Sunday, December 14, 2014

Air Craft

I was chatting with someone about the easy yoke, the light burden that Jesus promised. The idea was that a lot of folks make their burden heavier than Jesus intended by adding a lot of baggage to it - baggage that looks like, "If I just pray enough..." ... "If I just read the Word enough..."  "If I just go to church enough..." ... the ending of the sentence being, "... God will give me my heart's desire." (whatever that looks like: healing, revival, temporal blessing, a job, a spouse, a friend....) 

That's the thing though. This is where we fall apart. "If I just..." Do you hear it? That is EXACTLY the problem. We get this notion in our heads that if WE do something then GOD has to do something. 

We have it backwards. 

God already did something. All we do is say yes. There is nothing more simple than that. Nothing. And yet we complicate it ... put conditions on it ... and we try and try and try to get it right - and we fail, and fail ... and fail. 

Human effort will ultimately fail. There. That's about as simple as I can make it. The Christian life is not about us trying to live it. WE CAN'T. It's impossible to do on our own; if it were possible, there would BE no "New Testament." There would only be the Law. Keeping the rules. Toeing the line. What a drudge. What a burden!!

Jesus came to free us from that curse, that kind of automaton living. He came to give us abundant life. And that life is ONLY found in Him. Now, there are a lot of people who think that "in Him" means "toeing the line." It doesn't. It means that He has taken our "yes" to Him and He has enveloped us in His love, permeated and saturated us with His grace so full and free it's big enough to fly in!! As wide as the sky, His grace is more than we can imagine - (and let me tell you, I can imagine a LOT!) - and His supernatural power has given us everything that we need to fly in that Grace. To use the flying analogy to its maximum - His Grace is the air and the current; because of Jesus' once-for-all sacrifice, He has given us wings!

And a lot of us ... for far too long ... have tried and continue to try to make the Christian life function for us, based on a set of rules. Rules that we impose on ourselves (and on others) so that we can do the things we have been told we "should" be doing. In effect, we spend the vast majority of our time with our God-given wings folded neatly away behind our backs, working desperately on trying to build an airplane so that we can fly

How ludicrous is that! 

Photo "Eagle In Flight" courtesy of
Jeff Ratcliff at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
Those things we "should" be doing, by the way, are a natural product of resting on the currents of His grace with our wings spread wide to accept all that He so passionately longs to give us ... freely. 

They aren't goals to achieve, notches on our belt, or brownie points that will make God like us and bless us. 

He already loves us. He already has given us everything we need. No, those things we "should" be doing are end results. (Results are not goals. Hear me!) They are fruit that grow naturally and easily out of our relationship with Him. 

We don't love Him to have Him love us back; that's backward! (not to mention impossible...) We love Him because HE FIRST loved us. We don't talk to Him to get Him to "do stuff." We talk to Him because HE FIRST showed us that He loved us ... and talking to Him is a joy we GET to do because of His sacrifice. And we don't have to wait to do that until we are in some marble hall somewhere, but we get to talk to Him wherever we are. Whenever we want. As often (or as continuously) as we want. 

Ponder that. Because Jesus opened the Way, we GET to talk to the One who created the stars. To the One who calmed the tempest. To the One who loved us so much, as a friend recently put it, that He would rather die than live without us. 

And He actually did die so that He didn't have to live without us. What kind of crazy love is that!! 

Calvary's great price, paid for us, crafted us wings to fly; His grace, based on the sufficiency of that sacrifice, holds us up. 

That, dear friends, is "God with us." THAT is Emmanuel. Every moment. Scary, crazy, reckless  ...  and glorious.

Put down the tools and the blueprints for whatever aircraft you are trying to build. 

And spread your wings. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Trust issues

I started thinking this evening, as I sat fretting about a mini-crisis we're having at the moment, about the expression "I have trust issues." 

And I do. I find it hard to trust people, to trust their motives. 

As I pondered why that is, why people state that they have "trust issues" (usually with an almost apologetic look on their faces) I thought of a reason that feels like one of those "duh" moments. 

People have trust issues because someone has hurt them in the past (maybe a lot of someones). They have learned not to trust

Not trusting means that you don't believe that the person (whoever it is) has your best interest at heart, and you believe that there is some sort of ulterior motive for offering to help you.

In some cases, that lack of trust is justified ... because of past experiences with that particular person. If there is a pattern of that individual abusing your trust, if there is a history of him or her continually using and abusing you (physically, emotionally, financially, even spiritually), then the lack of trust is perfectly appropriate. 

The problem is that after having been hurt like that by more and more people, especially over and over again by the people who have assured you over and over that they care - you tend to shy away from such assurances by people that have NOT proven that they can't be trusted. It becomes the default setting, the automatic reaction, the core belief. It's a defense mechanism designed to protect you from getting hurt again.

It's fear. When you boil it right down, it's fear.

I don't know about you, but I can even get like that with God. I catch myself saying, "What are You up to now?" to Him... not necessarily out loud or consciously, but it's that underlying belief that was hammered into me from the time I was little. That belief says that God is just waiting for me to mess up so He can clobber me. (Of course, most of us dress that up in theological terms, but what we really mean is that we believe that unless we toe the line, we're sunk.) 

But God is bigger than that. He loves. Unconditionally. This means that it doesn't matter whether we toe the line or not, He still loves us. He still watches over us. Not because of anything we do or don't do, but because He. Just. Does.

He was the One who took the initiative, He came, paid the debt in full, and wooed us by His Spirit ... and He rescued us. All we did was say yes to Him and He was all in, making an irrevocable covenant with us. (Romans 11:29 NASB - "For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.") 

Being afraid - being hesitant to step out and trust - that's going to happen. It's part of being human I guess. The Psalmist talked about that. He said in Psalm 56:3, "When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You." 

Not IF. No, WHEN

I used to read that verse to mean this: "Whenever I am afraid, I will grit my teeth and force myself to trust You." But that's not what the Psalmist said. He said, "I will." The thing of it is - the word "will" in the Bible often means "desire to" or "want to" right along with "shall." That means "When I am afraid, I will trust You because I want to."

Photo "Man Lying On
Chaise Lounge"
by
Ambro at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
Why would he want to?  The key is ... well, I mentioned the key earlier. 

It's love. He loves us. He loves me. When I really, truly believe that He loves me, that He wants nothing but the best for me ... I will automatically want to trust Him - even if my circumstances are frightening. Or overwhelming.

It sounds so simple, doesn't it? It is. The concept is so uncluttered that it's easy to start looking around for the "catch." But there is none. The key to trust issues is knowing His love. The more I am convinced of His love, the easier it will be for me to want to - and to actually - trust Him. 

And yes ... it really is that simple - so simple that a child can understand it. It's just like sitting in a chair. You put your whole weight on it and rest. There's nothing less complicated than that.

Which is, I believe, why adults have such a hard time doing it. But that is another post for another time.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Spent

More and more the last few weeks I've been working hard and doing assignments and reading and studying, fretting about deadlines and schedules and making up time lost from work by going to school and making up lost study time by taking precious vacation time from work ... all to reach the culmination which happened tonight - nearly three hours of filling in black dots and writing short and long essays in words that are as alien and numbing to my personality as the dread long winter in Narnia before Aslan came to it. 

Photo "Snowy Morning" courtesy
of Evgeni Deniv at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
I'm spent. I've used up all my resources. I'm all in.

Work, even the work that I like, has lost its appeal. Everything is gray. I've kept going by repeating to myself, "Eyes on the prize," but more and more, lately, my heart has not been in it. 

Little things from all the different areas of my life: home, school, work, church, extended family, health concerns of those I love, and grief from what seems like a long string of deaths, tear at me. They erode my spirit, like those relentless droplets in the infamous Japanese water torture, hammer away at my heart and leave it hollow, washed out, fragmented, and useless. 

I feel drained. Used up. Desperately I seek for strength, for joy, for life. I woder how to get my life, my peace back. And then it hits me.

He was spent for me. He used up all His resources ... for me. He went all in - so I could be all in Him. He drained His life's blood for me. He was used up and spilled out ... for me. 

And in that realization of His love so strong that He would rather die than live without me, in this good news in and of itself, there is strength. There is joy. There is life.

The thrill that He loves me that much bubbles up inside like the sound of water gurgling under the ice in the winter - distant, yet there and growing stronger, fighting against the punishing, restraining, frozen deadness. It soothes, embraces, restores my soul. 

It breathes life into me. I can live again.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

New glasses

About fifteen years ago, my eyesight, which had always been excellent, started to deteriorate. I started getting headaches from eye strain. I hated going out after dark because the headlights hurt my eyes.

I really didn't understand that my eyesight was the problem. I just knew that I didn't want to read or travel or do anything I enjoyed doing, and didn't quite know why. 

My husband put it together - he'd had glasses since he was in grade three. He suggested I see an optometrist.

The rest was history. I had an astigmatism, which later (about six years later) developed into the need to wear bifocals. 

After I got used to my new glasses, it was amazing to me how much I had been missing as time wore on, how slowly and insidiously my world had gotten more and more small. I had to put more and more effort into doing the things that came so naturally to me after I got my glasses: read, drive, enjoy a sunny day, look up at the stars... and the list went on. Suddenly, it was as though I'd been given my life back - I wondered why I hadn't gone to the eye doctor much sooner.

Now, I can't imagine my life without my glasses. It's unthinkable for me to get up and leave the house without putting them on. They help me see the world, they protect me from the biting wind, they keep me from getting eye strain headaches.

Why am I talking about this? 

I see a spiritual parallel here. I needed glasses but I was unaware of it. I was trying to do things that became more and more impossible for me to do, and the harder I tried, the worse I felt. 

Once I looked through the new lenses, all became clear. I didn't have to strive and strain anymore. 

In this parallel, my state before going to get glasses was how I spent most of my Christian life. Like those around me and like my leaders, I was trying to produce those end results I kept hearing about - love your neighbour, read the Bible, pray, live in victory, share your faith - and the more I strained and tried, the less I could see clearly. 

Trying to manufacture the life I had heard about and read about - the victorious life that I was taught came through obedience - only ended up with me being frustrated, discouraged and eventually resentful. "Is this all there is?" I wondered to myself. 

Oh, there were times I lived in what I called "victory." Basically that looked like grit-your-teeth obedience with no divine power to carry that out. And I did have some successes. But they were temporary, and I would eventually crash and burn. And then I would blame myself for not "doing it right." 

Photo "Brunette With Folded Arms Posing
Cheerfully"
courtesy of stockimages at
www.freedigitalimages.net
What a headache.


It wasn't until I began to realize the depths of the grace that Jesus died to give me that I started to walk into freedom. Unconditional love. Unconditional. Without conditions. That meant - and the glasses went on - that I didn't have to strive! I didn't HAVE to knock myself out in failure after failure after failure, wondering where the joy and all that 'abundant life' was. I was focusing on the end result, the things I was told all of my Christian life that I needed to DO. 

Instead, all I needed to do was put on the glasses of grace - to focus on Jesus, on His love, on His grace, and - as simplistic as that sounds - THERE was where the abundant life started. He loved me. He LOVES me! And I just fell in love with Him, and keep falling in love with Him more and more, the more I realize how deeply He loves me. That's it, that's all. Again and again and again. Deeper every. single. time.

Out of that love (that came from Him in the first place) flows all the other things I had missed and wondered where they were. And oh yes, listening to His voice (because I love to hear it) and doing what He says when He says it. But that's no longer my focus. My focus is HIM. All it ever needed to be was HIM, all along.

It boggles my mind that for so many years I missed something so incredibly simple. 

And now, living in grace and growing more and more in love with the One who IS grace, it amazes me how people miss it! And then I remember that that was me, not all that long ago. 

And sometimes it still is me. But it's like ... it's like when I am tired on a Saturday morning and come out of the bedroom and start puttering around with some household chores ... and then I wonder why my head is starting to hurt. My hand goes up to rub my head ... and then I realize that I'm not wearing my glasses. I forgot to put them on. 

So I put them on and soon the headache is gone. I don't waste time beating myself up that I forgot them. I just put them on. And I can see without straining. That's it.

That's how grace works too. It's always there, so much so that I forget it's there, it's such a part of my everyday. Like my glasses. 

Like Jesus. 
How cool is that?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Hugs and hand grenades

I grew up in a church that called itself fundamentalist. In hindsight, it was a lot more about following rules than it was about following Jesus and His Way of love. It was much more about making people behave themselves than it was about listening to them and caring about them. 

One of the major tenets of this particular church (and from what I've seen since, a LOT of fundamentalist churches) was this concept of "witnessing." 

Now, first of all, I am perfectly willing to share my faith as the Holy Spirit leads me and as the situation gets set up by Him. (And as I listen to Him, He also tells me when to be quiet and let Him do His work.) And He gives me opportunities to share a few words about my relationship with Him - sometimes where and when I least expect it. 

But there is something here that I think a lot of believers miss. The word "witness" - for the most part - is a NOUN and not a verb. Especially as used in the Bible. "You will be My witnesses," Jesus said in Acts 1. That means that it is something that we ARE, not something that we DO. 

So witnessING (as it is done today, and I'll give examples below) is contrary to the pattern of scripture. In fact, in my experience, it only HINDERS someone from accepting the good news because without exception, it makes unbelievers feel as though we Christians believe ourselves to be better than they are. (Ummm, we're NOT.)

It's true that believers are born again into a war in progress. It's true that we can wage spiritual warfare. Successfully, I might add. But this warfare is not accomplished with weapons of destruction. People need love. People DON'T need judgment. People are NOT the enemy. People - INDIVIDUAL people - are our MISSION.

HEAR ME.

Bumper stickers, tracts, Facebook posters, and other 'blanket' affirmations and platitudes just don't work. They are like throwing a hand grenade into the middle of a crowd hoping to make a statement about the power of God. There is a LOT of collateral damage. People get hurt. Badly. Such tactics don't take the individual into consideration at all. They just open fire and give those who "throw the grenade" a false sense of having "witnessed" and thus having fulfilled their Great Commission obligation. 

How tragic.

Messages or Facebook posts or tracts that use guilt or fear to get people to engage in these harmful behaviors (done in the name of good) only serve to keep God's people in bondage and hinder their ability to earn a hearing when the people around them are hurting. 

You see, using spiritual hand grenades absolves us of any responsibility to reach people who need reaching, to find those people who are searching, who are ready to hear, (ever think that someone in your circle of friends might NOT be ready to hear and be turned off by your obviousness? think about it!) and to show them the love of Jesus in a personal way. What these people need are hugs, not hand grenades. Hugs are personal. They can be messy because they involve human contact. And they only target one (or at the most two) at a time, so there is a considerable increase in time investment. 

Let me illustrate. 

About thirty years ago, my dad had a pretty major heart attack. Thankfully, he survived it!!  He was in the hospital, flat on his back with machines hooked up to him, monitoring his heart rate, his breathing, and his oxygen levels, only allowed to see one person at a time, and the pastor of the local church came to see him. The first thing out of his pastor's mouth was not "How are you?" but "Are you saaaaaved??" 

If Dad could have gotten up out of that bed (he told me later) he would have punched that guy in the mouth. HARD. If the story had ended there, my father would never have had a valid opportunity to respond to the Good News.

A few days later, another fellow came to see him. He sat with him, visit after visit, engaged him in conversation about the things that mattered to Dad, listened to him, and ended the visit when Dad showed signs of fatigue or of needing sleep. He never spoke a word to him about his soul, not for nearly three weeks. But he came to see him every day, took an interest in how he was doing, what he cared about, and how he felt. He really showed my father that he cared about HIM.  And finally, when he heard the Spirit whisper, "Now," he asked my dad's permission to ask him a personal question. (Read here: RESPECT.) Dad agreed. And the man simply said, "Are you fully trusting Jesus as your only way to a relationship with God?" Dad thought for a moment and simply said, "Yes. I am." And from that moment onward, his life and his attitudes changed. 

This is an example of what I mean by hugs and not hand grenades. 

Photo "Sadness Woman In Friend's Arms"
courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
If our friends know us at all, and if we have been true to our beliefs in our own lives and choices, they will know what our stand is, and whether we are Christians or not ... because they're smart people. We don't have to beat them over the head with it, and we don't have to be "in their face" with it all the time. All that does is make them want to run screaming in the other direction!! There is nothing that we can do to MAKE them become Christians, to see the "error of their ways" (can you begin to see how insulting that kind of attitude is to people?)  In fact, convicting people of their sin and bringing them to Jesus is not our job. It's God's. "HE [that is, the Holy Spirit] will convince the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment," Jesus said in John 16. 

When I used to "witness" the way that I hear people trying to convince other believers to do - with a Bible in one hand and a club in the other - one person told me that the reason she became a Christian was NOT because I kept nagging her or reminding her about it. If anything, she said that my behavior toward her kept her from embracing the gospel because she didn't want to be that "in your face" kind of believer. (News flash!) What convinced her was not anything I said. In fact, the thing that spoke most to her was that she saw how happy I was now. She'd seen me at my worst ... and she knew that in spite of my obnoxiousness (and trust me, I was sickeningly zealous!) I was truly happy for the first time in my life. And THAT - above all else - was what got through to her. 

Huh. Who knew. 

The world needs more genuine hugs and far less impersonal and judgmental hand grenades. And so does the church.

Just saying.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

No assembly required

As we get closer to Christmas, I don't think there is a parent of little children who doesn't cringe at those three little words at the bottom of the print on a box that houses an awesome toy advertised on TV: "Some assembly required." (Alternatively, other words that strike fear are, "Batteries not included." But that is another post for another time.)

The same thing happens to those who get furniture (or a gas bar-b-q, or a ceiling fan) at a big-box store (anything from WalMart to IKEA). It's a nightmare working with those instructions and always wondering if you put it together right because there are pieces or screws or nuts missing. Or some left over (I don't know which is worse ...!!) 

I remember the baby changing table we bought years ago from a big-box store. It was a nice table, but it was torture for the two of us putting that thing together, crawling along the floor trying to find the pieces and with me eight-and-a-half months pregnant on top of it all. We got it put together after a couple of hours of struggling, at 11 pm. (At 1 am my water broke. Guess where I spent the next several days?) 

Well, at least the changing table was together.

June 2013 - our ready-to-use furniture
Contrast that to the last time we bought furniture. We actually went to a furniture store (imagine that!) and the salesman showed us a bureau that, paired side-by-side, would look lovely in our bedroom, with matching night-tables. I said, "We'll take it," and soon I was paying for the set. And then I asked about delivery. "I suppose that we'll have to put it together when it's delivered," I started to say. 

He held up a hand. "No ma'am. It's pre-assembled at the factory. The only thing missing is the handles and the people who deliver the furniture will even put that together for you ... you won't have to worry about that." 

Huh. No assembly required by the consumer. 

Who knew?

Nothing needed to be added by us. All we needed to do was accept delivery and it was ready to use. Period. No add-ons, no upgrades, nothing like that. 

It was wonderful. 

God's grace is like that. Pre-made, prepaid, nothing to add to it or anything, just be there to accept delivery and it's available, ready to use, able to handle anything you throw into it - and able to withstand all kinds of of wear and tear. God's grace is pre-assembled. Everything is included. 

Everything. No holds barred. No limits, no boundaries, no small print. EVER.

It's wonderful!!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The care of God

For the last seven years, I've come to know a lot of people who are in a process they call recovery. The thing they are in recovery from is some sort of addiction: whether to alcohol, drugs, prescription pills, gambling, shopping or trying to control other people's behavior through either intimidation or care-taking. 

They all follow - to some degree or other - a program of recovery called the Twelve Steps. I won't recite them - other sites have done a much better job at it than I can, but at its core, the 12-step program of recovery is a blueprint for people who have been burnt by religion and who don't know how (but who know they need it or they will die) to develop a relationship with God. 

The backbone of the 12-step program is in the third step; it is the hingepin on which all the other steps turn. The first two steps naturally lead to the third. After the addict has come to (1) admit that he or she can't fight the addiction, and after he or she has (2) conceded to the existence of a power greater than himself or herself, and that only that power can restore his or her sanity, the third step is to "[give] our will and our lives over to the care of God ... praying only for a knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out." 

For a lot of people that's scary stuff, because they've been taught all their lives that God is some big ogre that loves nothing more than to squash them like bugs or strike them with thunderbolts of damnation. They've been taught this by (unfortunately) their previous experiences with people who claim to be experts on spiritual matters.

I was talking to one such person this morning, who - through desperation and the firm knowledge that there was nothing he could do to beat the monster within - finally took that plunge and turned his will and his life over to the care of God. What he had found so intimidating was turning his life over to God, the very one he had been taught was that celestial sadist who caused - or at least allowed - all of the bad stuff in his life to happen. But then he noticed that this was not what Step 3 said!! Instead, it was all about turning one's will and one's life over to THE CARE OF GOD. 

Photo "Loving Father And His Baby" provided by
David Castillo Dominici at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
In essence, he had to fire the god he had been taught to believe in as a child. He had to realize that his childhood god was small and petty and nit-picky, vindictive and cruel. Instead, he came to believe in the Real God, the One who LOVED him, the one who CARED. The One Whose real character Jesus came to demonstrate. The One who dotes on us, who leans in close to smell that "baby smell" as we sleep, the One who delights in us, the One who thrills in His heart when we speak His name, the One who - as one author once said - "would rather die than live without us." (Paul Ellis) And that's precisely what He did - He died because He didn't want to live without us.

It's THIS God that this man believes in. It's THIS God that he trusts. And THIS God - the TRUE God - is becoming more and more dear to this man as time goes on.

Every day now for the last five and a half years or so, he has prayed this prayer, or one very much like it: "God, I gratefully turn my will and my life over to Your care, today. This 24-hour period is Yours, and whatever happens in it, I pray that You would take care of it, let me know what it is I can do as I go through it, and give me the strength to do whatever You lead me to do, just for today.

I asked him about that word gratefully. (It's not specifically mentioned in the Third Step.) I wondered about that - out loud - to him. And he told me, "It's about that 24-hour period. It's today. I can gratefully give Him 24 hours. I can't speak for the rest of my life or into next week or even tomorrow. Whatever happens in that one day, whether it means that I scrub toilets or drive someone to an appointment or even breathe my last breath, I know that it will be God's will for me. And I can be grateful because I KNOW that He will take care of it. He's got this, He'll do this for me, He's already provided me the strength and all I do is walk in it. I know because He's done it for me before, and today He'll do it again. And I know that without His loving care for me, I would be sunk, without hope. So I am grateful for the answer to that prayer being carried out in my life for today. Because it's all I have." 

I know a lot of theology and all that stuff. But his simple answer simply floored me. There was a lot in it, and there still is. 

The care of God. 

God cares. 

He's not waiting with a club to thump me if I get it wrong; He looks after me and cares for me because I am His child (because and ONLY because of Jesus!). As a matter of fact, He has provided everything I'll need for each day, for each and EVERY day, to live in love, in peace, in freedom, in gratitude, in ... in joy!  

That's something worth thinking on ... something worth being grateful for.