Love for the Lawless

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A few weeks ago my dog ran away.

It was a perfect, sunny Sunday. We were leaving the house through the garage, so I pressed the button to open the big door, then turned back to grab his leash from the hook on the wall. In less than 10 seconds, he spied two stray dogs across the street and took off. Suddenly, my normally well-behaved dog was deaf to me. As you might expect, happy to be part of the game, the two strays led Brave on a wild game of chase through the neighborhood.

Within moments, they were out of sight. The last tail ducked into the woods at the end our cul-de-sac. Unreservedly, I charged through my neighbor’s yard and into a mass of thorny vines. I plunged toward a small clearing and then scanned the horizon for Brave. No dogs. Anywhere.

Hysterical, I ran the three blocks back to my house. I screamed at my husband, “Brave ran away! He is chasing some strays that were in the yard across the street!” Without waiting for a response, I grabbed Brave’s leash, which I had dropped in my panic and took off again, with no idea where to go.

Because God is good, I didn’t have to look very far. There was Brave, just across the street again, stand stupidly in someone’s front yard. This time when I called, he ran straight to me.

It’s funny when God decides to drop little lessons in our hearts. As I secured Brave to the end of his leash, a recent sermon came to mind. The pastor compared Christians struggling to live “good” lives and follow all of God’s rules to a dog on a chain.

A Christian cannot experience true freedom in Christ while trying desperately to be righteous on his own. Paul talks about this in Galatians 5. But often, we’re afraid that if we break the chain, or unleash ourselves from the bondage of the law, we will lose our closeness to, or relationship with God. At the same time, we often feel frustrated and bitter about having to be “good” all the time.

In my runaway dog story, as soon as Brave realized he wasn’t on a leash, he took off after the other dogs excited to experience the same freedom they had. Similarly, when we understand our freedom from the bondage of the law, there’s a chance that we’ll stray. But it’s vitally important that we grasp what this freedom really is. Otherwise, we cannot fully appreciate what Christ did for us on the cross.

“So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.” Galatians 5:1

Now here’s where it gets really good! Brave came back! He was only missing for about 10 minutes. He knew that life with me was so much better than anything else he could experience in the big wide world. It’s the same way with believers in Christ. Jesus is so much better than anything we can experience or have or become.

Romans 2:4 says, “ Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?”

When Jesus died on the cross, He removed the chain of the law. Romans 7:4 tells us that when we believe in Christ, we are no longer slaves to the law. We no longer have a long list of “do’s” and “do not’s”. And yes, there is the freedom to run away.

But just like Brave knew that I am good to him, that I feed and brush and care for him, those who have trusted Christ know the lovingkindness of the Father. And His kindness draws us back to Him. In fact, Psalm 63:3 tells us that God’s love is even better than life.

“Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips will praise You.”

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Stilled by Silence

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Silence
Lights the fuse of smoldering, quiet fear.
In chaos lay dormant all my fears.
Of nothing to say, no value to add,
No wisdom to offer.
Beneath layers of chatter and sketches,
Of Bible study books and tattered journals,
Lay a heart so searching,
Now papered with proof of fearful efforts.
But one fell-silent swoop
One hour of hands tied, lips sealed, eyes wide
And I am stripped of pretense.
And I am afraid.
But I am listening.

Just Take it Already!

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It’s a well worn passage. Matthew, Mark and Luke all record it. The memory must have been emblazoned on their minds. I imagine it was one of the few times Jesus raised his voice to the disciples.

“But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’” Luke 18:16

A couple weeks ago, the pastor at Cascade Hills Church, here in Columbus, GA, started on Mark’s version of this story. I almost rolled my eyes. Some things are just over done, right? I mean, not only does this verse parade through the halls of my Sunday school memories, but just recently I’ve studied this passage in my Good Morning Girls Bible study. I just read it in Matthew last week as part of my through-the-Bible-in-a-year program.

But, as I’m touring the halls of memory, I distinctly remember the insistence in my parents’ voices when they said, “If I told you once, I told you a thousand times!” That meant, You’re supposed to remember this. It’s important!

So, I shook myself a little, refocused on the pastor and dug past empty gum wrappers and loose bobby pins to find a pen. Then, my mind drifted again, filled with questions:

What did Jesus mean, “For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”? For some reason, I started thinking along the lines of gifts. Maybe that’s because another version phrases it, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” It’s also applicable because, after all, according to 2 Peter 1:3, the God of the Kingdom is a wonderful gift giver:

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”

Romans 3:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

What is a child’s role in the gifting process? Simply receive. So, if we are the recipients of God’s good gifts, how should we receive? All Christians long for the joy of Heaven, and we know that the only way there is through the gift of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12)

So, just think with me, as His children (Gal. 4:6), how should we receive His good gifts of grace, mercy, eternal life, all that we need for life and godliness, the Holy Spirit and so much more?

1. A child never turns down a gift. Can you imagine?

2. A child will never offer to pay you back. But, as adults we spend most of our lives trying to pay God back for His kindness to us. “After all He’s done for me, it’s the least I can do for Jesus.”

3. A child is fully willing to ask for a gift. Most of us, as adults, pepper our prayers with, “Only if you want to, God. I’ll understand if you don’t.”
Or, we feel guilty after a particularly needy prayer. But Jesus says, “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” John 16:24

Just some food for thought. I’d love to hear your comments. How do you receive a gift – for that matter, a compliment?

If you’re really honest, do you see yourself as working to pay God back for His goodness toward you?

Supporting Scriptures: Matt. 20:28, John 14:16, Matt. 11:28, John 14:27

 

Waiting to be…

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“I have always, essentially, been waiting. Waiting to become something else, waiting to be that person I always thought I was on the verge of becoming, waiting for that life I thought I would have. In my head, I was always one step away.” Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines: Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Everyday Life

I felt so guilty as I drug my family, friends and my God through the dregs of my eating disorder. I remember thinking so many times, “I’ll get this right tomorrow, then they will love me again.”

“I won’t be such a disappointment when I weigh enough, finish the program, eat cake with everyone, go out for pizza, etc.”

“God, I know you must be so fed up with me, so tired of my relapses and recurrent fears. When I finally get well, then you can use me. Then you can be glorified in me.”

A well-rehearsed Bible verse echoed in my mind, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” John 15:8

How on earth can God be glorified in you? My heart accused me. You have so little faith, you can’t even eat!  What godly fruit are you evidencing? Why would anyone believe in your God? You’re a terrible example. 

No one else ever said those words, but I believed them deep in my heart. The feelings of failure served only to push me deeper into depression and deeper into anorexic habits fueled by fear and hopelessness. What if God gave up on me?

Just this morning, the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to another Bible verse that I’ve known almost all my life. I can hardly believe I didn’t see the full truth, the full counsel of God’s Word before!

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23a

The fruit that glorifies God and that identifies me as His disciple is not my performance! It isn’t how well I demonstrate Christian behavior. The fruit that I marks me as belonging to Jesus is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, the very same Spirit that He sent to teach me all things and remind me of everything Jesus said and did for me. (John 14:26)

But the best news was yet to come. Jesus also said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” John 15:9

I began to trace the references of God’s love for Jesus through the New Testament. In John 11:42, Jesus was confident in God’s love and that God heard everything He prayed. In Matthew 3:17, the Father shouted from the heavens that Jesus is His beloved son and that He is pleased with Him. In John 15:24, Jesus said that the Father loved Him before the foundation of the world.

Hallelujah! Even in the midst of my darkest days, God still loves me. He sees a forgiven me through Jesus’ blood even when I despair and get discouraged. Because of Jesus, every moment of my life, I am loved, pleasing to my Father, heard by my Father – from the foundation of the world.

The Moralistic Appeal

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On Monday, I confessed several ways that I see the moralistic gospel veiling pride in my own life. Continued reading reminded me of a specific instance, or several instances.

When I was 14, I began a long struggle with anorexia. I endured hours and hours of counseling. I was treated from every angle – coddling and compassion for the disease that assailed me, conviction and chastisement for  yielding to a sinful addiction. At first, it was easier to lean into the people who felt sorry for me. But, as God has peeled away the scabs of pride, painfully revealing my frailty and failures, I realized that I had been lured into sin.

Personally, my eating disorder was a mask for pride. I had invented my own moral code: extreme bodily self-control. I berated myself for succumbing to food or a shortened workout. I looked down on others who couldn’t mortify their own desires. So pride festered, manifesting itself in my own bodily destruction – what sin will always do.

When I married, my wonderful husband turned out to be human too. I won’t confess his weaknesses, but he had a few addictions and failures of his own. I mounted my moralistic ladder and instead of displaying Christ’s love to him, I preached a moralistic gospel. He didn’t measure up to my personal moral code, he wasn’t reading the Bible as much I was, he wasn’t seeking Godly counsel as I was, he wasn’t fighting his demons as valiantly as I was. So I lambasted him for his shortcomings. Regrettably, I even doubted his salvation.

Case in point – a moralistic gospel.

If I can refine one nugget of gold from the years of my eating disorder, it is that God used it later in life to show me how patient, graceful and forgiving He had been toward me. God even showed me how my own family had displayed the true gospel toward me in the midst of my eating disorder. In this way, He convicted me of my counterfeit life-preaching toward my husband. If God stooped so low as to redeem me from the pit of rebellion, how could I insist that anyone else climb out of the pit, clean themselves off and then present themselves to the God of Grace?

Wax’s chapter on the moralistic gospel in Counterfeit Gospels, rings true in my own history. I pray the Lord to keep me humbly in the center of the one true gospel.

Using A Broken Body and Bloody Heart

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I am so broken. In many ways, I feel like I need to set myself on a shelf somewhere in the corner of life and wait until I’ve healed. Once my cracks are glued together, my bruises faded and I look presentable again – then, then I can serve. Surely God has no use for a weepy, tattered Christian. Surely God has more dynamic, charismatic individuals who can make a deeper, splashier, more memorable impact on the world.

My marriage stings, my ego smarts. I wrestle with compulsions, pride, addictions, envy, loneliness, fear and a myriad other maladies that may not be obvious this very minute. Due to my foibles, I was stunned and not a little nervous when God began calling me.

Recently, I finished a round of group therapy for wounded spouses. It was a conference call setting. I have only met one of the three women that I shared with over those 12 weeks. Each one of us has similar stories. We have each experienced similar offenses. Each one of us felt impotent, needy and unqualified to handle our own pain, much less minister to the needs of anyone else. That’s where God surprised us.

The group moderator wisely guided our conversations using provocative questions and homework. Then, she used us to teach each other.

“D,” how would you advise Abby in this situation?

Quite honestly, when the group began, I listed to D and J tell the summary of their stories. Not in a million years did I think I would learn from them – they were just as broken as I was!

At the same time, I began taking a Bible study at church called, Enhancing Your Marriage. My first impulse was to keep my head down and avoid having to admit the fragility of my marriage. Two days after our first class, the group leader called me and asked if I would facilitate a small group. The Holy Spirit insisted that I should accept the responsibility.

I met the six other women the following week, and discovered that their individual relationships were thriving compared to my own. Then the Holy Spirit began to insist that I share my vulnerabilities, my weaknesses, my pain and His sustaining grace in the midst of it all. I hope that I have been of some encouragement to the other girls, but certainly their responses to my role as small group leader have challenged and graced me.

That’s what God does. He pares us down, whittles us and refines us until we feel like there is nothing left. When we are at our weakest, then He places us in the most strategic places.

Remember the simplest definition of a mentor is “advisor.” Verbally, I am in no place to offer advise to any other broken human being. But perhaps, when I am weakest – willing to shut my own mouth – God admonishes and encourages His people through me. Praise the Lord!

P.S. If your own marriage is struggling due to the offense of a spouse, there is hope. There is tomorrow, there is grace and a future and a hope. If you need help, please consider this resource: A Woman’s Healing Journey. 

A Terribly Good God

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The dichotomous nature of my One Christ.

I fuss to absorb Him in one small life.

To love an enemy, die to live.

But God is Love?

Who sends sinners to hell?

Saved by grace, but saved for works?

Justice and mercy so juxtaposed.

Confusion, angst, frustration grows.

King in a feed trough.

Revolutionary fishermen.

Surrender and stand firm.

Sing in suffering?

The only way this equation works,

Imbalanced as it is on any given day.

My momentary whim, or colored lense.

The only way to reconcile the polar jealous vengeance of my sweet Savior.

Subtract myself.

Excise my views and reputation,

My desires and interpretation.

Remove my notions,

Seal my questions.

It is solely Him, I am souly His.

I don’t matter. That they see Jesus -

instead of - not beside me.

I don’t wield the gavel or weigh the merit of goodness.

I don’t have in view earth’s timeline, stretched through eternity.

I don’t weigh my pain against my joy.

I don’t balance the scales of faith and works.

I am not, but that He Is…is enough.

Shared at Gooseberry Garden

Suspended

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Don’t touch it!

More fragile than glass,

Credit: Charlotte's Fancy

Delicate joy.

 

See-through silver

Floats nothing thoughts skyward.

Suspend for a second,

A thought, just a whim.

 

Defy the ground,

Bound for bliss.

Of nothing thoughts,

Sweet ignorance.

 

Child-like play

Priceless fun.

Bubbles tease

And prisms spun.

 

Carefree, airy,

Boundless space,

Drifting heavenward,

Child-like grace.

For Bluebell Books