Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Smoker

            There’s an experiment that I’ve been wanting to try at church.  Daydream with me a moment about how this would play out:

            Let’s say that I get up in front of a room full of people at church or a Christian retreat or wherever.  And I say, “What’s going on with Christians nowadays?  We are failing to show Christ’s love to others, to extend grace to those who are different than us.  We are gossipy, critical, and judgmental towards each other.  We are more concerned with how others are living than with how we are living, seeing the speck in their eye instead of the plank in ours.  We fail to do the good that we know we should do.  Our marriages and families are falling apart because we are putting ourselves first and have the wrong priorities and cannot keep our vows.  We are compromising the Truth of the Gospel to please people.  We barely even know what the Bible really says because we are failing to abide in it.  We are seeking pleasure instead of righteousness and God’s kingdom.  We are building up our treasures on earth and seeking our own happiness, just like everyone else.  And in the process, we are growing weak, lazy, comfortable, and sleepy.  And this shit has got to stop!”

Monday, January 9, 2017

Battle of Wits?

            Some Christians seem to think that faith is a “battle of wits,” that it’s a Christian's job to beat everyone else in a debate about biblical things.  They act like it’s more about “proving and defending the Word” than it is about “living the Word.” 

            But it’s not about winning or about showing off how smart or godly we are compared to everyone else.  (This will make us repulsive to everyone else.)  It’s about helping each other, about coming alongside another person and lovingly putting our arm around their shoulder and helping them on their long, confusing, difficult journey of faith, the journey through life.     

Sunday, January 8, 2017

No Masks Allowed!



           I’ve talked in previous posts about the need to get real with God.  But I think that we Christians also need to do better at being real with each other.  Why can’t we Christians just admit that we are broken, hurting people too, that we are sinful and need help? 

            Why do we act like we can do it all on our own and like we can handle everything with grace and style and a smile on our faces?  Why do we spend so much time and energy polishing up our outsides?  To earn approval?  To make God happy and proud of us?  To impress others?  To feel better about ourselves?  To look better than others?

            Honestly, all we are doing is hurting everyone.  When we are not real, we miss out on a genuine relationship with God and others.  We don’t get the help and the healing we need.  We exhaust ourselves.  We keep others and God an arm’s length away.  And we make others feel like they are “less than”. . . because they struggle while we “have it all together.” 

            We are “unsafe” because people feel judged, condemned, and shamed in our perfectly-polished presence.  Why would they confide in us or seek our help when they feel like we couldn’t understand, like we are “above” them, like they have to feel ashamed of their brokenness and their struggles, like we expect them to be polished too?

            Why can’t we just be real about our heartaches, doubts, fears, shortcomings, weaknesses, and pain?  Why can’t we admit that we, too, are human?  Why can’t we even admit that to ourselves?

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Joy is a Spiritual Victory

            “How long, O Lord?  Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me? . . . But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.  I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.”  (Psalm 13:1, 5-6)

            “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him, . . .”  (Job 13:15)

            “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”  (Job 1:21)

            I tell ya, life can be brutal, heart-breaking, disappointing.  Yet, there is something incredibly sweet – bittersweet – about learning that you can praise God anyway in the midst of heart-ache and pain and trials. 
            It’s one thing to be joyful because you finally got what you wanted.  But it’s another thing to not get what you want and to find joy in the Lord anyway.  It’s a much deeper, tender kind of joy.  One not based on circumstances, but on God’s presence and goodness and love. 
            And this can only be learned – you can only get to this point – when your heart aches, dreams get shattered, prayers go “unanswered,” you lose all hope in yourself and your abilities, the future looks dark and scary . . . and yet you still bow down before the Lord and say, “It’s okay!  I will still trust You and praise You, whether You give or take away.  You are good!” 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Learning to praise and trust God anyway

            Psalm 96:4, 8:  “For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise . . . Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name . . .”

            Job 1:21, 2:10:  “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised. . . . Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”   

            I think one of the hardest lessons to learn and one of the greatest indicators of humility is learning to praise God, to trust Him, and to cling to Him in the pain and in the hard times. 

            It is easy to be thankful and to trust Him and to “sing His praises” when things are going our way and when we have more than enough.  But it is so hard to do this when we are in the “desert times” of our lives and when we feel like life is letting us down, like God is letting us down, and like we have been abandoned by Him. 

            Learning to praise Him and trust Him (and to glorify Him) completely and at all times - regardless of what is going on in our lives – is part of the journey.  And it can only be learned the hard way.  It can only be learned . . .

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Valleys and Mountaintops

            James 1:2-4:  “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

            I think many of us know well the ups and downs of life.  In fact, we may have spent more time in the valleys than on the mountaintops.  We may have had our heart and spirit squashed over and over again. 
            Yet through the trials and heartache we learn this important lesson: This life is not all there is and this world really holds nothing for us. 
            Through the pain, we learn to live for eternity, not for the delights of this world.  We learn that our joy and strength and purpose are found in the Lord, not in anything this world can give us or do for us. 
            And these are eternally important lessons to learn.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Falling Apart at the Feet of God

            “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  (Psalm 34:18)  

            “Those who know Your name will trust in You, for You, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek You.”  (Psalm 9:10)

            Having grown up with a biological dad who had almost nothing to do with me and two ex-step-dads who I lost contact with eventually (one after a really, REALLY messy divorce) and a current step-dad who . . . well, I am just too old for a new dad . . . I have never really felt like I belonged to a dad, like I really mattered to one. 
            I grew up always feeling like the outsider, a step-child who didn’t quite fit in or have a place to belong.  I never felt like I could be myself with a dad, like I was fully loved for who I was.  It was always just a matter of time before they left. 
            And this caused a terrible fear of abandonment and a fear of being a burden to anyone.  It caused me to lean only on myself and to polish up my outside so that I earned love and approval and acceptance.  It caused me to always keep my distance, to keep walls up around my heart to protect it from being vulnerable, being hurt.  It caused me to always feel like I was on the outside, looking in.

            And I didn’t know that I was doing this with God, too, until a series of trials crushed my confidence in myself and taught me that I was not as strong and capable as I thought I was.  I learned that I couldn’t do it all on my own, like I was used to doing.  I learned that I really needed God.  Not just wanted Him, but needed Him.  Desperately needed Him. 
            I wasn’t used to needing a father.  I tried not to need a father.  Fathers let you down.

Monday, January 2, 2017

You might have problems accepting God's love if . . .

            As I said in previous posts, I had trouble embracing God’s love because I never felt “good enough.”  I never felt that like I deserved to be loved, like He could love me for me. 
            But I wanted His love.  So I kept busy trying to make myself “good enough.”  I tried hard to pray right, talk right, think right, and act right.  But none of this earns His love because His love is free and already available to us. 
            But if I couldn’t believe that then I couldn’t really live in His love, because I was too busy trying to earn something that could never be earned - something that could only be accepted by a humble heart that is willing to reach out and grab ahold of it, as the free gift that it is. 

Unearnable Love

            One of the hardest lessons I have had to learn in my spiritual life (and in my earthly life) is to let myself be loved by someone . . . by Someone. 
            I come from a very dysfunctional home.  A bio-dad and two step-dads by the time I was 8.  And then another step-dad (after a very messy divorce) when I was in my late-20’s.  I didn’t grow up with my bio-dad or his family.  I didn’t even really meet them until my teens.  And then after that, I’d see my grandparents, uncles, and cousins about once or twice a year, sometimes less.  And I’d see my dad and half-siblings once every several years or so. 

            I never really felt like I belonged to a dad or had a place in my extended families.  And this feeling carried over to my relationship with God.
            I didn’t know it earlier in my Christian life, but my relationship with Him was based on fear, not on love.  I desperately wanted to please Him not because I loved Him and valued His love for me, but because I was afraid of “doing it wrong,” of being displeasing to Him, of failing Him.  I never really felt like I belonged to Him or mattered to Him, like He could really love me for me.  And so I felt like I had to earn His love and acceptance and grace. 
            I didn’t really know how to let myself be loved by Him because I didn’t feel like I was worth loving.  And I didn’t understand the unconditional nature of His love, that I don’t have to be worthy of love because He loves us anyway, as we are.  And so I kept myself busy trying to earn His love . . . when what I really needed to do was simply accept it for the free gift that it is. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Love, Heal Me

            “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  (Psalm 34:17-18)  

            “Love, Heal Me” is one of my favorite songs by my favorite band, The City Harmonic.  It’s about being broken down before the Lord and crying out to Him in your pain.  It’s about bringing all of your weakness and hurt to the Lord and letting Him – whose name is Love – heal you.  (And I love, love, love the opening line of "Fell Apart," another favorite song by that band.  One of the best lines ever written.  And you have to listen to "Sweetly Broken" by Jeremy Riddle.  These are three of the best songs I've ever heard.)  
            This has been the kind of year I have had.  2016 has not been a good year.  Between a panic attack (a new thing for me), a mild nervous breakdown, almost losing my mother several times (due to a ruptured gall-bladder which led to sepsis. . . she told me that she was so near death that her life actually "flashed before her eyes," in a collage of moving pictures on the hospital walls), my fear of being the worst homeschooling mom ever, a situation that someone else got us involved in that could have gotten us into big trouble with the wrong people, another situation that I can’t talk about yet (let’s just say that it’s a big one), growing disappointment with our church over an important issue and wondering if it’s time to look for another church, and constant anxiety as I tried to get my feet back under me again . . . between all of this, I have been a wreck.