Sunday, March 1, 2015

Type A Torture

First-year business students study the difference between the Type A and Type B kinds of managers. Type B managers include their employees in decision-making, encourage growth and creativity, and develop relationships with their employees. They do this, not to have something to hold over their employees or even to make them more productive, but to learn what things are important to them, to learn what tools they need to do their jobs and to feel safe while doing them. Employees will just about walk through fire for a Type B manager.  They'll go above and beyond the call of duty because they know that their manager cares about them and will support them no matter what.

Type A managers, on the other hand, are more goal-oriented. They push their employees for results and they're frequently saying that whatever the person is producing is not enough, that they need to do more, produce more, go faster, work better. They're all about following the rules and cracking the whip, and more often than not, throwing their employees under the bus if they mess up. That sort of approach may get results, (fear works) but employees are not likely to go the extra mile for a Type A manager and will only do the bare minimum. 

Once in a while, a Type A manager will say that he or she is "for" the employee, but it's a means to an end. They say "thank you" because those words are proven to give the message to employees that they are appreciated and the studies all say that people who feel appreciated are more likely to do things for you. They will even say that they "care" - but it's all for the greater purpose of increasing the efficiency of the unit, or the division, or the company. 

There are Type A managers in just about every organization and the church is no exception. I can't count the number of times that that horrible word "should" has been used like a club on people's heads to batter people with guilt and shame. And it's incredibly easy to do. SO incredibly easy. All one has to do is hold up some sort of standard of perfection, and then get insecure people who don't know their own worth to react, jump when one says jump, "repent" and vow to do better. I've seen it over and over and over again. The sad part is, the message people get is that they have to produce that desired end result and THEN God will come through. Or accept them. Or let them get into Heaven.

It's sickening. 

God knew we could not keep the law or be holy or be perfect; that's why Jesus came!! Adding in the requirement to keep the law after knowing the benefits of Grace is a little doctrine the apostle Paul fought all his life - it's called Judaizing (not to be confused with Judaism). And it is right out of the Pit of hell. The entire book of Galatians is written to counter this most dangerous of religious beliefs. Paul got into the biggest "Christian argument" of his life with someone who was heading down that path - the apostle Peter! "I withstood him to his face," Paul writes of that experience. 

I'm not saying by all of this that we shouldn't be living holy lives or that we shouldn't be spreading the gospel. Far from it!! However, let's be clear about how this happens.

WE don't do it. HE does. 

Let's look at some basic, wonderful truth and use it to counter the guilt-and-shame trips we've been taken on for years. 

Photo "Jesus Christ Over Rio De Janeiro" by
xura at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
Because of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, He regenerates every person who believes (puts their whole weight) on Him. In other words, He recreates us into brand new creations. The old has [already] passed away; the new has [already] come! (2 Cor 5:17) Every sin we have ever committed or ever will commit is ALREADY forgiven!! (John 5:24, Colossians 1:22, Hebrews 10:12-14). 

This means (stay with me) that once we are Christians, God sees us just the same way, with the same degree of righteousness, as He sees Jesus. He has made Jesus to be sin for us, He who knew no sin, so that we could be made the righteousness of God IN HIM. (2 Corinthians 5:21) 

We are holy automatically because He is (the real meaning of 1 Peter 1:16 is "You will be holy because I am holy...") - there is no need to TRY to be holy (we will FAIL if we TRY. Human effort will ALWAYS fail!) This is a walk of FAITH, not a walk of EFFORT. The more we realize what He has already provided for us (and Love tops the list by far!), the more we are aware of just how much was accomplished for us at the Cross, just how free we really are because of His love, the more grateful to Him we will become and the more naturally His character will shine through us as we walk in that glorious truth!

Can't we see that we've gotten it backwards and upside-down this entire time? Asking God for what was already ours to begin with, begging God to forgive us for things that have already been forgiven to the max long ago, even striving to do things that He has already provided the power to do through us just knowing Him more deeply and becoming more aware of His love for us? How much bondage the church has suffered! how much "Type A torture" we have been through needlessly! 

You know what? Given the choice between life or death, I think most of us would choose life. But I'll tell you something that dawned on me a few years back: it takes half a second to die for your faith. A bullet through the brain or the heart and death is instantaneous. A scimitar (curved sword) in the hands of a skilled swordsman can behead a person in under a second. No, it's not "hard" to die for your faith. It might not be a pleasant prospect (the act of dying that is) but death only takes a moment.

But this is the challenge: it takes a lifetime of moment-by-moment realization of His love for us to live out our faith - not in shame or guilt for how we're not doing it right, or fervently enough, or loud enough, or whatever the Type A folks say we're not doing right. The Christian life was meant to be joyous and free - Jesus said that He'd come to give us life, and not just life, but life more abundantly. (John 10:10) Living in the constant knowledge that I am accepted in Him, that He loves me unconditionally, that all of my sin and baggage and sickness is demolished in the Cross - that is truly living. Truly living is nothing more than living Him.

This is why Paul said, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." (Philippians 1:21) That's all the Christian life is. It's Jesus. It's Him constantly loving us, constantly empowering us, constantly directing our paths. It's Him, always and ever ONLY Him. Because He is all we need. 

He. Is. All. We. Need. And He loves us.
Joy trumps torture.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Love Wins

I was reading a fellow-blogger's post this morning and it brought tears to my eyes to see God's love in action because she included a video that demonstrated how it works so very well. (Click the link I've embedded in the bold print in the first line of this paragraph to read her post and watch the video.) 

Truth be told, just like my blogger friend, I am tired of "settling" for a version of God that says, "He is Love BUT..." And of course, after the BUT there are a whole host of exceptions that are supposed to prove the rule. They don't. 

Photo "Fountain" courtesy of dan at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
Either God is love or He isn't. Either He wants the best for me or He doesn't. It's that simple. It's that clear-cut. I open my heart before you today, having seen some pretty awful stuff in my life. Child abuse, peer bullying, abuse of authority in school, the workplace, and the church, addiction, grief, and the constant self-questioning and God-questioning that comes in irrational, vicious shouts from my own monkey-brain. 

Yet I believe, even in spite of all of that, that God is love, that God loves me. That He loves everyone. That Jesus is the perfect representation of who God is.

No ifs. No buts. Unconditional love. No darkness, no shadow of turning, as James puts it. No holds barred. Passionate, pure, unadulterated love, completely independent of my response.

And love wins. 

It wins when I sit in the dark on a winter's morning and wonder how I'll get up off the edge of the bed and get going on the day. It wins when I see the ones I love in physical and psychological pain. It wins when I fear what the next person will say or think. It wins when my heart breaks in grief. Love wins when the doctor says there's no hope. It just does. 

Because He is there. He loves. He cares. He wins. Every time.

Sometimes I don't have the faith it takes to move the mountains in my life. Then I realize it's absolutely not about how much faith I have or don't have, but where I put it: in Him. I don't need to embrace Him (although I do, and I love to) because He is already embracing me. He's got me. He's got my back (and every other part of me). I don't need to stress out. He's there, and He loves me. His love doesn't depend on my performance. It doesn't work like that. He delights in me. I make Him sing! (Zephaniah 3:17)

Can I relax in that? Dare I believe that He is that good? If I did, what would that look like? Perhaps it would look like my friend's favorite video. Perhaps it would be slightly different - but I can guarantee that people's lives would be irreversibly impacted, starting with mine

I'm only beginning to grasp the unconditional love of God; the more I do, the more I am persuaded that His love doesn't look anything like what we've become accustomed to in the western church. And because of this meditation I've been doing on Him being love, the more I am inclined to think that we've gotten the Christian life backward. We don't obey to receive His blessing at all.  He blesses us because He loves us far beyond our capability to receive ... and it is from the overflow of that love that we can't help but want to share the good news that is Him - the good news of Love coming down - the good news that there is nothing or no-one that can withstand Him. 

Because He is Love. And Love wins.

Friday, February 27, 2015

A God Thing

It's been a hellish week. Never mind the relentless cold, wind and yo-yo weather of Maritime winter. Never mind the mind-numbing routine of eat, work, eat, sleep and repeat. It's been especially stressful lately, and nowhere has it been more stressful than in our daughter's struggles with the health care system and the disability insurance process. 

She's been on disability insurance for two years after an accident in which she dislocated her kneecap ended eventually in first one surgery, and then another, with very little improvement. 

About 5 months ago, her insurance company told her that her DI benefits would run out at the end of February 2015 because the rules were changing from "unable to do former job" to "unable to do ANY job." She's spent the last five months gathering information about all her other disabilities, not just her knee (which is the reason we have a handicapped parking permit). The list is ... daunting: everything from TMJ disorder (that jaw thing) to problems in her neck, shoulders, and back, to psychological difficulties like PTSD and panic disorder, to migraines and multiple chemical sensitivies, to a possible carpal tunnel syndrome. Not to mention that her body is a human barometer and she has pain whenever there are storms on the way. And there have been a LOT of storms.

The last month, she's been complaining of more muscular and joint aches, more headaches, and more panic attacks. The stress of the upcoming insurance deadline (February 2015) was weighing heavily on her, and it had become so much a part of her everyday life that she wasn't even aware of it. This past weekend, her beloved iPhone (that never left her side) bit the dust, and she spent six hours dealing with sales people and insurance people while still grieving the loss of her daily companion. She did get a new phone (though not an iPhone since the newer models don't meet her criteria) but the process of change AND being around people that long AND having to talk to strangers on the phone ... gave her a panic attack when she got home. 

There have been construction workers in the house this week with jackhammers. Jackhammers. The cats have been terrified and she has been jittery and uneasy. Talk about stress.

Today, she'd gotten back from her weekly counselling session and a few errands in town, when the phone rang; it was her insurance company. They had rendered a decision on her disability insurance. 

It was favourable. They had concluded that she met the criterion of "not able to do ANY job" and her benefits would therefore be extended. 

Photo "Opening Door Knob" courtesy of
sixninepixels at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
Her financial situation immediately looked a whole lot more rosy. The pressure of wondering how she was going to pay her way ... lifted.

Moreover, the insurance company is committed to providing everything she needs to become functional again. Everything. Prescriptions, travel to and from out-of-province appointments, physio, therapy, whatever she needs.

Instantly, the weight of all that hidden stress lifted from her shoulders, her back, her neck, and her jaw. 

I found out about the phone call when I phoned home from work to check on how the morning went. As my husband explained everything to me, my eyes started filling with tears because I knew how much of a relief this would be for her. How much she would feel vindicated! How much she would relax and focus on looking after herself.

It was like opening a door.

It was definitely what I call "A God Thing." Only God could have worked it out, in a time frame that would mean no interruption in benefits, for maximum stress reduction, just when she needed it most, and she knows it. She knows it. 

I know it too. This is her time.

For far too long she has been suffering, hiding, pretending not to exist. For far too long she has settled for the leftovers, not spoken up for herself, thinking that "nice guys finish last." For way too long this child of God has accepted defeat. Now it is time to start walking in victory. Now it is time to heal. Now it is time to begin to live instead of just exist. 

And I, as her mother, am in a position to be able to do support her and to be one of those who will speak healing (and not judgment) into her life: body, soul and spirit. The tide is turning; I can sense it. It's the beginning of a new way of living, of thinking, of praying, of believing for me. Of believing that God's will isn't some namby-pamby wishy-washy bunch of platitudes like 'if it's His will.' It's time to really believe and declare that He not only wants to makes something beautiful out of her life, but that He WILL do it. 

I look forward to seeing more and more "God Things" happen ... because I know that He loves beyond anything that any of us could imagine. 

Just wait.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Here. Now.

My breath goes out, slowly, evenly.
Then it comes in. Fresh air replaces the stale. My body is nourished, fed. 
I work harder. The breath goes out of me more quickly. 
Then it comes in more quickly. As fast as my body converts oxygen to carbon dioxide, it reaches for more. 
That is the way of things. 

That is the way of all things. Body, soul, spirit. 

The soul needs replenishing  as well. I feed it with solitude, rejuvenate it with music, let it drink the pure, clean water of watching a kitten at play or a butterfly emerging from its chrysallis.

The spirit - that tiny spark - takes up the most room. 
The unseen needs the most nourishment of all. Like the body, it needs breath.

The breath of God. 

Within, surrounding me, breathing with me, in me. 

Photo "Young Couple Standing" by
photostock at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
Here, right here, as close as breath, as close as my heart-beat. I don't have to think about it. It just is. He just is. I breathe Him in. It is natural to my new creation's spirit-lungs. 

I don't have to call down His presence. He's already here. I don't have to beg for Him to come. He's been here all along; he has done it all. I don't need to strain with intensity for Him to do my bidding. It isn't like that. We are friends. I like to be with Him He is more than willing to hear my heart. He is FOR me. He is here. With me.

His presence is here. Here, and now. In this moment, in this millisecond and in every millisecond all at once. 

I don't have to wait. I don't have to wash up. I don't have to perform. He is instant, constant, persistent. He is now. Right here, right now. 

He "gets" me. He made me and He understands what makes me tick. His presence refreshes me. Words aren't even necessary - though if I want to say them, He will not object. He hears my heart before I even know my thoughts. 

I breathe Him in. He sings over me.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Backbone or bludgeon?

Today I read a blog post from a blogger whose posts I sometimes read. She talked about how love is meaningless without the Cross - and how the Cross defined love. She talked about how the religious use the Cross as a sledgehammer ... and how it was intended to be used as a lifeline by people who have been rescued, to extend to others who are in peril. 

She talked about the news topic that folks talk about in hushed tones because they don't know what to do about it - and because they're scared to talk about it just in case it happens to them - martyrdom - and more specifically the execution of 21 Coptic Christians from Egypt, killed by ISIS. (You can read her blog post at this link: A Holy Experience.) 

In our "safe" experience in North America, events such as the martyrdom of believers - which takes place on a daily basis - seem far removed from us. Yet we are not as safe as we think. In our complacency, we are in grave danger of letting the Cross become a pretty decoration rather than a symbol of ultimate, self-sacrificing love. We are in danger as our own political forces seek to chip away more and more at those activities that we have considered for so long to be inalienable rights - the right to gather in protest for any reason, for example. (Yes, that stops the unpleasant demonstrations that make us squirm because we don't agree with the subject matter ... but it also stops us from standing up for what we believe to be right). 

Why were those 21 people killed by ISIS? Why are believers killed every day by those of other beliefs?

Because power corrupts. Because they can. Because those who kill them see them - and any other representative of an idea that is different from theirs - as dangerous. In other areas of the world, corrupt powerful people fear losing power over others. They rule by fear. And the people of the Cross are fearless. Perfect love casts out all fear. So their murderers fear that love most of all.

The Cross - in Western culture - has developed the sad reputation of being a bludgeon (a weapon used to beat someone to death) wielded by powerful religious people. Religious purists use their "faith" as a way to judge, condemn, and yes, execute others - assassinate their character, demoralize them, keep them under the strong thumb of "Should." "Christian" religious purists (and I use the term "Christian" in quotations because they bear no resemblance to Christ) use the Cross as a banner under which to mount offensives against this individual or that individual, this group or that group, this political persuasion or that one. They lift high the Cross only to bring it down like a club on the heads of those who would dare disagree.  All the while they hide their hypocrisy behind the shadow of the Cross even as they perpetuate abuse and oppression, leaving ruined lives and testimonies in their wake. All the while they poison - from within - the credibility of the Message while raging against those who disagree. They - as I said - use the Cross as a bludgeon.

But the Cross is not a bludgeon. The Cross of Jesus only killed ONE Person, and by that one death by LOVE it sets people free. It gives those who have been so set free ... backbone. We are people of God's love, the love of the Cross. 

This love was (and is still) so strong that the original carriers of the Gospel Message spoke nothing against the political powers of their day, carried no placards, protested nothing at all - yet in passionate gratitude for His scandalous grace, they changed the world because the Cross gave them love with backbone. They were infused with and conveyed to others the message of God's love expressed through the Cross of Jesus, Love proven true and effective by the Resurrection. They had witnessed His grace, tasted His love. 

You can't kill that with violence. There is no way to stop God's love from infusing people with backbone, not to be bullies themselves but to be fiercely kind and generous. That kind of love spreads the more you try to destroy it, just like swinging a skipping rope at a dandelion head. As my blogger friend alluded to, if you behead a dandelion in full seed, it might seem like it goes away. 

But you really only get one thing in the end. 

More dandelions.


Photo "Dandelion" courtesy of
tiramisustudio at
www.freedigitalphotos.net

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Vantage Point

"...the just shall live by faith..." - Romans 1:17

I've only traveled by air a handful of times in my life. Every time I do, I am struck by a number of things, one of which is the difference there is between the view from the ground and the view from the plane while it is flying at thousands of feet from the ground. 

It can be raining, or cloudy, or just plain nasty outside, but once I feel that surge of power and the plane lifts off, I watch out my window (and yes, I always get a window seat!) and see the vista change before my eyes. The rain stops pelting the window, turns to smaller and smaller mist as we rise higher through the clouds, and then it happens. The plane rises above the clouds, and the sun - which has been there the whole time, shines brightly.

I think that I've spent a lot of my Christian life sitting in the plane but either still waiting to take off or circling above the airport but not above the clouds. 

Photo "Clouds And Sky Blue, Viewed From An Airplane
 Window"
courtesy of kangshutters at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
The light and light of God's grace has been there the whole time, but I was living by sight. For many years, all I saw were the clouds of my own failures and insufficiency, not the sunlight of His grace and how it is much more than enough - and always has been - because of the sufficiency of Jesus. 


I am forgiven. ALREADY forgiven. I am free. ALREADY free. I am holy. ALREADY holy. Not because of my own accomplishments, but because of HIS. My perspective has often been too earth-bound, too sight-bound. The life of faith is the life above the clouds. The vantage point has changed. I am a new creation in Christ Jesus. I am seated in heavenly places with Him. He has made me holy. He has made me as pure as His own dear Son. He delights in me because that has been His desire from the beginning.

This isn't just words. It is what the Bible calls "living by faith" - stepping out on the waves knowing that He is all I will ever need, that He has already made the way, that He has gone before, that He is the Master of the wind. It's buckling up the seatbelt and looking out the window, trusting the Pilot has already taken me with Him (not just in the sweet bye and bye, but NOW, HERE!) above the clouds. The rain may fall but it is not who I am. The underside of the clouds may be gray, but He is still holding me up.

The sin that sometimes creeps in ... is not who I am anymore. The deed to my slavery has been stamped in indelible blood - "Paid In Full" - and there is absolutely NO condemnation. NONE. Past, present, AND future!  It therefore makes no sense to condemn myself when He has already declared me not guilty, now, doesn't it? "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's chosen ones? It is God who justifies. [In other words, God has declared us righteous!] Who condemns us? Jesus Christ died for us, and is even now at God's right hand, interceding for us. [In other words, Jesus died for us - and prays for us constantly - He certainly doesn't condemn us!]" (Rom 8:33-34). 

So what happens when I sin as a Christian? I thank God that I don't have to go groveling and begging His forgiveness - that sin question has already been settled the moment He made me into a new creation! No, I just acknowledge my error in thinking, my drop in perspective (dipping below the clouds for a while.) And then, I thank Him for His forgiveness (which has already covered me!) and continue to walk in His favour and His overwhelmingly passionate love for me, up where He is - in the heavenlies. 

The life of faith is simply a vantage point where God has made me just - or holy - and my belief in all He has already accomplished for me just leads me to gratefully worship Him and want to live my life in His love and power. He's made that possible by His once-for-all sacrifice - it's all Him - and ... it's so beautiful up above the clouds with Him in my spirit. Why would I want anything less?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

What if? EVEN if.

The question "What if?" has been a prominent feature in my life. It's been a source of great stress and discomfort, and it could be followed by any number of possibilities based on fear. "What if they don't like me?" "What if I don't get the job?" "What if they say no?" "What if I don't get into that school?"  "What if they laugh at me?" ... the list is endless.  

And there's never an answer. The question hangs out there and begs fear to jump all over it and create all kinds of worst-case scenarios. And I have been blessed (although sometimes it doesn't FEEL like a blessing) a vivid imagination. 

The What If question even carries through to my spiritual life. "What if I don't pray fervently enough?" "What if I fail?" "What if I let Him down?" 

It dawned on me this evening that my performance, my success, is not the point. I put so much pressure on myself and it's (unfortunately) been drummed into me by the church as much as any other institution. I keep acting as though love is conditional, grace can only go so far, and my destiny can be influenced by how good I am at doing all those things I have been conditioned to do in order to get God to notice me: pray, meditate, fast, read the Word, go to church, attend Bible study, etc., etc., ... 

I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with those things. I am saying that if I am depending on my adherence to some standard set by someone else of what my behavior should be (there's that "S word" again) I will end up chasing my tail and winding up in defeat because I have forgotten that He is my source, He gives grace beyond measure, and He is the One on whom salvation rests (not me, thank God!!)

Photo "Sun In The Sky" courtesy of
graur razvan ionut at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
Instead of asking "What if I fail?" or "What if I'm not saying the right words?" or whatever the question of the moment is, I wonder what would happen if I replaced my WHAT with an EVEN. ... 

An EVEN would prompt me to finish the sentence instead of dreaming up those worst-case scenarios. Here's an example. Take the question, "What if I fail?"  Hmmm.  That becomes "EVEN if I fail..."   "Even if I fail, He never does."  "Even if I don't say it right, God knows my heart and He cares about me."  "Even if I let Him down ... He's never let ME down."  "Even if I let go of Him, He still has hold of me. He stays faithful even if I've lost faith." 

His constancy is something I depend upon. It is my life.

It doesn't mean that I don't try; it means that my focus has shifted from my efforts to His sufficiency. It causes me to be grateful, not boastful when I "succeed" or despondent when I "fail." All that performance-based, rules-based living is nothing but a religious trap. 

I can be confident in His love. It's the one thing He keeps saying to me over and over again. "I love you." Even if my own love back to Him pales in comparison (and let's face it, we can never ever match His love, compassion, forgiveness, mercy, kindness, patience, you name it! Even if my love pales in comparison (and it does) ... His love is strong, passionate, enduring, and all-encompassing.

And it gives me something that all the "What ifs" in the world don't give me. It gives me joy - His joy - which, after all, infuses me deep inside with His supernatural strength.