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
Advertisements

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

 

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

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

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

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.

Pie in the Sky, and Why You Should Try


“If you run, you might lose. If you don’t run, you’re guaranteed to lose.” – Happy Birthday to Jesse Jackson (born on October 8, 1941) 

Ahh Fall! I love this time of year! It has always spoken to me of hearth and home, gathering in, and, naturally, being thankful that we have been kept alive all this year. It also makes me think of all the opportunities we have been given. Some opportunities have gone by the wayside, and rightly so; some, however, we should not have let pass us by. Making dinner for a sick friend, making time for our loved ones, making up, making amends…sometimes we can’t see the grand purpose of our lives through the day to day survival and routines. We miss out. We miss opportunities.

I’ve blogged about missed opportunities before (https://freeatlastww.com/2012/06/21/in-the-palm-of-your-hand/ , https://freeatlastww.com/?s=opportunity …), but my main point today is those “pie in the sky” opportunities. If something just seems too good to hope for, many times we settle for something we are worthy of, in our own minds. We think of ourselves as less than, so we accept a life that is less than. I read an article recently that talked about the way our relationships damage us and make us see ourselves as unworthy. This makes us much more likely to tolerate people who mistreat us, because, hey, that’s all we’re worth, right? Why should we hold out for people who respect us, when we don’t respect ourselves? That’s a topic for another blog, perhaps. 🙂

Personally, I have had this burning desire to write books for as long as I can remember. I’ve taken many side roads along the way. There have been times when I felt that I was kidding myself. (I can’t write, I’m wasting my time, etc.) The desire remains inside of me to write and become a published author. I can always improve, naturally; but my love affair with words is going strong. I expect I will always have this dream, because it is part of me. I expect you may also have a “pie in the sky” dream. Are you pursuing it? Are you working on it? Have you given up? No dream is too big. Men have walked on the moon, cured numerous diseases, fed the hungry, improved the quality of life, made fortunes, composed sonnets….on and on it goes. Sometimes, we may be really gifted in a particular area but still have a niggling dream somewhere else too.

A few months back, I had the privilege to stumble upon a video of Sir Anthony Hopkin’s waltz entitled “And The Waltz Goes On” being performed by André Rieu & His Johann Strauss Orchestra. It brought tears to my eyes. To think that this had been composed over 50 years ago, yet remained largely hidden all this time. It’s been quite a while since I saw the movie Mr Holland’s Opus, but I remember feeling the same sort of lifting in my spirit. How beautiful to not only dream your pie in the sky, but to finally be able to take a big bite!

Pursuing your dreams means a lot of work, and tears, and skinned knees, and falling on your face, and praying, and praying, and praying some more. I’ve had times where I realized I’d gotten a little too fixated on the Amazing Jessie, complete with fanfare. I had missed the point of my given dream. There IS, you see, a Dream Giver. He sits on high, high and lifted up, shining in the light of His Glory… God isn’t just some grumpy finger-wagger though we often make Him out to be. He isn’t a genie we can make wishes on, or a magic flute we can play whenever we’re unhappy. God is majestic, benevolent, all-knowing, forgiving, and GIVING. God gives us our gifts to give to others as well as to lead us back to Him. 

For my part, I feel God speaking to me through the motives of my characters, as well as their fears, failings, and triumphs. A musician might hear God in the harmony of notes, the precision and order of a well-played riff or chord. An architect might study the designed alignment of structures and see intent in the weight they can bear, their resistance to fire and earthquake. There is a seed of God in everything. It is sometimes difficult above the tumult of pain and suffering and injustice to see and hear His symphony, yet it is playing for you and me right now. God’s song of love for us has always been playing. 

Maybe when your “impossible Dream” comes to mind, you can remember that this dream was given to you by One who makes ALL THINGS POSSIBLE. Perhaps this dream is the song he sings over YOU. You are not alone. 

Today perhaps you should look again at this Pie in the Sky. Remember the flavor, the spice of it. Remember that aroma as it wafts again your way. God’s love for you is never failing. He is wooing you through the notes of this song, the nuance and specificity of your dream. Nothing can get in between you and His love for you. Nothing can keep you from the fulfillment of God’s gifts in your life. Nothing.

 

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39

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

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)