Come Up Higher!


“That old law about ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing.” ~ Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The world we live in today is an angry world, not just a little miffed, but seething, boiling-over, raging ANGRY. It is, of course, perfectly natural to feel this way. Facebook, life’s microcosm, has seen many “Me Too” posts recently. For anyone who doesn’t know, this is a movement to bring awareness to the threat of gender-based violence and intimidation faced by the women and girls of the world in general, and to remind us that all around us, every day, there are women who feel unsafe. There is a global epidemic of forced labor and sex trafficking, for adults and children. What else are we faced with socially and personally on a daily basis but domestic violence, rising healthcare costs, greedy corporations, unethical treatment of employees, thieves, liars, cheaters, swindlers, pretenders, violence, hatred, anger, anger, anger!

I was angry as well when I started writing this post. Some things, after all, are just WRONG. However, “Me Too” should be the beginning of a discussion, not just an angry, raised fist.

An old Newsboys song says, “Everybody needs somebody to rely on….are you gonna lend a hand and assist? Everybody needs somebody’s shoulder to cry on…..are you gonna lend a hand, or a fist?” 

The real struggle, after all, is not men against women, black against white, rich against poor, cat people against dog people, left against right, not really. We all have much more in common than we sometimes care to remember. The ultimate puppet master and behind-the-scenes enemy of all of us is evil incarnate, or the devil, Satan, whatever you call him. He is a master manipulator and gold-star pot-stirrer, and we all fall for his games from time to time. For instance, when I’m angry after reading of a family devastated, or a crime committed, I am usually angry with people. This encourages me to have an “us versus them” or even “me versus everybody else” mentality. That kind of thinking is what feeds the mafia, gang warfare, and a Hatfield’s vs. McCoy’s ideology. When both sides are bleeding and wounded, who really wins? When the smoke clears, you may find yourself looking, not at an enemy, but at a mirror instead. We all get hurt, but we do not have to be the ones doing the hurting.

So, me too, I have been hurt by others, AND I have hurt others. The only hands I can control are on the end of my own arms. The words I have come out of my own mouth. SO, I can be angry with “them” or you, but if I look at MYSELF, I can make the changes that the world needs to be a better place, for “them”, you, and me too.

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” ~ Matthew 5:13-20 NIV
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When Words Fail


“Success builds character, failure reveals it” ~ Dave Checkett

So, ok, maybe things didn’t quite go as planned. Maybe everyone knows it. Maybe no one knows it but you.

This past February I turned 40. Something I am learning over and over is that as we age, and hopefully mature, we tend to do more thinking and less reacting. Sure, I definitely still have more than my share of flying off the handle, knee-jerk reactions, and so forth, but I’m getting better….I think… I hope.

Naturally, when we think we’ve got one aspect of life under control, like being careful which friends you share your deep personal stuff with, or where to buy the good burgers, or which checker is efficient and friendly and won’t talk your ear off about their personal life drama…Just when you think Ok, I’ve got this, here comes a curve ball that shatters your world and makes you question what you thought you knew for sure, like the love of God and his plan for your life.

For me, a wrenching reminder came about seven weeks ago. You see, I was pregnant.

I had kept it a secret from nosy people with their opinions of how many children each couple should have. Like a treasure, I had hidden my secret away during difficult times my family has been going through. I mean, come on, opinions would be coming fast and furious. I’m 40? And I have HOW MANY KIDS ALREADY? Right. Well, this blessing in disguise was OUR blessing, a precious gift in the middle of trying times.

So, when I was finally ready I went to the doctor and had my pregnancy confirmed. I saw the ultrasound. The little coming attraction was bouncing around with a steady heartbeat. About 2 weeks later, a blood test came back telling us there were no chromosome defects, and we were having a little girl. My husband groaned. Another girl? Yet we were both relieved that the baby was fine.

One week later, something was wrong and I made a visit to the emergency room where another ultrasound showed no movement OR heartbeat. So, I returned to the semi-private, curtain partitioned room and cried my heart out. Alone. I was almost 4 months along. The man on the other side of the curtain who had pulled a muscle lifting weights was very, very quiet as I tried to make my unreal grief more socially acceptable.

A dear friend, who had left work, and my dad came to the hospital. They were two of the few people who knew I had been expecting. They shared my grief, but what can you say when there are no words?

When I was discharged and handed a pamphlet on miscarriage, I still had the long drive home and facing my husband with the news. He wasn’t aware that I had gone to the emergency room, or any of the things that had happened. Service is spotty in the hospital, and my husband works nights. What a horrible way to wake someone up.

Many parents have struggled with the pain that comes from losing a child, whether from death, custody battles, rebellion, or estrangement. Like me, they may feel confused, anxious, full of grief, and on the verge of giving up. This was a situation I didn’t understand. It felt so very unfair. God seemed far away when I needed his comfort. He seemed silent when I needed his advice. The pain was so great that I felt like I was being crushed physically. It’s a scary place to be when we see just how little control we actually have over our lives. It feels like there is nothing you can trust.

Time and time again, people would offer ridiculous “smiley-face” bits of advice like, “This too shall pass”. I didn’t want it to pass. I wanted it to disappear. The passing felt like being dragged behind a horse.

I have seldom felt anything to compare with the pain of a child being lost or struggling in some way. I became very bitter and shut people out. I hid from people. Why would anyone want to hear the same old complaints? Why bring people down? Our struggles can be embarrassing. We can feel ashamed.

It seems odd, but the thing that has been the most powerful and actually healing thing to me in my most gut-wrenching pain has been the Cross of Christ. His suffering didn’t just lead to death, and, poof– end of story. Jesus’ ticket to the grave was for a round trip.

His suffering and anguish were public and humiliating. His grief was made more difficult to bear because of his loneliness and being misunderstood. He was blamed although he was blameless!

BUT! The incomparable suffering of Christ was only a comma in a sentence that ended with death itself up-ended and turned on its ear in Jesus’ absolute victory! What this means for you and me in our times of suffering is that we can trust his competence and compassion as we face our most formidable challenges. Even death has lost its sting!

The Resurrection means more than I used to think. See, this is how we carry our hope: we realize that the shadow of the Cross actually covers everything like a big “Paid in Full” stamp. Even more amazing, however, than the fact of its being paid is what was purchased once and for all, and FOR US ALL! Amazing! (Ephesians 2:1-22)

So, if you are reading this post and have some heart breaking thing that you are currently facing in your life, I want to encourage you. It is difficult, but sharing our pain leads to sharing the joy that our victories bring. I’m not sure why I didn’t see it before.

Without the Cross, Jesus being alive is just regular, business as usual. There’s no amazement. No miracle. No power. When you and I are able to humble ourselves and share the Goliath, the tiny stone becomes enormous. In a similar way, the light doesn’t mean as much without the tunnel. When we are willing to share our own struggles and pain, we can see the relief and hope it creates in other people. I have felt the same when others share with me.

This feeling that we are not alone is very comforting, even more so that there is hope and victory through Christ. Talk about JOY unspeakable! It will build your faith as you share with others, just as God intended.

“Therefore, believers, since we have confidence and full freedom to enter the Holy Place [the place where God dwells] by [means of] the blood of Jesus, by this new and living way which He initiated and opened for us through the veil [as in the Holy of Holies], that is, through His flesh, and since we have a great and wonderful Priest [Who rules] over the house of God, let us approach [God] with a true and sincere heart in unqualified assurance of faith, having had our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us seize and hold tightly the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is reliable and trustworthy and faithful [to His word]…” Hebrews 10:19-23 AMP

 

A Tough Nut to Crack


“The best thing to give to your enemy is forgiveness; to an opponent, tolerance; to a friend, your heart; to your child, a good example; to a father, deference; to your mother, conduct that will make her proud of you; to yourself, respect; to all men, charity.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

 

It’s so simple. Buying gifts shows people how much much we love and appreciate them, right? Buying just the right gift, on the other hand, is personal, loving, and shows that not only are we generous but intuitive and thoughtful. We spend a lot of time on this particular aspect of the Christmas season. So what if it’s a lot of work?

Only, maybe we weren’t very generous when we schlepped out to the store again for another bottle of sparkling cider and the gluten-free stuffing mix, were we? Maybe we were even less than thoughtful when we shouldered our way through that family who was taking a little more time than we thought necessary and cut in front of the single mom trying to wrangle her kids as well as her meager cart. We weren’t being particularly generous when we dug out the dregs from the back of our cupboard for the canned food drive were we? Yes, I’ve been there too, Scrooging away the entire Christmas season, missing out on the meaning, the memories, and the Message.

We just get so wrapped up in the festivities and the supposed “have to’s”. We want to practice the carols for the choir sing along and the Christmas pageant has to be just right, but we forget to hear the music. We miss the fact that the Christ child came to be more than the centerpiece of our Precious Moments Nativity scene. We forget He came to seek and save that which was lost. (Luke 19:10)

Today I wrote a letter to someone I had offended, and refused to make up with, months and months ago. That’s never pleasant, is it, to admit that maybe you’ve been the Scrooge instead of the Bob Cratchit. Ahem. Now, I don’t know how it will be received; and really, I’m sure there are more of these letters I should be writing, baby steps, right? Of course, it would be alot easier to avoid having to write these difficult letters at all if I could just admit right away when I’m hurt and offended, or hurtful and offensive, and get the relationship dealt with right away. But alas, I seem to be rebellious to the last. Naturally, it all comes down to a problem I have with pride and disobedience. Sigh, at almost 40 years old, no less, that’s the real issue here. How ironic that we should be so stubborn about taking a back seat during the time of year when we are supposedly celebrating the One who had every reason to expect special treatment and permanent cuts in line…..and who served, and toiled, and bled, and died……instead. There are definitely times when what I’m actually celebrating is Jessiemas, instead of Christmas. (What a lame name for a holiday, right?)

Maybe the gift we should focus on most this season is one that is free, yet the most difficult, to give: Christ-likeness.

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” ~ John 1:1-14 (King James Version)

Seasoning the Seasons


“Prove yourself brave, truthful, and unselfish, and someday, you will be a real boy.” ~ The Blue Fairy ( IMDB, Disney’s Pinocchio, 1940)

 

It’s a strange thing, an awkward, how-can-it-be thing, when the holidays which are supposed to inspire feelings of benevolence, charity, patience, and generosity inside of us (no matter how we choose to observe them) are often rather commercial spectacles of excess, envy, self-indulgence, and competition. It is a wonderful thing to enjoy the blessings and fruits of hard work and God’s favor, don’t get me wrong; but when the decorations, food, and traditions become overly important, it’s difficult to actually enjoy these holidays. Worst of all, the people we are supposed to be teaching and sharing the deeper meaning of the seasons with get in the way of our dreams of “perfect”, things can get a little bit ugly, and by things I mean me. (Do you do this too?) Ugh. Embarrassing.

Of course it is so so easy to get wrapped up in the wrong things at this time of year (little pre-Christmas pun there). There are holiday specials to watch, and blogs to read (ahem), and recipes to try, and gifts to buy, and crafts to make, and bows to tie, and cinnamon-scented this and that, and Grandma Bobo’s Christmas tree skirt, and carols to sing, and bells to ring (hey I will rhyme most anything), and plays to watch, and Grandpa’s Scotch, and crab dip made from imitation, and Clark W’s Christmas Vacation………….So, it may be a good idea to stop, rewind, and remember why we have these often maddening special times. Maybe should recall the seasonings (or as it is also called, fruit) which make the Holidays truly bright…

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” ~ Galatians 5:22-26

King of All the Wild Things


“And the wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws.”
― Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are

WILD! He is a wild thing. God is King of all the Wild Things, King of Kings and Lord of Lords! This can be a little scary for some people. I have worried, in the past that this Wild God might make crazy demands on me, like sending me to Africa to starve as a missionary or into the depths of the deepest, darkest scariest places of the world, or asking that I forgive a friend or family member who’s hurt me…

“Can you pull in Leviathan with a fishhook or tie down its tongue with a rope? Can you put a cord through its nose or pierce its jaw with a hook? Will it keep begging you for mercy? Will it speak to you with gentle words? Will it make an agreement with you for you to take it as your slave for life? Can you make a pet of it like a bird or put it on a leash for the young women in your house? Will traders barter for it? Will they divide it up among the merchants? Can you fill its hide with harpoons or its head with fishing spears? If you lay a hand on it, you will remember the struggle and never do it again! Any hope of subduing it is false; the mere sight of it is overpowering. No one is fierce enough to rouse it. Who then is able to stand against me? Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me.” ~ Job 41:1-11 NIV
He is WILD! How can mere humans stand before him? How can we even lift our eyes to Him who sits on the Throne of Thrones? How can anyone hope to have a “relationship” with such a fearsome and dreadful being as God? It’s easy to read parts of the Old Testament and see a vengeful, vindictive Zeus-like judge and not a Lover, Creator, or Savior. Where is the mercy? Where is the compassion? Where is the love? His demands are impossible! His being is unapproachable! Even the idea of an all-knowing, all-powerful God is frightening and overwhelming!
“’When Israel was a child, I loved him,and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more they were called, the more they went away from me.They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images. It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them. Will they not return to Egypt and will not Assyria rule over them because they refuse to repent? A sword will flash in their cities; it will devour their false prophets and put an end to their plans. My people are determined to turn from me. Even though they call me God Most High, I will by no means exalt them. How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboyim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I devastate Ephraim again. For I am God, and not a man— the Holy One among you. I will not come against their cities. They will follow the Lordhe will roar like a lion. When he roars, his children will come trembling from the west. They will come from Egypt, trembling like sparrows, from Assyria, fluttering like doves. I will settle them in their homes,’ declares the Lord.” ~ Hosea 11:1-11 NIV
It seems that God, like the rest of us, is a complex, and unique personality, who needs time and dialog to get to know, as are each of us. 🙂 I have personally found that the more I learn, the more I see there is to learn, like reaching the elusive horizon in a ship, there is always further to go, more to explore. The majesty and grandeur of God should instill a sense of wonder and awe in us. However, he is not coldly majestic like an iceberg, or distant like the reaches of space, spangled and studded with the starry host. God is kindly and merciful to us, exemplified and condensed once and for all in the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christ is the missing piece of the puzzle, the lens which makes the mystery of God become a bit clearer.
With our perspective updated, in the light of His greatness, our struggles and pain do not have to spell our doom. Likewise, through the lens of Christ, we can trust and depend on Him. The fearsome wildness of the Creator is tempered by the Gift of the Son. Through this Gift, we ALL have a Father. By this love, we have all become His children.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” ~ John 3:16-21 NIV

You Are Here: An Inside Job


“We view ourselves on the eve of battle. We are nerved for the contest, and must conquer or perish. It is vain to look for present aid: none is at hand. We must now act or abandon all hope! Rally to the standard, and be no longer the scoff of mercenary tongues! Be men, be free men, that your children may bless their father’s name.” ~ Sam Houston

A lack of hope. The news headlines are full of many things; anger, poverty, cruelty, fear, hate, and the latest opinion on the latest opinion. One thing it lacks, among many others, is Hope. The headlines report that the bomb is dropped, the casualties are mounting, the child is lost forever, the families shattered, the money gone, the places of worship burned, the fields are salted, the cities mere rubble. Eventually, everything ends in death. After death and destruction, what is there left to do but mourn?

“THE HAND of the Lord was upon me, and He brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. And He caused me to pass round about among them, and behold, there were very many [human bones] in the open valley or plain, and behold, they were very dry.”  ~ Ezekiel 37:1-2 (Valley of Dry Bones)

“THERE WAS a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim, of the hill country of Ephraim, named Elkanah son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. He had two wives, one named Hannah and the other named Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.” ~ 1 Samuel 1:1-2 (1 Samuel 1)

“Now when Jesus came back [to Galilee], the crowd received and welcomed Him gladly, for they were all waiting and looking for Him. And there came a man named Jairus, who had [for a long time] been a director of the synagogue; and falling at the feet of Jesus, he begged Him to come to his house, For he had an only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she was dying.” ~ Luke 8:40-42 (Luke 8)

“It was now about the sixth hour (midday), and darkness enveloped the whole land and earth until the ninth hour (about three o’clock in the afternoon), While the sun’s light faded or was darkened; and the curtain [of the Holy of Holies] of the temple was torn in two. [Exod. 26:31-35.]And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit! And with these words, He expired. [Ps. 31:5.]” ~ Luke 23:44-46

The Bible is full of examples of despair, bitterness, want, grief and hopelessness. One day or another, the shadows fall on all of us. The main thing which distinguishes the Bible from so many other books is that it offers Real Hope for those on whom the shadows have fallen.

Joshua 1 talks about such a time in the history of Israel. The swelling masses had just been witness to some of the most amazing miracles ever performed by God. They had followed Moses, the man who faced down the Pharaoh and at long last had led them through to a long-awaited life of being free after being under slavery for generation after generation. However, things don’t always go as planned. Their dynamic leader, Moses, died. What was going to become of the teeming crowds of Israelites somewhere in the desert of Sinai? These men and women knew how to be slaves. They needed a strong leader who was going to help them and not take advantage of them, they were in every way refugees on a massive scale. So, God raised up a new leader, and generation, to pick up the torch and carry on with the plan for the Children of Israel to finally have a permanent place to call home.

“Moses My servant is dead. So now arise [take his place], go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land which I am giving to them, the Israelites. Every place upon which the sole of your foot shall tread, that have I given to you, as I promised Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon to the great river Euphrates–all the land of the Hittites [Canaan]–and to the Great [Mediterranean] Sea on the west shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong (confident) and of good courage, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only you be strong and very courageous, that you may do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you. Turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, that you may observe and do according to all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall deal wisely and have good success. Have not I commanded you? Be strong, vigorous, and very courageous. Be not afraid, neither be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” ~ Joshua 1:2-9
Whoa. That’s a seriously huge thing to ask of someone, and to say it all blunt like that: “Moses My servant is dead. So now arise.” It would be understandable that Joshua might need a teensy bit of encouragement…or probably more like a ton. God is ready. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong (confident) and of good courage, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land which I swore to their fathers to give them.” Uh, say that again, please? So God repeats himself and continues to give Joshua instructions and heartening encouragement.
See, in our very sad world, the story ends with bad news. It’s just so easy. Heavy diagnosis, loss, death, rejection, betrayal…..those things bring us to our knees. In the stories that God tells, however, people start out, not on their knees, but on their faces. A desperate cry is heard, borne out of the anguish for the thing that is desperately desired and yet impossible to attain.
For my own part, I went to bed and woke up with a terrible attitude. I have been fighting against telling someone off, but in my head I am letting them have it. This is a bad place to start off. Nothing good can come out of me if a bunch of bad stuff is going on inside of me. Of course, it just so happens that this is December. Christmas music is blaring at us from all sides and the competing philosophies of Feel-Good Festival of Stuff vs. Honoring the Gift of Christ’s Birth are in full swing. And here I am in the middle of all of that with a frown on my face, tightness in my chest, and bitterness in my heart.
Enter, stage left, the person of Christ in the form of a baby. What an unassuming form for Jesus to use. Even the stretching and lengthening of his human body as he grew were just the same old thing that had happened to every other baby since forever. God has been knocking on the doors of our hearts longer than we can imagine. Why? It’s easy to blame God for the terrible things that happen, but you can’t actually have it both ways. He is not a god of our own making. He does not follow our rules. He is GOD. He does not choose the things that make this world an ugly and scary place to live. He gave us life, and then he came to give us eternal life.
The Bible calls him El Roi, the God Who Sees (Genesis 16 The Story of Hagar). God does, indeed, see our physical crises as human beings. So much of our suffering is too plain to miss. Underneath, though, inside our hearts is a much bigger problem. Our hearts are where all the ugliness of the world begins.  God look at our hearts. (1 Samuel 16:7)
And He will establish you to the end [keep you steadfast, give you strength, and guarantee your vindication; He will be your warrant against all accusation or indictment so that you will be] guiltless and irreproachable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah). God is faithful (reliable, trustworthy, and therefore ever true to His promise, and He can be depended on); by Him you were called into companionship and participation with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:8-9 (whole chapter)
So, we see that the Valley of Dry Bones is inside of us as well, but Jesus came with rivers of living water (John 7:37-38). God can restore more than just our circumstances! God can restore our hearts and relationships as well! Now for me to take that message to heart myself and let him restore my own.
“1 THEREFORE, SINCE we are justified (acquitted, declared righteous, and given a right standing with God) through faith, let us [grasp the fact that we] have [the peace of reconciliation to hold and to enjoy] peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One).
2 Through Him also we have [our] access (entrance, introduction) by faith into this grace (state of God’s favor) in which we [firmly and safely] stand. And let us rejoice andexult in our hope of experiencing andenjoying the glory of God.
3 Moreover [let us also be full of joy now!] let us exult and triumph in our troubles and rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that pressure and affliction and hardship produce patient and unswerving endurance.
4 And endurance (fortitude) develops maturity of character (approved faith and tried integrity). And character [of this sort] produces [the habit of] joyful and confident hope of eternal salvation.
5 Such hope never disappoints or deludes or shames us, for God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us.
6 While we were yet in weakness [powerless to help ourselves], at the fitting time Christ died for (in behalf of) the ungodly.
7 Now it is an extraordinary thing for one to give his life even for an upright man, though perhaps for a noble and lovable and generous benefactor someone might even dare to die.
8 But God shows and clearly proves His [own] love for us by the fact that while we were still sinners, Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One) died for us.
9 Therefore, since we are now justified (acquitted, made righteous, and brought into right relationship with God) by Christ’s blood, how much more [certain is it that] we shall be saved by Him from the indignation and wrath of God.
10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, it is much more [certain], now that we are reconciled, that we shall be saved (daily delivered from sin’s dominion) through His [resurrection] life.
11 Not only so, but we also rejoice and exultingly glory in God [in His love and perfection] through our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom we have now received and enjoy [our] reconciliation. [Jer. 9:24.]
12 Therefore, as sin came into the world through one man, and death as the result of sin, so death spread to all men, [no one being able to stop it or to escape its power] because all men sinned.
13 [To be sure] sin was in the world before ever the Law was given, but sin is not charged to men’s account where there is no law [to transgress].
14 Yet death held sway from Adam to Moses [the Lawgiver], even over those who did not themselves transgress [a positive command] as Adam did. Adam was a type (prefigure) of the One Who was to come [in reverse, the former destructive, the Latter saving]. [Gen. 5:5; 7:22; Deut. 34:5.]
15 But God’s free gift is not at all to be compared to the trespass [His grace is out of all proportion to the fall of man]. For if many died through one man’s falling away (his lapse, his offense), much more profusely did God’s grace and the free gift [that comes] through the undeserved favor of the one Man Jesus Christ abound and overflow to and for [the benefit of] many.
16 Nor is the free gift at all to be compared to the effect of that one [man’s] sin. For the sentence [following the trespass] of one [man] brought condemnation, whereas the free gift [following] many transgressions brings justification (an act of righteousness).
17 For if because of one man’s trespass (lapse, offense) death reigned through that one, much more surely will those who receive [God’s] overflowing grace (unmerited favor) and the free gift of righteousness [putting them into right standing with Himself] reign as kings in life through the one Man Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One).
18 Well then, as one man’s trespass [one man’s false step and falling away led] to condemnation for all men, so one Man’s act of righteousness [leads] to acquittal and right standing with God and life for all men.
19 For just as by one man’s disobedience (failing to hear, heedlessness, and carelessness) the many were constituted sinners, so by one Man’s obedience the many will be constituted righteous (made acceptable to God, brought into right standing with Him).
20 But then Law came in, [only] to expand and increase the trespass [making it more apparent and exciting opposition]. But where sin increased and abounded, grace (God’s unmerited favor) has surpassed it and increased the more and superabounded,
21 So that, [just] as sin has reigned in death, [so] grace (His unearned and undeserved favor) might reign also through righteousness (right standing with God) which issues in eternal life through Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One) our Lord.” Romans 5

 

Image: property of Walt Disney Pictures, Walden Media

Come Undone


“Hey you, out there in the cold

Getting lonely, getting old

Can you feel me?

Hey you, standing in the aisles

With itchy feet and fading smiles

Can you feel me?

Hey you, don’t help them to bury the light

Don’t give in without a fight.” ~ Pink Floyd

Sometimes, after the pep talks end and the encouragement fades away, we are left alone in the dark; brittle, empty, and afraid. Sometimes we come to the end of ourselves and realize that our painful  situation is still going strong and we have nothing left to give. Sometimes, we find that we are not enough. What then? When reality smacks you in the face like a giant tidal wave, no amount of self-help, Oprah’s book club, pop-psychology will save you.

To borrow a quote from the movie Speed, “Pop quiz, hotshot. There’s a bomb on a bus. Once the bus goes 50 miles an hour, the bomb is armed. If it drops below 50, it blows up. What do you do? What do you do?” (Oh the irony of using a movie quote when I’m talking about facing reality, right? Seriously, sometimes you just have to poke a little fun at yourself.)

OK, so maybe not every situation is as life-and-death as that….but yours may be. Your situation could have you sweating bullets, or sweating because of literal bullets. We live in a very angry world. It seems no one can even state an opinion these days without bringing down a firestorm on their heads. You’d better not say something that someone else doesn’t like. You’d better never make a mistake. Further, you’d better never even suggest that there might be only ONE truth and that it is a Person named Jesus and that he died to save every one of us angry, opinionated, offended, fault-finding, hypocrites. I have realized as I go through life that it is the easiest thing in the world to say one thing and then do another when we come down to the sticking place. But I’m getting off track now talking about Jesus…..Oh wait, no I’m not.

So anyway, Jesus……because he is really what will help us all out here (as in our lives in this world), not more of our own opinions…… Jesus…Name above all names, beautiful Savior, glorious Lord, Emmanuel, God is with us, Blessed Redeemer, Living Word…….In the midst of very personal and painful trials with my own family, my loved-best-in-the-world, my children, my parents, my siblings, my spouse, my dearest of dear friends…I have had to camp out at the feet of Jesus and just weep on more than one occasion.

The funny thing is that from the outside, people have many opinions about the reasons we all hurt, the reasons someone else hurts, or you, or me (SOOO many opinions!!); but we’re all kind-of just winging it as we go. I mean, no offense to you planning, careful types. I know you’ve worked hard and you know where you want to go. Good for you! 🙂

But, let me just say, as a non careful-planning-type someone who knows, that plans unravel and stitches come out, threads holding you to other people fray and tear, buttons get lost and zippers break. Sometimes, many times, our best laid plans are just not enough. Sometimes we get the thing we’ve wanted, and sometimes we don’t. Quite often, in fact, we don’t get the things we want. Many times we get the thing(s) we never wanted instead. It quite honestly seems to be horribly, cruelly unfair.

So, there you are, sitting in front of the blank wall of disappointment, where all your hopes and dreams have been crushed by a giant, undeniable “NO”. And yet, failure teaches us. Pain molds us. Disappointment tests us. We cannot grow without it, whether physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. Without “NO”, there is no reason to change or improve. “No” hurts us deeply. However, “No” is not the final word written in our story.

“For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silas and Timothy—was not ‘Yes’ and ‘No,’ but in him it has always been ‘Yes.’ For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”  2 Corinthians 1:19-22 Amplified

In our own lives, it will take each of us a good deal of time and thought and study to learn about the promises of God. We all have our own dreams and plans. Since we can’t honestly say that the purposes and motivations behind those plans and dreams are 100% godly, it behooves each of us to find out what God’s plans are for our lives and how they differ from our own often-frustrated plans….and how much God’s plans surpass ours in every way. 

Of course, a lot of us will say our own “No” here. We don’t believe it, and we don’t trust it…..but since we’re chatting as friends here, let’s call it truthfully what it is, this big “No” of ours:

We don’t believe GOD; and we don’t trust GOD.

There. I typed it out. You read it. No lightning has struck us. It’s not like it was a big secret anyway. 😉 A big part of the reason why we don’t see the fulfillment to the many promises of God is that we give less credence to the power, integrity, and intentions of the Maker of the Promises than we do to Starbuck’s when we order a drink at the drive-thru. In order to get past this stuff (and move on up, to the east-side, to a deluxe apartment in the sky as it were….you were singing along too, weren’t you?)….In order to set foot on the Promised Land instead of only hearing about it or seeing it from very far off, you and I have to grow up. (This post is taking me literally months as I stop and think about each new thought and walk some things out in my own life.)

You and I have got to quit playing at being followers of Christ, and actually take HIS lead and follow. Long ago, before Twitter or Facebook or any other ironically-named “social” networking site, there was such a thing as being a follower of Christ. The men and women who followed Jesus Christ were just like you and I. They had their own plans and hopes and dreams and families and heartaches and jealousies and livelihoods, etc…etc… Yet, each and every one of them was told to lay down his or her cares, take up their cross, and follow Christ.

When I was little and I would hear those stories with a child’s understanding, I thought they were basically left with the clothes on their backs. In my mind I saw this odd group of people trailing along in the desert wearing different colors of tunics and some sort of head coverings, like the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar. Their families were left behind. Their responsibilities were left behind. Basically, I thought Jesus asked them to beggar themselves and become outcasts. In my mind all I could picture was the loneliness, sacrifice and going without and being in want. I’ve heard it preached this way many times. Usually the follow-up example would be the rich young ruler, then riches were labelled a bad thing we all had to give up, and the collection plate would be passed.

Of course this kind of reasoning flies in the face of verses (from the NIV) like:

Psalm 23:1 ~ “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.”  

Matthew 11:28-30 ~ “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

John 16:33 ~ “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” 

OK, calm down. I’m not spouting heresy here. Just be patient with me. 🙂 Some people are called to leave everything behind and follow Christ into a deep jungle, or a burning desert, or the urban inner city, etc. Not everyone is called to do that, however. In the Bible, Jesus had 12 disciples and there were many others who followed along at different times. They eagerly listened to the challenging and beautiful words of the Carpenter from Nazareth and then brought those words back to their lives and families. They returned to their responsibilities and loved-ones and God-ordained places. They reached out to the people around them every day, their neighbors, friends, and family. They gave their possessions and time and talents and even wealth to the cause of Christ. Spiritually, we are ALL called to set as priority one: Jesus Christ.

No, Christ doesn’t need our money. Christ is seated at the right hand of God. (Colossians 3:1) The people we share the world with, on the other hand, have just as many physical needs as we do ourselves. Therefore, we are presented with a very practical, no nonsense way of showing the love of Christ to the people we encounter every day. People need bus fare, rides to work, babysitters, help around the house, a hand to hold, a meal, a few bags of groceries, a shoulder to cry on, our knowledge, our skills, our time. As indicated by the verses above, our recompense isn’t only waiting for us on the other side of the grave. How does all of this fit in with the concept of coming undone and trusting God to fill in where we’ve fallen apart? I’m glad you asked. 🙂

 

“And the Word (Christ) became flesh (human, incarnate) and tabernacled (fixed His tent of flesh, lived awhile) among us; and we [actually] saw His glory (His honor, His majesty), such glory as an only begotten son receives from his father, full of grace (favor, loving-kindness) and truth. [Isa. 40:5.]” ~ John 1:14 AMP

We, being so spiritually needy and helpless, needed someone to show us how we were supposed to put the laws and principles into living, breathing action. Much in the way a kindergarten teacher has to show their students how to hold a crayon or pencil, even to the point of physically molding the child’s fingers around the instrument, we all need to be shown how to do new things by someone who has already mastered them. Jesus came to show us the practical application of the Word of God, himself being the Word in the flesh.

Jesus came to walk it out for us. He came to show us what love actually looks like in human form. He became 1 Corinthians 13. He gave up everything to come down here in the mud where we live. He protected and taught. He served and healed. He befriended. He forgave. He took us by our sin-stained hands and raised us up. He gave us hope and a chance for a new beginning. Jesus invested himself in us. Now that is someone you can trust. Let’s look at a snippet from one of the verses above again.

“Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle (meek) and humble (lowly) in heart, and you will find rest (relief and ease and refreshment and recreation and blessed quiet) for your souls. [Jer. 6:16.]” ~ Matthew 11:29 Amplified

When you’re feeling broken, you need someone to be gentle. When you’re grieving, you want tenderness, not a lecture. While I was figuring out how to say what I was figuring out for myself these past few months, I stumbled upon a Bible study about Jesus (which you can find here)In this study, a lot of emphasis was placed on Jesus’ character. The attribute I want to especially look at here is his gentleness.

“Behold, My Servant Whom I have chosen, My Beloved in and with Whom My soul is well pleased and has found its delight. I will put My Spirit upon Him, and He shall proclaim and show forth justice to the nations. He will not strive or wrangle or cry out loudly; nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets; A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering (dimly burning) wick He will not quench, till He brings justice and a just cause to victory. And in and on His name will the Gentiles (the peoples outside of Israel) set their hopes. [Isa. 42:1-4.] Then a blind and dumb man under the power of a demon was brought to Jesus, and He cured him, so that the blind and dumb man both spoke and saw.” ~ Matthew 12:18-22
In the previous chapter, Jesus bids us to learn from him and tells us that he is gentle. In the next chapter, we have the two pictures of the bruised reed and the smoldering wick. Then immediately after this there is an extremely bruised and smoldering individual who is brought to Jesus. So we can watch him. We can see if he will do what he says he will do. Jesus healed and restored him. Once again, Jesus shows us with his own actions all the things that God’s word has been telling us. He is his own proof.
So, maybe today you are feeling bruised, mistreated, and misunderstood. Maybe, like a smoldering wick, you feel that your own abilities, patience, strength, and importance are used up. Perhaps you feel forgotten. Perhaps you feel like the world has thrown you away. I want to tell you that God sees you. Jesus died for YOU. You are not an accident. You are not a mistake. God has not forgotten you! The breaths you take right now as you read this are no mistake, like someone somewhere just left the TV on and you happened to be in the room.
This life of yours has meaning; YOU HAVE MEANING.
If you are hurting, let me just tell you as someone who has hurt as well, deeply, and come out on the other side, the other side of hurt does come. In the meantime while you are still in the valley, still taking shallow breaths and gritting your teeth against the pain, taking one day at a time, hoping against hope..Remember there is a gentle Savior who walks right along with you. He will sustain you, and he will lead you eventually out on the other side. Keep your eyes on this gentle Jesus. He is our best hope and comfort in this life. He is true to his word. He is able to lead you through and out of any valley you may be facing. One day, Jesus will lead us gently out of the final valley, and we will be home.

“Then I heard a mighty voice from the throne and I perceived its distinct words, saying, See! The abode of God is with men, and He will live (encamp, tent) among them; and they shall be His people, and God shall personally be with them and be their God. [Ezek. 37:27.] God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more, neither shall there be anguish (sorrow and mourning) nor grief nor pain any more, for the old conditions and the former order of things have passed away. [Isa. 25:8; 35:10.] And He Who is seated on the throne said, See! I make all things new. Also He said, Record this, for these sayings are faithful (accurate, incorruptible, and trustworthy) and true (genuine). [Isa. 43:19.] And He [further] said to me, It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I [Myself] will give water without price from the fountain (springs) of the water of Life. [Isa. 55:1.] He who is victorious shall inherit all these things, and I will be God to him and he shall be My son.” ~ Revelation 21:3-7

Theresa’s Next Chapter


“MY SON, if you will receive my words and treasure up my commandments within you,
Making your ear attentive to skillful and godly Wisdom and inclining and directing your heart and mind to understanding [applying all your powers to the quest for it];
Yes, if you cry out for insight and raise your voice for understanding,
If you seek [Wisdom] as for silver and search for skillful and godly Wisdom as for hidden treasures,
Then you will understand the reverent and worshipful fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of [our omniscient] God. [Prov. 1:7.]
For the Lord gives skillful and godly Wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.
He hides away sound and godly Wisdom and stores it for the righteous (those who are upright and in right standing with Him); He is a shield to those who walk uprightly and in integrity,
That He may guard the paths of justice; yes, He preserves the way of His saints. [I Sam. 2:9; Ps. 66:8, 9.]
Then you will understand righteousness, justice, and fair dealing [in every area and relation]; yes, you will understand every good path.
For skillful and godly Wisdom shall enter into your heart, and knowledge shall be pleasant to you.
Discretion shall watch over you, understanding shall keep you,
To deliver you from the way of evil and the evil men, from men who speak perverse things and are liars,
Men who forsake the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness,
Who rejoice to do evil and delight in the perverseness of evil,
Who are crooked in their ways, wayward and devious in their paths.
[Discretion shall watch over you, understanding shall keep you] to deliver you from the alien woman (or man), from the outsider with her flattering words, [Prov. 2:11.]
Who forsakes the husband and guide of her youth and forgets the covenant of her God.
For her house sinks down to death and her paths to the spirits [of the dead].
None who go to her return again, neither do they attain or regain the paths of life.
So may you walk in the way of good men, and keep to the paths of the [consistently] righteous (the upright, in right standing with God).
For the upright shall dwell in the land, and the men of integrity, blameless and complete [in God’s sight], shall remain in it;
But the wicked shall be cut off from the earth, and the treacherous shall be rooted out of it.” ~ Proverbs 2:1-22
Today, my oldest daughter and firstborn graduates from highschool. It’s an odd feeling. No, it does not make me feel old. I feel more like long-awaited plans have reached a goal along the road of many goals. One long phase of her life, her childhood, is over. (Pause for tears before I can type again. Sigh) We have had some wonderful times, she and I, my beautiful Theresa, the child who first broke ground in my heart in a permanant, real sense. Theresa gets me, like few other friends have ever been able to do. She and I like a lot of the same things, and have a lot in common. In recent years, she has stepped in to a role of encourager, exhorter, and occasionally chasitzer, or is it chaser…..wait no that’s Harry Potter. Anyway, moving on…
When I thought about writing this post, I thought of all the encouraging, boring quotes I could use to point you off in the right direction, Theresa. But, they were boring, trite, overused, impersonal, and not the best I could give you. My best for you has always been my heart. My best has always been to try with shaking, imperfect hands, to point you in the direction of the One who will never fail you, the one accessory you dare not leave behind, and the friend who will never leave you or forsake you. God will never be too cool, or ditch you. He will hold your name in his heart and your life in his hand, so much longer than a tree. (Even a tree’s love has it’s limits, in spite of what Peter S. Beagle would say.)
I must grieve in that mother way, for the times of your childhood when I was your greatest hero, when you looked only to me to teach you things. I will cry a little because the next chapter means leaving some of these things behind, but not all. You and I can laugh only as you and I can, after all. But some of the dependencies you had in me must now be transfered to God. I know you and he have your own understanding. It makes me feel so much better about loosening my grip a little bit more. It’s like when you were little and learning to swim. I’d hold your hands as you stepped into deeper water, little by little you’d work your way past the cold torture of the water as it rose against your skin, your feet barely skimming the bottom. One day, you swam on your own, and you didn’t need me to hold your hands any longer. This has been the dance we’ve done for a long time now.
But times change, and people grow up. Your arms and legs are stonger now. You are able to swim, and learn, and decide, and choose, all on your own. I don’t always agree, or approve, but you have entered the realm of adult action and reaction. Bear it well, Daughter of Eve.
Many have or will or are graduating. This is the season for it. Many are going off on their own to tread the deeper waters of life, not all are as well prepared as you are, some are more so. Some of your future classmates will have more talent in some areas, some less. Many will have different ideas about life and God as they are away from their families and figuring it all out. Listen to them. Learn from them. Be thankful that your life lessons have not been what some of theirs will be. Be thankful that you have ever been surrounded by people who love you and love God and want more than anything for the two of you to be besties for life, and beyond. Yet while you are listening and learning and making new friends, never forget your Forever Friend.  He is the friend of sinners. He is the Savior of us all. Don’t be intimidated or brow-beaten into hiding the Light inside of you. The world NEEDS that Light, it is the only light there is in this dark world. (John 1:1-5)
In a world full of fleeting glowstick-light, the blazing hot sun of God’s love is the one you need to hold dear. In love, as you go about your day to day, this Light will shine on those around you. Love them. We all need love. When they are hard to love, be kind, when it is hard to be kind, be silent 🙂 , but pray. Bless those around you as much as you can and trust to God. He moves in secret places no one else can see. He is the God of hearts, who has a heart, and who changes hearts. While we both wait for a certain heart we both hold dear to soften, we can pray for that as well, and trust them to God.
For you, the best I have to give you is what you already have. Don’t only GO with God, go FOR God and IN God and BECAUSE of God. Not everyone is a missionary in a faraway place. Not everyone ends up in an official “ministry” position, and yet we are all called. We all can minister. This world is hurting so very much. We carry inside our hearts, the Balm for the world, for all the souls of the world. Be a balm. Be the BOMB balm. In times when you feel uncertain and inadequate, remember He is a balm for you as well. JESUS
My amazing, restless, bossy, wonderful, talented, limitless Theresa, you will do great things. Just remember to keep wisdom at your side, God in your heart, and never forget your pocket handkerchief.
“That people may know skillful and godly Wisdom and instruction, discern and comprehend the words of understanding and insight,
Receive instruction in wise dealing andthe discipline of wise thoughtfulness, righteousness, justice, and integrity,
That prudence may be given to the simple, and knowledge, discretion, and discernment to the youth–
The wise also will hear and increase in learning, and the person of understanding will acquire skill and attain to sound counsel [so that he may be able to steer his course rightly]–[Prov. 9:9.]
That people may understand a proverb and a figure of speech or an enigma with its interpretation, and the words of the wise and their dark sayings or riddles.
The reverent and worshipful fear of the Lord is the beginning and the principal and choice part of knowledge [its starting point and its essence]; but fools despise skillful and godly Wisdom, instruction, and discipline. [Ps. 111:10.]
My son, hear the instruction of your father; reject not nor forsake the teaching of your mother.
For they are a [victor’s] chaplet (garland) of grace upon your head and chains and pendants [of gold worn by kings] for your neck.
My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. [Ps. 1:1; Eph. 5:11.]” ~ Proverbs 1:2-10 Amplified

Overcoming Devastation


“For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.” ~ 2 Corinthians 5:1-4

When we face difficult things in life, it can leave us feeling very vulnerable, exposed, and even broken, completely shattered and ruined. How could this have happened? Why is this this still going on in my life? What did I do to deserve this?

As the experiences of our lives stretch out before us, we will face many difficult times. It’s the nature of life as a human being. Some of the things we face will be trivial, nuisances, aggravations, annoyances, peeves. Many of us, however, would be thrilled with facing something trivial instead of the major life trials that stretch on and on and on… Illness, betrayal, abuse, extreme poverty, ruined reputations, lost children, estranged relatives, slavery, paralyzing grief; there is no end to the potential of suffering that can be experienced on this earth.

Some lives go down to the dust in grief, after lives that have been shortened and marked by it from start to finish. You don’t have to go far to read or hear these stories. Maybe your life feels like one of them right now. Maybe your heart is bleeding into your chest with grief and sorrow and it’s more than you think you can bear. You don’t have to bear it. Give it up. Give up the burden of fixing this thing that is causing you so much pain. Become like a child and trust that God has got you. This is no puzzle for him and neither are you.

He has felt grief and betrayal. He has loved and lost. He has been spit on and reviled. Look at how he is portrayed right now. It is likely there are those around you who are sympathetic to your plight. When has God ever had that? True, He is God: Unbreakable, All-Knowing. Yet, the Maker of Hearts, has a heart. Turn to him in your pain. It really is too much to bear alone. You know for a fact that no amount of commiserating and whining will ease that ache inside of you.  You’ve tried it. No drink or pill or self-destructive binge or wild weekend will take away that pain that is so intense it is affecting your health and the relationships between you and those around you. Maybe you’ve found this out through experience as well. Maybe in your suffering you are trying to run away. You have tried to outrun your pain and your feeling of being misunderstood. You cannot run from this.

I have been there in the pain too. I have hurt so badly I wanted to carve out my heart and be free from all emotion. I have felt the crushing weight of grief and despair. I tried to run away. I have tried to run. I could not escape from the grinding pain anymore than you can. I have faced the question of what do I cling to when the things I thought were certain are shifting and unsteady. When I thought things were permanent that fell away like a skyscraper in an earthquake. The BIG temptation at times like these is to turn your back on God. If He is all-knowing, and all-powerful, then He could make this stop. He isn’t making this stop. What’s more, you may also be hearing a lot about turning from sin, perseverance, facing the giant, and so forth, every time you turn on the radio or TV. If you’re going to church still, people pepper you with trite “this too shall pass” advice. All through the day and night, however, you are faced with this glaring huge thing that is beyond your understanding.

Actually, as I write this post I am personally going through one of the most difficult things I have ever had to face. It is difficult to stay available for my family and not bury my head. It is agony to breathe at times, but I still draw breath. My heart is broken, but it still has work to do in keeping me alive. More bad news today, or at least no positive change, and yet my family still needs to eat. My relationships are still there, waiting for relating, my loved ones still need my love, friendships still need me to be a friend. I know these things in my mind, intellectually, but my bleeding, broken heart is making a pool of pain at my feet. Yours may be too. You may feel as though your drowning in a vast ocean of grief and despair right now. Who can save you and I when we’ve come to the last inch of rope and it’s not enough? NO, there’s no app for that, but there IS a Savior.

“It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus.  Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”  ~ John 13:1-17 NIV

There are a number of things to take away from this passage. I want to touch on a couple of them. 🙂 For one thing, Jesus was experiencing his own ordeal. The pressure of his flesh and spirit warring must have been overwhelming. We see this a little later as he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane. He chooses to actively love the friends before him who had been with him day in and day out. These men who had laid down pride, over and over, and selfishness and prejudice and fear and all the things the rest of us face our entire lives, these men were loved by a Savior. He was about to go and die for them, and every friend or foe he would ever have. He had things on his mind, but he chose to put that aside and show them that he loved them. He involved himself in their lives, made a difference for the better. He took the time to touch them, to help them. He made himself uncomfortable, and got his hands dirty.

So, yeah, there’s that. I’m just going to set that down here, just right here on this table, and you can do what you want with that. It’s not what we want to hear when we’re hurting, I know; but it is the truth and it will help our own healing process. It also feels good to help other people and joy is a balm in the middle of your suffering. It gives us perspective as well as hope. 🙂

Another thing I want to look at is that, from the disciples’ viewpoint, Jesus was really out of line! He was humbling himself to do this thing for them. It was despised, demeaning, unclean. They assumed that Jesus was diminishing himself when he reached out and touched their grime. He wasn’t. Love never diminishes us. Jesus came to be the ultimate example. He came to help us and heal us. He came to find the lost ones and lead us home. Today, Jesus still washes feet. He washes the dirtiest, most shameful, embarrassing, shameful, embedded, over-reacting, un-balanced, self-destructive, off-putting parts of us. He touches the frightful places in us, the deep wounds, ruin, prejudice, unbelief. We think he could never…..but he has, and does, and will. Let him heal you. Let him clean you. Let him save you. Let the glory of God and his eternal, huge, believe-it-or-not love hold you today, in your mess, in your pain, where you need him the most.

YOU ARE NO INCONVENIENCE TO JESUS.

YOU ARE HIS DELIGHT!

“ARISE [from the depression and prostration in which circumstances have kept you–rise to a new life]! Shine (be radiant with the glory of the Lord), for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you! [Zech. 8:23.] For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and dense darkness [all] peoples, but the Lord shall arise upon you [O Jerusalem], and His glory shall be seen on you. [Isa. 60:19-22; Mal. 4:2; Rev. 21:2, 3.] And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. [Isa. 2:2, 3; Jer. 3:17.] Lift up your eyes round about you and see! They all gather themselves together, they come to you. Your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried and nursed in the arms. Then you shall see and be radiant, and your heart shall thrill and tremble with joy [at the glorious deliverance] and be enlarged; because the abundant wealth of the [Dead] Sea shall be turned to you, unto you shall the nations come with their treasures. [Ps. 119:32.]” ~ Isaiah 60:1-5 Amplified

How to Befriend Your Spouse


“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.” ~ Mother Teresa

First of all, yes, those cookies ARE quite adorable. You can find the recipe and many more stunning ideas at Make Me Cake Me. What a talent to appreciate, especially for those of us with a lack of talent in that particular direction. I can cook and bake, but my creations lack that cuteness factor. Sigh.

Now then, back to our show…

Many of you might think a blog post about befriending someone you live with, seeing day in and day out, sharing everything with from money to a toilet seat, is kind-of ridiculous. Now, hold on there, not so fast. Being married is unfortunately NOT always the same thing as being friends. Who has time for friends anyway? It’s a rough world. We’re all just holding on my our fingernails here. Who has time for friendship with their spouse, let alone anything as far-fetched as romance.

There, there, no one is here to judge. We’re all walking in the same forest here. Sometimes all of us get a little lost. No biggie. There is always Someone who not only has a map, but IS the map. God is always waiting for us to turn to him when we feel like we’re stuck in molasses swamp, or worse, headed for a cliff. All of us can get out of whack when it comes to the way we relate to those around us. Nowhere is this more painfully apparent that in our close relationships. When we get out of whack, or spouses feel it the strongest. Sometimes, as we drift away from relationships, stressed beyond comfortable by our own choices (ahem), our spouses may seem like strangers invading our space instead of trusted friends and lovers as they are meant to be.

To tell you the truth, sometimes, it’s just not happening. Sometimes, we see the slack-jawed, drooling, morning breath having face next to us by the harsh grey light of morning as we are serenaded by our alarm clock buzzer and think “Ugh not you again! ”  He snores, or she does. (I actually do the loudest snoring in my house. Groan) He leaves the seat up. She never fixes what I like for dinner. Why does he always hang out with that friend? Why is she so messy? On it goes. The quirks become bones of contention that choke the life right out of our marriages.

What, then, is the answer? How do we get ourselves back on track so we can enjoy the kind of home life that’s better than any romance movie can offer? We need LOVE, in steady, un-relenting, persevering, forgiving, gracious, my-cup-runneth-over doses. How do we do this realistically when there are soooo many sources of bad advice in book, internet, and real live person form? Advice can run from the manipulative, where we figure out how to trick our spouse into giving us what we think we want; to the doormat approach, where we let them do as they please, never confronting in love or expecting to be treated with respect; to the bullying our spouse into doing as WE please; to the two separate lives in one house approach. All of these methods will lead us down the path to a fulfilling alienation, separation, and death of our marriages, whether or not it actually ends in divorce.

The answer for this lack of ability to achieve a thrilling, fulfilling, lasting love that all of us long for is to turn our attention back to the One who created our hearts in this shape in the first place. God is Love. 1 Corinthians 13, tells us what, exactly this means.

“IF I [can] speak in the tongues of men and [even] of angels, but have not love (that reasoning, intentional, spiritual devotion such as is inspired by God’s love for and in us), I am only a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
And if I have prophetic powers (the gift of interpreting the divine will and purpose), and understand all the secret truths and mysteries and possess all knowledge, and if I have [sufficient] faith so that I can remove mountains, but have not love (God’s love in me) I am nothing (a useless nobody).
Even if I dole out all that I have [to the poor in providing] food, and if I surrender my body to be burned or in order that I may glory, but have not love (God’s love in me), I gain nothing.
Love endures long and is patient and kind; love never is envious nor boils over with jealousy, is not boastful or vainglorious, does not display itself haughtily.
It is not conceited (arrogant and inflated with pride); it is not rude (unmannerly) and does not act unbecomingly. Love (God’s love in us) does not insist on its own rights or its own way,for it is not self-seeking; it is not touchy or fretful or resentful; it takes no account of the evil done to it [it pays no attention to a suffered wrong].
It does not rejoice at injustice and unrighteousness, but rejoices when right and truth prevail.
Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, is ever ready to believe the best of every person, its hopes are fadeless under all circumstances, and it endures everything [without weakening].
Love never fails [never fades out or becomes obsolete or comes to an end]. As for prophecy (the gift of interpreting the divine will and purpose), it will be fulfilled and pass away; as for tongues, they will be destroyed and cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away [it will lose its value and be superseded by truth].
For our knowledge is fragmentary (incomplete and imperfect), and our prophecy (our teaching) is fragmentary (incomplete and imperfect).
But when the complete and perfect (total) comes, the incomplete and imperfect will vanish away (become antiquated, void, and superseded).
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]. And so faith, hope, love abide [faith–conviction and belief respecting man’s relation to God and divine things; hope–joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation; love–true affection for God and man, growing out of God’s love for and in us], these three; but the greatest of these is love.” ~ 1 Corinthians 13 (entire chapter) Amplified
So, for those of us who missed it the first hundred thousand or so times you’ve heard this often misquoted passage quoted or seen it, embroidered on pillows, printed on posters, etc, etc, this passage tells us about God. I recently learned this for the first time myself. Think about that for a moment. Who wouldn’t do just about anything for someone who treated them this way, right? WOW! For my part, I felt very silly for not realizing this passage was about God all along. I thought it was like that infamous Proverbs 31 woman, who’s list of amazing and unimpeachable qualities has been used improperly to beat women over the head for a long time. (It’s not about that at all though, but that’s a topic for another blog post. 🙂 )
I hope one day, when I walk those golden streets in heaven I will finally be able to grasp the amazing scope of the tapestry of the Bible and how it all ties together and points to God, even in its most inscrutable (to me) passages.  Here’s another passage which, surprisingly to me, ties in with 1 Corinthians 13 perfectly. (You can read the entire chapter here.)
“Now the doings (practices) of the flesh are clear (obvious): they are immorality, impurity, indecency,
Idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger (ill temper), selfishness, divisions (dissensions), party spirit (factions, sects with peculiar opinions, heresies),
Envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you beforehand, just as I did previously, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
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 5:19-26
Originally, as this post was coming together, I had only thought as far as the “fruits of the spirit” bit of that passage. Just now as I was looking at it though, it occurs to me that that long list of nastiness before and after the “fruity” part is, unfortunately, what many of us bring to the banqueting table, instead. How many of us, from time to time, have felt our spouse was our enemy or rival instead of best friend and ally? The bad news is that we all have a past full of misinformation, bias, prejudice, hidden agendas, scheming, hurt, betrayal, and on it goes. We didn’t have the extreme advantage of Adam and Eve in the garden: fresh, clean-states, fully able to love with no past or guilt to get in the way. Fast-forward to now, we are further from God’s original design in our hearts than we are from our first ancestors in time. Look again at that passage! Therein lies the answer and help we all so desperately need.
“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.]” ~ Galatians 5:24-25 Amplified
The answer for all of us is Jesus Christ himself! God made us, and He made us to be with other people. He made us to be in pairs, families, communities. God made us for relationships. Jesus Christ came to redeem not only our souls, but also reconcile us to God and one another.
“There was a man all alone;
he had neither son nor brother.
There was no end to his toil,
yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.
“For whom am I toiling,” he asked,
“and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?”
This too is meaningless—
a miserable business!
 
Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” ~ Ecclesiastes 4:8-12 NIV