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Posts Tagged ‘faith’

The grace of God is difficult to understand. The idea of granting favor to people who don’t deserve it is so foreign to our small, justice-wired minds. His mercy is equally confusing: to be pardoned from the consequences our blockheaded behavior deserves.

I understand that I am to be a conduit of God’s grace, I really do. But even when I am willing to show grace or mercy, my sense of justice keeps rearing its score-keeping little head.

I don’t fully understand how God’s grace operates. Grace, like lasting love (because let’s face it—if it isn’t lasting, it isn’t love), isn’t an emotion, but a choice. Grace sometimes means thinking outside the box.

In fact, true grace often means throwing out the box altogether.

The Lord has been showing me that I need to stop wishing people would change when they don’t line up with my list of Things I Like in a Human. I not only need to stop wishing they would change, but I need to change the way I see others and be more accepting of our differences. I’m trying, truly. And yet, no matter how hard I try to change my attitude toward those who see and think differently, it occurs to me that I can never change enough. There are always going to be things about people that I just can’t reconcile. I need to be more open minded, and yet I can only open my little brain so much.

Ah, the limitations of being human.

That’s where grace comes in.

I don’t understand people. Shocking, I know. Christ says I’m to love people as he does, without condition (conditions include wishing they would stop being so anal/boasting/dramatic/verbose/needy/etc). So, in order to love as He loves (and commands), I must rely on grace—that mysterious spiritual blanket that falls on me and everyone around me like snow, coating us all until we are a bizarre collection of snowmen, mismatched in size and shape and yet oddly uniform, suddenly similar. His grace, like snow, puts a hush in the air, quiets the clamor in our judgmental minds, and blinds us to one another’s annoying quirks and all those other things we just don’t understand or—let’s be honest—like about each other.

They say love is blind. This doesn’t mean love turns a blind eye to destructive behavior. But I do think blind love means that with the help of the Spirit and grace of God, I could be far, far, far easier on others in the privacy of my heart.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Don’t secretly demand that people measure up to some standard that you and I, if we were to be honest, don’t always meet ourselves. Do you want a friend? Show yourself friendly. Do you want more attention? Be more attentive. You want more respect, show more respect. Not because giving is a magical formula for getting, but rather because wanting to receive what we’re not willing to give is selfish and hypocritical.

Wait, was that a snowflake…?

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My 92-year old father-in-law is an amazing person. And he has dementia.

He lives in a wonderful care facility but is often mixed up about where he is, how things work, where he believes he’s been. When left to his disordered thoughts, he gets fixated and rambles at length about things that make no sense. We sometimes find him alone on a bench in a hallway because his deep baritone voice carries and his loud nonsense speak disturbs the residents in the main room.

My husband and I find that if we ask him about history—of which he is highly knowledgeable—his thoughts become more ordered and he can carry on a relatively normal conversation, recalling people and events with astonishing accuracy. He will sometimes tell us about a world leader or an event unfamiliar to us, so we Google it while he’s talking and he’s always spot on. But he also thinks he’s on a ship or in a train station, and he often sees things that aren’t there. Once he thought Andy Griffith walked by.

And yet despite his disordered mind, he always has a positive attitude. When I ask him how he’s doing, he often says, “I can’t complain. I’ve had better days, but you know, you just have to make the best of it.”

This makes it easy to remember the man he was. Family, friends and people in his community have long known him as a wise, kind, generous man who would take a homeless person to a restaurant and buy him a meal; a hardworking family man, and a steadfast Christian who always attended church no matter what shift he’d just gotten off, and even while on vacation with the family. He would find some church in whatever town they were visiting and take the family on Sunday morning—the fishing and sandcastles could wait.  He prayed faithfully and read his Bible consistently, and everywhere he went, he never knew a stranger. He talked to people everywhere: at the gas station, grocery store, doctor’s office, and it didn’t matter if he knew them or not. He often encouraged people to look to Jesus and go to church. Without fail he was gracious, selfless, and respectful of everyone he knew, no matter where they came from or how young or old they were.

And he still does this today, even in his mentally incapacitated state.

The care staff has only known him as he is now: a nearly blind, nearly deaf, nonsensical old man who needs help with everything most of us do without thinking, like walking, eating, and using the bathroom. We’ve overheard him thanking the caregivers and apologizing for causing them trouble. They tell us often that he is one of the kindest people they know. This is a man who can no longer use logic and reason and has absolutely no control over anything he thinks or says. He has no filters, so what he thinks, he says.

Even with dementia—or rather because of it—he is teaching me something important about the indwelling Spirit of God.

I try to be kind, and I try to be generous, and once in a while, I try to be self-sacrificing, especially if I know it will bless someone. To be honest, kindness and selflessness are not natural reflexes for me (unlike sarcasm and sampling cookie dough), so for me to act this way is more of a conscious decision, a choice. As in an all-out flesh-wrangling choice. I’d like to think I’m developing more Christ-like reflexes…

Meanwhile, as I was praying for my father in law this morning, it occurred to me that this man has absolutely no choice over his behavior, and yet the fruit of the Spirit is clearly evident in him. The goodness and faithfulness and kindness and generosity he shows to those around him come from a place well beyond his mind—a much deeper place. He cannot will himself to act in any certain way. The way he treats others is motivated solely by his spirit, a place in which the Spirit of God clearly and fully dwells.

He didn’t build a cathedral or start a mega church or write a theology book or travel the world to preach the gospel. But what he did was just as phenomenal. His faith is simple and astounding. “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back” could be his life song, because, as an adult who had tasted of the world, he gave his heart to Jesus and didn’t turn back and has lived out this decision for more than 50 years.  This man and his spirit-filled life have encouraged the faith of countless people. He aimed to follow Jesus all his days, and this aim has served him in the end because whether he knows it or not, he is finishing the race well. He doesn’t know it, but he’s teaching me about the miraculous indwelling of the Spirit of God, and he is inspiring me to be as purposeful in my aim, and to finish well. He doesn’t know this but his wisdom and his faith are still guiding me.

What a miraculous thing, to be so thoroughly motivated by the Spirit of God. I pray that Christ would so inhabit me that his likeness, the fruit of his Spirit, would flow as effortlessly from me.

fruitQ: Do you ever think about what you’d think and say if you had no controlling filter on your thoughts and words? What motivates your words and actions?

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hurtWhen you are hurt or don’t like the way a person makes you feel, do you assume they have wrong or hurtful motives toward you? Do you assume they are disrespecting you, or acting out of jealousy, or wanting to make you look bad or that they are dismissing your worth, or whatever is your particular “trigger” for feeling hurt or offended? (we all have one….)

Just how far have you let your assumptions run? Have you later found out you were wrong? That they were not out to hurt you? That you misread their actions?

I have. And it’s been done to me, so I know that it hurts to be falsely accused of wrong motives.

I have seen how my assumptions have caused me to foster and feed resentment, negativity, and thoughts that lead to sin. All based on an assumption (or suspicion). Sometimes those suspicions are founded, but more often, unfounded. But even if my assumptions about others’ motives are founded, I have found that harboring resentment causes attitudes and thoughts that lead to my sin, like critical words or some resentful/retaliatory act which can then cause far more hurt than the original thing that started it.

Who wants to see us fall into the trap of sin? Who is the one with TRUE malicious motives? The devil. God, as a triune being, is clearly a God of relationship. It is very important to him. The devil hates that we can have relationship with God and with one another. He prowls around seeking to destroy God’s children and our relationships. Do you realize that the enemy knows your sore spot and delights in finding ways to bait you so you will trip and fall?

Feeling hurt or offended can be a sin trap for some of us, so we need to be on guard and recognize the steps leading to it.

Hurt feelings/offense => assumption => resentment => sinful response => double hurt => division/destruction of relationship

If you also struggle in this way, let’s pray for one another that we will recognize the trap before us when hurt or offense leads to assumption, resentment, and beyond. Let’s check our thoughts. If you’re like me, critical thoughts can be hard to reign in even when recognized. Thankfully, the Bible tells us that we can take our thoughts “captive” with Christ’s help. By his spirit, we can do what is too difficult for us. If we ask, he will handcuff those suckers and march them off to jail.

Dear Lord, please help me not to assign or assume negative motives in others that result in resentment and other sinful attitudes and actions in me. Help me take my negative thoughts captive and hand them over to you (and leave them with you!). Help me bring hurts and offenses to you instead, and please heal me of the “triggers” that the enemy knows set me off so easily. Help me recognize the sin trap that hurt feelings can set me up for.

Amen?

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Have you ever been faced with a challenge that goes against every fiber of your being?

In the story Like There’s No Tomorrow, a novel I hope to publish, a fictional Bible storybook called Daniel’s Friends Face the Fire plays a key role in the heroine’s journey. Emily is a selfless, caring young woman who has spent her life protecting others from pain and suffering, exactly as she believes God would want her to do. But as the story progresses, she learns she inherited the same disease that claimed her mom’s young life. What makes the news even more devastating is that she’s fallen in love with a widowed man, a man she has helped find healing and a renewed faith in God. A future with this man now is unthinkable. Yet he still wants to marry her. How could she? She has seen how loss of a spouse destroyed her father. She could never contemplate putting someone through that kind of pain, especially a second time.

How could God have the nerve to ask Emily to step aside and let him be God?

In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are forced to choose between standing up for what they believe and losing their lives in the fire, or saving their lives by giving in to a psycho king’s whim. I love their reply: “Our God is able to save us. But even if he does not, we still will not bow down to you.” I admire their courage to not only stand up for God, but to trust his sovereignty and wisdom in the face of circumstances that make absolutely no sense.

Because getting tossed into a fiery furnace isn’t the kind of blessing and provision we typically expect from God.

In this scene in the novel, Emily and two little girls are looking at a picture in the storybook of four men walking around in the flames without being burned. Three of the men are the brave young Hebrew men. The extra man, we realize, is Jesus, standing in the fire with them. Here’s an excerpt:

Hannah looked up at Emily. “Would you be afraid?”

The fiery furnace scene lay open on the floor between them. The three young men must have been terrified, and certainly had no idea how it would turn out. All they knew was to trust and obey God without question.

Would I trust God enough to surrender to the flames and stand firm, no matter what?

God, would you really ask me to do that?

Both girls waited. A pulse-quickening urgency stole over her, as though her answer was somehow forever binding—a test.

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.

Emily drew a calming breath. “I think if the Lord wanted me to go into a blazing furnace, he would—” Have to send me a text message. In all caps. “He would go with me and . . . give me the courage and strength I need to do it.”

That’s good, Em. You almost have yourself convinced.

I believe God desires to spare us needless suffering . . . sometimes. But he doesn’t promise a pain-free life. (John 16:33) What he does promise is that when the plan we’re following is God’s, he will be with us and will provide everything we need. Whether that be courage, provision, wisdom, strength, his presence, whatever. He is good, always. His ways are not always logical (to us), but they are right. Always. When we can’t see any possible good in the midst of difficulties, we must trust that he can. We may never see that good thing this side of heaven. This is where faith is so . . . FAITH. So confident, so fully trusting. That God is so good, so beyond us and our abilities. If we could understand, stand firm, or endure on our own, we wouldn’t need him.

Emily must decide if she is willing to put God to the test and surrender her worst fears to him, to take him at his word that he is truly faithful. And to truly trust him to take care of those she loves. Can she relinquish control?

Hmm, I wonder how it ends . . .

Q: Have you ever had to “put your money where your mouth is” when it comes to trusting God? Have you ever gone through a “fiery furnace” in your life and felt God’s presence and strength with you in the midst of it? Do you have a hard time believing that God can somehow bring good from suffering?

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Our baby girl is “Tying the Knot” this weekend. (Yes, I am too young to have a daughter old enough to marry, thank you for noticing.) J & M will repeat vows to one another similar to the ones you’ve heard or perhaps said yourself:

I take this man/woman to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, to love and to cherish until death do us part.

I do.

Those last two tiny words pack a wealth of promise, a lifetime of relinquishing, a commitment to ongoing surrender. It’s a vow to take on another set of sorrows and joys, victories and defeats, strengths and fears. Each person in the union lays down the right to retain his or her separate life and the whims of their previously independent (& possibly self-indulgent) soul.

And the two shall become one.

It sounds like a breaking down of the human will, this kind of surrender to another. If the vow is truly meant, it does involve some tearing down, and it can even be painful. But if endured with selfless love and truckloads of blinding grace, the two relinquished, surrendered souls shall become one, and a far stronger one combined than each one was alone. Not two weaker halves suddenly helpless without one another, but a stronger, combined force able to weather any storm.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor; If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.  

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

If two become one, what does three become?

Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

This isn’t some kind of put down. It’s truth, and it’s a warning, but it’s also a promise. Being united with Christ means he vows to be our Source, our strength, our sustenance, our safe haven.

So when Christ is woven into the center of two surrendered, entwined lives, the three form an unbreakable cord, able to weather every storm of adversity, sickness, trial, poverty, or hardship—without being destroyed.

A marriage of two cords is strong; but a three-cord marriage is indestructible.

J & M: Make Jesus the Center of your marriage. This is our prayer for you.

We love you. God bless you today and each day to come.

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Does talk of Christian holiness make you squirm?

Or do you think holiness is only for the Billy Grahams and Mother Teresas? Should Christians be striving for lives that please God?

Is pleasing God even possible?

Oops, sorry. I forgot to mention there was going to be a quiz.

In my last post, One-Sided Romance, I offered some cheeky dialogue between a Bride-Groom and his less-than-fully-devoted bride. I sure hope this isn’t the bride Jesus sees in me. But I must confess it wasn’t hard to come up with some of those cheeky lines.

Last week, I attended a memorial service for a Christian brother unlike any I’ve ever known. Val and his wife Laura are humble servants who don’t own anything. They follow God’s lead, traveling from place to place, serving people in any way needed, whether it’s finishing a fence, cleaning gutters, stacking firewood, roofing a house, babysitting—whatever needs done. Graciously and cheerfully, without asking for anything in return. They live each day obeying whatever the Lord asks with sincere hearts that desire to please him. They don’t always know where they will sleep or where the next meal will come from, but they trust God to provide. Someone said that for a guy without anything, Val was the most generous man he’d known. If all Val had was one cracker and was starving, he would find a hungry person to share it with.

And yet, one of the most inspiring things I heard at Val’s funeral was that even this doggedly obedient, selfless saint struggled on occasion to obey. There were times he had to ask God for a willing heart because he just didn’t feel like obeying.

Know the feeling?

I obey God—when it’s comfortable and doesn’t infringe on what I feel/don’t feel like doing. But then, there are . . . those other times. I confess: it’s not in my nature to be generous, hospitable or sacrificial. To offer my coat also when someone asks for my shirt. Go out of my way for a stranger. Forgive people’s idiotic driving. I mean—turn the other cheek when wronged.

It’s not my nature to be like Jesus.

So… is my “natural” bent for willfulness an excuse for giving in to it? I’m pretty sure Val didn’t say, “Look, God, I’ll do what you ask when it’s convenient, but sometimes I’m going to be stingy with my time and energies. It’s how I roll. I’d rather go relax after a long day at work instead of taking groceries to a stranger on a scorching hot day with no AC. You understand, right?”

I don’t know exactly what Val prayed, or why he struggled to obey (probably not out of selfishness but rather some disagreement with the way God was handling something), but I believe he recognized the stubbornness in his heart at those times and asked God to line his heart up with God’s. Why? Perhaps he knew God would love to answer a prayer like that. Perhaps God knew others would hear of this humble servant struggling with obedience and be encouraged. I know I was. I was not only encouraged, I was reminded that I have also prayed for the willingness to do God’s will instead of my own, and he gave it to me.

For a whole day.

*sigh*

If becoming a 100% obedient, deeply devoted saint isn’t something I can picture myself becoming overnight, that’s okay. All I need to worry about is today. God can give me a willing heart and the strength to follow through. Like manna in the desert, one day at a time.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Ezekiel 36:26-27

Striving to be a more obedient Christian isn’t about meeting somebody’s standards or proving that I’m holy. It’s about responding to the unwavering love and costly grace God has given me with a heart that longs to please him, out of love.

No, it’s not in my nature to be like Jesus. But it is his nature to empower me by his grace to become more like him. And he’s totally okay with me asking for help being willing to obey.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24

Oh, for a heart that longs to please You, Lord. And the willingness to follow through.

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I’m working on a novel in which a woman was recently jilted by a handsome young lawyer. Then when her mom suffers a life-threatening injury, she must help with her care and shoulder the burden of the family business. In the process of all this, she meets a man who shakes her world again for a disturbing reason: he likes her. For who she really is. Not the picture-perfect woman she works so hard to portray to the world, but the frizzy-haired, cosmetic-less, messy life real her. But her real problem is that she only lets people partially into her life. She loves that the new guy likes her—crazy hair and all—but realizes something’s wrong. It turns out she lost the last guy because she never fully “engaged” in the relationship out of fear of exposing an ugly part of her no one knows about.

 

Do you know without a doubt Jesus loves you? I hope so. The Cross speaks of Christ’s fierce love so completely, so beautifully. But do you, like my novel character, have trouble “engaging” in this “sacred romance”?

 

It’s great to wake up knowing I’m completely loved by God. What a wonderful, incredible, awesome feeling. But to be honest, which I must, I find it easy to soak up God’s love and go about my day with a wave and without a backwards glance.

 

 

Picture a bride getting up one morning to find her adoring Groom already awake.

Groom: Good morning, my precious. I love you so much!

Bride: Aw, thank you! You just made my day! I’m going to go post that on FaceBook right now.

Groom: Right now? But I’d like to spend some time with you, without any distractions.

Bride: Oh, right, but I gotta run, so just hold that thought. But you do love me, right? 

Groom: Yes, more than you could possibly know.

Bride: Oh! I just love hearing that! I feel so special right now. Like I could do anything. I’m going to go make plans right now to realize all my biggest dreams.

Groom: Um . . . your dreams include me, right?

Bride: (pouty frown) Well . . . some, but you don’t really expect me to include you in everything I do, do you? I mean, come on. I do have my own life. It’s not like we’re attached at the hip.

Groom: Not only the hip, but at your very core. I’m part of you. You’re part of me. I am the Vine, you are the branch. Apart from me you can do nothing.

Bride: Yikes! That sounds kind of controlling, don’t you think? I’m going to go check Pinterest for new posts about how you love me without any strings attached. I love looking at those.

Groom: Remember the day you said you were giving yourself to me? It was a very touching moment, so beautiful. You couldn’t hear it, but all of heaven broke out in spontaneous song.

Bride: Aw, that’s sweet. Yes, I gave myself to you, but that was to secure my future. You don’t actually expect me to hang around with you all day give up doing what I want to do? I thought you said you loved me. Didn’t know you were going to be so demanding.

Groom: My only “demand” is that you love me. Is . . . that a problem? This is a relationship . . .

Bride: (puffs out a slow breath) Okay, look. I don’t know what you want from me. I talk to you sometimes, don’t I? It’s not like I can spend all my time hanging around with you and talking about you. Everyone would think I’m a freak.

Groom: So you don’t want people to know about us?

Bride: Well . . . (smiling suddenly) Yes! Actually, I like telling people how much you love me. I do it all the time!

Groom: Yes, I’ve noticed . . .

Bride: Wait—you hesitated just now. You’re not having second thoughts, are you?

Groom: No. I love you so much I made the ultimate sacrifice for you. You are more precious to me than you know.

Bride: Oooo! Say it again! I just love hearing that!

Groom: Yes. I know.

Bride: In fact, I’m going to go Tweet it right now!

Groom: (sighs)

Bride: And don’t worry, I’ll be sure to tell someone how you just want me to be happy, although I hear about it everywhere. Those cute little Facebook memes, at the hairdresser’s, on book covers. So I guess most people already know that.

Groom: I want your ultimate happiness, but right now, not everything you go through is about happiness. I want what’s absolutely best for your life, the life I rescued at a tremendous cost. One day, you’ll be blown away by how much happiness I have prepared for you. I am going to knock your socks off—forever. I promise. But for now, I’m asking you to trust me. Watch my lead, follow my footsteps. Come when I call. Sit with me when I invite you. Listen to me; memorize the beat of my heart. Give yourself completely to me and to what I have planned. Will you do that for me, my beloved?

A relationship requires both parties to be fully engaged. He wants this kind of relationship with us. He wants our time, attention, devotion, and obedience – not because he’s self-centered and demanding, but because spending time with him is for our ultimate good. It’s a two-way relationship, not a one-sided, life-long pampering session.

He gives forgiveness, righteousness, love, provision, peace, blessings, wisdom, protection, help, healing, favor, strength through trials, and so much more. What am I giving him? Not out of duty, but of gratitude, of delight in him?

 

Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Q: Is your relationship with God sometimes a one-sided romance? How do you “delight yourself in the Lord”?

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