner’s props. There is a lesson here, Kids.

1 Corinthians 13, the famous chapter on love, contains a couple interesting verses toward the end, verses 11 & 12,

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; now that I have become a man, I am done with childish ways and have put them aside.  For now we are looking in a mirror that gives only a dim (blurred) reflection [of reality as in a riddle or enigma], but then [when perfection comes] we shall see in reality and face to face! Now I know in part (imperfectly), but then I shall know and understand fully and clearly, even in the same manner as I have been fully and clearly known and understood [by God].

If taken out of context, it might be difficult to figure out what God is trying to say here (not that I’m convinced I truly have it all figured out either myself). Previous to this pair of enigmatic verses, the text talks about how our imperfect knowledge will one day be complete, all of the blanks will be filled in, and our imperfect understanding and confusion about different things will fade away as it is replaced with the actual story on everything from the first word in Genesis to the last word in Revelations, and everything else as well. The final verse of this passage, which follows these two, tells us that love is greater than anything else, even faith and hope. Now, I’m no Biblical scholar (officially anyway), but these verses appearing inside the famous love chapter is a significant thing. (Feel free to add your thoughts on this in the comment section.) Once we take the training wheels off of our bikes, it would be ridiculous for us to continue to act as though we have no freedom or ability. We are missing the point of freedom and maturity if we behave this way in life as well.

Psalm 131:2 is yet another verse that has made me scratch my head. It reads:

“Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child.”

This verse was kindly explained to me as a teen but I did not really understand it in much depth until I became a mom. When we adopt the very common perspective that God is our giant catalog store in the sky, we go to him only when we need something. When we don’t get what we want exactly when and how we ask for it, we often sulk and pout and basically act like a nursing infant who sees his mom as the lunch wagon only. As we develop, and we go through the uncomfortable-for-everyone weaning process, we learn to see God as more than his gifts and we can actually have a relationship with him. We also learn that even when we are not getting our prayers answered exactly when and how we would like them to be, God still loves us and has our ultimate good in mind. We can sit calmly in his presence and trust him. Good stuff, right?

Isaiah 1 concerns a conversation God wanted to have with the nation of Judah, which could also represent many Christians’ struggle to actually follow Christ in word and deed. The issue was that they had gotten so comfortable with their unholy lifestyle that they forgot that the many hardships faced by them were largely a result of their own choices, both individually and collectively. Their predicament was compounded by the fact that they continued to falsely believe all was well and God was being unreasonable. We all tend to grow accustomed to our own bad behavior and justify it to ourselves. Meanwhile as we begin to reap the harvest of the seeds we have sown we think God is just being a big meanie. We need to wake up and realize that our lives don’t have to be this way. We can change at any time. We first must acknowledge that there is a problem. We first must admit that we are in the wrong. We have to realize that this place where we are is not the end of the line. There is more for us to experience; there is room for growth and change.

Psalm 92:12-15 states:

“The [uncompromisingly] righteous shall flourish like the palm tree [be long-lived, stately, upright, useful, and fruitful]; they shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon [majestic, stable, durable, and incorruptible].
Planted in the house of the Lord, they shall flourish in the courts of our God.
[Growing in grace] they shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be full of sap [of spiritual vitality] and [rich in the] verdure [of trust, love, and contentment].
[They are living memorials] to show that the Lord is upright and faithful to His promises; He is my Rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him. [Rom. 9:14.]”
There is no reason for us to give up on our chance for change and growth, no matter what our age, ability, or circumstances. If the Creator says that something is possible we should not doubt it. This doesn’t simply refer to some pie-in-the-sky hope that one day our fat, lazy spirits will be caught up in a cloud of don’t-you-worry-your-pretty-little-head in glory. We can take heart that He is able to help us continue along the road, strengthening us as we struggle against the powers and principalities of the world (Ephesians 6:10-18) as well as against the sinful “Old Man” that fights against us the entire way.
“For this reason we also, from the day we heard of it, have not ceased to pray and make [special] request for you, [asking] that you may be filled with the full (deep and clear) knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom [in comprehensive insight into the ways and purposes of God] and in understanding and discernment of spiritual things–
That you may walk (live and conduct yourselves) in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him and desiring to please Him in all things, bearing fruit in every good work and steadily growing and increasing in and by the knowledge of God [with fuller, deeper, and clearer insight, acquaintance, and recognition].
[We pray] that you may be invigorated and strengthened with all power according to the might of His glory, [to exercise] every kind of endurance and patience (perseverance and forbearance) with joy,
Giving thanks to the Father, Who has qualified and made us fit to share the portion which is the inheritance of the saints (God’s holy people) in the Light.
[The Father] has delivered and drawn us to Himself out of the control and the dominion of darkness and has transferred us into the kingdom of the Son of His love,
In Whom we have our redemption through His blood,[which means] the forgiveness of our sins.”
God’s will and best intentions and plans for us hinge upon us continuing to grow and improve as we become closer and more like Christ. This benefits us as well as everyone around us. As we mature and change we are more and more able to step into the calling God has put inside each one of us. We gain new insight the more we are able to put off our old selves that only drag us down, and put on the renewed selves that Christ died to give us. Our lives become more exciting as we become privy to more and more of the vastness and wonder of God and his immense and unreachable love for us. our relationships improve as the goodness that is Christ oozes out of us and goops up everyone we encounter in our day to day lives. No, it is not a perfectly safe life, anymore than Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia is a safe lion, but it is good, and we will never walk it alone.
“THEREFORE LET us go on and get past the elementary stage in the teachings and doctrine of Christ (the Messiah), advancing steadily toward the completeness and perfection that belong to spiritual maturity. Let us not again be laying the foundation of repentance and abandonment of dead works (dead formalism) and of the faith [by which you turned] to God,
With teachings about purifying, the laying on of hands, the resurrection from the dead, and eternal judgment and punishment. [These are all matters of which you should have been fully aware long, long ago.]
If indeed God permits, we will [now] proceed [to advanced teaching].” (verses 1-3)