Maybe it’s Abuse

“I have a praise,” the middle-aged woman raised her hand. “A christian friend of mine had a husband who wasn’t very nice. She sometimes would put the kids to bed at 6:30 and sneak supper to them so they wouldn’t have to be around their dad when he got home from work. He could be pretty mean to them, so she protected them. This went on for years. He passed away not long ago, but before he died he gave his life to Christ. He knew he hadn’t been nice all those years and for her to put up with him, well, he decided there must be something to this Christianity thing. Her kindness all those years was a witness to him. Praise God!” Others chimed in, “Yes, praise God!” and “A-MEN!”

Dear Conflicted Christian,

I’m sorry you were there for that conversation. You’ve been deeply hurt and confused by this relationship you’re in. And you’ve been listening – listening because you want to do the right thing and make the right choices. I know you’ve heard that true Christians turn the other cheek and keep their promises no matter what, but sometimes doing so feels wrong in your gut. It feels like a wrong against you, or perhaps your children. And you think it is your sinful, selfish flesh that makes you think of leaving instead of staying and sacrificing. You’re more afraid of being a bad Christian than you are of being mistreated. Please keep listening.

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Jesus loves you. You’ve heard it so many times perhaps you didn’t really hear it just then. Jesus loves you. The Creator of the universe, the Savior of mankind, your Redeemer – He loves you. Not only that, but Jesus loves you. He adores you. He was willing to give up His home, His power, His position in heaven to heal His relationship with you. And further more, Jesus loves you.  Perhaps you’ve been told in words or actions that you are not lovable. Or perhaps you believe that Jesus loves the institution of marriage and the character traits of purity and commitment more than He loves you. You and I understand that people are more important than things. So don’t you imagine that God, whose very character is the definition of love, prioritizes people over things even more than we do? Jesus loves you.  Now walk forward in this conversation from that point of safety.  Please keep listening.

Jesus is your Savior. Jesus is your spouse’s Savior. You don’t need to sacrifice your life in hopes of saving your spouse. Jesus already provided that sacrifice. I’m sorry for the messages within the church and among  Christians that have informed you otherwise. Please keep listening.

The cross that Jesus asks you to bear is not the abuse, it’s not your marriage, and it’s not your vow of silence. I know you’ve heard preachers tell you it is. But it’s not. Jesus tells us that His yoke is easy and the burden He places on you is light. You need to carry your cross so you can die daily as Paul did. That means your selfish desires – including your urge to cleanse your life by being good – must be nailed to that cross every day. Please keep listening.

No one can help you unless you’re honest. That means being honest about everything – even the things that don’t reflect well on yourself. You will have the strength to do this only if you’ve accepted in your heart the things I’ve already said. Maybe you’re easily manipulated. That will need to be admitted for your own healing. Maybe you’re ashamed of things you’ve done that were not consistent with the person you want to be. Betrayal of self is perhaps the deepest of injuries. But there is compassion, grace and healing in Jesus. In the presence of a safe person, allow that wound to be opened so He can heal you.

There will be people who are not safe and may create obstacles to your healing. They may say things like:

  • “That doesn’t seem likely. I’ve never seen your spouse act anything like what you’re saying.”  Spare your breath. Their response doesn’t negate your experience or make them a bad person. They just can’t hear you right now. That’s ok. Find someone who can.
  • “You’re being too sensitive.” If you’ve lived with abuse for years, you probably believe that’s true. So let’s just say it is true. A loving spouse and friend respects – and dare I say even admires – a sensitive spirit. Find someone to talk with who isn’t going to condemn you for that character trait.
  • “You’re the one who decided to marry them. You’re just going to have to deal with it.”  No one signs up for abuse. You didn’t choose to be abused.
  • “You just have to put up with some things in order to have a long term relationship.” Yep, you sure do. You’ll experience differences in likes, priorities, and ideas. There will be a lot to work through. However, that does not include putting up with habitual mistreatment or manipulation.
  • “You’re not being forgiving enough.” Forgiveness relates to your attitude toward another person and impacts your motives. Forgiveness does not equal embracing destructive behavior.
  • “Your spouse probably has reasons for acting that way. You need to be more understanding.” There are always reasons for what human beings do. But understanding why a thing is so does not necessarily make it healthy or acceptable.

While there may be some element of truth in all of those statements, it still may be abuse that has you on edge and your stomach in a knot. Find someone who will believe you and give unbiased feedback. A counselor is a good option or follow this link to talk with someone at the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Just because you and your spouse go to church every week doesn’t mean abuse can’t happen in your home. Studying religious beliefs and doctrine doesn’t automatically give you an understanding of the love and compassion Jesus has for you or equip you with the tools to share that love with others in a healthy way. Please get to know Him!

Talking about what you’re experiencing doesn’t necessarily mean your marriage is over or that your spouse is a horrible person. But it does provide a doorway to a future that is more peace-filled and less chaotic. Now walk through it.

Be strong and of good courage.

Much Love, Me

Church – Do we not realize that our words are encouraging domestic abuse to continue in our midst? Yes, praise God the man in the story gave his life to Christ. Praise God He is able to take a bad situation and bring about good. But no, not “praise God” that the wife’s “kindness” witnessed to him. Where did we get the idea that God requires us to enable abusers and how did we come to see it as kindness?  What is kind or loving about habitually shielding our abusive loved ones from the natural consequences of their actions?  Where is the growth in their journey when we do that? How will they come to the end of themselves and see their need for God when we run perpetual interference? Yes, relationships are complex and there will always be more give than take. But let’s not confuse that with abuse.

Please allow Jesus to be the Savior of mankind.

He is the hero.

And that’s good news.

 

Who Deserves the Praise?

Imagine working for a boss who never thanks you for your effort. Say there is an important project with a looming deadline, and the whole team makes personal and professional sacrifices to make certain that the project gets completed on time and with superior quality. The owner of the company arrives and throws a big celebration party for your boss – but the team isn’t invited. You hear rumors of awards and bonuses being lavished upon your boss – but the team gets nothing. You see your boss in the hallway and congratulate him on the job well done – but he does not acknowledge that you or the team had anything to do with his accomplishment.  I think you get the picture. And what do you think of your imaginary boss?

You might stay at that job if you have devotion to the work the company does. You might stay because you need to provide for yourself and your family. But I’m pretty sure you won’t stay out of love for your boss. And the sense of injustice you feel toward the situation is not caused from a lack of humility or selflessness on your part. It rubs you wrong because the boss is prideful and the situation isn’t an honest representation of the work that’s being done.

Contrast that with a story a friend of mine shared yesterday. She had worked at a thankless job for years – often fielding complaints and rarely hearing gratitude. She was a teacher. At midlife she made a career change and came to work for a man who recognized the value of each person who contributed to the success of his business. He went out of his way to appreciate the “least” with simple words of thanks.  And he noticed and was thankful for the good work my friend was doing. That happened years ago, but it holds deep meaning for her even now. She said, “I would have done anything for that man.” His appreciation for her effort caused her to want to freely give more effort.

Now listen to this:

I looked again. I heard a company of Angels around the Throne, the Animals, and the Elders—ten thousand times ten thousand their number, thousand after thousand after thousand in full song:

The slain Lamb is worthy!
Take the power, the wealth, the wisdom, the strength!
Take the honor, the glory, the blessing!

Then I heard every creature in Heaven and earth, in underworld and sea, join in, all voices in all places, singing:

To the One on the Throne! To the Lamb!
The blessing, the honor, the glory, the strength,
For age after age after age.

The Four Animals called out, “Oh, Yes!” The Elders fell to their knees and worshiped.

The saved in heaven are a part of that crowd. And they are all, of one heart, praising the Lamb of God. There are several such descriptions in Revelation of this type of praise session bursting out around Jesus. This one is recorded in Revelation 5. And that leads me to believe this:

He alone is worthy of all the glory and all our praise.

“Well, of course!” you might say. “Any christian knows that.” We know it in our heads, but do we know it in our hearts?  Is that what comes out of our mouths?

Have you heard “God helps those who help themselves”? Or a similarly themed, “I have to do my best and God will do the rest.” Or “If you want to be saved, you have to keep all of the commandments – or at least try.”  Now I’d like you to consider this: If  when I get to heaven I’ve done 10% of the work to be saved and God has done 90%, where’s my praise? Or if I’ve been very strong-willed and able to pull off 45% and God picks up the other 55%, don’t I get more accolades than the person who could only put in 10%?  Or if I’ve disciplined myself severely and become perfect, obeying every commandment, don’t I deserve … all…the praise?

If I deserve some level of praise and instead all the glory and praise goes to Jesus, God would be dishonest, prideful, and unjust at best.Why would we want to spend eternity with a God like that? Why would we go along with that… for ever? The problem isn’t that we’re currently too selfish to accept that arrangement. The lopsided praise seems wrong because it would be against the very proclaimed nature of God for Him to accept that kind of praise if He wasn’t actually worthy of it.

However, if … if indeed we are in heaven 100% because of the gift of Jesus Christ, then and only then is He worthy of all the glory and all our praise.

And then He is a good, good God for being worthy of the praise and for accepting it.

So, if Salvation isn’t at all tied to what I do, “What shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase? ” Paul asked that very question in Romans 6.  And here was his immediate response, “Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

As we consider the love of Jesus, the Holy Spirit will increase our understanding of the Father’s heart, and we will respond to His love (John 12). We will desire to spend time with Him, and He will work in our lives to change us as we do so (Philippians 1, John 15). As we look to Him, we will be healed (Numbers 21, John 3). Our desires will be changed (2 Corinthians 3) and doing the will of our heavenly Father will be a natural response (Psalms 37).

So what about the law? It is a tutor, teaching us the nature of God and showing us how it differs from our own nature (Galatians 3). It is a mirror, allowing us to look at ourselves and realize our need of Jesus (James 1). That isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime look in the mirror. It is a daily look, a daily repentance, a daily dependence on Jesus. When we contemplate our lives and recognize where we’ve fallen short of the mark, a God-dependent response isn’t “I should be a better Christian than that. I need to try harder at that tomorrow.” But rather a God-dependent response sounds more like, “I failed to rely on You, Jesus. I believed a lie about You when I acted in opposition to Your way. I have sinned against You. I repent of my self-reliance. I repent of not trusting You in that area of my life today. I want to know You more, Jesus. Draw me to You. Help me to see You more clearly. Create in me a clean heart.” (Psalms 51) You see, we don’t spiritually mature out of our need for Jesus. But rather we realize our need for Him more as we grow (John 15).

There certainly is a reward for choosing to be a rule-follower and acting in kindness toward others. You are much more likely to live a life of freedom rather than imprisonment by doing so. You bring peace to yourself and to those around you. You enjoy a sense of stability and harmony with the world. But if you were hoping to do good things in order to contribute to your salvation, Jesus says, “You’ve already gotten your reward here on earth.” (Matthew 6)

Yes, in Revelation we are told “Here are they who keep the commandments of God” (Revelation 14:12). But I take that as a statement, not instruction. One cannot decide to keep the commandments in order to be in that group – or we would indeed deserve some of the praise that is lavished on Jesus in heaven. Rather, by deciding to follow Jesus every moment of every day, He will work in our lives to cause us to keep the commandments of God. For the commandments will be kept, but they are to be kept in spirit and in truth – not just in letter. (Romans 7, 8)  No amount of personal effort allows us to keep the spirit of the law without a new life in Christ. It is Christ in us, the hope of glory (Colossians 1).  It’s not that the glory I deserve pales in comparison to the glory Jesus deserves. It’s that He deserves all the glory.

Jesus is the hero of every story.

He deserves the praise!

And that’s good news!

Where is Jesus?

I was invited to an ongoing outreach training seminar a while back. It sounded like a denominational program, held in a denominational building, with the goal of converting others to our denominational beliefs. Even though an old friend was heading it up, I had less than no interest. Despite holding the denominational beliefs as true, I often severely disagree with the sub-culture, and attending a planning committee to multiply that sub-culture in our community was not top of my list for use of my free time.

Why are we so driven to convert others to Jesus if He’s so impotent that He can’t accomplish anything in our own lives?  Why do we even need Jesus if our primary focus is on working harder, being good, and making right choices? Oh, I’m sure none of us would actually say we don’t need Jesus, but we live it all the time. How often in response to a guilty conscience do we turn toward ourselves instead of Jesus? More often our thoughts probably go something like “I should really stop being so fill-in-the-blank. I should try harder at that next time.”  Where is the power of God in that? How has Jesus impacted your life there? He gave you a standard you feel obligated to live up to, but other religions or philosophies can do that. What’s so special about Jesus if all He’s done is given you a behavior goal to work toward?   Where is Jesus in self-improvement and good living?

We may for a time convince ourselves and others that trying hard to be good is resulting in success. But that is not reality. We cannot fix our sin problem by trying hard. It’s a convoluted, dysfunctional journey when we try to play the role of God in our lives. At some point we will each get sufficient  evidence to realize that we are broken and in need of Jesus. But if our beliefs have taught us that people who are really saved are not broken, and if we hold our salvation and beliefs tightly, then we will not be able to admit our own brokenness. We become narcissistic and victim-driven in our thinking and look for explanations for our hardships outside of ourselves. Our own beliefs that could have kept us humbly at the feet of Jesus instead cause us to cling more strongly to our self-righteousness. Being broken is risking too much. Where is Jesus in the charade?

Church, your talk is often focused on how much the unchurched need Jesus and the truth. You don’t talk nearly as often about the need for Jesus’ power in the lives of church members. Sure, you’ll say you need His help and guidance so you can do a better job at converting them, but generally that’s as far as it goes. Perhaps those on the outside of the church need Jesus, while those on the inside are only needed by Jesus to do His work. Your words may say otherwise, but over time the cultural atmosphere says the saved don’t need Jesus like the unsaved need Jesus. So what’s wrong with me when I fail? Why do I need Jesus so much? Am I actually one of them and not one of us? Maybe I don’t belong. Where is Jesus in this self-righteous club?

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I didn’t start attending a house church community so I could be on the cutting-edge of evangelism.  My focus wasn’t on reaching a new group of people to save or serving as a missionary in my city. I went to be surrounded by others who admit they stumble as I do, so I know I’m not alone. I went to be with those who want to be reminded of how good Jesus is when they forget, and who will do the same for me when I forget. I went to find Jesus, because I need Him. Oh, I’ve stumbled there, too. I’ve gotten wrapped up at times in the process and thought the key was in the “how” and not the “Who”. “It” has been so much more deeply ingrained in me than “He” has. But He has touched my heart in a way that “it” never could.  There is no deep abiding power in a list of beliefs. The power lies in knowing in Whom we believe.

Jesus is there.

His power lies in the impact of His grace that removes my need to prove myself to Him. In my weakness, I am enough because He is enough. His power shines in His omnipotence that lets me rest and not fight to control. He is able to control all things. His power is in His goodness and glory that fulfills my cravings, allowing God to become bigger and other people smaller. He frees me of my idols. His power will naturally bring my behavior into alignment with His will, not because He forces me, nor because I’m working hard at it, but because His love draws it out of me. His yoke is easy.

Jesus is there. 

I have found His covering righteousness shining in the writings of Ty Gibson and heard His grace and justice in the preaching of David Asscherick. I have surprisingly been drawn to His goodness in the words of Ellen White. And I found Him this week at that outreach training seminar, held in a denominational building with a distinctly denominational group, where we decided the most important outreach focus for next year is for each one of us to grow in our personal relationship with Jesus and to rely on Him daily. The power is in the relationship and it is through our abiding in His power that others will come to know Him.

Jesus is there. 

 

The Gospel Lens ~ Speaking Gospel Truth

Badness contained is not goodness. It is simply badness that is not leaking out yet. ~ Lee Venden

Most of us have no experience in the realm of speaking Gospel Truth to each other. In general it seems our interactions tend to land at one extreme or another. Either we say nothing at all when we see another person struggling in life, or we’ll swing to the exact opposite and tell them what they should be doing and how they need to change their behavior.  We might even read a Bible verse to show them it’s not just us who says they should be doing what we’ve told them, but God. And we call that speaking truth. But I am finding that at its heart, Christianity is not a behavior modification system, and the overarching message of the Bible is not good advice about living. So what does it mean to speak truth and how do we incorporate that into our relationships?

What I’m sharing here are some summary thoughts from a presentation by Jeff Vanderstelt (click here to watch his presentation).

Using the Biblical metaphor of our lives being trees that bear fruit, what we believe about who God is makes up the root of our tree. We have decided who God is based on what we’ve read and have experienced of the person Jesus (the Bible tells us that Jesus is the revelation of the Father). From that we decide who we are in Christ, which is displayed by our actions – or the fruit of the tree.  Speaking truth is a process of leading others (or even ourselves) to understand what they are believing based on how they are acting and to repent of their false beliefs about God.  By realigning their beliefs with what Jesus has shown us to be true about God, their fruit (behavior) naturally changes.

In the video presentation Jeff walked through an example of how he applied this process to a real-life situation. His wife was struggling with anxiety. The Fruit of the Spirit is peace. Her life was not showing the fruit of the Spirit. I’ll share with you a brief synopsis of the conversation as he shares it on the video.  His actual conversation with her lasted several hours.

Jeff – When you are experiencing anxiety, what does that tell you about who you believe you are?

Wife – I am the one in control.

Jeff – If you believe it is all up to you, what does that say about what you think God has done?

Wife – He has stopped loving me. He is not in control. He has abandoned me.

Jeff – Then who do you believe God is?

Wife – I believe God is unloving, impotent, and distant.

His wife understood that the fruit of her life revealed the root of her faith. In that moment she was acting as though she believed in herself and she was honest enough to speak the beliefs she was holding as truth about God. Those were not consistent with the beliefs she intellectually held to be true about God and she quickly repented of the beliefs she was acting on. She actually believes God is loving. She knows this because Jesus died for her while she was still His enemy. Because God is loving and cares for her, she does not have to be in control and can have peace.

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Repentance is the turning away from false beliefs we are holding about God and turning toward what we know to be true as revealed in Jesus. As you may have noticed, the discussion was not “you need to get more peace”. While peace is what she needed, telling her she needed to get peace for herself by trying would have only reinforced the root belief that was already bearing the fruit of anxiety in her life ~ namely, that she was in control of life and that it was all up to her. We don’t bear the fruit of the Spirit by trying hard to bear the fruit of the Spirit.

The fruit of the Spirit comes automatically as we seek Jesus.

Empathizing with others in their time of distress helps them know they are not alone and is beneficial to the one hurting. Giving good advice about choices to one who is asking has its place. But only Christianity offers the Good News of the gospel. Only God is able to change us from the inside. Do we believe it? Why don’t we remind each other of that more often? Why do we try to fix our external fruit problem instead of addressing our internal root problem?

The Gospel Lens ~ Studying to Know God

Do you find the Bible boring or irrelevant? Do you try to read and study but get bogged down in details and facts? Many of us have been taught to read the Bible looking for factual information. What can I get from God? What does He want? What should I believe? What do I have to do? But the Bible isn’t just a collection of facts or good advice about how to live. It’s full of Good News and Gospel Truth.  It’s an invitation to a relationship with the living God.

I’m going to walk you through a Bible study method that has shifted my focus from learning information or even appreciating an interesting story, and allowed me to brush against the hem of Jesus. The example I’m going to walk you through is based on my reading of Mark 3: 7-19. Briefly, in this passage of scripture Jesus finds Himself pressed in with crowds of people wanting to be healed. He then took His disciples to a mountain top where He chose 12 apostles. His plan was to teach them, and then send the apostles out to proclaim the Word and free people from the power of demons as He had been doing.

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Question one of the gospel lens:  What does this story tell me about the characteristics of God?

God is generous.

Question two: What has Jesus done in this story to express it?

Jesus healed all who came to Him and selected other apostles so they could do the same work in greater numbers.

Question three: Who are we in the gospel story* because of this story?

Because God is generous, in the gospel story we are needy. After encountering Jesus, we become well cared for.

Question four: What do I now do with this belief? How do I live differently?

Because God is generous and I am well cared for, I can afford to give lavishly to others.

You will notice that my answers to the questions are probably not your answers. There are no “right” answers. Your story and where the Holy Spirit is leading you will affect what you gain from the Bible reading. Your image of who God is will be different than mine because of your perspective and your unique personal relationship with Jesus. It is in studying and sharing with others that we can begin to get a bigger picture of God. It is a process of learning who He is, which then informs me of who I am in Him, and in turn changes how I live.  I don’t behave in a certain way so I can do something for Him, prove something to Him, get something good or avoid something bad from Him. As I practice focusing my eyes on Him, my external life becomes a natural response to the power of God working in my heart.

*The Gospel Story is God’s story of creating a perfect world, having Adam and Eve disbelieve His goodness, and His response of love and grace in His quest to rebuild the broken trust. Through the gift of His Son, He provided a way for mankind to reconnect with Himself and will one day return to erase the blight of sin and restore a face-to-face relationship with His redeemed sons and daughters. The gospel story has been played out over the ages, but is also repeated in each of our lives. 

Smile of God

“Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” My thoughts turned to that classic children’s song this morning. Perhaps you also know the song but may or may not know the verse that goes like this – “Jesus loves me when I’m good, when I do the things I should. And He loves me when I’m bad, though it makes Him very sad.”

I believed every word of that song as a child. And due to my personal nature, I believed Jesus was sad when I was bad because He was disappointed in my behavior. He would still accept me, but He was disgusted with me. He still loved me – but only because He had to because He was God and He didn’t have a choice.

I think I had it wrong.

At the end of time, the saved and the unsaved will have done some of the very same things in their lives. There will be those on each side of the gates whose behaviors looked very much the same to those around them. Since the Bible tells us that all of our attempts at goodness are filthy rags in the eyes of God, this should not surprise us. So why do we think that we can earn the smiling approval of Jesus with our good works or cause His sad disapproval with our bad works?

Jesus came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly.

He came to save, not to condemn.

He came to restore, not to shame.

I still believe every word of the song. But rather than thinking Jesus is sad when I am bad because He is disappointed in me, I now see it this way – He is sad because He knows that the selfish thing I did is going to cause me and others pain. But He’s not frowning on me in disapproval. Nope, He’s headed to the barn to get His Muck boots. After putting them on, He holds out His hand and offers to walk through it with me, helping me grow as we walk.

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It is in reaching out and taking His hand that I bring the smile to His face.

I Hope I Cause You to Stumble

“Can I get my ears pierced?”  Perhaps for most readers, having their nearly-16 year-old daughter ask that question would stimulate a thought process no more complex than if she’d asked what was for supper.  However, coming from my Christian subculture, the topic of jewelry and ear-piercing has traditionally carried a weight similar to discussions regarding same-sex marriage or abortion.

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As my daughter made her request that day a year ago, I remembered my own similar request as a young lady. In response, I was given a booklet about why Christians who really want to follow God won’t wear jewelry. The booklet was primarily based on a couple of New Testament verses that I read and considered – but I didn’t see the connection. In my opinion the texts had been taken out of context and selectively applied. When I questioned the application of the texts, I was told that sometimes we just do things we may not understand in order to fit in with a social group. If we want to be part of the group, we do what they say. I accepted and complied. Now with 30 more years under my belt, I can accept that guidance as reasonable in regards to membership in a club or other social group, but I bristle at the suggestion that it is a good reason to follow religious traditions. You see the social group is saying “This is what you need to do and look like to fit in with us.”  The standards of the club make a statement about the character of its members. However, by its very nature, the church is saying “This is what you need to do and look like to be acceptable to God.”  The standards of a church make a statement about the character of God. That carries a whole different psychological and spiritual weight.  So while I have no problem with a social group saying I must do the happy-dance at the door or wear my hat to the left side in order to be a member, I don’t agree with a church making arbitrary requirements of its members.

The other “devout Christians don’t do that” arguments against jewelry are generally geared toward the topics of good stewardship and avoidance of vanity. While I agree those are important principles to consider when making decisions, I would have to say they apply to a whole bunch of things in life – the least of which is a $5 or even $50 set of earrings.  Yes, I could spend $5,000 more on a set of earrings, which would be extravagant for me and a poor stewardship choice. But a person could spend $5,000 more on a house or car or vacation or hobby. I don’t think we’re ready to ban those purchases or be the “extravagant” monitors.

My daughter got no booklet nor sermonette the day she asked about ear piercing. Her ears are now pierced, as are mine. She asked me for a list of rules about the when, where and what of proper earring use. We discussed the principles of stewardship, thoughtfulness toward those who don’t believe as we do, and modesty, but I didn’t give her a checklist. I trust her to make wise decisions in this area of her life, as she does in others.

Some of you might imagine that this has been a year filled with a sense of freedom for me, having broken the spiritual chains that bound me. But honestly, some aspects of it have been a struggle. The disparity between my personal tastes vs what I was taught a good Christian must look like, left me feeling uncomfortable. Ironically I have continued wearing my earrings, not out of some mid-life rebellion-based “I’ll show them” attitude, but out of the principle of the matter. I’ve found it requires me to trust more in the character of God when I accept there is no checklist of “things to do to please God” that will win me His favor. I have continued searching for fulfillment in a relationship with my Creator rather than in a list of requirements or in pleasing others. I have found my earrings inconsequential to that search.

If your church background is similar to mine, my earrings may upset you. If they do, I hope they cause you to stumble out of any works-oriented traditions that have provided a false sense of value and instead stumble into a genuine relationship, grounded in faith, with the God who made you, loves you, and longs for you.

Dare We Believe?

While growing up I attended many an evangelistic series. This was not as a result of any intense spirituality, but was my lot in life. The evangelistic series I attended were presented by my dad. His sermons were full of the good news of God’s love. Often he would end his sermons with an altar call, providing a chance for people to commit their lives to Christ. Generally at least once during each series of meetings a favorite hymn of mine would be sung during the altar call.

Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bid’st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

The song is full of good news! Yes! What a safe harbor! What a welcome reprieve His love provides!

However, be it my own flawed perception, or be it the teaching of the day or the church, it seemed that hardly had the good news landed on the ears when the unsuspecting convert was hit with a left hook. It went something like this, “Now, here’s the deal. God loves you for sure, but you need to stop smoking. That’s not too much to ask since you know smoking’s bad for you anyway, right?  Ok. Great. Now, there’s more to the deal. God says if you love Him you’ll obey His commandments. So here, I’ll read them for you. Got it? Great. Now, hang on. Not everything you have to do is listed in the commandments. There’s some more over here. Let me read it for you. … Got it? Great. Just a few more and then we can talk about your being baptized so you can join the body of Christ. I’m so excited for you!”

The bottom line sounds something like this, “If you love God, convince Him and the rest of us by the way you act.” Immediately the list of must’s and should’s grows long and the good news becomes very burdensome and really not good news at all ~ because “now you know better, and now if you don’t ‘do it’ you’re really going to be lost!” (James 4:17)

Salvation in that setting becomes twisted into things I must do rather than a relationship I live with a God who loves me.  Immediately self fights to keep hold of the prospect of salvation and heaven. I start looking around instead of up, and comparison thinking comes to my defense, sounding something like “Well, at least I….

Furthermore, a works oriented model of salvation creates bondage (Gal 5:1) to fearful insecurity where I am plagued with questions.

“Have I done enough yet?”

“Is God pleased with me yet?”

“Have I asked for forgiveness of all of my sins?

“What if I misunderstand what God is saying and do this wrong even though I want to follow Him?”

I would sum them up in two words. “OH NO!”

The good news is, God doesn’t want more of my efforts. He offers me an entirely different quality of life grounded in the life of His Son who was the fulfillment of the law (Mat 5:17-20). Dare we allow God’s message to actually be good news?

The good news is, God says His love for me does not depend on what I do (Rom 5:8). Dare we stop scrambling for His acceptance and instead allow His peace to wash over us?

The good news is, in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15), the father does not ask the son to do anything. Coming home to be with his father was enough. Dare we believe God is anxious to welcome us into His family just because He is love?

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The good news is, a leopard cannot change his spots – nor can we change our sinful nature (Jer 13:23). Dare we believe our best efforts are a waste in regards to our salvation and sanctification?

The good news is, in the lives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the founding fathers of the Biblical people of God, outright premeditated sin was present in their lives. And God did not leave them. Dare we believe He will continue to work with us in the midst of our imperfections?

“Yeah, but…” I hear some church folk saying, “if you’re going to be a Christian, you’ve got to…”

I hear Christ saying I must seek first His kingdom of love and His covenant faithfulness with all my heart, and hang out with Him, then all the other things will come in time (Matt 6:33, Jer 29:13, John 15:1-8). 

Rather than being required, obedience to God’s law is inevitable as I spend time with Him. (2 Cor 3:18)

Living a life right with God is not a test of my relationship with Him ~ but it will be the natural long-term result of my relationship (Romans 10:4). Forcing it to happen the other way around may change the outside of me if I am determined enough ~ but it will never change the inside. Only basking in His perfect love and acceptance will change my core.

It is God who does His work in me and in you. (Phil 1:6)

Dare we believe the good news?

Whatsoever Things

We know the drill…

“Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Philippians 4:8

Having trouble with your thoughts? Do that. We’ve heard it. We know it. And we feel inadequate and ashamed when we can’t do it.

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But I didn’t quote the text quite right. I left off the first two words- and perhaps those are the words most essential to successfully implementing the text.

“Finally, brethren…”

Finally. Finally, after all these other things. After you’ve gotten to know Jesus. After you’ve devoted your life to Him. After you’ve seen His power in your life and know He is real. After you have been willing to give all for Him. Then. Then you are ready for what I want to tell you next.

Brethren. Friends. Co-travelers. Bonded together deeper than blood. Here within this community of support. Shared with deep regard and compassion. “I get it. I’ve been there. I know where you’re at. I understand the journey. I’m not just telling you what to do. I’m in it with you. I’d do anything for you. This instruction will bring such positive change to your life, I can’t restrain myself from telling you what has been helpful for me on my journey. Now here it is, my friends.”

Now it’s not a drill. Now it’s not a check list filled with condemnation. Now it’s meaningful and filled with abundant life.

Do You OWN It?

I’ve been asked on occasion to talk to different groups.  It’s usually an elderly bunch and they always want to know about feet.  Their questions and interests are pretty predictable for me by now.  They want to know why their toes are curling, their feet are getting wider, and their toenails are thicker.  They want to know what they can do to keep walking and stay healthy.  They want to know any tricks I might have to help them avoid surgery and be more comfortable.  They have lots of questions and I have lots of answers.  After my talk I usually hear how informative, enlightening and sometimes entertaining they found it to be.  They appreciate my coming.  I don’t take any notes with me.  The information is in my head.  After four years of podiatry school, a year of residency and 13 years of practice, I OWN it. 

I gave a sermon several years ago.  Well, I’m not sure you can actually call it that.  I read something from the pulpit on a Sabbath morning that I had prepared.  All twenty or so of us survived the approximately 25 minutes of reading.  Anyone could have read it.  I wrote it, but it wasn’t MINE.  I didn’t OWN it.

Do you have a story you can tell for Christ?  Do you OWN it?