The Love of God


Ephesians 3: 18  “And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.”

Oh! And all God’s people said, “Amen!”

When someone is about to confide in me but hesitates, I often say, “Look. I’ve done and seen pretty much everything there is to do and see. I won’t be offended and I won’t be surprised.”

It’s the truth. If I were to list off my sins, my mistakes – well, many of you who know me would actually be offended, because it would blow your mind how different I am today than I was even a decade ago.

Beth Moore says one reason we can’t understand God is that we try to humanize Him. Oh sweet Lord, how true that is. When we try to grasp how much – or how, period – He loves us, we can come up short.

Oh, especially when we’ve lived lives unsure of the love of anyone, right? The love of any human being? And when – if we’re lucky – we find out that we were wrong – that he or she – or they – actually do love us, well – that presents a beautiful challenge.

What do we do with our lives when we realize we were living them under the wrong assumption or belief? The first thing that we understand, friends, is the depth of the mistakes we made because we believed we were unworthy of love.

So – what constitutes an unforgivable offense here? Just by looking at my life, and the lives of people I know, here’s a quick list I compiled.

“God couldn’t love me because I’ve had too many sexual partners.”

“God couldn’t love me because I lied – all the time.”

“God couldn’t love me because I manipulated people and tried to control them.”

“God couldn’t love me because I had a baby out of wedlock.”

“God couldn’t love me because I haven’t lived a mature, responsible life. I’m not a success, I’m sometimes lazy, and I don’t make as much money as I should. It’s my own fault.”

“God couldn’t love me because I have doubted His love for me for years.”

“God couldn’t love me because I got divorced.”

“God couldn’t love me because I don’t look, think, or act like all those other Christians.”

You know what? Beth Moore also said that belief is not a feeling – it is a choice. And she is right. Some days or moments it’s easy to feel God’s love. Because it was a “good” day – no one got mad at you and you didn’t make an insanely huge screw-up. Or something bad has happened and God came through for you in a big way.

But most days we’re just human. We make mistakes, hurt someone, or let someone down. Maybe we get in trouble at work, at school, or at home. And satan comes strolling into that hot mess and just tells us how worthless we are. And if you’ve heard those words come out of the mouths of people, his voice sounds an awful lot like theirs. And you believe it.

You have a choice, my friends. The choice to believe the Word, not the words of satan, not the words of people who are also screwed up and don’t know how to love you like they should.

Make the choice. And while you’re at it, encourage someone today. You never know, y’all. You never know how much they might need it.

The Freedom of Biblical Law


That’s an oxymoron, right? Modern-day Christians are given one axiom in regards to the Old Testament law versus the love-driven, Spirit-driven, Jesus-driven life of the New – and that is that the Law no longer applies. This belief – this precept – is pounded into us.

We like it that way, don’t we? That way, all we have to do is love. And that provides us the perfect shelter of all kinds of wonderful things – pre-marital sex and homosexuality to name two current topics of intense debate and discussion (although we gloss over pre-marital sex and living with our partners pretty quickly.) In the name of love, we can love whomever we want to – and then take it further. We can sin with total abandon.

If I haven’t lost you already, please keep reading. Because what we are being told chokes us – the Law – is in point of fact what sets us free. Christ said, “you shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall set you free.” (John 8:32). Of course He was referring to the Word, and y’all, the Word includes the Old Testament. That’s right.

Don’t be frightened by this. Consider the good news of Hebrew 10:1 in that “the Law has but a shadow of the good things to come.”

Whoa! Consider what Beth Moore said on the subject of this verse – and this doctrine – “The law poured concrete into God’s mold for human relationships, but it also whispered a kingdom to come in which order, sanity, health, and decency dwell under the safe shadow of Christ’s scepter. Jesus’ second coming will usher in a world in which children can’t be sold for sex or shot in their schoolrooms.”

The key world here is “order.” Not “sacrifice” or “altar” – “order.” The Law of the ancient prophets isn’t applicable in that we don’t have to go through a priest to get to Christ or to God, and we don’t have to sacrifice animals and food to please God and ask for forgiveness, or even to celebrate what He has done for us.

But the Law is much more than that. Matthew Henry, a wise man whom I use often to discover the context of verses that, on their own, mean one thing, but taken as a whole with a chapter or book, can mean quite another – put it like this: “Here the apostle (meaning Paul, the author of Hebrews), by the direction of the Spirit of God, sets himself to lay low the Levitical dispensation; for though it was of divine appointment, and very excellent and useful in its time and place, yet, when it was set up in competition with Christ, to whom it was only designed to lead the people, it was very proper and necessary to show the weakness and imperfection of it, which the apostle does effectually, from several arguments. As, [t]hat the law had a shadow, and but a shadow, of good things to come; and who would dote upon a shadow, though of good things, especially when the substance has come? Observe, 1. The things of Christ and the gospel are good things; they are the best things; they are best in themselves, and the best for us: they are realities of an excellent nature. 2. These good things were, under the Old Testament, good things to come, not clearly discovered, nor fully enjoyed. 3. That the Jews then had but the shadow of the good things of Christ, some adumbrations of them; we under the gospel have the substance.

First of all, what is “Levitical dispensation?” Well, “Levitical” refers to the Levites, a segment of the Israelits of the Old Testament set aside as priests. Easton’s Bible dictionary defines “dispensation” as “[t]he method or scheme according to which God carries out his purposes towards men is called a dispensation.” Therefore, how the Levites carried out God’s plan towards their fellow men, while of “divine appointment,” could not compete with Christ. At the time, it was a necessary thing for the Israelites. But Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection denied its usefulness when that curtain in the Temple was rent in two!

Matthew Henry acknowledges that the Law had its own weaknesses – and you don’t have to guess what the most important one was. It was that no one could follow it to the letter. And even if a person did, the sheer willpower of doing so would delete all actual closeness with God, because there would be nothing genuine left over to give to Him. God knew that. He wanted to give them a blueprint for how to live their lives in a pleasing manner to him and to each other. Here is the key point: to each other. He gave them direction, He provided a way out of immoral and chaotic worldly living. And when they – inevitably – screwed it all up, He gave them a way to make peace with Him, with each other, and with themselves.

But the ultimate goal wasn’t the Law – it was the love of Christ. Grace, mercy, and forgiveness do not negate the Law – they make it possible. By that, I mean they make our lives worth living when we fail. All the sins the Law listed are still, in essence, sins today. Some of them are more about what we feel and believe in our hearts rather than what we act out, but they are real, and they are relevant.

The Law brings freedom because it ushers Christ into His rightful seat at the table, folks. Just like we know our kids need boundaries for security reasons – and not just physical safety – we know in our hearts we need rules and order to survive what is truly an anarchic world – but taking it further into the depths of those very same hearts, we know we need the Law to thrive in it!

Blessings y’all!

Quality of Life – God’s Way


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What does quality of life mean to you? Well, Google defines it as “the standard of health, comfort, and happiness experienced by an individual or group.”

The question is, who decides that standard? Because the world is what creates that benchmark, and because the world operates quite differently from God’s word, you’re always going to come up short by defining your quality of life on worldly canons such as money, fame, recognition, success, your career, the appearance of perfection in your life (including your spouse and children and other family members), popularity, how many followers you have on Facebook or Twitter, etc.

Joyce Meyer made an excellent point about quality of life. She wrote, “It’s not the things that happen to us that determine the quality of our lives; it’s how we respond to those things…how much we trust God with them. Doing what we want and getting our way all the time isn’t what will make us happy. Being selfish and self-centered is actually a miserable way to live.”

I know what you might be thinking – how you would really, really love to get your way all the time! That having things worked out to your specifications would be just great. Take it from someone who’s living that way a lot of the time – that’d be me – it’s not true. She’s right – it is absolutely miserable because I know it’s wrong and it’s not fair to others, and since I’m used to pushing people around sometimes to get what I want, it’s a hard habit to break.

The world would call that ambition, or even excellence – if it only happened at work. Other women might applaud me for being “strong.” But here’s  the thing, y’all – taking advantage of others and feeling entitled are not signs of strength; they’re actually signals of great weakness.

It is meekness – humility – that make a person strong. Kindness. Love. Generosity (with money and time). Consider Acts 20:35 – “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

How about Colossians 3: 12-14: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

Minding Your Own Beeswax & Whatnot


Oooooh, goody goody! I found a passage in Thessalonians that just made my heart sing! Some very simple verses caught my attention, and I promise I have done my due diligence in finding out what Bible commentator Matthew Henry says, but I can’t wait to add my own thoughts!

1 Thessalonians 4: Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another,10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, 11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.

It’s actually verses 11-12 that I wish to have you consider this morning. So here we go!

  1. “To aspire to live quietly.” Henry’s observations coincided quite nicely with mine on this one. If you, like me, are not quiet by nature, this portion can be disheartening. But Henry and I agree that it means to have “a calm and quiet temper, and to be of a peaceable and quiet behavior.”

Whoops. He got me there at the end. Well, we can all agree that peace is of the utmost importance in this life when it comes to living a godly life. We aren’t to seek strife. We aren’t even to be striving all the time! Being calm and peaceful in a tense or negative situation is our aim. But Ecclesiastes tells us there is a time for war and for peace (chapter three, verse eight) – basically a time for every purposed under heaven. So it’s the learning when to stay quiet and when to talk that’s difficult.

I think an excellent point about living a quiet life is akin to living a simple life. Complications steal our joy and peace, and while we all have to cope with complications every now and then, we don’t have to go looking for them – bringing them on ourselves!

For instance, as a mom, I have a choice: to employ my kids’ time in activities non-stop or to halt all the nonsense. It is nonsense! If your child has some ah-mazing athletic or musical gift, that’s one thing. But if you’re using sports and other extracurricular activities as babysitting or just because everyone else does i, you’re missing the point of a quiet life! SO many people complain about their time being sucked up by myriad events each week – even missing church on a regular basis! Well, y’all, you’re doing it to yourself.

2. “To mind your own affairs.” Well, this couldn’t be more clear! Henry explains why this causes a problem in our lives by stating the following: “Those who are busy-bodies, meddling in other men’s matters, generally have but little quiet in their own minds and cause great disturbances among their neighbors; at least they seldom mind the other exhortation, to be diligent in their own calling.”

Wow, Mr. Henry. Don’t sugarcoat it or anything! You see, he points out what we already know from personal experience – meddling in others’ problems just creates disquiet – angst – in our hearts!

3. “To work with your own hands” – this exhortation is two-fold, so let’s take the first. Does this mean that a businessman in a suit and tie, in a nicely temperature-controlled office, is doing something wrong?

No, it doesn’t. Works is work. Is physical labor more difficult than mental labor? Having done both, I’d have to answer in the affirmative. But that’s not what Paul is writing to the Thessalonians about!

What he meant was the work that God has called you to do. And that’s not necessarily your job. A pastor is working with his or her hands every moment, pretty much. Their work and their calling are the same. But what if, like my own husband, you have an office job and talent working on cars?

He’s in luck because twice a year, our church hosts a car-care service project. But if my husband only put those skills in serving others to use twice a year, he’d be wasting one of the gifts God gave him to help others! Instead, when he sees a need he pitches in, often spending his own money to do so. I could resent the time that occasionally takes away from his own family, but it clearly is a talent that he’s using to serve others. The work of his hands! Quite literally!

The work of your hands may be tutoring, singing in the church choir, teaching at school or at church – the things that come naturally to you are the things that God uses as your work. Now, when I typed the word “naturally” I had to remind myself of Moses.

Moses had zero desire to speak before Pharoah about God. Heck, he wasn’t too keen on going back to Egypt at all, seeing as how he murdered an Egyptian and that’s why we was out in the blasted desert in the first place! Not only did he have a fear of public speaking, but also he had a fear of being punished for murder!

Sometimes God takes our fears and erases them. Others He works with our natural abilities. In Moses’ case, He used his brother Aaron as the speaker. But Moses was the true leader! What might not seem natural to you at first can quite quickly become a natural talent.

Avoiding using these talents to serve God doesn’t just do Him a disservice!

4. “So that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” Henry wrote that the command to use the work of our hands “is enforced with a double argument; namely, So we shall live creditably. Thus we shall walk honestly, or decently and creditably, towards those that are without.”

God is clear – it’s not honest living to keep our gifts to ourselves. My husband could use his talent of working on cars to only serve our own family. That wouldn’t cost him as much money as it would to give that service away to someone else – even a stranger!

We once gave an old car away to a single mother. When we did, we put in the most expensive battery we could buy, knowing she wouldn’t have the money to replace it. At the very least, it bought her some time.

Does that make us super-special Christians? NOT AT ALL! Following God’s commands – obeying what He tells us to do – doesn’t make anyone super-special. It’s just what we’re expected to do.

Go be a blessing with your talents and gifts today!

 

Change of Plans


When I got married the second time around, I had a job. I rather liked it. It required definite use of brain cells. Being a mom, much of the job is menial, tedious, mind-numbing work. It doesn’t take a genius to wash clothes and wipe booties.

Well, six months later I was laid off. A second baby was well on the way. Did I ever picture that as my life? Of course not! I had big dreams, like most people. As a teenager, I read The Lost City.  Never again did I want to be an ordinary journalist. I wanted to some day work at a foreign news desk. For The Washington Post!  I never made it out of middle-sized small town papers. Thank God. I would have sucked at being a reporter at a bigger place. I just wasn’t meant to do it, I guess.

So not one of those big dreams came true. Because it’s just not what my life is supposed to be, and you know what? I’m ok with that. Because my big dreams are different now. Maybe not as exciting in the world’s eyes, but they’re pretty major to me.

I’m reading Discerning the Voice of God by Priscilla Shirer. Today’s quote that sent me hurrying to blog is this: “If we don’t prepare to modify our plans, we will end up more and frustrated and overwhelmed.”

As women who marry and intend to – one day – have children, inevitably, we are surprised when they come. We aren’t just “not ready” – we don’t always want one right then. We have jobs. A social life. Spontaneity. And then we rearrange our lives for a period of time – forever or just six weeks or so – and change course. That’s our new direction.

Maybe we want a second child – in theory. I did. Guess what day I decided maybe I didn’t? Yep. The same day I found out I was pregnant with said second child. I am not kidding. It was probably an hour before I took the pregnancy test.

Wowza. Change course again. New life begins. Life gets more complicated.

I admit I have been adrift for years. It’s very unpleasant. It’s only been about six months since things really began to look up. Prior to that, I did not know what the plan was, so I kept doing what I was doing. Being a wife and mom. A writer. A nose-wiper. A daughter, friend, and neighbor.

It isn’t that now I see some deep plan unfolding in a vision. It’s an energy I feel. I know something different is on the way!

If your life is stuck, pray. If your life is moving forward and you aren’t sure exactly where God is taking it, pray! He might not reveal all just yet. But Shirer is right – you don’t want to be frustrated and overwhelmed when you suddenly wake up and realize your entire life plan has changed and you somehow forgot!

Down & Out in the Mommy ‘Hood


Blessed morning to y’all! Might I first say the only reason I even have time to attempt – praise God if I actually finish – writing this blog post this Friday a.m. is because my children are temporarily quiet and still. Won’t last long – better hurry.

We leave for vacation next week. I am desperate for it and I don’t even know how to get what I want while there. Peace. Quiet. Time away from the kids. But…that’s not a family vacation, is it???

It’s been years since I escaped to the mountains, solo. I don’t really want a weekend away. I think what it boils down to is that school just let out, so the endless lists of homework, school projects, end-of-year parties, hands out asking for money – all this is over, and my brain is so mushy and confused I don’t know what end is up.

Yep. Down and out in the ‘Hood. Mothering is a challenge. There is no other way to describe it. Even I saw enough Disney movies to think that I’d be like Mary Poppins with my children, not Cruella de Vil. Yet, here I am – I just need the grey streak. Wait – I’m sure that’ll happen on its own soon.

Breaking up fights. Kissing boo-boos and holding a screaming crier – and you did it yourself, kid! How much sympathy is too much here?

Explaining why playing on the iPad or Mommy’s computer – 24/7 – is not a great way to spend the summer. Assigning worksheets so their brains don’t turn to mush, and explaining why I don’t know why your step-mother doesn’t do it during the summer, her being a teacher herself and all – that is, if in fact she doesn’t, or you, precious oldest son, are just trying to manipulate me. Either way, do the worksheets, kid, and I’ll add an extra one every time you sass me.

It’s enough to make a mother lose her mind. As I take a Bible study break from tedious chores like vacuuming the dirt that one man and two boys seem to spit out of their mouths all over my clean floors every day – I am confronted with a peaceful nature scene.

A waterfall. In a shady glen. Oh, take me there. Please Jesus, take me there. Actually, Jesus, just come on and get us. I’m ready to go. Do mothers vacuum and wash dishes and iron and wash clothes in heaven? If we do, I am positive there is some amazing reward we don’t get here on Earth!

Do we have to break up fights? I know the Bible tells us no tears will be shed. No pain will be felt. But come on. Kids? In heaven? Someone is gonna stub their toe on those streets of gold and then randomly punch another kid for being there to watch it happen.

Ok. Some levity. Kids aren’t kids for long; they grow up and go away and never come back. Ha! Some humor – last weekend at our Memorial Day party, I had to take the pitcher away from my friend’s daughter, telling her she couldn’t have any. “What is it?” she asked. “Mommy juice?”

That’s right girl. This Mommy needs her juice. Only it’s 10 a.m. and they frown on that.

In truth, my son leaves soon for the summer. It always depresses me and makes me angry. It’s stressful and I worry and I need to let that mess go. I know. Acting like this year is going to be different by just ignoring those feelings doesn’t help. Nor does yelling at my wonderful children, who are in dire need of an attitude adjustment – and a darn good spanking.

So. Here we are, moms. Down and out. And summer has barely come a knocking. What’s a mom to do?

Refresh with the Word, with prayer. With a well-mixed cocktail with your girlfriends. Go shopping. Do something fun every once in a while. And accept the drudgery and the fights and the boo-boos because, for real, one day you will wake up and there will no longer be sassy mouths to feed. And you will miss it. Wipe away the tears. Let go of the anger. Smile. God bless!

Forgiveness Isn’t a Hallmark Card


Well, it’s not. It sounds that way when other people do it. They look so beatific and peaceful. But when it’s my turn – your turn perhaps? – it’s hard and my stomach is tied in knots. I’m angry and hurt, frustrated, heartbroken even – and forgiveness is just too much work.

I was given a reprieve from work about, oh, 14 years ago. I headed to a park nearby because it was such a beautiful day. And even though God and I weren’t on the same speaking terms we are now, I still talked to Him and prayed – and even read my Bible. But we didn’t have the intimate, restorative relationship we have now. Which totally debunks the whole “miracles don’t happen anymore” theory I have heard lately and the idea that if you aren’t as close to God as you should be, He won’t help you.

Y’all, that is a bald-faced lieGod knows your heart more thoroughly than anyone on the face of the planet – even if you don’t know His. And sometimes, He comes through for you in a big big way just to show you Who’s boss. Like He did for me that day.

I didn’t come to the park thinking about a significant person in my life. I didn’t even talk about him to God that day. I just thanked God for the beauty around me, and asked that He provide the money to make up the hours I wasn’t getting paid at work that day. Somehow.

Well, He didn’t. He gave me a much bigger gift – the present of forgiveness For some reason, He laid miraculous, supernatural forgiveness of this significant person on my heart that day. The truly amazing thing was that on that day 14 years ago, or so, I didn’t even realize how fully I had forgiven this person!

I just knew my hatred of him was gone. In the years to come, in his presence, I would no longer cower, or grow angry. I would usually laugh at the stupid, inane lies he told me about myself. Sometimes I would even laugh out loud. Oh y’all, I still do! It’s been more than a decade and that forgiveness is still a daily part of my life about this person!

However, here’s the thing people: this isn’t how forgiveness is supposed to work! This was truly, really, believe me – a miracle. God doesn’t make forgiveness this easy on us 99.99999% of the time.

Makes you mad, doesn’t it? Here’s someone who has hurt you and maybe even done unspeakable things to you – and not only are you supposed to forgive this person, but also you’re supposed to do it gracefully, effortlessly, despite the very real repercussions that you may have to suffer through – for the rest of your life.

You think I don’t have those? I sure do. Those things done to me – those things I did to myself – I have to live with that awful nasty terrible ugly crap too! Consequences aren’t just born of what we do; they’re born of what others do to us.

Forgive, huh God? Oh yes – you’ve maybe even heard it said that forgiveness isn’t just about the other person – it’s really for you. So you can go on without a stained conscience and with peace in your heart.

Well, let me tell you something – I don’t think that’s the whole point of forgiveness, and if you disagree, let me turn your attention to Mark 11: 25 And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. 26 But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses. (KJV)

Did you get that last part? If you do not forgive, you will not be forgiven. Now that’s a pretty big problem huh?

Forgiveness isn’t usually a miracle and it’s rarely easy. It’s a choice you may have to make every day for an indeterminate amount of time! I’ve spent years forgiving people. YEARS.

And yet – how many years has someone – or some people – spent forgiving me?