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
courtesy of stockimages at
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.


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
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
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.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Freed from Fear

The last couple of days I've been thinking about fear, learning about fear responses at university and how long-lasting they can be, and hearing about fear and how there are some who believe that unless we (and I heard someone say this so I'm not making it up) are scared of Jesus, we are worshiping the wrong God. 

Say what??

I've been going over how Jesus talked to the people - not to the religious folks because they are a different breed altogether - but the regular folks. And His disciples. 

Know what He said to them? A lot?

"Fear not."  "Don't be afraid." "You are loved." "You are worth more than many sparrows." Want to read them? just start reading the gospels. They are there.

This same theme continues throughout the New Testament. "Don't be anxious [read: fearful] for anything, but in everything ... let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds by Christ Jesus." (Phil. 4:6,7). "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out all fear, for fear expects punishment." (1 Jn. 4:18). 

"Happy Jumping Child" photo courtesy of
chrisroll at
I think that people are so afraid of believing how great God's grace is because they want to feel like they have control over their own lives. They want to believe that they can affect their own outcomes by what they do. While this is true in some situations of cause-and-effect, it is completely backward from the way of grace. The way of Jesus-AND says, "Repent / live right so that God will be good to you" .... and the way of grace says, "The goodness of God leads you to repentance / live right." 

The love and grace of God is so great!! He made a way through Jesus so that we didn't HAVE to be afraid! 

Let me ask you something. Do you think that the little children were afraid of Jesus? Do you think they cowered in fear away from Him? Of course not!! He was (and is) loving and joyous and fun! He exudes peace! What's not to love? Where He is, fear flees, because HE is that perfect love. It's HIM. HE does it. 

We humans want to think that we can do something to influence or manipulate the way things turn out. That's human thinking. God took the initiative. This is HIS baby, HIS salvation. He gives it to whomever He pleases and He takes responsibility for finding new and unique ways to let us know - on a regular basis - how much He loves us. 

If, that is, we are willing to listen. He loves us whether we realize it or not. He cares for our needs whether we are aware of it or not. He does it because that's who He is. And the more we realize how deeply He loves us, the less fear will have a hold on us. 

How freeing that is!! How freeing it is to know, know, KNOW that He loves us - every moment of every day, and He accepts us fully and freely because of what Jesus did! 

It is not dependent on what we do. The cart (instead of being in front of the horse) is behind the horse! What I mean is that we aren't doing things for Him anymore so that He'll be nice to us, but we realize how much He loves us and has given us forgiveness and freedom ... and we WANT to do things for Him without expecting anything from Him in return because He's already done it all!! 

That's grace-based living. That - in a glorious nutshell - is the gospel. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Frustration Factor

"Ever get frustrated with God?" someone asked. "I bet He gets frustrated with you..." 

Huh. There's a thought.

The definition of frustration is the anger one feels when a desired goal is thwarted. 

So yeah, we get frustrated with God. A LOT. We pray for something to happen; it doesn't. We want something else not to happen and we pray for protection; it happens anyway. Someone is sick and we pray for that person to be healed; they die. It's frustrating when you don't get what you want, when God doesn't act in predictable ways.  [That's a whole other blog post (and then some) in itself!!]

Frustration is a daily companion of those in leadership in the church. They are in a certain place in God (after all, their whole lives are about pursuing that place right? and to do what they do every moment of every day, they have to have some serious Jesus on tap, right?) and they want their parishoners to achieve that place as well, to be more involved in the church, to get out into their communities and make a difference. And yet, that doesn't happen - at least not to the degree that they might like. 

Life happens. Their people hurt. And they hurt each other. Or they become so jaded that they give up trying. It's frustrating for leaders, who might define themselves in terms of how well their flock is doing. And sometimes that frustration comes through in statements that are either openly or covertly designed to produce that change that they want to see in people. "Can't I get an Amen here?" .... "What's the matter with you people? You see that the prayer room is empty; we need revival, let's hop to it and pray!" (Oh don't even get me going on guilt trips.) 

That kind of frustration comes from looking at what other people are doing in their lives, not on focusing on what God is doing in my life. Too many of us try to (and I have said this before but it bears repeating) try to BE the Holy Spirit. That is, we try to do His job: convicting people of the error of their ways, convincing other believers to live holy lives. It isn't our place to do that. It's the Holy Spirit's job

As to whether God gets frustrated with us, my Bible tells me that He knows the end from the beginning. He has things all planned out. He can't get frustrated in that sense, because He knows what we're going to do before we do it. He is intimately concerned with our spiritual well-being, yes, but frustrated? Not in the sense that we can be.

Photo "Bible" courtesy of
Arvind Balaraman at
As I read throughout scripture, I find that there is only one instance in which the word "frustrate" appears that is linked to how God feels, and it has to do with "frustrating the grace of God." (Galatians 2:21) So .... let's think about that for a second. Frustrating the grace of God. Hmmm. So God freely gives us His grace through what Jesus accomplished once for all for us on the cross.  As such, He intends for us to live in that grace, that place of total acceptance in Jesus (not in rules and conditions and regulations) - in a growing intimate relationship with Him, in gratitude and love toward Him, and from that love we will naturally be spilling over into the lives of the people with whom we come in contact. Sound about right? So what happens to frustrate that grace? 

Adding stuff to it (like rules, like conditions, like fear-mongering) frustrates it. (By fear-mongering I mean things like, "God will take away His gift if you don't toe the line...") Adding stuff is what the Galatians tried to do. Galatians 2:21 says, "I do not frustrate the grace of God. For if right standing with God came by obeying the Law, then Christ died for nothing."  

Putting limits on grace frustrates it. Saying, "Yes, but" frustrates grace. Shame frustrates grace. All the things we hear our leaders getting frustrated about ... actually frustrate the grace of God. He wanted - wants - us to live in freedom, not in bondage. Not the kind of freedom that abuses or takes advantage of the One who gave it (because if we do that, then we haven't understood how deep His grace is!!), but in the kind of freedom that realizes how great His love is, and loves Him in return ... and wouldn't DREAM of hurting His great, loving heart. 

I have yet to see anyone who fully understands and has embraced the grace of God for him or her personally, who has walked away in frustration and disgust. I have yet to see anyone who truly grasped for himself or herself all that Jesus did for us to purchase salvation for us, who then stayed in a sinful state and flaunted it, claiming he or she was "under grace." And yet ... I see people all the time who think that there is something they can do to add to or keep what Jesus died to freely give us, who crash and burn in fear and frustration, and they wonder why ... and end up thinking that "they weren't trying hard enough." As if anyone could match what Jesus did for us!  

The way of grace is rest. The way of grace is peace and free of strife. The things we desire are already ours in Jesus; all we need do (if we call that doing) is believe. That's it. It's as simple as that. What is hard (and the Word calls this "labouring to enter into that rest" in Hebrews 4:11) is staying in this good news of believing - because it is so much easier on our heads if we start sorting and putting into baskets, categorizing and religifying everything. Once we start doing that, the life that Jesus died to give us gathers dust. Rather, let's remember that this "hope of the gospel" is what we hold to, not some set of behavioral goals. If we add rules and behavior to it, it might LOOK like the end result, but it will be the cart before the horse. Best to put the horse first, and then the cart will naturally follow ... and I'll wager it will get farther. See what I mean:  "He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach - if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard..." (Col. 1: 22-23)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The arm of flesh

Stand up, stand up for Jesus
  Stand in His strength alone - 
The arm of flesh will fail you, 
  Ye dare not trust your own ...

We have sung about the strength of God until we are blue in the face. We have said with our mouths that we do not trust "the arm of flesh." That we don't trust in our own strength, but in His. 

Until ... until we turn around and we're presented with an opportunity to trust in our own abilities ... or in God's. And what do we do? "Oh well, I'll take it from here, God. Yeah, I got this covered. No, I'll just call You in for the hard stuff." 

Hmm. Really. 

Yeah we believe in spiritual warfare, pulling down unseen strongholds. But what do we do when we feel threatened by something in our society? we write our member of parliament, of course. And we don't even see that what we are doing is depending on "the arm of flesh." It's the WORLD's way of doing business. Squawk, make a fuss, stand up for your rights, sign a petition, join a march, carry a placard. Because after all, God is not able to change anything, right? 

Sure, we say we are all for people growing spiritually. And then when we are speaking or even sharing something on Facebook, we belittle them by saying, 'Can't I even get an Amen?' or 'you should have done ____ instead!' ... and making them feel guilty that their expression of spirituality is not spiritual enough, not what we're looking for, substandard. That kind of behavior is classic codependent manipulation, trying to make ourselves feel better by trying to control the behavior of others. I know ... because I have had it done to me. AND ... I've done it myself. Either way, it's not a nice feeling.

Photo "The Cross And The Hand"
courtesy of njaj at
And that's not counting all the little instances of everyday assumptions we make that are completely self-serving and self-centered. Things like buying into the world's mindset that we can change our own destinies, that we can do anything we set our minds to, that we are owed certain things and that it is up to US to change our world, to do do do until we drop drop drop. No, that's not the way it works. GOD can change our destinies, we can do all things (by the way that means that we can face being poor AND rich, check out the context in Philippians 4) through HIM, and we owe HIM our lives and our gratitude for all that HE has done to be in relationship with us, to impart His righteousness to us. It is up to GOD to change our world and the only part we play in that is just being enthralled with how wonderful HE is to have made it all possible. He will look after the results, one heart at a time. 

I've said it before. His yoke is easy. The arm of flesh WILL fail; it will fail because it is human. The everlasting Arms are inexhaustible. They will never fail. They alone can hold us up, help us stand, and fight our battles. 

Our only work, then, (and the more we realize how deep His love is for us, the less work it is) is to lean hard on those Arms... the ones that once were flesh so as to redeem our spirits once for all eternity.