READ ANY GOOD BOOKS LATELY?

As far back as I can recall – at least as soon as we were required to do book reports in school – I discovered there was one thing I could do to minimize my effort and maximize my grade. I most clearly recall using this technique when I had a book report due on one of the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. [Fair warning: If you’re a teacher, this may make you cringe.]

I don’t remember if it was because I hadn’t allowed myself the time to read or if I’d preferred to not read, but I had a book report due and little time left in which to do it. I think it was my mother who suggested it first. I read the summary on the back of the book, chewed it up a bit, and regurgitated it in a form that my teacher actually liked well enough to give me an A.

I became so skilled at synthesizing information, that I did it all the way through college. Although, in college, I probably spent more time researching commentaries, reviews and critiques on the assigned reading than I would have if I’d actually read it.

This might not seem like a particularly egregious habit – unless I confess that I was an English major who aspired to teach children the wonders of literature. (I know.) To be fair, if a degree had been available in researching literature, I’d have gotten a doctorate in it and been a very happy camper!

I did know better!  When I actually read the material, I fell in love with the words, the subtle nuances and rhythm of a sentence, the symbolism, the art with which a character was unfolded. It could be beautiful…but it was time consuming.

I’ve done the same thing with the word of God. I didn’t see a problem with it, though. After all, isn’t that what church is all about – listening to a preacher tell you about God, sharing the big stories in the Bible. Noah’s Ark, Jonah and the big fish, David and Goliath – they’re lessons that teach you that God is big and in charge, and you should be obedient to him and kind to others.

I had no idea what I was missing.

Fun fact about LaRonda: When I was younger, I fantasized about reckless passion. I imagined reading a beautiful love letter in which someone described how very much they loved me, that they yearned to be with me every chance they had, that they would die for me, built a home for me and, (this was added as I got older and learned about expenses) once they’d finished the construction and paid the mortgage off, would come back to get me so I could live there with him forever. What a romantic fantasy!

However, instead of actually reading the letter, I left it in the envelope on a table where I could see it, taking comfort in the fact that I knew it was a love letter. When friends came to visit and would invariably ask about the envelope, I’d say, “That? Oh, that’s my love letter. Yes…. Isn’t it wonderful?” Naturally, I’d say it in a soft, whimsical way, trailing off to insinuate an intimate mystery that only I and the one who loved me could understand.

But this isn’t simply the fantasy of a silly girl. This is the Gospel. It’s the greatest love letter ever written. It’s about a reckless and passionate relationship that God wants to have with us. I had been content with hearing about God. I had not been hearing from God, and God had a lot to say…to me.

During his ministry, Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was. He asked them who others said he was. There was a variety of answers, but the one he was longing to hear was that he was Immanuel – God with us. If we knew the Son, we knew the Father. He was the part of the trinity who agreed to a back-up plan for our reconciliation with our Creator before we were created.

669a0d1e281b953b71df9ab0cf423f5cWhich begs the question of Immanuel, “So who do you say I am?”

I know the answer I hope to hear, but I can have a pretty ugly heart and a fairly judgmental spirit. I also have have a great fear of rejection, so I prepare myself for the worst. I know, though, that if I believe he loves me, then he loves all of his creation and expects me to, as well.

So, I’ve been asking God to help me see people as he sees them, so I can love them the way he loves them because I don’t have a natural inclination toward grace and mercy.

To be fair, though, I don’t like myself all that much either. In fact, from the first time I heard that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, I was convinced of one thing. My neighbors were screwed.

So I was surprised to realize recently that the first person I would see with grace and mercy would be me. As a child of God. I am lovedanyway and always. And I am lovable. There is nothing in this person whom God created that disqualifies me from being cherished and beloved; if by no one else, then by God himself. And that understanding shows me what it feels like to be flawed and loved again and again. And that feeling helps me understand why it’s so vital for me to treat others with the grace and mercy that helps them stop feeling “less than.” And that understanding largely comes from reading the ultimate love letter to the world from the greatest Lover we’ll ever know.

Hmmm…Maybe there’s hope for my neighbors, after all.

 

 

 

MORE MUSHROOMS AND OTHER THINGS I DON’T LIKE

In my previous post, we looked at how we can handle those things – and people – we don’t like. You can catch up here if you haven’t read it yet.

So what does social media have to do with books and recipes with mushrooms?

Inclusion and Exclusion.

It would be easy enough to discuss being kind to others. As Christians, we can take a cue from Christ and be kind to others. Heck, there are plenty of people who aren’t Christians who are kind to others! But there’s another side to the equation to that. (Don’t worry! This isn’t a math problem. I’m not nearly that clever or cruel.)

I think we can take kindness a step further. Very simply, we don’t have to share every thought we have! Or as George Washington advised Alexander Hamilton in Hamilton:

talk less smile more

I can be incredibly insecure at times. I feel especially anxious when someone avoids me or doesn’t speak to me, because one of my “punishments” growing up was to not be acknowledged or spoken to for up to three days at a time. (I was talked about, but not to.) But that’s not something anyone but my family – and now you – know enough about to be sensitive to it. And even if someone knew enough to be sensitive to it, there are those who would exploit it because they have the right to say whatever they want – whether I like it or not.

I am also really self-conscious about my thick waistline and thin hair. I absolutely hate being in photos – so much so that I cried for most of the day after seeing myself in all my monstrosity in a company photo. Words like disgusting, fat, stupid, and unacceptable were on a continuous loop in my head. I would imagine some of you have felt at least a bit of embarrassment, rejection or shame in your life, so I know I’m not alone.

you don't get to decide.jpgVulnerability can be so painful.

But it’s so easy to forget that others can feel embarrassment, rejection or shame, too. We forget how much better compassion can feel. And yet, some of us subscribe to the “misery loves company” philosophy and figure if they’re going down, they’re taking someone with them. They manage to compound someone else’s shame by excluding them from their customized paradigm by making them “less than”.

Christ didn’t come to us to save those of us who don’t sin as badly as “those people” sin. In fact, the offer of salvation is still available, albeit for a limited time. We all want compassion, mercy and grace. We don’t deserve it, but we want it

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We’ve heard John 3:16 often enough that even a non-Christian  – especially if they’re a fan of Tim Tebow – would know it: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

How wonderful to know that we have hope, that we are set apart. But John 3:17 reminds us that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” 

It’s simple enough for a child to understand, really. What we don’t do is every bit as important as what we do. What we don’t say can more than what we do say. Maybe we could be quiet sometimes.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be discerning. But embarrassing an overweight passenger isn’t discerning. It’s shaming, and it’s not necessary. I doubt this passenger wasn’t hearing anything she hadn’t already told herself! And there were probably a fair number of passengers who were relieved that they hadn’t been seated next to her. In fact, the only difference between them and the vocal passenger may have been small and simple: they didn’t humiliate a fellow human being and she did.

Be Kind, inspirational scripture art, hand lettering, from StudioJRU
Be Kind, inspirational scripture art, hand lettering, from StudioJRU

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12, NIV). The flip side is this: Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want someone to do to you. This isn’t “spiritual”; it’s kind and decent.

Now, I’m still not willing to make recipes that include mushrooms or read a book I don’t find interesting. I suppose I can at least try read the rest of a devotional that calls me to do what I don’t really want to do. But if God loves someone as much as He loves me, it seems only right that I try to love them, too. And if I can’t love them, I can at least I can be quiet.

MUSHROOMS AND OTHER THINGS I DON’T LIKE

I have a couple of things that I need to confess:

  • I ignore any recipe that requires mushrooms.
  • When I don’t like the first few pages of a book, I simply won’t read it.
  • I don’t care how sick I am, I will not take Alka Seltzer if it goes in a glass of water.
  • I take a pass on any devotionals that even hint at something I really don’t want to do. (You know the ones, right?)

im not arguingFor the most part, this list is pretty harmless, right?

Right?

Recently, I heard a story that is all too common today. Apparently, a passenger on a flight didn’t care to be seated next to a fat person, a fact she made abundantly clear to anyone near her. She had a belief paradigm in which fat people on a plane didn’t fit.

I came across another story along the same lines. (They’re not hard to find, folks!) This was a pretty transparent, well-articulated letter that highlighted the shame felt by most people who have ever been singled out and treated as “less than”.

It broke my heart. Not because it was written by an obese person or the fact that I understood all too well what it felt like to believe you were literally taking up more space than you should. It broke my heart because the treatment of the writer was both unkind and unnecessary.

As a person who likes to share every thought that pops into my head – and a few that take the express lane past the Does That Really Need to be Said? pit stop – I know how satisfying it can be to say whatever you think and how very hard it can be to hold your tongue. Just as every single teacher I had from Kindergarten through high school.

In fact, just last night, I was in a pretty foul mood after work, and my husband and daughter heard all about it when I got home.  When I decided it was time to stop ranting, some anger still sputtered out, much like the coffee machine does after it dispenses coffee. I grumbled, “I need to calm down. I want to write about kindness!” (I know! Right?)

they'd all be right
I’ve had this on my fridge for a long time! Guess which one is me.

Most of that post was ditched this morning when I began to consider that maybe what we don’t do is as important as what we do.

God is all about balance. Christ demonstrated that. Every time he healed someone, it was every bit as much about asking the religious leaders why He shouldn’t heal someone as the fact that someone’s mind and body should be restored. I have no doubt that some of them were what their culture would call ‘undeserving.’

If there’d been a show of hands for who in the crowd of 5,000 men (plus their wives and children) should be healed, “those people” wouldn’t have been healed. Jonah had a really hard time offering God’s compassion to “those people” in Ninevah. Today, we have a hard time offering God’s compassion to “those people” in our lives, don’t we?

And doesn’t it seem like there are a lot of “those people” in our lives? Our coworkers, the government, the customers at the grocery store, the drivers on the highway, the people we are connected to through social media…They’re everywhere, and they get on our last nerve!

What gives any of them the right to be treated kindly? To be shown compassion? To be forgiven?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Except God’s grace. The same grace that we are afforded. And before you think, “Well, I know I’m not perfect, but…”, think about all the times you’ve seen yourself get ugly about someone else. Yes, some times it is a righteous anger. But more often than not, it’s more about feeling justified.

We want what we want! We’ve grew up with the conveniences of refrigeration and automobiles – just two of the things that gave our families free time. Then we got fast food, and we got what we wanted right now. And then Burger King told us that we could have it our way. Today, social media allows us to create our very own truth bubble by subscribing to what we believe and blocking anything that doesn’t agree with our truth.

We are able to communicate with millions of people around the world and to access a ridiculous amounts of information, which we can customize to our liking. But instead of creating a sense of community with a variety of cultures by identifying the things we have in common, I think it creates a very egocentric mindset. If there’s something that doesn’t fit into our customized truth, we reject it. That doesn’t make us bad, though.

However, I suspect – and I could be wrong – that this customization lays the foundation for creating the culture of offense we have today. When I think my thoughts are better founded and my comforts are more important than someone else’s or my rights are superior to someone else’s, I can simply take offense. I become self-righteous. I begin to pick and choose who I will love, tolerate, affirm and forgive. That means that there are some of “those people” who won’t show up on my radar – because I eliminate them. It’s not something new, but now we’re able to dislike and disagree with people whom our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents didn’t have access to.

So what does this have to do with recipes with mushrooms and books? I’ll tell you tomorrow. Feel free to type your guess in the comments below!

 

Did the Grinch Steal Your Christmas?

I usually start out the holiday season (the no-I’m-not trying-to-be-politically-correct – from-Thanksgiving-to-New Year “holiday season”) like this:

elfI want the house to look festive. I want to bake cookies and make candy. I want to watch all the classic Christmas movies from A Christmas Story to Die Hard while I’m curled up on the couch with my family, a warm blanket and a big bowl of popcorn. I want to play Christmas music from Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Wizards in Winter to the Muppet’s’ unique take on The Twelve Days of Christmas or (my personal favorite) Dominick the Italian Christmas Donkey. I want to write the coolest Christmas letter to our family and friends, and get it mailed early!

But my Christmas letter turns into a New Year letter. If I hear Harry Belafonte sing Twelve Days of Christmas one more time, I’ll scream. (Actually, If I have to hear anyone stretch out “five go-old rings” through seven verses, I’ll scream!) My husband and I are too tired to stay up for a movie, and I’ve barely seen my daughter since the beginning of school break. The cookies and candy? Well…I’ve got the ingredients but got lost on Pinterest looking for the right recipe. And the house? Not bad, but the spare room is full of boxes – at least the ones that got into the room. One of the cats is using a partially-emptied tote for a bed and an unfinished wreath rests against the table by my chair. The cats seem to enjoy the way the fake needles massage their coats as they walk through the middle of it.

I am not Martha Stewart.

I think I love the idea of Christmas; but to be completely honest, Christmas really, really stresses me out! My husband and I have yet to go into the season with any money set aside for gifts, and John and I have gone through 21 Christmases with very different ideas on how much we should spend. And gift-giving of any sort gives me anxiety because I could never buy the right thing for my mother. (It’s okay – I’ve talked to my therapist about it.) I’m confident that most people probably have someone like that in their family; and if they don’t think they do, then they’re probably that person.

One year, I thought I had it nailed! My mother told me she would like one of two books – Roseanne Barr’s Roseanne: My Life as a Woman or the newest book from Robert Schuller. I chose Robert Schuller’s book because I thought it would be inspirational. When she opened it, she was quiet for a bit, then she set it aside without a word.

“Did I get the right one?” I asked.

“It’s fine.”

“You said you wanted that one or the one by Roseanne Barr, right? Is there something wrong with it?”

“Well, I wanted Roseanne’s book.”

No “thank you” at all. I’d failed again. That sort of track record leaves you a little anxious about getting anyone the “perfect” gift.

I am not Santa, either!

grinch and maxAll of the “forced festivity” is enough to turn a girl into a Grinch! You’re buying things for people you wouldn’t ordinarily buy something for – Secret Santa’s, the mail carrier, the paper carrier, the woman who does your hair! How much is enough? How much is too much? If you get it on sale, does the original price count or does the sale price count? Are you re-gifting something  to the person who gave it to you last year? Does it count if it’s handmade? Do the bag and card count as part of the price or not? What happens when you get a “surprise” gift and (naturally) have to find a gift of equal value to reciprocate? What on Earth made anyone actually think you liked ceramic turtles?! (Well, you’re a bona fide collector now, Sweetie! You’re welcome.) Your kids – bless their little hearts – understand that you can’t afford the latest electronic doo-hickey. They’ll just ask Santa for it. Fine! Maybe Santa can pay for the new tires we need for the car, too!

There are three groups of people my shriveled Grinch heart really goes out to:

  • The introverts who are expected to spend all their free time in the foreseeable future in the company of extroverts.
  • The hostesses who end up stuck in the kitchen cleaning up after a big family feast that took two days to prepare and 20 minutes to consume!
  • Those who are trying to work their way through the holidays while bearing true substantial loss of a family member. (This is a special group that has a place in my heart like no other and deserves the dignity of being mentioned but not included in an honestly superficial rant like this.)

Is this really what Christmas is all about?

first christmasNo. No, it’s not. We know this going into Christmas, don’t we? Cognitively, we know it’s about the fulfilled promise of God and the baby in the manger. Even the folks who only go to church for Easter, Christmas and the occasional baptism or wedding know what Christmas is really about!

But we fall for the guilt, pressure and commercialism every year, don’t we? No one wants to be left out during a gift exchange, even if we don’t need another thing and probably won’t score anything all that special anyway. Is it any wonder we end up at least a little disappointed when we go into Christmas feeling like Elf and finish feeling like the Grinch. The version of the holidays that we buy into has the potential to rob us of our joy.

For me, the worst part is that I let it happen. I could set a monetary limit and stick to it. I could tell my friends and coworkers that I prefer to not participate in group gift exchanges because I don’t want to take on more debt. I could budget my time the same way by carefully choosing which get-togethers I prefer to attend, then balance them with the time I need to be alone with my family at home. At least my generation is beginning to appreciate the freedom of slow cookers and ready-made dishes that allow us time to spend with the ones we love – or are at least related to. Stressful food preparation no longer defines our womanhood. Much.

Christmas is about God offering “tidings of comfort and joy”, and here I am worn out and bitter. It’s about hope, but I’m freaking out about how much debt we’re accumulating. It’s about peace, and I’m cranky. It’s about liberation, and I feel trapped by social constructs. It’s about pardon, and I feel indebted. It’s about inclusion, and I hear story after story of family strife.

wreath crownChristmas is about eternal matters that cannot be measured or limited, and my focus is on resources that are finite and exhaustible – time, money and energy. I allow these things to take priority in my life while I struggle to keep alive a now, very small corner of my faith.

Who knows? Maybe next year I’ll find some balance that will allow me to enjoy the best of the holidays. Bless all of you who come alive and are in your element during the holidays! Personally, I’m relieved that Christmas only comes once a year. It comes and it goes. But the Kingdom on which the birth of Christ is built is with me all year long.  Now, that is a gift worth keeping!

JANIS IAN, VEGGIETALES & EPHESIANS

I have a teenaged daughter who is becoming an amazing young woman. It seems like she’s constantly changing. She reminds me of what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:11: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” (Except she’s not becoming a man. Just so we’re clear on that! This isn’t “that blog.” 🙂 )

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AT SEVENTEEN – JANIS IAN

Some of the struggles Maggie has are so much like those I had at her age – you know, the Janis Ian kind; other struggles are unique to her generation. For example, I didn’t have to worry about how people from all over the world might judge my words or my looks or my choices on social media. I had enough trouble with the people in my school, in my neighborhood.  Then, again, I had to wait for America’s Top 40 so I could press Play and Record at just the right time in order to tape my favorite song. I had to buy an entire album to get my favorite song, and she has iTunes! (The struggle was real then, too.)

Growing up, Maggie’s favorite video was VeggieTales’ Jonah. She loved the idea that the God she was getting to know for herself was the God of second chances. And she understood that those second chances were not only for her, but for everyone else, too. This taught her mercy for others, as well as grace for herself.

 

It also taught her that second chances were unlimited with God. All He asks is that we repent. Ideally, repentance would be a one-time thing. I say I’m sorry and promise to change my ways – forever. But it seldom works that way, does it? We ask forgiveness again because we originally didn’t do it with the right heart.

Or maybe we didn’t really understand what it was that we needed forgiveness for – for getting caught, for making someone mad, or because we have a deeper matter that keeps pushing the wrong behavior to the surface. Or maybe there are some deeply founded beliefs that keep us returning to the same behavior; thoughts that need to be addressed before change can occur. Or maybe we didn’t really fathom how important the matter was to God. In any event, it seems we could easily exhaust God’s grace. And yet we don’t.

I think that’s the nature of repentance – co9ec67cd3ebeb832c3e7dfdef617888ffnstantly starting over and moving forward but with a new mindset. Again. And again. And yet again.

Now, it would be nice to sit back and enjoy God’s grace for ourselves while we remembered – again and again and yet again – all the grievances we suffered at the hands of others, right? Not so fast!

As Paul wrote: As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:1-6

This is more than Rodney King’s plea that we “all just get along.” (Google it.) As Christians, we are a part of one body and one Spirit. It’s imperative that we get along, or nothing will get done! And because we’re a part of one body and one Spirit, this isn’t just about us and we’re not in this alone. Essentially, we’re children of God – princes and princesses. We need to straighten our crowns, adjust our attitudes and act like it. (Doesn’t leave a lot of room for being offended, does it?)

Will it be easy? Considering that the third word in the first verse is “prisoner”, I wouldn’t count on it – at  least not until we fully fathom that we are a prisoner to Him who loves and is love, again and again and again.

But wait! There’s more. Paul goes on to say that the ultimate goal of our life in Christ, as one body and one Spirit comes down to this: Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (14-16)

We will not always be that awkward, insecure, shy 17-year-old. We will become wise and strong and loving! Can we be honest with others when they hurt us? Yes. But with love instead of bitterness. Because of Christ, we are better than we are without Him.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (29-32)

Now, there wasn’t an asterisk by this verse, so apparently social media wasn’t a concern then. All I can say is that whatever method they used for communication gave them much more opportunity to carefully consider their words than keyboarding does today. Even those stupid “footballs” that my classmates fashioned their notes into mandated more time for reconsideration than we have now. And we often wrote “Do not show to anyone” on the outside of it.

Paul later tells us that we will be armed with “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17), allowing us to divide the righteous from the unrighteous. But a sword isn’t something you let a child play with. It’s a piece of the armor of God that should be wielded with training and responsibility. And I think there will be plenty of times that we’ll be called to put the sword at our side and extend an empty hand in greeting to show there is no threat to another. No threat, because we have forgiven as we’ve been forgiven and shown compassion as we’ve been shown compassion by our Father through the sacrificial death of His Son.

Things have changed a lot since I was Maggie’s age, but we can be assured that God never changes. His word is steadfast. His expectations of us are solid. His love for us is never-ending. We are part of the mighty body of Christ, designed to do amazing things for the kingdom of God. And I am excited to see what our children grow up to do for Him!

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LOVE IS….

In the early months of my marriage, about 21 years ago now, I remember sitting on the front step of the house we were renting. I’d just moved to a town I’d only seen once, relocating my 4-year-old daughter and myself from Kansas to Minnesota. John and I had known each other all of nine months before we married. All our communication had been by phone and letters. We’d been a few years away from the internet and email, much less cell phones.

But as I sat on the front step that day, I had something that I really needed to talk to God about. He already knew what was on my heart because it was always there, just below the surface of my bravado, my fear, my anxiety. “God,” I said, “I don’t know how to love.”

I know I thought I loved my husband – at least as much as I knew how to. And I loved my daughter – as much as I knew how to. But the truth was that I was primarily grateful that John wanted to marry me, to keep me when no one else had. And I treasured my daughter, but I wasn’t sure I loved her the way other parents loved their children because I could be very impatient with her and sometimes cold to her if I was angry with her.

I grew up with a very conditional, controlling mother who managed my step-father, my half-brother and myself with fear. It would be kind to say she was simply a poor example of how a wife should treat her husband; a mother, her children. I knew from her example what I didn’t want to be, but the only option it often left me with was a glorified ideal of a woman I was not equipped to be. And so…my dilemma posed to God that day.

But He answered me immediately and surely: “That’s why I gave you John.” Those words sunk deep into my heart, and I’ve never forgotten them – even on the days when I thought God’s gift of John was a punishment or misunderstanding because John had done something to disappoint me, anger me or hurt me – which happens. Everyone will disappoint us, anger us or hurt us eventually. They’re only human, just as we are.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about what God assured me. John has been gentle, kind, patient and – most certainly – long-suffering, to the tune of 21 years. He’s shown me how to love my family and friends. But I’ve also been thinking about God’s love for us. So often I’ve read 1 Corinthians 13 from the perspective of the one who is supposed to love others. As I spend more time in the Word, though, I realize that this is a description of God Himself.

Our heavenly Father is so patient with us. He meets us where we are and really expects so little of us. He waits and waits for us to be ready, always the gentleman. We make the same mistakes repeatedly, and just as often He forgives and forgets them. When you look at the parables that demonstrate His love for us, He is the father of the prodigal son who runs after the boy as soon as he sees him; he doesn’t wait for the boy to reach him. He’s the woman who searches desperately for the lost coin as if it’s the only one she has and celebrates with her friends when she finds it.

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We see His love when Peter steps out of the boat and starts to sink when he looks at the waves in dread. When Peter calls out for help, Jesus doesn’t say, “Hold on. I’ll be right there.” He doesn’t tell the other disciples to help Peter. The distance between Jesus and Peter is a breath when Christ reaches out to pull him out of the water.

We may feel like we’ve strayed from God and have to make our way back to Him. We don’t! I am confident that if, at any time, we turn to call to Him, we will be startled to see Him a breath away, waiting for us. Yes, we need to repent, but we don’t have to wait. And we don’t have to beg and grovel to get in His good graces again. We don’t have to “prove” our authenticity to Him.

I don’t think God wants our self-deprecation. After all, He sacrificed His only 139ab36c5c3c1e05a202db0a7c66fc5cSon to free us from that sort of behavior. God wants our heart and the obedience that comes from loving Him with all our heart, all our soul and with all our strength (Luke 10:27). So if you think you need to clean yourself up first, forget it. You can’t do it yourself, and Christ has already done the work for you. If you think you have any reason at all to wait to reconcile yourself to God – or to accept Him as your God, Christ as your Lord and Savior – you don’t. Do it now. He’s right there, waiting for you with His arms ready to embrace you – again and again and again. That’s love!

 

GOD WANTS YOUR REJECTED HEART

God so desperately wants a relationship with you. Do you know that we are the only creation of his that needs reconciliation and has been given the opportunity for reconciliation? The animals don’t need reconciliation. However, there’s a third of the original angels in heaven who left with Lucifer who desperately need reconciliation, and God hasn’t made a way for them.

‘For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father’? Or again, ‘I will be his Father, and he will be my Son'”? Hebrews 1:5 (NIV)

And if we are adopted, grafted into the family of our Almighty, that makes us co-heirs with Christ. And that’s exciting news!

Angels, however, have no opportunity to be reconciled to God. What torment that must be. As humans, we can only imagine – and our imagination is incredible limited! – what it will be like in the presence of God when we reach Heaven, and yet so many of us yearn for it, look forward to it. The fallen angels know what it’s like to be in the presence of God, and they are bound to be denied that presence eternally.

This is how much God wants you! So much so that he has made a way to spend eternity with you at the expense of his only son, Jesus Christ.

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This may not be a comfortable thought for many of you who were not only discouraged from being a part of your earthly family, but were outright rejected. There’s no pain like the pain of rejection.

Like being picked last for the team. Some of you know what I’m talking about. The team captains are down to you and the kid who picks his nose – and eats it! And the nose-picker gets picked before you! You’ve never, ever picked your nose, much less eaten it! Who does that in the eighth grade anyway?

But then you go home, where it’s supposed to be safe and loving, where Mrs. Cleaver has just brought out a pan of fresh brownies for your after school culinary pleasure. Instead of brownies, there’s a note: Went out to eat with friends. Find some leftovers in the fridge. Again.

I had a profound experience of rejection when I was in college. It was a class exercise in recognizing people in the dark. The professor turned off all the lights. Then we were supposed to find a partner. But because there was an uneven number of students, he explained that if time were running out, someone would have to take on a third person. Simple enough, right? I wandered around in the dark, looking for a partner. Everyone I tried to attach myself to told me they already had a partner. When the lights came back on, I stood alone and humiliated.

Now someone who had been raised with more self-esteem than me may not have been bothered by this. I wasn’t one of those people. Instead, I stood there with tears threatening to run over my lower eyelashes. All I could think was, “I’m so defective that even in the dark, people know enough to reject me.” And I believed that.

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But God! Oh…God looks for you in the dark! He knows where you are. There is nowhere you can hide that his light can’t find you. And you’re the one he wants. It’s your rejected heart that he wants to hold next to his own. He didn’t send his only Son as a sacrifice simply to leave you out.

I used to think He did.

I accepted Christ as my Savior in a small Southern Baptist church when I was 12. As the years went by and I became a connoisseur of rejections, I began to genuinely believe that if I got into Heaven, it would be on a technicality. I imagined Jesus standing at the Pearly Gates, seeing me show up and begrudgingly saying, “Hmm. Well, I didn’t mean you, but rules are rules so come on in.” I even imagined an exasperated eye roll behind my back.

Our Lord isn’t like everyone else in our lives. He doesn’t just love. He is love. And he wants you to come to him with your rejected heart. So go ahead! You can trust him with it.

ENOUGH FOR TODAY

I’m learning that God wants a trusting heart.

Yesterday was challenging! We had just left home to go to visit my husband’s mother in Nebraska. Now understand that my husband has been unemployed for two months and he has yet to get any money from unemployment because of one mix-up after another, so I was already worried about getting the bills paid. Then, about 30 minutes into our 6-hour drive, I got a text from my boss that there was a problem with our payroll and there was no paycheck in my account yet. And then, I noticed that our escrow payment was $100 more than usual!

Fortunately, within two hours, my paycheck was deposited and the over-payment on my escrow was corrected. So we’re good for now.

And that, I think, is the key phrase – We’re good for now.

In her book, Calling Jesus, Sarah Young writes, “Many of the situations that entangle your mind are not today’s concerns; you have borrowed them from tomorrow.” When we recite The Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to “give us today our daily bread.”

Jesus understood how important it is to take things one moment at a time, one day at a time. He even said, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”  (Matthew 6:28 NIV.)

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I need to remember that I don’t need to worry about anything because my Lord sees me, he knows me, he loves me and he already knows how he’s going to meet my needs.

It’s easy to trust when your circumstances are good; not so easy when things look scary and you don’t know what’s going to happen next. Then we remember that God already knows what’s going to happen next. He already has a good plan for us. So keep a peaceful heart and wait for it. Stop worrying and start worshipping!

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HE’S AFTER YOUR HEART

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I saw this on Pinterest, and it absolutely captivated me. From as early as I had an interest in the opposite sex, if any boy or man had said to me, “I’m after your heart.” I would have melted and sighed, “Okay….” (Unless he was wielding a knife with a maniacal look in his eyes, of course. That would have been scary, you know? Just sayin’.)

Just know that I’m no expert on scripture, and I’d never read Hosea until last night. And even then, I can’t claim to have studied it, but I’m excited to share what I learned about God’s nature in loving his people when I looked at this book.

The book starts out with God’s conversation with Hosea about the punishment Israel is about to receive for being sinful and unrepentant. He’s using the prophet as a visual aid for the poor state of the Israel’s relationship with himself. But we don’t get far in the narration before we see the sheer depth and breadth of God’s love. We see how he longs for reconciliation; he’s willing to forgive and waiting to see the hearts of his people turned back to him.

But before they can be reconciled to him, the people will be punished for their faithlessness and wicked choices. Blood will be spilled, the land will be dried up and the people will be defenseless in battle. He even goes so far as to declare that he is no longer the Israelites’ “I AM”. Still, the time will come when God’s word will not return void. He called the people of Israel his people, and they will be restored as such.

“Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘children of the living God. (Hosea 1:10)

So if reconciliation is on the horizon, why would he punish them? They had been unfaithful to him. They forgot their God, the one who delivered them from slavery, saw them through the wilderness and took them to their promised land. You can hear the sorrow in his heart when he says:

“I will punish her for the days she burned incense to the Baals; she decked herself with rigs and jewelry, and went after her lovers, but me she forgot,”  declares the Lord. (v. 13)

The good news is that we have a loving and forgiving God who is always willing to take us back after we’ve repented. The words he uses are filled with gentleness and compassion. He says:

“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her.” (Hosea 2:12 – 14) “In that day,” declares the Lord“you will call me ‘my husband’; you will no longer call me ‘my master.’ (v. 16)

Such love and wooing is in these words! Wouldn’t we all much rather have a “husband” who loves us, protects us, and desires us than a “master”? Although both a master and a husband will see to our needs for food, clothing and shelter, there is so much more commitment and mercy in being a spouse than a slave. Slaves can be bought and sold. Spouses are meant to be kept for life and cherished.

What’s more, he speaks of himself as a loving parent.

It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them.  I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them. (Hosea 11:3 – 4)

Further, he goes on to affirm his holiness. While he loves us as a husband might and tends to us as a parent might, God is still holy above all else.

I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I devastate Ephraim again. For I am God, and not a man—the Holy One among you. (Hosea 11:9)

Not only will the Lord love us again, he will restore us.

“Come, let us return to the LordHe has torn us to pieces but he will heal us;
he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds.” (Hosea 6:1)

So that’s it? Some harsh punishment and we’re good with God because he loves us so much? Not quite. Our part is to repent and return to him. It takes action on our part. We must see the Lord for who he is – holy and sovereign. There is none equal to him, no substitute for him, and we have to live with that as our truth!

But you must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always. (Hosea 12:6)

That’s our call to action. Jesus made this even easier for us through his sacrificial death. We no longer have to make sacrifices to restore our relationship with the Lord. God doesn’t want sacrifices. He wants your heart!