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Archive for April, 2016

Hero vs. Haters

authority

In John 11, Jesus raised a man from the dead.  Jesus raised a man FROM. THE. DEAD.  Just so we all get the magnitude of that, let’s consider it for just a moment before moving on to what followed.  Jesus raised a man, who was already dead for four days, back to living, breathing, walking, talking life status.

Ok.  So Lazarus had been dead for four days when Jesus called him out of his grave.  There could be no mistaking this act as a coincidence or a trick.  Everyone who had seen or heard about this act knew it was a miracle.  Yet in John 11:45-57, we find different reactions to the miracle.

45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46 but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. ~John 11:45-47

 

Some Jews believed and followed Jesus.  Other Jews tattletaled to the religious leaders.  These men did not believe in Jesus or they would have been described along with the Jews “who believed.”  They believed Jesus could do miracles because they saw proof of Jesus’ resurrecting power right before their very eyes.  But these guys did not believe in or follow Jesus.

Just so we’re clear, here we have two groups of people.  Same ethnicity.  Same upbringing.  Same socioeconomic status.  Same town.  Same schooling.  Same family traditions.  Same religious background.  Same everything!  Yet two different groups.  Believers and unbelievers in Jesus rolled together into a big Jewish ball of people.  By all appearances these people “look” exactly the same.  But they are not.  These outwardly same people could not be more different.

Even the religious leaders owned the truth of Christ’s miracles (John 11:47) but that did not lead them to faith in him.  What did it lead them to?

48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. ~John 11:48-53

These guys were on a mission to stop Jesus.  Why?  Because he was better at being God’s representative than they were and they knew it.  Instead of following, listening, learning from, and becoming more like him for the sake of their own character and growth, they chose to hate and avoid him.  They were not concerned about people turning away from sin and knowing God.  They were concerned about people turning away from them and knowing them as the leaders.  They said they feared for their “place” and their “nation” and that because of Jesus, Rome would come take both.

The truth was that they feared that Jesus would take their place.  Rome had no contest or concern with a man doing good works and teaching people to love one another – they did.  They were not scared, they were jealous.  Jesus showed them up and exposed their gross ignorance and hypocrisy every time he came around.  Therefore, they pretended to be afraid for the good of the majority to cover up their own fear, jealousy, and hatred of Jesus.

So, they take their “concerns” before the highest ranking religious leader of their day – the high priest.  Caiaphas responds arrogantly.  With a matter of fact attitude, he wields his authority by imposing a death sentence by mere virtue of his authority.

 53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. -John 11:53

Many people in authority are corrupt.  It was true then.  It is true now.  It has been true every day in between. Corrupt authority is never more heinous than when found in the church – the very place where truth, love, and justice are supposed to be the governing authorities.

Whenever a person in authority becomes more concerned with others turning from them and their ideas than turning from sin and its vices, that person is no longer qualified to be a leader or and authority in God’s church.

Many in authority use deceit to cover their own insecurities.  The Pharisees pretended fear to cover bitter jealousy against Jesus.  If they had really been afraid upon seeing Jesus’ miracles, they would have repented!

People in authority often believe that others ought to think them the wisest simply because they are in authority.  Though it ought to be so, it often is not so at all.  When pomp and pride take over, that leader is no longer fit for service to anyone but self.

Some people want the truth.  Others want power, places, positions, and their own preferments.  Jesus appears to both.  He calls the one and ignores the other.  What we never see is Jesus competing.  He does not have to because he is doing all of that which he Father has commanded him.  When they go so far as to kill him, he obliges.  Jesus was never unaware of who he was dealing with.  He knew all along who hated and envied him and it never stopped him or made him insecure.

When you represent God well, people who pretend to represent God will be bitterly jealous.  People who are bitterly jealous will seek to discredit God’s true representatives by pretending fear, blackening your reputation, and stirring up false scenarios against you.  When you expose hypocrisy by being genuine, people who are pretentious will hate you.  When unrepentant, under-qualified, unjust people are placed in positions of authority, they will use their position against God’s people for their own selfish agendas.  They will act as if they are entitled to respect solely based on their position and despite their lack of true respectability.

If you are using a position of authority as your identity, repent.  If you are using a position of authority to build your own kingdom and protect your own place and position, repent.  You will only find yourself fighting against God and injuring his people.

If you are being mistreated by authority because of your good works, rejoice.  If you are being falsely accused, purposefully misrepresented, or wholly discredited by corrupt authorities, rejoice.  You are walking the same road Christ walked and you can rest assured that he will vindicate you in due time.

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text

Runners like to zone out.  Getting in the zone is especially important for difficult or distance running.  As with many sports or intense activities, that place referred to as “the zone” is often the key to success.  It may determine whether you win, lose, or even finish.  An off day can often be chalked up to a lack of focus and inability to stay in the game.

 I always joke and say I’m not allowed to talk to my husband when he drag races.  I have learned to speak as little as possible out of respect for his need to stay completely focused and on task.

Sometimes not being distracted is extremely important – like with drag racing.  Sometimes the distraction itself is extremely important – like with distance running.  When laboring with serious intent, on one hand we need autonomy.  That’s the leave me alone zone.  On the other hand we need a neutral plan of action meant to distract us from the pain and push us to persevere without it feeling like punishment.  We can choose to make this zone a leave me alone zone, too…or we can actually choose to lean on the thoughts, needs, words, or even worries of another to help us finish the task before us.

I competed in the Mt. Summit Challenge Race this past weekend.  Well, participated is probably a better word for me this year.  Anyway, it is a 3.5 mile race straight up the mountain.  It is not the first time I’ve run it by any means and it certainly isn’t the longest or most difficult race I’ve ever run.  But it ranks.  It ranks up there among the races requiring an in the zone mentality.  If you are not all in, you are probably still on the mountain somewhere right now.

I had run up the course four times before the race over the past month or so and I am happy to say I did beat the goal I was striving for.  Though ten minutes slower than previous years, I needed some slack for this I just had another baby year.  So I feel really good about my slow time of 48 minutes.  I did not make it up alone, though.  I didn’t realize my goal without help.  The leave me alone zone only worked until the really hard part.  That’s the part of the race where you’re tired, you drank too much wine and ate too much food last night, your music is played out, you’re almost certain the feeling in your chest is legit heart failure, and you’re still climbing.  I had to find a way to get my mind off the pain or I was soon to be a spectator rather than a participant.  I texted my drag racer because I knew he would be able to speed me up.  “Tell me a funny story” was my plea for help.

He began to tell me about a dirt farmer and a beautiful girl who planted seeds on his dirt.  He told me how they made big messes and how their Master helped them clean up.  And they grew pickles and eggs and omelets and babies.  He sent me a picture of my baby, Sonny, and told me that that “egg” grew sonny side up.  I corrected his grammar and he encouraged me with good words all the way to the finish line.  I found myself laughing during the most difficult part of my race and smiling where I hurt the most.

That was this weekend, though.  Last weekend that dragster needed some encouragement of his own.  Last weekend my husband wrecked his drag car going 170 mph at the drag strip.  The first thing he did after realizing that he was still alive was turn off all the switches to cut the power, unbuckle his five point safety harness, and crawl out the window.  Even after rolling the car several times, taking out at least 50 feet of guard rail, and, by a miracle of God, not getting hurt or losing consciousness in the process, he was still in the zone.  He knew he had to do what he could to keep the car from getting fuel and catching fire and get out as quickly as possible just in case.  Because he is so tuned in to detail, all of his safety equipment worked and the Lord spared his life for his own purpose through those details.

A family from church came and brought us dinner even though he had no injuries.  The wife sat and talked with me about how thankful she was that his life was spared and her husband went and mourned the wreckage of a car he’d been working on since the age of 15 – a car his father gave him.  Another man from church brought Tylenol, cookies, and ice cream for the kids.  The pastor asked how he was several times throughout the week and talked with him about what it might mean in the grand scheme.

A friend told me just the other day that the gym is her church.  I know why without her saying it.  The people there love her, encourage her, teach her, and help her.  That is what feels most like family, especially to those who have no family.

 When I file these realities next to what we’ve been discussing in church about questions like, “Why should we even go to church?” and “Why not stay at home and be a lone Christian?”  I find the answer is crystal clear.  It is not that we cannot make it though life alone.  It is not even that we cannot be a Christian alone.  We can and we can.  What we cannot do is smile and laugh through the pain that life inevitably brings to each and every one of us.  Without encouragement, togetherness, help, and, yes, others whose main task from the Master is to cheer for us and we for they, life does not work as well.  The one-anothering theme is unmitigated throughout the entire New Testament and the focus on doing life in community is littered through the entire Bible.

Getting out of the leave me alone zone is crucial for Christian people.  Whether it is sharing our struggles, confessing our sins, or inviting others into our every day lives, we need one another.  This is how we glory God.  We must learn to encourage as well as or better than the world does with its own.  When the “family” that the gym has created among its members looks, feels, and sometimes even proves more attractive than the church family, we are missing the mark.  If you are a Christian, get out of the leave me alone zone.  Go to church.  Get involved.  Invest in others’ lives.  Serve them.  Listen to them.  Encourage them.  Love them.  Tell them a silly story when they hurt.  Remind them you are glad that they are alive.  Bring Tylenol and cookies.  Ask how they are and contemplate the possibility of intergalactic purpose.

Life is an intense activity.  Get in the zone and run with endurance the race the Master has marked out for you.

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heart

I am indecisive.

He tells me to write something.

 I ask why.

 He reminds me that I like to.

 I oblige.  The following is the fruit of that exchange.

Sometimes it helps me when I write.  But sometimes it is hard.  Sometimes I am at a loss for how to say what is on my heart.  Sometimes I know exactly how to say it but I do not want to.  Pouring out your heart and soul and dreams and fears and failures on the daily is scary.  You either have to resolve to not care how people read you or you have to care so much that you resolve to make your scribblings absolutely perfect with a willingness to correct them when they misinterpret you.  Sometimes it just feels like no one is really listening anyway.  Like those things that mean the very most to you, those things you’ve said and written and tried six ways from Sunday to express go wholly unnoticed and unheard.  Writing is like shouting out to all the world your deepest feelings only to let them float unabashedly through the air.  And you’re waiting.  Waiting for someone – anyone – to catch them; hear them; learn from them; know God through them; seek him…and know you; understand you; feel you.

So often those words don’t work, though.  It is like you are pouring yourself out all the time and the only thing that keeps you from becoming empty is to keep pouring out.  Even still, after all the words have floated away for days and months and years on end, you are left wondering whether you are yet altogether unknown; misunderstood; unaccomplished.  Who knows where the words have gone?  The writer prays for the somewheres where they might have fallen.

Sometimes I do not know myself as well as I would like to.  Writing helps me know myself better.  It helps me understand myself and who I am and why I am feeling happy or sad or frustrated or lost.  It helps me organize my thoughts on God, on life, and on who I really am and what I know as truth.

There is one thing writing does not do, though.  Writing does not talk back.  As much as I try to personify my notebook, she remains silent.  Writing does not talk back.  It only listens.  It is lonely.  I guess that’s why I write a lot about the Bible.  It is like God is talking and I am listening.  My writing is just me telling the world what I heard.

I am happy that God has given me this gift to write but sometimes I am sad that I cannot seem to say things audibly instead.  I feel so closed and unable to speak freely sometimes; many times.  I do not know why I am so afraid.  The fear I feel when I think about talking out loud about what is in my heart is often so strong that it makes me almost run away and hide.  I am so afraid.  I want to pray and tell God so many things but I am afraid to say them out loud.  Saying them makes them real and maybe I just wish they were not real.  So I often just pray about being able to pray.  I do not run away anymore.  I stop and I write it down instead.

I guess my biggest fear is rejection. That God or men will hear what is in my heart and what is most important to me and throw it away.  Or not care.  Or disregard it altogether.  Or hate me for saying it.  But why would I think that?

I think it because it is what happened to the most right and truthful one of us all:  Jesus.  It is what has been happening to me in many ways my entire life.  Because people reject truth and lack grace, I distrust and doubt the God who made them and somehow believe he will do that same thing.  Once I gave a man a paper with the gospel and he physically threw it down and trampled it in front of me.  But if I trust the God of the Bible I believe that even that kind of act – be it physical, relational, or otherwise – is a blessing working in my favor.

I digress.

Vulnerability is what the writer’s heart is made of.  Vulnerability is what God’s heart is made of.  He, too, chose written words to deliver his deepest messages to us.  He sent the One He loved most and watched him suffer in order to save.  And people throw his best efforts away.  We do not care about his words like we should; sometimes not at all.  We disregard Him altogether.  Some hate Him for saying  his best words and we even crucified his exact representation.  Yet, He spoke them still.  He speaks them still. He sent Him still.  He sends us still.

Maybe my written words will somehow send those same messages to someone.  The messages of love and forgiveness and grace and truth.  Maybe I will suffer long to find those just right words I have been called to write.  Maybe He will save through them; through Christ in me.  I dare to believe that hope every single day. It is the often only thought that keeps me from utter discouragement.  I lift my pen and let the words float away in greatest hope and terrible fear.  My prayer is ever, “God, please bless this trembling writer’s work once again.”

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Seat Savers

fave

I’m not much of a seat saver.  Church people usually are, you know?  I will never forget the look I got early in my Christian life when I tried to sit where some pristine seats had been “saved.”  From that day on, I never wanted to be that person.  I never want to reject someone based on preference.  I never want to reject someone, period.  I know how it feels to be rejected.  My entire life up until that point felt like a string of grimacing faces telling me that those seats were “saved.”  People do not have to say it.  Partiality is something a person can feel without words ever being said.  Think of middle school.  You get me?  I refuse to participate in that sickness.

The Bible has a word for this.  It is termed “favoritism.”  Favoritism.  When my favorite things are more important than your salvation, your sanctification, you altogether, we have a problem, Houston.  Some see the passage about the gold ring vs. the man with shabby clothing and they say, “Oh I’m good. I help the poor; I love the poor…etc.”  But favoritism is so much more complicated than rich vs. poor.  Favoritism finds ways to sneak subtlety into many cliques and corners and creep around under a guise of good will in the church.

“You can’t sit here.  I’m saving these seats for someone special.  I’m saving my time for someone special.  I’m saving my words for someone special.   I’m saving my story for someone special.  I’m saving my Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday for someone special.  I’m saving my sadness for someone special.  These parts of me are for strictly for the someones I want to sit next to; the someones I love.  And those someones are not you.”

No, this is not just about physical seats.  It is about making a place in our lives for others.  Others that are not our favorites.  Do we?  Do I?

I try.  Oh!  How I try!  I will be there if I can.  If it is humanly possible, I will be there for you.  So much so that I am often not there for me.  It is not because I need more friends.  I do not even want more friends.  God knows I cannot keep up with everything and everyone I am called to now.  But there is something I need.  I need you to know I am there for you.  I need you to know that I am someone you can count on.  I need you to know that I am in your corner.  I need you to know that what is important to you is important to me.  I need you not to know what it feels like to be me when I was told those seats were saved.  I was embraced so fully by the love and mercy of Christ that I want to always purpose my life around embracing others despite my skewed, selfish, sinful preferences.  I fail, too.  But this is the goal, and this is what Christ did for me.

Many times being chosen for those saved seats – whether it be friendship or service or help or acknowledgement or position, has little to do with gifting, experience, talent, or craft.  Most often it has to do with preference, comfort, self-interest, and safeness.

Jesus did not build his church on a premise of safeness.

Jesus did not build his church on a premise of safeness.  On the contrary, he built his church on his own pain, selflessness, sacrifice, and then, just to prove who was in charge, he chose the most volatile creatures of all to lead it – men like Peter who was a hothead full of pride, and Paul who was previously a murderous enemy.

I fear that we, as Christians today, have gone the way of our pagan neighbors and filled life full of favorites.  We have filled our lives so completely full of favorite things, people, activities, and selfish sedentary “stuff”that we simply have no margins.  We haven’t time or space for anything other than that and those which we already love.  In so doing, we have left our brothers and sisters no place to sit in our lives.  We are grimacing when they ask for a place at our table or invite us to theirs.  We are refusing based on preference, past, pride, and personal problems.

Furthermore, we are audaciously expecting those unfavorite people to come to us, to believe our ideas,  and to support and encourage our agendas.  We think that because we invite someone to some of our favorite things on our favorite terms, they will come.  We haven’t preached the gospel.  We have simply done the same as the world.  We are doing our favorite things with our favorite people and putting God’s name on it.

God is bigger than that.  He is bigger than our three friends and their ideas.  He is impartial.  He is fair.  He is inclusive.  He is unselfish.

Jesus sat in the least favorite seat with the least favorite people at the most inconvenient time.  He is there.  He shows up, not because he needs more friends, but because he values and loves people more than he loves himself, his comfort, his safeness, and his favorites.  He made himself poor so we could be rich.  He made himself nothing so that we could be something.

I guess that is why Jesus said take the lowest seat; the last place at the table.  Let the prideful revel in their “good” seats.  For they are not good.  Good seats often miss a good God when he moves because the heart is fixed on the self rather than the sacred.

Wait to be asked to move up.  With some it will never happen.  The fear that the enemy brings is that I will remain sitting at the last table, standing at the end of the line, and that I am utterly insignificant.  Jesus says that’s ok.  This is where Jesus stood.  He stands here still.  Despised, rejected, Jesus holds our hands and invites us to more, to what is most, to where he is from that place.  God will move or he will move you up by his authority and power.

Jesus was not a seat saver.  Jesus was a soul saver.  Be like him.

 

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purpose

Did I condition my hair ?  Where’s the vanilla extract?  I’m late.  Do my children have socks on?  Did I even eat anything today?  There’s no way my blood pressure is as high as the doctor said.  *Take blood pressure myself*  Really?!  Why is my blood pressure so high?  Do I have the address?  “Take the dogs out and get in the truck, girls!”  Where am I going?  Do I have my list?  Oh, yeah, the address.  Did I remember the baby?  *Count children inside truck*  Why do I feel so stressed?  *Pray*  My life is so, so blessed.  Thank you for so many gifts, God.  No, we cannot shop for your birthday yet, Mia.  I cannot believe I am not tired.  Why is my blood pressure so high?!  Daddy’s was, too.  Wow.  I miss him.  I guess long distance running every day of my life for the past 10 years wasn’t enough.  Oh well, it was fun.

That’s five minutes in Loriland.  How are you doing?  I bet your internal dialogue is just as busy.  I call them trains.  The tracks are like oodles and noodles all crossed and overlapping.  I ask the mechanic, “Are the trains running?” when he accidentally forgets to listen to the words he hears me speaking.  I know they are.  Maybe I should ask myself, though.

What is life?  A bunch of random events joined together by the day to day urgencies meant to distract us from said events?  What’s the point?  Where’s the break?  What really matters and why am I moving at such a high rate of don’t stop, get it, get it… All.  The. Time?

My t-shirt says #1 Mom.  I bought it at Walmart for five dollars and fifty cents.  My oldest daughter chided me complete with eye roll and smart mouth tween tone disbelief.  “I can’t believe you bought that for yourself.”

“Daddy wears t-shirts with his business name on them doesn’t he?  This is my business.”

My business.  My busyness.  My babies.  My best blessings.

Our small group Bible study talked about what is unique about how we interact personally with the world.  How do you present different than those who do not believe the gospel?

 I’ve thought on it.  I’ve thought and thought.  I believe I have it.

Answer: I go to the grocery store.

 I go to the grocery store, mid-day, with four kids – three in tow and one strapped to my chest.

“No school today?”

 Cue sweet smile.

“Yes.  We are done already.  We home school.”

“I could never do that.  I don’t have the patience!”

Child 1 runs away while child 2 cries for candy.  I send child 3 to retrieve child 1 as child 4 is awakened by child 2’s crying.  I now have exactly three minutes to finish shopping, get through the checkout line, and feed her before she follows suit.

“Neither do I.”

“What made you decide to do that?”

“When I was young and people asked me what I wanted to be, I would say, ‘Not a school teacher.’  This was God’s idea – not mine.  It’s a calling.  I think I would miss them too much if I sent them to school anyway.”

“How long will you do it?  Until they graduate or just a few years?”

Shrug shoulders.  “Until the Lord releases me from doing it.”

“You’re crazy.”

“Some days.”

Smile sweetly.  Finish shopping.  Resume internal dialogue.

God!  How is that at all building your kingdom?  How am I?  Am I?  I am.  You are I AM.  I am because you are- the God who “is.”  You are the living, the life, the now, the necessary,  the needed.  You are what is happening.  You are in the moment, the market, the mundane, the mom who is musing at the mom who is an ecclesiastical mess – that is, me.

You are in me.  I am surrendered to you.  My shirt reminds me.  That is why I bought it.  #1 Mom.  That is my business.  My calling is in the cradle and my purpose is to be a blessing to my family in such a way that God’s glory is seen in the grocery store.

I do not feel like #1 anything.  I do not understand how what you have called me to do amounts to much of anything on a day to day basis.  I do not see fruit…yet.  I do not “feel” accomplished, acknowledged, adequate, or amused.  I do not know why this is what I am to do.  But I do know that it is because I know your voice.  And I am content.

I think of these things as I sit on the couch feeling (and looking) more than momish in my mom shirt on the eve of a women’s retreat where a friend I greatly love and admire will speak on a book I greatly love and admire.  She is living the dream I always thought I was made for – the calling I wanted.  Wasn’t I made for…more?  I was.  And this is it.  Yep.  The mom gig.  The “more” is what I hadn’t imagined and the less is what I had.  Ironic.  That is the title of her book: “Made for More.”

  Who knew I would want what I did not want?  Who knew I was made for a lot more than what I did?  I still have to remind myself to stop pressing my face to the window and turn around sometimes.  Inside the home is where the wisdom of God has called my gaze to rest.  I do not know why I did not get to be that teacher.  I am just thankful that I get to be this one.  Herein lies my purpose and all that God has for me to do.  I will rejoice and be glad in it.

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dennis

In Psalm 68 God is described as a father to the fatherless.  It says he sets the lonely in families.  Because my dad became ill when I was very young and my family was already quite broken even by that time, this has always been one of my favorite passages.  I’m writing tonight to tell you that God is faithful to his Word.  This passage is true and that, in addition to actually being Our Father who art in heaven, God does indeed provide both spiritual fathers and families to those in need of such things on earth.

What grace!

Some people think you have to be rich and famous to be great.  Some think you’ve got to have fame to be significant and fortune to make a real difference.  I know much better, though.  I know a man who has none of these things, yet has changed the world around him one person at a time through nothing more than a simple life coupled with great faithfulness.

Last Sunday we attended a reunion dinner for Covenant Baptist Church in Uniontown.  It marked 35 years for the lay pastor’s service.  For anyone who has not met Dennis Cox, I always describe him as the best man I’ve ever met.  Over the 8 years I’ve known him, he has been a spiritual father to both me and my husband.

When I first met Dennis, I had questions about life.  I had questions about the church.  I had questions about theology.  I had questions about the Bible.  I would call him every time I had a question.  He was never too busy to answer my questions with great patience and wisdom.  He began to meet with me and my husband every week in the morning while it was still dark outside to teach us one on one.  He shared his vast knowledge line by painstaking line this way with us for the better part of 6 years.  No praise.  No honor.  No glory.  Work and personal sacrifice was all there was in it for Dennis.  Still, he was always there, sitting with us; teaching us; loving us.  He and his wife invited us into their real lives despite our rough and ragged edges.  We had dinner together on numerous occasions.  He attended our children’s birthdays.  He let us drop in on him whenever we were in the neighborhood.  He counseled us on many occasions when we were lost, hurt, angry, or just plain wrong.  He prayed for us faithfully.  He corrected us in ways that never felt condescending.  He rescued our marriage more than once.  Even when we failed miserably and did all that he’d taught us not to do, he loved us like his very own.  Without even a hint of anger or disappointment to shame us, he gently and kindly led us back to the truth.

What grace!

This is a man who has done as much and more for countless others as well.  A man who has lived life well because he has lived life right by God.  Dennis is a great example to us all and there was a banquet room full of people to prove it.

As he was honored by that room full of grateful people, he spoke of nothing but his own undeservedness.  My husband mused that the amount of humility he displays is “almost unbelievable.”  That it is – especially for a man who has done so very much for so many.  This is a man who has truly changed the world for the good without fame or fortune.  This is a man who has truly changed the world for the good with his example of faithfulness and love.  It reminds me of another man I know – a man named Jesus.

We ran a race the day of the reunion and I realized something.  The moment I saw the first person ahead of me turn the corner toward the home stretch to the finish line, I felt a wave of relief; of encouragement; of inspiration.  Even though I was still quite a long way from the finish myself,  I began to run faster in anticipation and, as I did, I couldn’t help but think of Dennis.  He is so far ahead of us in wisdom, in experience, and in faith.  But we can see him turning the corner toward home and it inspires us to follow harder.  It encourages us to be better.  It relieves our fears.

Thank you for giving so many good things to us and so many others, Dennis.  You are the best man we know.

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mouth

“Mommy, do you love the baby more than me?” my soon to be 7 year old asks with curious eyes.  “I love all of you girls the same amount.”

“Well, you seem like you like her better.  You always talk nice to her and you never get mad at her.”

“She’s a baby.  She doesn’t do anything wrong yet.”

The implication is plain.  “But I do,” she is thinking.  She is thinking about how she does do things wrong.  She is thinking about how I do speak sternly to her when she disobeys.  She is thinking about how much she doesn’t like mommy to be disappointed with her.

After a long while she comes back to me with a perfectly completed math paper.  “I want you to be happy to me, Mommy.”  She is performance driven because she believes it produces love and approval.

This is a girl after my own heart.  She craves praise.  She seeks approval.  She lives to please.  She often wonders whether she is truly loved.

She is wrong.  I am wrong.  True love is not earned and it cannot be lost.  Children learn what they live and old habits die hard, though.

She stubs her toe.  She cries and immediately apologizes.  “Why are you sorry?”  “Because I’m trying not to cry.”  “Why?”  “Because I don’t like to.”

She doesn’t like to cry because she doesn’t like to fail; to show her pain; to reveal her true feelings.  She fears rejection.

I guess that’s the six year old in us all.  All the time trying to be brave when what we really need is to be honest.  Always trying to be strong when all we are is desperately weak.  We fear rejection.  We fear disapproval.  We fear judgement.  We fear being misrepresented.

I consider our fears and facades.  I file my scattered thoughts from last night’s Bible study alongside the words I am about to speak tonight at a church.  We spoke about the lack of transparency and honest confession to one another.  I am preparing to share my own life’s journey from death to life in Christ very candidly.  It is kind of ironic that these two realities have presented themselves at the very same time.

It is difficult to be honest about our own struggles, fears, weaknesses, and failures.  The reason it is difficult is because information is power; being vulnerable is risky.  We fear rejection.  We fear disapproval.  We fear judgement.  We fear being misrepresented.

We fear.  Fear, fear, fear, fear.  Fear is not what God is doing.  Fear is what we are doing.  Faith is what God is doing.  Maybe that is why God wants us to tell about what he has done.  Maybe that’s why he wanted me to tell my story in this particular way…

Here is how my story begins:

“I want to begin by saying, “I know.”  “I understand.”  Just like I say to my baby when she sobs.  Not to puff myself up with any knowledge I have gained from these trials but to identify with all of you and your stories – to be able to sympathize with and love well those who have struggled in one or more of these areas.  Not only that I know, but that God knows.  Your sisters in Christ know.  But sometimes we are just too afraid and ashamed and full of pain to tell one another our stories.  Sometimes it just hurts too much to talk to each other or even God about the things we are going through.  So we just don’t.  And no one knows.  And we’re all alone in agony, in shame, is despair, in misery.  We look so polished and pretty one the outside but we are dying on the inside.  At least that’s how my story went.”

…and here is how my story ends:

“I cannot pretend I’m the good Christian girl I look like on the outside.  I’m not shiny.  I’m a wretch.  God saved me and I have to tell someone how good he is.  I have to tell you that I know that life is hard.  I understand the pain that life brings.  I have felt it in so many areas.  Life hurts a lot.  I still struggle with feelings of great insecurity and deep rejection.  I take everything personally because I am skeptical of everyone who says they love me.  But I am growing.  I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that my family, my church, and my heavenly father love me.  I could not say that with any amount of confidence before these tragic events over the past few years.  That’s how I can be thankful for them all.

No one is beyond redemption.  None of us deserve grace.  Give it anyway.  And trust that God is just.”

God does not love anyone more than he loves you and me.  We are all his babies.  We do do things wrong but those things do not keep him from loving us.  True love is not earned and it cannot be lost.

So tell your story.  Be real.  Be weak.  Be honest.  Be transparent.  Be vulnerable.  Be faithful even when you are afraid because God is glorified  by the truth.  He is worthy of our trust and he will take care of those who are not.

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