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Paul.  The Paul.  The apostle Paul.  He wrote most of the New Testament.  He was the greatest missionary the world has ever known.  He was sent out by God himself to found and establish a great portion of the early church.  This is who he was – by God’s grace alone.  God’s will is what made Paul who he was.  Before God’s grace entered Paul’s life, who he was was ugly.  He was Saul – the self-righteous religious superior who hated and murdered true Christians.  God’s will made a hopeless man into a hope-filled man.

Paul wrote Ephesians.  This – a letter to Christ’s church in the city of Ephesus.

Ephesus was a great city of importance politically, educationally, and culturally.  Idolatry was rampant.  Christians in Ephesus struggled under false teaching and ungodly interpretations of the gospel.  Paul’s purpose in writing to them was to offer grace and peace through reinforcing sound doctrine and offering the confidence found in spiritual, not physical, blessings in Christ.  In Ephesians, Paul focuses on sharing the mystery of the church.  

 While many a teacher may give in to the crowd-pleasing temptation to begin by asking and expecting God to bless us, Paul begins his teaching by blessing God.  He follows up by telling his readers why we should do so.  

So why?  Because he has blessed us.  One who knows that he has already been blessed by God has only gratitude to speak of.  Those who continuously ask for more often are those who take for granted the greatest blessings.

And what are the greatest blessings?  How has he blessed us?  Spiritually.   While we are constantly tempted to trust in physical and material blessings, Paul emphasizes that the greatest blessings we possess as believers are spiritual.  Therefore, when our physical, emotional, and material circumstances are the very worst, we must recall God’s goodness by remembering the spiritual blessings we have been so generously given.  Paul identifies them here as: election, love, adoption, redemption, forgiveness, a guaranteed inheritance, and the seal of the Holy Spirit.  

Paul gives thanks and prays for his fellow believers.  He asks that wisdom and hope might be added to their faith.  He reminds them that Christ was resurrected and that the same power which resurrected Christ from the dead is what is working in them.  He reminds them that Christ is seated at the right hand of God with all rule, all authority, all power, all dominion, and all glory.  

Therefore, I can trust him.  You can trust him.  Paul reminded them so that you and I would remind each other of who we are, what we’ve been given, and, most importantly, who God is.  Some days are harder than others.  No matter what we face in this wilderness we call earth, the Lord is in control of it all.  The Lord who chose us; who loves us; who adopted us; who redeemed us; who forgave us; who sealed us; who waits in heaven to give us the inheritance he alone purchased for us – eternal life.  Let us cease from fear and be thankful.  The best is yet to come.

fix

“I spent a lot of money on this.  I had it replaced twice.  Every time I go to use this tool, it falls apart.  It’s worthless.”

I watched as the mechanic tried unsuccessfully to repair the brand new God-forsaken object that was supposed to be helping him repair something else.  I watched as the ball bearings rolled out and underneath the car he was working on.  I watched as the entire tool fell completely apart in his hand as he tried to piece it back together.  I thought about his great level of frustration and I considered what he had said…

“Every time I go to use this tool, it falls apart.”

…and I saw myself.  Surely the Lord sits on his throne watching me fall apart in his hands right at the very moments when he is seeking to use me most.  I was bought at quite an extravagant price, too.  He continuously returns me to himself and makes me new, but it seems that the very mechanics of my inward parts disallow me from delivering when the stakes are highest.

After puzzling a few moments more, I reneged on the thought of God’s disappointment with me and I reminded myself that I am not simply a tool made of cold metal.  I am, rather, a child.  His child.  God may indeed be a stellar mechanic when it comes to matters of the heart, but he is never a frustrated one.  He is not a disappointed boss – ever – because disappointment, by nature, comes only upon the heels of failed expectations.  The Lord of the Universe knows and has always known exactly who I am, where I’m at, and what I will do.  He knows absolutely everything and therefore never expects anything that will not come to be.  He already knows when and where and how very much we all will fail throughout our lives, and yet, he saved us kids anyway.  He bought us at an outrageous price.  He adopted us at the very time when we were most undesirable and he seeks to use us even though we often fall completely apart when he seeks to use us under pressure.

All is not lost, though.

When that tool broke for the third time, the mechanic reach instinctively down and positioned the new part by hand without it.  He showed himself an expert builder by his clear lack of need for that small, insignificant tool regarding the sure accomplishment of his desired result.  Likewise, through each human failure, we prove our God stronger; more able; altogether independent; an expert builder in need of nothing and no one regarding the sure accomplishment of his purposes.  Thankfully, unlike the mechanic’s tool, our failures do not make us useless.  Consider Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Solomon, Peter, Paul…and these were those who did some of the greatest things for the kingdom of God!

 God does not throw us away when we fall apart under pressure.  Instead, he takes those opportunities to discipline, prune, and mature us – loving father to ever-learning child.  He uses those times to prove himself strong and perfect in our weakness, and that, friends, is wonderful news.  These truths should encourage us if we are his children.

As we embark upon a brand new (home) school year, I rest.  After the worst year of my life, I can confidently say that if I am faithless, he remains faithful.  (2Timothy 2:13)  I do not have to worry whether he will carry me when I inevitably become overwhelmed.  He is the one who called me to work in this capacity.  I sometimes act like a hammer trying to be a screwdriver or a drill trying to be a fire extinguisher.  But God made me a wrench’s wife.  He asked me to teach the mechanic’s children and he specifically said I ought to do so at home.

By the grace of God, that is what I am about to do once again.  The days I fail will prove my God strong.  The days I succeed will prove him faithful.  I pray that every day in between will find me growing more mature, less unworthy of my calling and more useful to his kingdom.  Amen.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. ~2 Corinthians 12:9

fix

“I spent a lot of money on this. I had it replaced twice. Every time I go to use this tool, it falls apart. It’s worthless.”

I watched as the mechanic tried unsuccessfully to repair the brand new God-forsaken object that was supposed to be helping him repair something else. I watched as the ball bearings rolled out and underneath the car he was working on. I watched as the entire tool fell completely apart in his hand as he tried to piece it back together. I thought about his great level of frustration and I considered what he had said…

“Every time I go to use this tool, it falls apart.”

…and I saw myself. Surely the Lord sits on his throne watching me fall apart in his hands right at the very moments when he is seeking to use me most. I was bought at quite an extravagant price, too. He continuously returns me to himself and makes me new, but it seems that the very mechanics of my inward parts disallow me from delivering when the stakes are highest.

After puzzling a few moments more, I reneged on the thought of God’s disappointment with me and I reminded myself that I am not simply a tool made of cold metal. I am, rather, a child. His child. God may indeed be a stellar mechanic when it comes to matters of the heart, but he is never a frustrated one. He is not a disappointed boss – ever – because disappointment, by nature, comes only upon the heels of failed expectations. The Lord of the Universe knows and has always known exactly who I am, where I’m at, and what I will do. He knows absolutely everything and therefore never expects anything that will not come to be. He already knows when and where and how very much we all will fail throughout our lives, and yet, he saved us kids anyway. He bought us at an outrageous price. He adopted us at the very time when we were most undesirable and he seeks to use us even though we often fall completely apart when he seeks to use us under pressure.

All is not lost, though.

When that tool broke for the third time, the mechanic reach instinctively down and positioned the new part by hand without it. He showed himself an expert builder by his clear lack of need for that small, insignificant tool regarding the sure accomplishment of his desired result. Likewise, through each human failure, we prove our God stronger; more able; altogether independent; an expert builder in need of nothing and no one regarding the sure accomplishment of his purposes. Thankfully, unlike the mechanic’s tool, our failures do not make us useless. Consider Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Solomon, Peter, Paul…and these were those who did some of the greatest things for the kingdom of God!

God does not throw us away when we fall apart under pressure. Instead, he takes those opportunities to discipline, prune, and mature us – loving father to ever-learning child. He uses those times to prove himself strong and perfect in our weakness, and that, friends, is wonderful news. These truths should encourage us if we are his children.

As we embark upon a brand new (home) school year, I rest. After the worst year of my life, I can confidently say that if I am faithless, he remains faithful. (2Timothy 2:13) I do not have to worry whether he will carry me when I inevitably become overwhelmed. He is the one who called me to work in this capacity. I sometimes act like a hammer trying to be a screwdriver or a drill trying to be a fire extinguisher. But God made me a wrench’s wife. He asked me to teach the mechanic’s children and he specifically said I ought to do so at home.

By the grace of God, that is what I am about to do once again. The days I fail will prove my God strong. The days I succeed will prove him faithful. I pray that every day in between will find me growing more mature, less unworthy of my calling and more useful to his kingdom. Amen.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. ~2 Corinthians 12:9

 

robin

“Mommy, that boy over there looks like the alien.”

“Mia, that’s not nice.  What alien?!”

“You, know, the alien guy from that show.  The guy who died.”

“Oh.  You mean Robin Williams.  Mork?”

“Yeah.”

Needless to say, my little girls like to watch reruns with Grandma.  

Even my children have not escaped grieving the death of a man the vast majority of we wanna-be mourners never knew.  

A man we never knew.

What did we know, though?  We knew he was talented.  We knew he was famous.  And rich.  And, perhaps, handsome.  We knew he was well-received, admired, and quite popular for several generations.  We knew that most of what he did was decent, clean, humorous, and done with excellence.  We knew we liked his work.  We knew we liked his many accomplishments.  We knew we liked him.  We really, really liked him.

Nevertheless, we did not know this man.  We never ate with him.  We did not converse.  He never called us when he won, or, when he lost.  He never asked for our help or for our children’s names.  We never spent the day hiking or picnicking or celebrating one another’s birthdays.  We did not know his address, his favorite meal, or his pets’ names.  We did not know his joy, his pain, his sins, or his struggles.  So why do we feel so attached to him and to his family’s loss?  

Well, we liked him.  We really, really liked him.  Dare I say, because we liked him so very much, we wanted to know him.  We really, really wanted to.  We wished we could have.  We’re sad that we didn’t.  I mean, he’s the kind of guy that a person would want to have around; a good guy.  This man was a high quality individual and his life’s work proved it so.  There was so much about him that was interesting; intriguing; noteworthy; brilliant; distinct.  However, none of that changes the fact that we never met this man, and, this side of eternity, we now never will.

I cannot help but wonder how many of us have the very same fictitious relationship with another extraordinary man.  A man who is also talented, remarkably rich, internationally famous, and universally well-received and admired.  Yes, many of us have this false sense of familiarity with a man who has been quite famously, and infamously, popular for generation upon generation.  We know all about how very decent, clean, excellent and exceptional his accomplishments are.  We simply love his stellar work, and, by golly, we surely do like him a whole lot.  Nevertheless, we do not know this man either.  We never eat with him.  Better yet, we never stop eating just so we can spend some time with him.  We don’t converse with him.  We don’t call him when we win, although we may often blame him when we lose.  We don’t answer when he asks us to help and we fail to remind our children of his Great Name.  We never spend the day hiking or picnicking or celebrating with him.  If we’re honest, we do not know very much about who he really is or what he is really like at all.

His name is Jesus Christ.

We may like him.  We may even really, really like him.  There is so much about him that seems interesting; intriguing; noteworthy; brilliant; distinct.  We have convinced ourselves that we know him quite well.  After all, we can quote plenty of his original lines verbatim.  We want to know him.  We wish we could.  We’re sad that we don’t.  Still, for many of us, none of that changes the fact that we have never met this man.  The only difference is, when this side of eternity hands us over, we all surely will.  

Seek him now while he may be found, friends.  He wants to know you, real-ly.

 

redeemed

In a low valley somewhere between the “Lord show mercies” and the “God please forgive me’s,” my threadbare faith became.  It became not better or worse, rather, it became what it was always meant to be.  So necessary that I could not loosen my white knuckle grip upon his pierced feet; so constant that I could not live without prayer for even one single moment.  It did not become more or less real; for it always was so.  It simply became.  No longer full of doubt; no longer man-dependent;  no longer heartless knowledge;  no longer duty driven.  No.  In that dark valley, somewhere between the “Lord show mercy’s” and the “God please forgive me’s,” my threadbare faith became a brazen blanket bleeding brand new hope.  

Change is no longer forever tomorrow’s promise used to pacify my conscience.  On the contrary, it is now a certainty grounded by the felt gratitude towards the one who did indeed have mercy and forgive me.  It’s assurance is fortified by the bitter residue left by its ugly predecessors – failure, shame, and pain.  

The scars left when one chooses to do things “the hard way” are not easily forgotten.  No.  But they do serve their purpose.  Never again will the little girl touch the stove to see if it really is hot.  Never again will she drag her soft finger along the edge of a razor blade to prove whether or not it really is sharp.  She has undoubtedly proven herself wrong.  She has unwittingly made herself an utter fool.  She holds hands with humiliation as she wakes and as she lies down.  That girl is forever changed.  She knows what she has done.  She has surely learned her lesson well.

Brokenness is her advantage; grief her teacher.  The only place she has left to go is the only place she has ever needed to be – the arms of her savior.  And after all, she is safe.  She is new, and no matter what happens from here, she trusts him.  She knows beyond the shadow of a doubt that her very life is in his hands – for better; for worse, for richer; for poorer, in sickness; in health, in joy; in sorrow, and death will never part them.  

When she thinks about how he sought her, she marvels.  She cannot doubt his great love for her.  From the “I love Jesus” cardboard sign in her childhood bedroom to the “God is love” Sunday school project which hung in her Pappy’s kitchen.  From the countless sermons she had the privilege to hear to the overwhelming provision of proper people in her life.  From his consistency to his constancy to his forgiveness.  She stands amazed.  Though she still asks her portion daily, she trusts fully in his great mercy.  She knows just who she is in him despite her failures.  She knows he has done everything necessary for her salvation.   She is free.  

Regret, accusation, guilt, and self-inflicted condemnation may try to break in upon her at times but, as with the wild wind and roaring waves, his love quiets them all with a mere word.  

To her surprise, it was not her perfection, but her imperfection and subsequent repentance covered by his perfection that eradicated her doubts.  It was not her obedience, but her willful disobedience covered by his perfect obedience that consumed her fears.  She understands what she could not comprehend before – brokenness is the prerequisite of reconciliation.  Yes, reconciliation, by very nature, has a prerequisite of brokenness.  One does not seek to fix what they believe is intact.  That burn was necessary to prove her broken.  That cut was imperative to reveal her need.  

But the end of a matter is better than it’s beginning, and patience is better than pride.  (Ecclesiastes 7:8)

Her conclusion?  She must wait.  We are called to absorb often a great amount of pain in exchange for true and lasting change within ourselves and others.  Jesus did as much and was guiltless.  How much more we who are guilty!

As she writes on the very last page of her ragged should-have-been-finished-months-ago-but-she-got-detoured-by-sin notebook, she knows that this is not the end for her.  The gospel works.  She is covered by grace.  She lives by faith.  She trusts in God.  She waits in hope.  She is living proof that even the least of these – those with absolutely no claim and nothing to bring – can be redeemed.  Dare I say, they are the only ones who ever were.  

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living!
 Wait for the Lord;
    be strong, and let your heart take courage;
    wait for the Lord! ~Psalm 27:13-14

 

 

 

cowgirl

Gentleness.

I fold my fairly drawn from a baseball hat piece of paper back up and place it in my Bible.  My husband’s newly instituted family devotion time is already proving its potential to keep me honest about my own failures. Not only that, but I’ve got a five-year old who, if I didn’t know better, could most definitely pass as the Holy Spirit incarnate.

Without reservation, every time Mommy begins to lose her patience, her temper, or even so much as her tender tone, Miss Maylee rearranges her five-year old face indignantly and asks, “Mommy, are you forgetting your gentleness?!”

“Yes.  And your sisters are forgetting their love and kindness towards each other.”

Little wonder why Daddy drew patience.  Even the Lord must lie lenient on a businessman picked to preside over a five female filled household.

We were doing a lesson on what the Bible terms “the fruit of the Spirit.”  These nine character traits are tangible evidence of God the Holy Spirit working in and out of the lives of believers.

Daddy drew patience; Mia, self-control; Addie, love; Maylee, kindness; Mom, peace; me, gentleness.

Ah, gentleness, how you elude me.  I’ll be the first to admit that this has certainly never been my strong suit.  If it were literal fruit I’m sure my gentleness might resemble more of a raisin than a grape.  For a first-class faulting finding, fact feeding, wanna-be fighter, the closest I ever come to gentleness is just being quiet.  If you don’t have anything nice to say…right.  But what is gentleness, really?

One definition describes gentleness as, “The value and quality of one’s character.  The quality of gentleness is colloquially understood to be that of kindness, consideration, and amiability.  Aristotle used it in a technical sense as the virtue that strikes the man with regard to anger: being too quick to anger is a vice, but so is being detached in a situation where anger is appropriate.  Justified and properly focused anger is named mildness or gentleness.” ~Jan Garrett

I’m an extremist.  Too quick to anger or too quiet where proper anger is appropriate.  Yep.  Sounds about right.  That’s Lori in a nutshell.

I had the pleasure of attending the Fayette County Fair with my husband, along with Little Miss Holy Spirit, and her sisters, Little Miss No Self Control and Little Miss Lack of Love.  They were climbing up a knotted rope to get to a slide.  When Little Miss Holy Spirit got to the “tippy top” (as she calls it), she decided it was the perfect time to readjust her getting-too-small-had-to-wear-them-sister’s-hand-me-down-cowgirl-boots.  Mister Growing in Patience and I watched helplessly as she nearly fell backward down onto the five climbing children behind her and metal platform below.  No casualties, though.  Thankfully, we were spared a trip to the ER by mere virtue of her fortunate ballerina balancing act.  Mister Growing in Patience got quite mad at my poor shoe choice and I did what I always do in these kind of awkward moments – as the five-year olds say, “I B-ed quiet.”

It got me to thinking…

Maybe this gentleness gig  isn’t an either/or kind of choice.  Maybe it isn’t an either flip out or say nothing kind of prerogative.  Maybe, just maybe, it’s supposed to be more like pray about what makes us angry, find a focused way to deal with it and take appropriate, albeit affectionate, action.  Balance.

All of the Christian life, practically, is about balance.  Balance.  So, I don’t know about you, but I’m putting on a pair of boots – I mean fruits – that actually fit before I try to walk the line.

” But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” ~Galatians 5:22

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jmHNfWRw-qg

cross

“I’ve been a victim of a selfish kind of love…” ~Michael Jackson

Have you ever wondered if you are part of the problem?  I have.  I was.  Listen carefully.

Fayette County.  What do you think of when you hear those words?

Fascinating history; purple mountains capped with snow in the winter, every hue in autumn, unique wildlife, and beautiful greenery in the spring and summer; opportunities to serve the less fortunate; faces who need my encouragement; great talent; natural wonders; friends; beautiful people.

I could go on.  I bet you could, too.  I know you could, in fact, because I see you shake your head.  I hear you almost everywhere I go.  You say other things, though – the things I used to say.

Obesity; welfare; ignorance; entitlement; drugs; crime; ugliness; deceit; poverty; teen pregnancy; domestic abuse; violence; fatherless children; deadbeat dads; strife; junkies; homelessness; discontentment; complaining; child abuse; hopelessness; despair; depression; wastefulness; trash; lazy people; unworthiness; bitterness; resentment.

Is there more to the story than we see?  Why, of all the places on this vast universe Our Creator could have put us, did he chose this one?  There is a reason, readers, and it is not to give us a superiority or and inferiority complex.

“Who am I to be blind pretending not to see their need?” ~Michael Jackson

In my opinion, there is exactly one problem in Fayette County.  One.  Yes, this one trumps them all.  It knows no color or class.  It infiltrates them all.  It is a problem I have had my entire life.  I am a native, after all.  That problem is properly termed “entitlement.”

Entitle: verb 1. to give (a person or thing) a title, right, or claim to something; furnish with grounds for laying claim.

Claim: verb 1. to demand by or as by virtue of a right; demand as a right or as due: to claim an estate by inheritance. 2. to assert and demand the recognition of (a right, title, possession, etc.); assert one’s right to: to claim payment for services. 3. to assert or maintain as a fact. 4. to require as due or fitting.

When a person believes she deserves more, better, faster, newer, nicer, than what she has already been so graciously given, she stalls out.   Whether that already is a dry crust of bread or a meal fit for a king, it really makes no difference.  One who cannot be content with little will scarcely ever be content with much.  Her attitude shifts with every whim.  There can be no gratitude.  No thanks can be given in exchange for good things.  That person is ever discontent.  Her glass is always half empty.  She never stops to think that she is the one who drank the other half and failed to appreciate it.  She never sees the amazing gifts that have been placed in her hands.  She is greedy.  She is spoiled.  She sees blessings as burdens.  She sees opportunities as intruders.

Oh!  How dark our lives become when we fail to look for what’s right in the world!  We cannot deny what is wrong, but we can use our positivity to help change it.  Or, we can complain.  We can grumble.  We can blameshift.  We can look down upon.  We can shake our heads and we can hate.

Fayette County, it is a choice.  No one and nothing can make you bitter, unhappy, dissatisfied, or disgusted.  Those attitudes are choices.  I know because I had them all.  They belong to the entitled.

I don’t know about you, but I want to play for the other team – the one known as “Thankful.”

Thankful.  Thankful to whom?  God.  The gospel.  Restoration.  Redemption.  Yes, redemption.  Even for a county the whole world hates.  Even for a girl who hated the whole world.

Then sings my soul! My Savior, God, to Thee!  How great Thou art!

Are you part of the problem?  I was.  And I am here to say I am so, so sorry.  I need to ask your forgiveness.  I live in a beautiful place with beautiful people who need exactly what God, in his infinite grace, just so happened to give specifically to me – a beautiful smile.  I’m never going to stop using it, Fayette County, because I love you and I love your people.  I pray the Lord will use me to give you and your children hope.

Please don’t shake your head at me.  Remember that once upon a time the God of the Universe lived in a throw away town that everyone loved to hate, too.

Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. ~John 1:44-46

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iW8UsJvC4rM

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