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Posts Tagged ‘Savior’

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I have a dream…that I would write something that would be remembered the way those words were, but, no, just kidding.  Alas, my dream was much smaller than that.

Was.  Past tense.

My dream was to be a United States Marine.  I had just one child when I “decided” that being a military police officer was what I most wanted to accomplish in life.

I went to the recruiter’s office.  I spoke at length with a man scarcely older than I was, at the ripe age of just 26 years. It was quickly evident that the man was used to pulling out all the stops to convince candidates to enlist.  It was even more quickly evident that he needed no such tactics with this twenty-something who had spent the past several years working through each and every reason why she wanted nothing worse than to be a real, live warrior.  When he asked, “Why?” she simply said, “Because being a Marine means something.  I want to do work that matters,” and she saw the strong and stern man shed what was surely an unashamed tear.

She said she should.  She said she would.  But the mister said not so.  No, she shouldn’t.  She wouldn’t.  She could not, really.  She had a small, silly girl that she had to stay with.  So they settled on saying she would skip the warrior wishes and set out to simply start serving as a State Trooper instead.  She wasn’t so selfish, see.  She could compromise with the spouse’s specifics.

So the exams were all said and done and all she had to do was show up for the State Police Academy cadet training.  But something strange stopped her.  She started to feel sick and she said she seemed certain that something was seriously wrong.  Soon a sibling for that silly little girl was coming in the form of a sister.

That’s where her dream stopped.  So thirteen years later, she still saves her acceptance letter.  She still starves to somehow see a way to serve that substance she so longed to see.

She ran a race last Saturday.  There were four races being run at once: a 5k, 10k, 10 mile, and a half marathon.  She ran the half, and as the trail went on, the road got lonelier and lonelier.  As the shorter distance runners disappeared back to the starting line, the somebodies running alongside became sincerely scarce.  She started to console herself saying, “It’s how many miles you can run after you’re spent that make you most strong.” She almost stepped on a snake sunning itself.  She thought about taking a picture of that slithery scare guy, but if she knows anything about running it is that she should never look back or turn around in a race.  So she didn’t.

The smallest version of me, Sonny, now the fourth sister born of this body, slid two splinters right up under her soft little finger last night.  She showed me this morning, and then quickly stopped sharing the site of the scrapes.  Sonny hid the painful part as best she could because she was afraid I would touch it and cause more sadness.

Isn’t that just what we do?  But we can’t heal if we hide, and, sometimes, when we show it, we still can’t heal because we’re faulted for our flaws.  What happens when you’re running, you’re hurting, you’re spent, and you’re left lonely without your dream?  Should the still not a service woman hide her pain?  Or should she prioritize it so she can heal?

Serious healing takes a pause, not another practice, program, or pageant.  And it is not for the unfulfilled past.  It is not the pain of a lost dream that needs healed so much as it is the profound realization that she will not be getting her chance to pour into the pride of life.  Yes, you read me right.  But praise God.  Garth got it right: sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers.

The pride of life is the third of three indictments the disciple that Jesus loved said of those who were working toward the worthlessness of the world.  The first is sexual.  The second is stuff.  This, the third, is all that is of the world that leads to arrogance, ostentation,  pride in self-presumption, and boasting.  It is that which appeals to our appetites and exalts us above our staying in the specific service we are stationed to serve in.  It is the illusion of power and personifying ourselves with God-like qualities.  It is the something – the anything – that seeks to situate us in a circumstance other than that which we have been certainly called to stand still and stay in.

So the sentimental she that saved her acceptance letter and even reapplied in serious hopes to sign on before her age itself strictly exempts her says she sees why the dream stops here.  The splinter has to be sought and the overgrown skin must be severed if the pain is to ever be soothed.  She’s running the long race and the prize is found in the persevering.  She knows for sure that it is the how many miles you can run after you’re spent that make you most strong.  She knows now she should have never turned around and looked back while running such a serious, strenuous stretch of this snake-ridden so-long race.  She was smitten by her own sedition.  Stupid.  Sin makes us stupid, huh?  I’d say.

So I’m going to stand here and hold out my splinter-sore hands to my Savior. I’m going to say some simple prayers and see if He will start sticking the sterilized needle in my overgrown skin and somehow surgically remove my self-obsessive stupidity.

Selah.

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Good Friday.  Some ask what is good about it.   I say you cannot get to glory without going this way.  If for no other reason, this stop is a great and a good one.

Stop I will, because the big Boss brought out the big guns and restored a good deal of blindness in my own broken heart by way of a couple unsuspecting brothers and sisters by day’s end yesterday.

Isn’t it funny how as soon as you mention something you haven’t experienced in a long time it seems to creep right up and surprise you suddenly out of the clear stinking blue?  Weird.

A few days ago I shared a few words about encouragement citing how I had come full circle from the days of daily doctrinal debate and downright dereliction in the things of that nature to a place of purposeful encouragement.  Well, yesterday I got to put my skills into practice, and let me tell you, I was not only particularly surprised by my own true heart played out on the paper, but profoundly preached to by my own proper position.  I felt like I was looking at a little tiny plant who maybe might just have grown into a proper kind of plant of sorts.

I shared how I rarely ever get into debates or any sort of real arguments on doctrine or even just daily practice anymore.  Even though I love apologetics, and, sitting around all day dividing the truth together is my honest idea of a day very well spent, I realize that not many live in my camp.  Most are married to another idea that says doing anything that involves disagreeing is duplicitous and dangerous.  So I learned to document my own doctrine daily and merely dare to share it for anyone who might find some sort of depth or deployment for it.

But yesterday I did what I rarely ever do these days.  I jumped in on a disaster and I tried to help direct it with the doctrine of my favorite deity – Jesus Christ.  The words I said and meant were spoken both from me and to me in some sort of supernatural fashion that only my Savior and his Spirit can show up and share in.  It went a little something like this:

A friend was fighting.  He was angry.  He was doing all he could to show up the one who he said had surely wronged him.  He wronged her back.  They both shouted severely and would not stop.  The rift went on, and on, and on for several days.  In the midst of this debate, which, you all should all be proud that I did not even acknowledge or follow the specifics of in the least, I saw something.  I did not see who should win.  I did not see what was so wrong in the situation.  I didn’t even so much as look for those details.  What I saw was a sister.  I saw a brother.  And I saw a sadness that showed itself as sinful sharpness toward one another.  So I broke my unspoken rules of non-engagement and I said something.  It went something like this:

She’s a sinner.  You’re a sinner.  Surprise!  (Ok, I saved most of the sarcasm cause I’m reforming for real.)  No, people are not reasonable.  Forgive.  Love.  Give grace.  See your own sin as more severe.  Stop fighting.  Save room for the Spirit to do His work.

Therein, I saw myself.  I saw so many things I haven’t seen before.  Somehow, surprisingly, I meant what I said.  Somehow, I said what I meant.  And somehow I saw what I hadn’t seen before.  That is this:

Jesus has more reasons than any of us to hold on to rightness and exclude us from his grace.  Every single sin we have ever committed has been done to Him.

When we are focused on how to get people to love us, we forget that our call is to love them.  When we won’t, whatever the reason, we are actually refusing to love the Lord Himself.  The church has one foundation.  One.  And it’s not our fancy flavors of our favorite whatever.  It’s Jesus.  We are one in Christ.

My dad was a musician.  He played in a band.  Once, when they were playing a show, a man made a request.  It was a popular song (Mony, Mony),  but the band didn’t know it because they played a bit of a different genre than this song happened to be a part of.  When the man made his request and they declined, he became extremely angry.  As a little girl, I just remember the angry man cussing my dad’s band and causing a crazy-making commotion.

I heard that song yesterday.  Today I think back and wonder just what that man wanted.  If someone doesn’t know how to play your song, does it really make sense to revile them for it?  What kind of sense does that make? They don’t know how. And our job is not to teach them how to sing our song anyway.  It is to learn how to sing theirs.

We so want to be seen.  We want to be served.  But what does our Savior say?  What did he do?  Just the opposite.

So I just wanted to maybe steer the saved ones out there some for this Sunday.  Sinners do not know our song.  We often don’t know theirs.  But we should surely want to.  It is desperately hard to feel loved by God when you feel rejected by God’s people.  It is hard to forgive when the ones who perpetually hurt you are the same ones perpetually telling you to forgive.  Some would even call that spiritual abuse and serious manipulation.  So stop that.  Start seeing sinners for the saints they can one day start being, maybe, if you serve them rightly and sing their song instead of expecting them to serve you and sing yours.

I stopped into the hospital to do prayer rounds yesterday and ran into an older couple who decided to come do them on a day that they were not scheduled.  When I asked if they had come to pray for patients, they said, “Yes.  Are we in your way?”

Are they in my way?  What an odd question.  Were they in my way?  I came to serve.  They came to serve.  It was my job that day, but they had come to do it.  Were they in my way?  Would I force myself to do that which they had come to do out of turn and point at the strict-making schedule?  No.  Of course not.  “No.  You go ahead.  You came all this way.  It’s OK.”

My way ought not ever be paved with my own agenda.  My way is the way of the cross.  Therefore, no one can get in my way by mere inconvenience or inconsistency – especially when and if they are seeking to serve Him – even if it’s in my stead.

Good Friday.  That is the way to the resurrection.  There is no way to get to Easter apart from here.  Sing the song of sinners, church.  Don’t expect sinners to sing yours.

Consider Jesus.

It was not just the cross.  It was knowing one of His own was the whisperer who sold him out for a few coins.  Could Judas have stopped the cross from coming?  No.  But he could have just been quiet and let the Sanhedrin do their intended work.

It was His best students sleeping as he bled his prayers.  Could his disciples have stopped the cross from coming?  No.  But they could have stayed awake and supported him.

It was the use of violence to accomplish God’s will rather than submission to it.  Could Peter’s stopping his use of the sword have stopped the cross from coming?  No.  But he could have saved some face for his Savior by practicing what he had been taught about submission.

It was knowing His best and brightest would vehemently, repeatedly deny Him when it really mattered most to Him.  Could Peter have stopped the cross from coming?  No.  But he could have been a comfort rather than a thorn.

It was the man knowing he was innocent yet freeing the guilty for political gain and power at Jesus’ expense.  Could Pilate have stopped the cross from coming?  No.  But he could have been just.

It was his very own people pleading for a improprietous perpetrator to be set free in his place.  Could his people have stopped the cross from coming?  No.  But they could have prayed for him instead of wielding the power He placed in their hands against Him.

And should I speak of the mockery of who He really, truly was by men He himself made?  The being beaten by blows of jealousy and bandwagon blood-thirst?  These things are barely the tip of the brutal ice-burg.  Jesus died, indeed, but Jesus doubtless lived dying.

Do I?

 

 

 

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I was extremely shy when I was in grade school.  I got to about fourth grade and realized that my best friend in the class was my teacher who only knew me as the girl who read ahead so far that I’d run him completely out of extra assignments.  I just didn’t reach out to other kids naturally.  And it was OK with me.  I was content with my books and my solitary story writing at my desk during recess on the daily.  Being friendless didn’t really bother me…until the next year.

In fifth grade the other girls in my class started a club.  They called it the “Hate Lori Club.”  The name says it all, I suppose, but the gist of it was to daily find ways to make me pay for my shyness and poor clothing choices.  They would name-call and take my prized New Kids on the Block fan girl items.  They would take turns making fun of me.  And it was fine.  I already knew I wasn’t cool and didn’t dress right.  No one really had to tell me that.  I could just walk away and forget it…until my singular newfound “friend” decided to join the club.

She was a girl who lived up the street.  She was the kind of kid who everyone wanted to be friends with.  She was the whole class fought over who got to sit next to her at lunch kind of kid.  But one day, and I have no idea why, she decided to come to my lonely desk where I was busily working through recess as usual, and befriend me.

She asked why I always sat alone.  She asked if she could be my buddy.  By then, some of her fan club had gathered ’round.  Surely if she wanted to be my friend, they were bound to be behind her.  And I felt like a million bucks because the best, brightest, most sought after belle in the room chose to talk to the likes of me.

Our friendship bloomed and we were neighborhood New Kids on the Block fan girls together for years to come.  But not before she joined the club.

When my newfound friend – for whom I was not looking, did not need, and was completely flipping FINE without before – jumped on the how can we all hate Lori best bad girl bus, I became beyond broken.

It’s one thing when rejection comes by those who don’t rightly know you.  It’s quite another when you’ve already realized one another’s realness to a certain extent.

After that girl joined the Hate Lori Club, things were always different.  She was one person when we were alone in the neighborhood, and a complete other one when anyone else was around.  I still have no idea why that girl ever wanted to be my friend.  She didn’t need me.

But “friends” we were for years to come – despite my inferior status and her unkind treatment throughout the duration of the entire friendship.

I have been thinking and praying a lot lately about the condition of my own heart.  I have been searching for some suggestions about how and why it is so completely broken.  Sure, life has as many answers for that as I do questions, but I believe wholly that there is a big, burly root buried at the bottom of it all.  And it all begins with bullying.

Because baby grade school girls are not the only badgers bound to balk at an otherwise boring brainiac like me.  Big people have their own power plays.  And our only choice is either to pretend and play along full of personal pain or to walk away without all the pilfered props and potential they have pulled so mercilessly out of our backpacks for personal gain.

People can really make us poor if we let them.  But if you started out in poverty like me, at least we can rest in its familiarity when the show is over.  But, backing my bicycle up and peeling up the path back to personal relational poverty surprisingly doesn’t seem so smart now a days – says the one still sitting in stillness and solitude so many years later.  The real root is rejection.  The root is rejection.  And the only way to remedy radical, heart ripped out rejection is through real relationships.

Real relationships.

The only problem is, I reckon those are real hard to realize on this road we call real life.  Real relationships take room.  Real relationships must make room.  Real relationships are often rough.  Real relationships are rowdy, rocky, and extraordinarily radical in real life.  And I really think that only the most ridiculous renegades ever really get to ride this wave right out to the end.

But that’s the remedy.  It is.  I know it.  But I cannot bring about both ends of real relationship any more than I could bawl behind my best friend when she bought into the bad girl brand and began to bully me.  And neither can you.

In fact, there is only one real relationship I know is both sincere and safe and that is the one with my Savior.

So, he makes sitting at my desk staying in for recess still studying not so solitary.  He stays.  He still loves.  And he promises to set the lonely like me in families.  Not just families, either, families with his future on their front lobe.  He will fulfill that – with or without the luxury of fulfilling finite friendships for me this side of the stratosphere.

Remembering that rightly is the remedy for this recovering rejectee right now.  My Redeemer really knows me, and I know Him.  That’s both my remedy and my reality for right now.

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Judah has just been sent into exile after many desperate warnings from the prophet Jeremiah.  The Lord gives Jeremiah another vision in order to show the people His plan in the midst of their problems.

Jeremiah is shown two baskets, each full of figs.  One basket has very good figs, one very bad figs.  The Lord tells him that the figs represent his people – the good being those from Judah who had first been exiled, and the bad being the kings, officials, and those who refused to surrender to the Chaldeans and thought themselves safe by their own ingenuity.

For the first group, God gives great hope.  God owns that he himself had indeed “sent them away” into captivity due to their sin.  But, in this storm, he promises to set his eyes on them for good, not tear them down, rather, plant them and not uproot them.  He promises to give them a heart to know him and to be their God because they shall return to him with their whole hearts.  Eventually, he promises to bring them back to their own land.

From these promises and tender words spoken by the prophet, we understand that the terrible trial these people were enduring was indeed for their good.  God gives hope by promising protection in their trouble and eventually deliverance from it.  The most valuable promise God gives his people is the promise of a new heart.  He says, “I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.” (Jeremiah 24:7)

What better promise is there than that?  What better hope is there than that?  If correction and calamity is placed upon us by the mighty hand of God and his intention in it are these, we ought to be able to find and possess great hope and thanksgiving in the midst of the worst circumstances.

But that was for the good figs.  What of the bad ones?

For the other group – the ones who thought themselves self-sufficient and listened not to God’s clear instructions to surrender to the enemy in Jeremiah 21, God had other words and other plans.  For those who stayed in the land or fled to Egypt for safety, God was not pleased.  God gives no hope or mercy to those who refuse to repent – especially those who refuse to repent in the middle of justified judgement.

King Zedekiah, his officials, and those who followed their lead thought they could outwit the words of God.  They thought themselves safe and secure despite the very real, repetitive warnings against them.  They refused to listen when God instructed them to surrender in order to save themselves.  They relied only upon themselves and foolishly thought themselves safe and secure when death was standing at their very door.

Self-sufficient.  Self-sufficiency is the single-most certain separator between we and our Savior.  God gives no mercy or hope to those who trust only in self.  The only prerequisite to salvation is surrender.  Apart from surrender, men fail to see their desperate need of both the Savior and his salvation for them.  Self-sufficiency makes spiritually insecure the men who are most secularly secure.

So, for the bad figs God’s promises are different.  They are horror, reproach, tainting, curses, sword, famine, pestilence, and devastating destruction.

Calamity brought by God comes in many forms.  None of us escape this life without experiencing trouble and trials.  But calamity brought by God is not the same for his people as it is for rebels who stubbornly refuse to be part of his people.  It is correction for one and catastrophe for the other.  Surrender saves.  Self-sufficiency slays.

None of us are getting out of this life unscathed, or even alive.  So you choose: surrender or self-sufficiency.  Pick a side.

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This is the story of a little girl who got lost.
This is the story of a little girl who has been found.
Lost, because of church men who erred.
Found, because of church men who loved.

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. ~1 Corinthians 15:22

I have been involved the church in since birth.  Thirty-nine years.  I love the Lord a lot, but, after several deep injuries at the hands of trusted church leaders, my family and I had lost hope in organized religion as it pertains to going to a building on Sunday morning and meeting together with other professors of the Christian faith.

In July of 2017, we began meeting in our home with a few family members and a couple transiently attending friends.  Initially, we needed to heal and assumed we would eventually go back to a traditional church setting when and if we were ready at some point in the future…or not.  Either way, we had no intention of going back to church as we knew it any time soon.

As the months passed, that ideal became less and less of a reality in our hearts and minds.  We were becoming more and more content being Christian rogues and mostly succeeding in our own endeavors to reach out to our community in the name of Christ apart from the local body.  We were content to do ministry alone.  We were deeply personally hurt and angry for the way we had been treated and the lack of fellowship with other believers, but content to hate the organized church and be bitter.  Content to pass judgment on every person who walked out the doors of a church and have a special, extraordinary disdain for pastors altogether.  Content to never go back and feel completely justified.  And when I say “justified” I mean justified.  Zero conviction to ever go back to church.  As far as I was concerned there was nothing for me there.  As far as I knew the church hated and did not want people like me – especially me in particular.  So I was very content to have church in our living room with a few stragglers.  We did pray daily that God’s wisdom would direct us and guide us. But if he wanted us to go to a physical church, he was going to have to bring that pastor to my door knocking and it was going to have to be extremely clear that he was calling me.  In short, a miracle would have to take place.

And now, because God literally did drop a paratrooper pastor right down in front of us from the heavens, I have to find a way to stop being mad.  And stop being bitter.  And stop being hurt.  And keep applying Christ’s blood to my memory so I can keep forgiving those who hurt me every time I think about it.  I have to stop sinning.  And it’s really, really hard.  I have been punched in the face and punked by God’s grace.  I told Pastor Adam I have really never felt worse about myself and seen my sin more clearly than I do now.  But somehow I have never felt better about God and who He is and how He loves us.  And that is all kinds of crazy.

Anyway, I want to share a little bit about how God has used this pastor, Adam Stuck, and his ministry, Rivesville Free Methodist Church in Rivesville, West Virginia, to change my mostly hardened, bitter, barely hoping heart.

So I kind of categorized it.  The first thing I’ve been learning, and, by far, the most important thing is, for the first time in my 22 years of Christian life I have been learning an extraordinary amount about God’s love because of how it has been evidenced in Adam and his church.

LOVE.

We were sought out by a man seeking the lost.  To say we were not seeking a pastor or a church would be quite an understatement.  But, Christ is a Savior seeking the lost, and that is why I initially took note of Adam and his efforts.  He is seeking the marginalized; the excluded; the hopeless; the hurting. We were first loved by this ministry through the initiative they took in reaching out to us; to find us; to call us; to care about us with no strings attached when we were nothing more than complete strangers.  Scary strangers at that – cause if you know anything about me, you know I put people off accidentally often – it’s a gift.  I come across strong and I don’t wait long enough to speak to worry about how what I say will be perceived.  But Adam wasn’t afraid of us.  He kept reaching and caring and loving us in so many ways we desperately needed loved and cared about.

Christ sought us through Pastor Adam.  He invited us, not to church first, but to dinner.  He paid.  He didn’t preach first.  He listened first.  As discouraging as I imagine our entire story was to him, he smiled and made us laugh.  He prayed with us.  He prayed faithfully for us.  I saw tears in his eyes when I cried.  He responds quickly and sincerely despite what I’m sure is a million messages a day from so many in need.  In humility, Christ came full of grace, truth, kindness, patience and LIFE through this ministry.  Knowing Adam is like having Jesus in the flesh as your real friend.  He met so many of our felt needs simply because he so clearly and evidently loves, demonstrates, and represents Jesus Christ.

But what could God possibly do with a bitter, angry, depressed, church-hating sinner’s heart when he places a person on a mission – who just so happens to looks so much like Jesus – in their life?  The answer might surprise you.  My heart has been literally obliterated by his love and kindness.  When I say obliterated I mean destroyed; wrecked; bleeding out; conflicted; convicted; changed.  It’s amazing what a few people who truly love God can accomplish with a few words and a lot of kindness.

It’s funny though, because love begets love.  I have recognized and realized so many places where I have failed to love others since I have been loved rightly by this church.  That’s real progress.  Being loved well convicts.  Because this church has loved me and my family, I have involuntarily reconsidered my past reaction to the opposite – all the times when I was not loved well by the church, which, in case I haven’t mentioned it, were many.  Those memories, coupled with the love I’m continuously being freely given, have brought me to a new place.  A place where instead of looking back in anger I am looking back in reflection on how I could have reacted differently; how I could’ve chosen more love and less pain; how I could’ve loved much, much more in the middle of being rejected and hated.  By being loved well I have recognized that I have not loved others well – at least not this well – because this love is something I have never experienced.

EMPOWERMENT.

This is big.  I don’t think I can stress how big this is.  Empowerment is not a word we hear often in the church.  We hear it in feminism.  We hear it in education.  But we scarcely ever hear this word in the church.

Jesus Christ was a man who empowered women in a time and a culture when almost all men oppressed them.  Through Adam’s church I have received a positive return for my humble offering.  That in itself has reversed my prison-like obligation of obedience and submission to many wrong restraints, man-made rules, and attitudes placed upon me by a patriarchal, oppressive religious system which often disallowed any and all contributions I sought to make.  It changed that burden into a blessing of courage and confidence in the pursuit of service to my Lord, my family, and the church altogether.  In a word, I have been empowered to stop being afraid and ashamed of being who I am in Christ inside the church.

And I don’t think I can properly articulate how big that is.  It is huge.  Just in my own life I have seen so much change in my thinking, especially how I think about myself and how I interact with others because I have been empowered here.  Because pastors and church leaders can say all they want that women are valued and women are equal but until they begin to actually treat us with the same amount of respect, the same amount of need for our gifts, the same amount of usefulness within relationship and ministry, we do not have equality and we don’t have empowerment.  We have role-relegation and that is not cool.  It doesn’t help people grow or realize their potential in God’s kingdom rightly.

ENCOURAGMENT.

I have been continually encouraged in my trials, my gifts, my studies, and my life in general since coming to RFMC.  Coming from a place where being desperately discouraged was almost all I knew from many church leaders, I don’t have words enough to tell you how much it means to me to have been given such a valuable gift.  I came as someone who had resolved to believe that discouragement was a lifelong sentence only to find that a few kind words and more than a few kind souls have a supernatural power to cancel the debts of a drastic amount of doubt, depression, and discouragement.  Healing isn’t always about physical miracles and demonic deliverance.  Healing is often as simple as a kind word on a Tuesday morning or an offering of  hot chocolate and a thank you.

CORRECTION.

This, again, is profound.

If you had told me three months ago that a pastor could correct me on my theology, my attitude, and my perspective on past pain all at the same time simply by living out the gospel and looking more like Jesus Christ than anyone I’ve ever met, I would have laughed and blew that whack smoke right back in your face.  But the truth is, that’s exactly what happened when I got involved with this ministry.  I have learned more about Biblical truth, love, life, and Christian living in the past few months than I thought possible at this late stage.  And that is nothing short of amazing for a girl who thought she knew better than any big title preacher boy.

Because if anyone knew and studied their Bible it was me.  If anyone knew what they believed it was me.  But here’s this guy livin’ out his faith in such a way that it changes me.  That’s amazing.  That’s Jesus Christ in the flesh.  And Adam didn’t say, “do this,” “don’t do that.” He never said that.  He didn’t have to.  He loved us.  And love wrecks a person.  It convicts thoroughly.

KINDNESS AND GENTLENESS.

Here, we have my two most lacking fruits.  Because I was met with an immense amount of kindness and gentleness despite my general Mrs. Know It All attitude, I have been seriously humbled and convicted.  I have been checking myself whenever I am not being kind or gentle and I have been filtering all past actions through the kind of kindness I’ve been met with.  Just like criticism and negativity is infectious, so is kindness and gentleness.

JOY.

I have a future. I finally believe that. I am included, not excluded.  It is not cliquish.  It’s just brothers and sisters.  I feel welcome because I am welcome.  I feel loved because I am loved. And my contributions are necessary.  I finally believe that.  Maybe God will use me in His church after all.  Maybe He already is.  Maybe I have a place.  Maybe He will allow me to win souls, disciple others, be a light, and use the strengths and weaknesses He gave me for a real, radical, redeeming purpose.  I finally believe that because of RFMC and despite the best efforts of those who did their very best to convince me otherwise.

HOPE.

God is not who I thought He was.  God is altogether different.  He is not some Wizard of Oz that will end up being a full-out fake behind the curtain of reality.  He is exactly who He says He is, not who I had previously made Him out to be.  He is not an angry arbiter of angst and annihilation.  He’s not up there pretending to be a good God so that we will be good.  God is good.  He is grace.  And he gives like the good, grace-filled pastor and people he provided by His perfect providence to me and my family at RFMC.

INCLUSION.

My family and I are no longer outsiders to the ubiquitous, impenetrable cliques and club-like nature of many mass groups who label themselves Christian churches.  We have been invited, welcomed, listened to, and, if I’m reading it right, possibly even liked at RFMC.  I no longer feel as though I’m peering through a window which will never be open to me as I walk through the doors of the church.  I feel included, loved, and welcome, and I have not felt that kind of warmth within the church for a long, long time.

All the things I longed to see, feel, and experience in the church have been realized in just these few short months among a small group of people who talk funny, and are living testimonies of Christ’s love and truth.  They are his body, giving for me.

This is the story of a little girl who got lost.
This is the story of a little girl who has been found.
Lost, because of church men who erred.
Found, because of church men who loved.

And she couldn’t be more thankful.

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give

“…it is more blessed to give than to receive…” ~Acts 20:35

Anyone who has children at Christmastime can vouch for the veracity of Jesus’s original statement.

We want to give.  We all want to give to those we love the most.  We want to see and share in their joy at the very moment they realize that they are loved, and blessed, and important, and valuable.

Isn’t that what giving really is?  It is an investment in the joy of another.  So when we say, “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” we are not saying the giver obtains joy that the receiver will lack, rather, that the giver will receive joy two-fold – once by our giving, and once by their joy.

We cannot out-give God.  He is both the ultimate giver and the ultimate gift.  Have you ever considered why?

Really.  Why is God so good?   Why is giving truly better?  I mean, don’t we all want?  Aren’t all our earthly days spent very naturally wanting?  We want something; anything to ease our aching, wretched, lonely, desperate hearts.

Here’s a few words from an older piece I wrote on wants:

I run, praying.  I pray, running.  I’m not sure which it is but I do know one thing  – out on the road, my ambitions seem more attainable.

“Help me choose the right things today, Lord.  Cause me to be better today than I was yesterday.  We both know how yesterday went…”

I change my clothes and the tests begin.  Sometimes I overcome.  Usually I derail.

Wrong words.  Wrong food.  Wrong motive.  Wrong desire.  Wrong way.  Woe is me.  What a wretch.

At day’s end I think.  I analyse.  I ask myself, “Why must we always want?”

I know it isn’t just me.  I see it in everyone I know.  I see it in those I don’t even know.

As we drive to church I see a man walking with a cigarette.  “He wants something,” I say out loud.  “What?”  asks the mechanic.  “Everyone wants.  Why do we always want?”  “I wonder that, too,” he replies.  “I guess we want because we need.  But we want the wrong things when our need for the right things is most desperate.” I say, still thinking.

The pastor preaches on comfort.  He says it’s our first need from birth and a probable cause for many of our misplaced desires.

Psalm 23:1 takes up residence in my mind for the next few days.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

I shall not.

I must not.

I need not.

I ought not.

I should not.

I have not.

Yes, those are the synonyms of “shall.”  But our country – one of least need, materially speaking, in the world – has the most want.  I guess our needs aren’t what we tend to think they are.  And if we want, it means we have great need.

“What do you want for your birthday?” asks the mechanic.  “Sheep.” I reply.  “Sheep?”  “Yes.  I saw a big black one and three little white ones at the pottery store.  They remind me of us.”  “Oh.”

I’m a hungry, vulnerable, fully dependent sheep.  But whether I’m in a green pasture or a dark valley, I’m hedged in by my Shepard.  Therefore, let me fill up on the goodness of God that I might not want the wretchedness of the world.

I am a sheep in need.  A black one at that.  But my Shepard is good, and I need not want.**

Some days, the desire for that one want – be it natural, nice, impractical, impossible, unreasonable, unattainable, idolatrous, or even forbidden – that one singular want mounts heavy over all else – sometimes even life itself.

Whether it is the child who gets a glimpse of the gadgets in the grocery store or the adult who gazes glorifying whatever she finds greater than God, the human default is desire.  Desire. 

Satan stands still beside us seeking to show us what we still lack.  “See!” he says.  “See what I have for you!  See it.  Stare at it.  Slowly stew over it.  Steal it.  See it so much you stop seeing the Savior.  See it until it is all you ever see.  See what God won’t give you.  See it some and then see it some more.  Stay that idol in sight.  Saint Paul was wrong.  Receiving is supreme.”

But, God.  We cannot out-give God.  He is both the ultimate giver and the ultimate gift.  I’ll tell you why.

Because when wisdom rushes in on the coat-tails of His grace, we see rightly.  No longer do we stare at what Satan shows us, but now, what greater goodness we will receive in the giving away of even our own deepest desires; in the giving up of what is not good; the giving in to what will gratify others; what will glorify Him greatly.

It is then that He breaks the spell of selfish ambition and shows us what we really must see.  No more is it our wants, needs, and desires that overwhelm and stagnate us on a bed of sleepless self-pity and sorrow, rather our holy wants, needs, and desires to find some way to get to give him glory; give others gain; give the greater gifts; give more than even God knows I could ever afford because HE IS SO GOOD.  Because He is worthy.  Finally, I see Him, and he is all I see.   He gives and I get to wrap that blessing up tight and watch others gain.  And I know, I KNOW, that getting to glorify God in that way is greater than any self-interested gift I could grab duplicitously.   That kind of gift isn’t a gift anyway.  If it were, I wouldn’t have to scream and cry and throw myself down on the floor for it.  It isn’t a gift.  It’s a curse, and even if I got it it wouldn’t fit.

That is why it is better to give than to receive.  Merry Christmas.

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recommit

After finishing the project to rebuild the walls and gates of Jerusalem, the people of God spent a considerable amount of time praying, fasting, confessing, repenting, worshiping God, and looking intently at God’s law.  They were thankful for his mercy and providence and ashamed of their disobedience.  God used Nehemiah – the great, godly leader he had called to help them – to spur them on to rebuild not only their city and their homes, but also their very own lives.

After their time of reflection and repentance, the leaders drew up and signed a covenant with God.  The people all took an oath of commitment to carry out the terms of these promises.  They also risked a curse if they would fail to obey.  Matthew Henry notes that, “Every oath has in it a conditional curse upon the soul, which makes it a strong bond upon the soul; for our own tongues, if false and lying tongues, will fail, and fail heavily , upon ourselves.”  In other words, if we would make a promise to God or man, we best be prepared to do all within our own power to keep it.

With all this consequence for failing to keep such a pact, why did these people seem so forward to sign up?

The answer is that these people had been failing.  They had been in sin.  They had been exiled, enslaved, and their home had been devastated, destroyed, and left desolate. Yet God had burdened a man named Nehemiah to come and help them.  God had brought them back to rebuild and re-establish themselves.  Now, they recognize both their guilt and his grace and they feel obliged to make these promises and strive to keep them.  Here is a group of people who truly want to be right with God.  These are God’s people.

So, what was it that they bound themselves to do?

The people promised not to intermarry with foreigners as they had been doing, they promised to observe the year of jubilee and forgive all debts in the seventh year, they promised to tithe all they had to God first and to give him the very best of their possessions to use in his house.

What did they commit to God?  Family; money; food; assets; only…everything.

That is the kind of commitment we must make to Our Lord if we would seek to truly repent and follow him.  WE are the ever failing, exiled from the garden, living in the  broken world we call home, sinners.  When we recognize the things he has done for us in sending a Savior to rebuild and recenter our very lives around the truth and His righteousness, we cannot help but to commit our everything to the building of His house and His kingdom.  If that is not our attitude and desire, we have not yet seen him and we do not yet know him. Therefore, let us repeat the words of these restored sinners and do as they committed to do saying, “We will not neglect the house of our God.” ~Nehemiah 10:39b

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