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.

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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!

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!

The Chariot of Victory


Streams in the Desert has been a God-send in my life. I would like to quote a passage from today’s lesson, which is incredibly timely, this, the day before Easter:

“This is the prayer we need to pray for ourselves and one another: Lord, open our eyes so we may see. We are surrounded, just like the prophet Elisha was, by God’s horses and chariots of fire…[E]ven the smallest trial may become an object crushing everything in its path into misery and despair if we allow it. The difference then becomes a choice we make. It all depends not on the events themselves but on how we view them.”

If, today, you are in the right frame of mind – the place – to hear these words; to let these words speak to your heart and your very soul – then they convey a powerful message. It’s a two-pronged offense.

1. We are surrounded by God’s horses and chariots of fire! Forget a sleeping, peaceful angel – we are surrounded by power. There isn’t a sniper in the world who can compare to God’s protection. Even former Cleveland Browns fullback Jim Brown can’t provide the victory in the place of Christ. Imagine what Satan thinks and feels when he sees a godly person stand his or her ground, surrounded by God’s vengeful horses and chariots blazing.

It’s comforting and peaceful to think lovely thoughts about God. But we don’t need that facet of God when we are facing down Satan; facing down circumstances that threaten to plunge us into deep despair. We need a vengeful, avenging God, and we have it at our disposal every moment.

2. We have a choice. When we can only hit our knees in prayer, we have a choice in how things go forward. The baby we didn’t believe we were prepared to have until we lost it; the wife we took for granted until she left; the husband who was unfaithful and isn’t repentant; the child who broke our heart when she became addicted to drugs in high school; the job we lived for until we were fired; the loss of the parent who was our best friend; the day we can’t stand being beaten another moment; when we watched the Twin Towers fall and knew our wife was trapped inside – the possibilities are absolutely endless.

Not only that – the myriad ways they could play out are mind-blowing. I have figured out that this is one of many instances in life where the advice is simple and practically impossible to follow. At first. We have to choose to lay that baby at Christ’s feet and thank Him for it – and then for days and days and weeks and months we have to do it again and again, and thank Him for the doing of it! We have to choose to face that husband and either accept his leaving or offer forgiveness, day in and day out, for as long as it takes, and thank the Lord for His love and mercy and grace, and remember that time we were tempted to cheat on that man and didn’t – which doesn’t make us better than him – it only makes us understand how he got there in the first place. We have to choose to move forward despite the loss of our livelihood and we have to thank God for giving us the job and have hope that we will gain another just as great or better. And when money gets tight and the nightly glass of wine turns into two or three, or that lonely neighbor starts to pique your interest – in those moments, you have to choose to hit your knees, raise your eyes to heaven, rent your garments – but choose to believe in the hope of Christ.

There truly is nothing new under heaven. Human beings have been facing crises after crises just like these since the beginning of time. It doesn’t even have to be something monumental – it could just be the growing desire to do more with your life that has you down in the dumps. Maybe you’re bored with your spouse, or your job, or your friends, or your church, or just your life in general, and you know you need a change, and you feel so stuck. Maybe that just starts to eat away at you, day by day, until you have totally lost the person you once were. Little things, we know, can snowball awful quick.

It’s the choosing that’s so hard. Because it isn’t one choice – it’s choice after choice after choice, day after day after day, and no one can tell you how long you will have to do it! But if we do not choose to allow God to take us under His wing behind that blazing chariot, and consent to follow His will regardless of what our flesh is positively screaming to have or do, we have no hope.

That’s not true for you, is it? Oh no – because you have implemented control mechanisms into your life so that whenever something falls out of balance or goes sideways, you have something to hold on to. But guess what? That is the very thing God will take away from you if you persist. He will rip it painfully out of your life and leave you with nothing.

Right? Wrong! Oh, so wrong – because you will be in the position I was in, five years ago, as I knelt on the floor of my apartment with my two-year-old sleeping soundly in the next room. I was devastated. I was a single parent, didn’t have a job or way to support my child, and had never felt so alone in my entire life. I had no family there, few friends, and literally did not know what to do. So I made a choice –  to stay there on my knees until I was able to rise with hope and faith to overcome my fear.

It was in that moment that my “nothing” became something greater than I’d ever known – when that sense of nothing became a sense of purpose and peace and calm. Yes, of course – it had become God’s love and hope. That fear is still here, and I fight against it most of the time. Meaning, there are few moments in my life ever since that time when I feel at peace without having to work at it. I am married, have all I need, and have a great life. I have another beautiful child. I have a church home and have been working hard at mending some seriously dinged fences. But that fear surfaces often, and I have been hoping and believing God for a long, long time. It is a choice I make, and every time I have left that decision to choose up to chance, I have experienced extremely painful times of loneliness, despair, and anger.

Gracious, by the Lord picks me right back and up and sets me on those shaky feet! I look so forward to having no suffering, only perfect peace. Right now I have the peace that passes all understanding, and it is more than enough. Blessings to you and your loved ones this Easter season. Sunday’s coming! Be ready!

What Does Judging Someone Mean?


While this topic seems so hot right now, it is part of the human condition to judge others so I don’t think this problem in our psyches is a recent development. It’s been at the forefront  of my mind as I examine some of my worst tendencies and how to correct them. One of those, unfortunately,  is a tendency to judge others based on my opinions, beliefs, and values.

1 Corinthians 4:5 states the following: Don’t be judgmental about anyone “ahead of time – before the Lord returns. For He will bring our darkest secrets to light…”

Whoa. That’s the part we tend to forget as we think or talk about the faults of others. There is that niggling fear in the back of our minds, as Christians: what is He going to say about me, and will it be in front of a long line of people waiting to meet Him in heaven? That could prove a bit awkward!!

So what is judgment exactly, and how do we stay away from it? First, here are some things it is not:

  1. Judging is not being angry at someone for their sins. Feelings are feelings; you cannot control them. You can only control how you respond to them.
  2. Judging is not forcing someone who has committed a crime to pay their legal price.
  3. Judging is not confronting someone you care about, out of pure love and not hatred or spite or envy or malice, when they are sinning.

Here’s what judgment IS: Judgment  is feeling superior to someone because of their sin, or their faults. And before you go rushing off to confront all the judgmental people in your life, stop and think: that’s a lot of people! And you’re on the list!

No? You don’t think so? Ok. Here are some normal, every-day ways we judge others:

  • When someone commits a crime, we call them  names: loser, idiot, reject, worthless. The worst criminal in the world is still God’s child.
  • When someone does something sinful, such as engage in promiscuous sex, lie, cheat, steal – etc., we get on our high-horse. We tell ourselves (and possibly even that person) that we would never do such a thing! But hold up though – they could say equally bad things about you!
  • When someone isn’t who we want them to be, we withhold love from them. The people I know who do this have themselves been in this situation, for things that were not at all their fault. Harsh, judgmental, critical people with unrealistic expectations often do this.
  • Any time you think or say that someone isn’t good enough for you, you are judging that person. Jesus told us we are not to throw our pearls to swine. What that means is that  we are open with love towards everyone, but protect your heart (your pearls) from people who only want to harm you. It doesn’t mean you are better than them, and it doesn’t mean that you don’t show them love. They may have done a really terrible thing, but throughout the course of your life you are going to do many sinful things, some of them really terrible.
  • Private people tend to have hidden sins most people, if any, can’t see. It’s easy to point out the visible sins in others through spite. Don’t!

 

What’s Love Got to Do With It?


In Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote that the Argonaut shell is a good mental image for love. She stated that we don’t love the same person the same way, all the time. Spoiler alert! That lustful, first-blush love may not last forever! “It’s a lie to…pretend to.” But that’s what we all believe, right? The songs, the movies – they only show us the beginning, the giggly period, the crush-like phase where everything the other person does is wonderful and brilliant. Do they show marriage after a few years? Ten? Twenty? Nope. I think Lindbergh is genius.

“We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships.” We are worried the ebbing tide will never flow our way again. “We insist on permanency…when the only continuing possible…is in growth, in fluidity – in freedom.” So how do we create a secure relationship? We can’t attempt to own or possess another soul. We can’t look back dreamily, but ahead, in “anticipation.” We must accept what is, now.

And yet, when you include the every-day nagging things that drive you crazy about each other, letting go of the other person’s flaws and mistakes can be highly difficult. We have to re-train our brain, I guess, to anticipate the future and quit focusing so much on the present day’s troubles.

 

Good Vs. The Joker


Photo courtesy of popdust.com.

The shootings in Aurora, Colorado won’t go down in history like the JFK assassination or 9/11. The entire country will not ask, “Where were you when?…” But it is very emotional, nonetheless.

 

 

 

We are used to crime here. I love the South, but it has a history of violence just like anywhere else in the world. It’s not surprising, dealing with all the violence here. I don’t know why I have been so put out by it since I moved to a large Southern city.

Photo courtesy of social.bioware.com.

For crying out loud, I grew up with violence. It is, dare I say it, a part of my nature. It is the first thing I think of when something goes wrong. Who did it? Got a name. Why? Doesn’t matter. Let’s kick some. I have a visceral fascination and tendency towards it. I understand it. Not in the random sense of breaking into a house and senselessly killing its occupants or robbing someone on the street corner. It is a mode of revenge, and that I get. I appreciate it. I miss the Wild West as if I actually lived it. I GET it.

This is amazing to my friends here. They grew up living mostly quiet lives, where they never saw destruction or fear or poverty or desperation. They grew up in upper-middle class suburban bubbles, for the most part, and violence is abhorrent to them – even to the men. My own husband is this way! It makes for difficulty between us. When my reputation or safety is questioned, I expect him to “take care of it.” This means, of course, what you can imagine, with the added precaution of deniability on my part. The men handle problems and the women don’t ask them about it.

Photo courtesy of ilovebacteria.com.

I sometimes wonder, with an inward sneer, I confess, what it would have been like to grow up like these good men and women I know. I feel tougher, stronger, better able to think things through, and weight the options in a crisis. I don’t think they have it any better. Are they equipped to meet danger? Yes, I suppose, but in a much different way than I am. They are appalled in the face of aggression; I am strengthened, almost, by it. I know what to do in a fight, to some extent. They, maybe not so much. Then again, they have had no use to know how to do it. I have.

So I smirk, sometimes, but it is not out of jealousy. It is out of frustration. We don’t understand one another. They think my instincts are wrong and I think theirs are too tame. Yet, they cannot help it. They have a greater sense of security than I will ever know – at least, as far as human beings are concerned. I am not the lucky one in all facets of this issue. I know that. I am glad for them that they have had these things. It makes it easier for them to deal with others – in a way.

Anyway, violence is system that worked fairly well, I think, when I was growing up. We were protected. Except for the natural feeling of vengeance it inspired, it was a good system. I still have to fight against that.

Photo courtesy of legalrightsoc.com.

Over the years, I have had many chances to either employ it myself or have others do it for me. For example, I had a college job where I was being sexually harassed. The issue made it all the way up the chain of command to the top; the boss said that I had been working there only a few months compared to this venerable veteran; he advised me to let it go or I’d lose my job. It was not the first time, nor would it be the last, when I would be harassed. And it was handled both poorly (the guy was immediately fired) and badly (the guy was protected) over the years. It actually became something I expected and something I eventually tried to deal with on my own.

But I digress. This, as you can imagine, did not sit too well with me, and it did not suit my then-boyfriend at all. I have no idea what happened to the man I worked with; all I do know is that the next day, my boyfriend drove me to work and picked me up. But I had to wait inside the store until he “handled” it and then I was allowed to go to the car when I finished my shift. The guy who was giving me a problem? Never spoke to me again, much less frightened me.

So, that was how it went. For the last few years, I have been astounded by the crime and unnecessary violence here. I have yet to get used to it. They aren’t protecting their families. They’re just thugs.

But when I watched the news for the last two days and the images from Aurora, I felt tears form for the first time. Not anger, not the absolute need for revenge for the sakes of those hurt or killed, but just an intense sadness.

Photo courtesy of cbsnews.com.

And that was followed by love. LOVE. The need to just saturate this crazy, dangerous, ill-omened world with love. To use it to cast out darkness. How that works I have no idea. I have not made it a life study, if you will, like I have aggression and power. But love has its own power too.

No, I will still demand that my kids take care of themselves and those unable to defend themselves. That, to me, is a matter of right and wrong. My boys will never get in trouble for doing that; they will get in trouble for letting an innocent kid get beat down. It’s wrong. It’s cowardly. And being scared doesn’t make you a coward; not acting despite being scared does.

But I will also continue to teach them love. Love for the underdog. But love for the criminal too. Forgiveness. Because despite the life I have lived, I am able to forgive now. And it is good. It is cleansing. It if freedom!