Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Stingy Grace

It wasn't his birthday, or Christmas, or even allowance day...  He hadn't done anything special or deserving of standing in the middle of the toy aisle at Walmart, but there he was, looking up at me with pure joy in his eyes, holding a new Lego set, that he didn't earn.  That joy lasted all of the rest of the day, but it was quickly forgotten the next morning.  After doing the rest of our shopping (that the big brothers HATE to do), we loaded up the car and headed home.  Before we pulled all the way in the driveway he was hanging out the window, bragging to his older brother, about the Lego set, mom just bought him.  Had big brother known that there was a chance he could get something at the store he would have gone, but since he thought it was just a grocery shopping trip he wanted to stay home, and he was green with envy that he didn't get something from the store...  it wasn't fair.  Big brother wanted to go the store and get a toy now too. 

I couldn't take him that day or the next or even the third day, because some mysterious illness plagued our house, but when everybody was well, middle child reminded me of how I had promised to take him to get a toy.  It had been just long enough for little brother to forget that he had been the object of blessing a few days before and he was upset.  He was jealous and angry, but much too smart to say anything to me, he didn't have to though, because his face said it all.  He was overjoyed when it was his turn to be blessed, but he didn't want anyone else to get the same undeserved goodness. 

Oh, how I know how he feels.  I'm stingy with God's grace just like he is stingy with mine.  I've been forgiven a million times for a million things, and blessed beyond anything I deserved or earned, and when it's my turn to be on the receiving end of mercy and grace I am overjoyed.  God had been extravagant with the way he has blessed my life.  I know I don't deserve the goodness that he has poured into my life, but I accept it with gladness...  Until I have to share it with someone else.  Christ has forgiven me for the unforgivable, but when it's my turn to forgive, I hold on to my grace.

I rejoice in the fact that I am accepted just as I am in the presence of God, but expect other people to be something other than themselves in my presence.  I can live close to God in my brokenness and know that I am loved unconditional, but I reject the brokenness in others that makes them do the things they do.  I drink in freely the love of God, but refuse to pour it out on other people. 

There is a guy in the Bible who has his very own book about exactly this...  Jonah was a prophet, he shared God's message of grace and forgiveness to his fellow Israelites.   Jonah must of known God's forgiveness very well to be chosen to share it with others...  You can't give what you've never received, BUT in Jonah's mind God went way too far when he sent Jonah to go to the wicked city of Nineveh and share about God's forgiveness and grace.  All 4 chapters are a testimony of just how stingy Jonah was with God's grace.   Finally, after a lot of drama, Jonah goes and preaches in Nineveh and everyone in the city, from the King all the way down, all of them, repented and followed God.   Chapter 4 tells us that Jonah went and sat on the hill above the city, angry with God for being so good to heathens...

I love Jonah's honesty when he prays to God, but it's SHOCKING what he has the audacity to say...

"But Jonah was greatly displeased and became furious.  He prayed to the Lord: "Please, Lord, isn't this what I said while I was still in my own country?  That is why I fled to Tarshsish in the first place.  I KNEW THAT YOU ARE A MERCIFUL AND COMPASSIONATE GOD, slow to anger, RICH in faithful love, and the One who relents from disaster."  Jonah 4:1-2

Then Jonah begs to die, because of how good God has been to his enemies.  How did Jonah KNOW that God was all of those things???  He had been the recipient of God's AMAZING GRACE, but he was stingy when it was time for God to be good to someone else. 

Are you that way?  Is is hard to give the grace that you've been given?  Do you somehow deserve it more than others?  You will know the answer to this question is yes if there is a person in your life it is impossible for you to forgive.  Do you find it hard to love them, to speak kindly to them, to be patient with their brokenness???  Don't be stingy with God's goodness.  He has been extravagant with you...  He has loved you with a love that you don't deserve and paid the ultimate cost to forgive you.

God the Father sent his own son to die for us so that we could freely be forgiven of our sins, and He expects us to pass that grace and mercy on to other people.  It is costly, but if we have a right understanding of exactly what God has done for us, being compassionate, slow to anger, rich in faithful love, the One who has saved us from disaster then we can give that same thing away to others.  It's our turn to bless someone with the grace we have received. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

Groomed for Greatness... Jedi Knight or Sith Lord?

The dishes are piled high in the sink, in the background I can hear the hum of the washing machine and dryer, on my dining room table there are clothes that should have been put away two days ago, and everywhere you look there is something that needs to be done...  Today I will break up 1000 fights, I will kiss 25 boo-boos, I will listen to how unfair life is at least 55 times, and I will wonder if there is more to life than this. 

I look into the eyes of women all the time and see the same thoughts and I know I'm not alone.  We want to know that we matter, that this matters, that life is not pointless...  I see it in the eyes of my children.  They are looking for what makes them uniquely amazing.  Is it soccer?  Is it football?  Am I smart?  Am I talented?  What one thing can define me so that I can be somebody? 

We all want to be important.  We starting asking children at 4 what they want to be when they grow up.  We want them to know who they are and what makes them amazing.  We all want to be somebody. 

This is nothing new and it's very human of us...  but what does the Bible say about this?  What does Jesus have to say about our striving for greatness? 

In Matthew 20 the Mother of James and John, two of Jesus' disciples came to him asking for greatness and position for her sons in Jesus' future kingdom.  You see I think everyone that was following  Jesus was doing so, because they had seen his miracles.  They had seen his power and they craved that.  They wanted to be close to the power.  They thought he had come to be the new king of Israel and set her free from Roman rule.  I don't think they had any idea what Jesus was really doing on earth and I think we are so much like that even in our day.  I think we think following Jesus is going to bring us some kind of greatness.  So, we die a 1000 deaths each day, because nothing great ever happens. 

Jesus was constantly setting the disciples straight about what he was really doing and he does the same with us, but we just don't want to receive it.  We keep ignoring the truth.

1.  We are somebody, because we were created in the image of God and we bear his image in this world.
2.  We are here to bring glory and honor to God BY SERVING OTHERS.

We have to hold on to these two truths or we will never, ever be satisfied in this life.  We will always be striving for more. 

Jesus said "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and men of high position exercise power over them.  It must not be like that among you.  ON THE CONTRARY, whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your SLAVE; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to GIVE HIS LIFE- a ransom for many."

This is not the answer anyone wants to hear.  I know that because our ways are not His ways, that's why Jesus said "on the contrary"...  We need to let that phrase define our lives...  On the contrary.  God is doing something different than we think.  Jesus said we must lay down our lives.  We must die to our plans, hopes and dreams...  and exchange them for his. 

This makes me think about Star Wars again...  To be a Jedi you must lay down your life for the greater good of the galaxy.  You use your power for the good of everyone else, even if that means laying down you life... That was exhibited perfectly in Obi-Wan.  He continually tried to remind Anakin that his life, his power, him being a Jedi was NOT ABOUT HIM.  The greed and thirst of power and recognition turned Anakin from Jedi knight to Sith Lord, Darth Vadar. 

When we forget what this is all about and that there is something greater than ourselves going on in the galaxy we become Darth Vadar...   When I feel misunderstood, under-appreciated, ignored, purposeless I turn into a Sith Lord...  I take my wrath out on everyone around me.  It (the whole universe) becomes all about me.  Every red light turns into something to whine about and say "It's not fair".   Every mundane, necessary activity in my life becomes an obstacle to everyone realizing my greatness...  but what if my greatness is found in living my little life wholly abandoned to the greater good of something other than myself?  What if I play my little part in God's big story and keep my eyes focused on His big plan?  Can I find satisfaction in that?  I think so.  What if my eyes are always open to the little moments that God is using in my life?  What is it's those little moments of true connection with hurting people around me that make my life great?  What if?

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Jedi Lessons.

Star Wars has taken over my house.  If they are not watching one of the movies they are having galactic battles complete with red, green, and blue lightsabers, and quoting their favorite lines from beloved characters.  These four boys have fallen hard and I can't say I blame them.  I don't remember watching the movies a million years ago, even though I did see them, but I'm seeing them with all new eyes now.  Older eyes, wiser eyes.  In the last few weeks I have laughed and cried and pondered.  Watching the story unfold has been a fun family adventure, but there's more than that...  It is a powerful and well-written story filled with many life lessons along the way. 

My little guys favorite character is of course the good guy Luke.  He struts around with light-saber in hand, striking down invisible enemies and saving the day.  When you're two you always want to be the good guy.  His big brother who has struggled with good and evil already identifies himself with Darth and wants to be powerful so he can take over the galaxy.  I think that comes from having 2 older brothers that push him around all the time. 

I have a favorite too...  The struggle between good and evil is represented perfectly in Anakin Skywalker.  You love him, you hate him.  You hurt for him, because you have hurt before too.  Watching him go from light to dark to light again is a sadly, beautiful struggle.  The scene when he takes his first breath as Darth Vadar is so powerful and the scene when he asks Luke to remove his mask, so he can see his son with his own eyes, made me cry like a baby.  The struggle is real.   The scene that has stuck with me the most was a very simple moment between Anakin and Yoda.  Anakin is telling Yoda about the dreams (premonitions) he's having of Padme's death and Yoda says,

"Careful you must be when sensing the future, Anakin! The fear of loss is the path to the dark side."

The fear of loosing his wife was driving Anakin to do whatever he could do to save her, but his irrational fear eventually became the death of the very person he loved.

Did you know that fear is actually the opposite of love.  The bible says that "There is no fear in love.  But perfect love casts out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love."  1 John: 4:18  Fear keeps us from being able to be loved or love in return. 

Anakin's fear eventually turned his love for Padme into hate.  I have been there before.  My irrational fears have propelled me into a downward spiral of jealousy, then bitterness, and eventually hate.  My imaginations of the future, based in fear, have kept me from enjoying the beauty of the relationships around me.  Fear of loosing love has led me to push people away...  thinking it better to be alone than endure imagined heartbreak. 

Insecurity- lack of confidence or assurance; self-doubt or doubt in others has kept me from completely giving myself to other people.  Just as that verse says the one who fears is not made perfect in love...  I have self destructed so many relationships because of my insecurity and fear. 

Security- freedom from care, anxiety, or doubt is the only way we can truly love and be loved. 

David said in Psalms 23:4 "Though I walk through the shadow of death, I WILL FEAR NO EVIL; Your rod and staff they comfort me." 

How and where did David find this confidence?  Verse 1 says "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not lack."  There is only one place to find complete security and that is the One who made heaven and earth.  David knew that the Creator/King, all powerful, all sufficient God of this universe was his Shepherd.  He was confident in God's love for him.  He knew that God was going to lead him and guide him and that confidence made him secure. 

A.W. Tozer says "What comes into our minds when we think of God is the most important thing about us."

What we believe about God determines everything we do.  IF we are secure in God's love our fears will disappear, because we know that whatever He allows in our life He will work out for our good.  When we believe we have been deeply loved by God, then we can allow ourselves to be deeply loved by others and we can allow ourselves to love others free from fear. 

Fear is the death of relationships.  Insecurity leads us into darkness, isolation and loneliness.  Proverbs 9:10 says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding."  The fear that the bible is talking about here is not a phobia, but Reverential Awe or worship.  When we worship God and we are secure in his love all of our fears will be replaced and leave us free to love. 

We know that "God proves his love for us in while we were yet sinners Christ died for us." Romans 5:8.  The Bible tells us to remember (keep in mind) this truth...  When fear comes in it's up to us to replace it with the truth of God's love for us. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Houston, We have a problem.

"Abide in my love."  What does that mean exactly Lord?  It was so much easier before things got so personal and complicated.  I remember when I was planning our wedding and the anticipation of it all was intoxicating.  I could see it all in my future and I knew everything was going to be beautiful because I prayed and you had answered.  I could envision our perfect life, our perfect love story, our perfect children.  I saw it all there in my dreams, bright blue, cloudless skies as far into the future as I could see.  I never pictured anything less than perfection and those expectations have paralyzed me over and over again.   My life has the shell of all of my prayers and dreams, but the guts are very different.  My reality is nothing like what I was anticipating, and I hate it, but I love it.  My dreams were impossible, but I didn't know that.  My dreams never included a husband who had an opinion of his own or children with real personalities, or learning struggles, or temper tantrums.  My dreams didn't include losing my mom to cancer, when my babies were to young to remember her.  My dreams didn't include struggles at all.  I hate the hurt that comes with the struggle, but I know it's all for His good.

A few weeks ago I was sitting on the patio reading a book, when my 12 year old daughter plopped down in the chair across from me.  I knew something was bothering her immediately.  She began making small talk, that led into an hour long conversation, that eventually came to the heart of her struggle...  she's mad at God because she has some very real hurts and struggles that she can't understand.  We cried together as I shared with her that I know how she feels.  I don't know why God does what he does.  I do know that His ways are not my ways and 100 percent of the time I am fighting to have my will over his.   My dreams never included having tear-filled conversations with my daughter about why God allows us to hurt so deeply.  Knowing that her faith would have to be her own and not something I gave her, the only comfort I had to offer her was that it's in the most painful moments of my life that the presence of God was the most real to me.   I had to be honest and admit to her that if my life were the perfect picture I wanted it to be I would never turn to God.  I would worship a very different god, the one of my own making, a dead god, who NEVER interfered in my life.  That is NOT the Creator/King of this universe.  He does what He wills and that includes messing with our little lives and using them for His purposes.  The only way He's ever gotten my attention is through a painful circumstance.  

I want God to prove his love for me by doing what I want...  like a genie in a bottle, I make a wish and he grants and poof I know he loves me.  You can imagine my inward struggle when He doesn't answer my prayer or change my situation or when he allows me to struggle through a long, hard season.  Jesus says "Abide in my love" and I say HOW?  Like a spoiled, narcissistic child I play the game "If you loved me you would..."  I fight and struggle to have my own way until I'm completely limp with exhaustion, because you can't fight with God and win.  Defiant and angry with my fist lifted in the air, I cry out for proof of this unconditional love, waiting for any answer other than the one I already know.   He whispers the same thing to my heart every time, "BUT God demonstrates HIS OWN LOVE for us in THIS: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8

When John the Baptist, Jesus' own cousin, was sitting in prison, waiting for his execution I'm sure he was thinking that if Jesus was really the son of God he would come and set him free.  In fact he sent some of his disciples to Jesus to say, "Are you the one we seek, or should we look for another."  Basically, he is saying "IF you were really God you would get me out of this mess."  Jesus sends them back with a very simple message...  "Go and show John AGAIN those things that you hear and see; The blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.  AND BLESSED IS HE, WHO IS NOT OFFENDED BECAUSE OF ME."  Jesus is Messiah even when our circumstances make us question.  God is good, even when life is not. 

If we have our eyes on our circumstances we will doubt God's goodness and sometimes even his existence.  If we have our eyes on our pain, fears, or perfection we will live in disappointment.  Jesus said "Abide (live) in my love."  How do we do that?  The only way to abide in the love of God is to remember (keep in mind) what Christ has done for us on the cross.

It's a constant struggle for me to keep hold of this truth.  I want God to prove his love for me by giving me a struggle free, perfect life, but what I fail to realize is that I would never grow, never have a real faith, never mature.   I'm thankful for this reminder every time my 2 year old throws a fit.  I see myself in the struggle between his will and mine.  I see how little he knows and how his limited understanding determines how he views his world.  He wants what he wants with no thoughts of consequences...  I am so much like that.  I'm so thankful that God knows better than I do and that he will not allow me to have what I want IF it's not for my good. 

Abide in my love.  Stay there.  You will have peace that passing understanding and bear much fruit, but you have to stay in my love...  My love is that when you were hopeless without an escape, I made a way for you to be forgiven and have eternal life.  While you were covered in sin and standing in judgement...  I took your place.  I bore your punishment.  Abide in my love.