Freedom

22 07 2014

As stated in my last post, my theology sadly lacked throughout most of my life.

I gave my heart to Jesus as a little kid. I was so relieved to find someone who loved me!

During my teen years, I learned that He had a wonderful plan for my life…

…so long as I followed the rules.

I married a fellow I met at Bible college. If anything was going to get God’s favor, I thought, that would surely fit the bill.

The marriage was doomed to failure from the beginning. The poor guy couldn’t “be Jesus” for me. That’s what I wanted, a savior.

After a couple of failed suicide attempts, I “knew” for sure that no one loved me…even God didn’t want me.

And that was my perception of God for the next two and a half decades.

Sorry that He’d ever created me.

During my mom’s short illness and then death, though, God was so close I could almost hear Him breathe.

He wrapped me in Comfort, and supported me like never before.

He DID love me!

In all my ‘figuring’ about life and God and stuff, I’d failed to understand the importance of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil which God placed in the Garden of Eden.

To me it was the most unloving thing He ever did. Why put a tree there that could cause separation between man and Himself?

The answer is surprising.

Freedom to choose.

We weren’t locked into a relationship with God, with no choice to do anything else.

He gave man a chance to decide for himself whom he would love and serve.

We know the rest of the story.

It lives out all around us today.

Every day people choose to do their own thing…

…steal

…kill

…destroy.

These things involve relationships…people.

You

Me

A look at the Ten Commandments will reveal that every one of them has to do with relationship…

…love God

…love others

When we choose to live independent of God’s laws, people get hurt.

You

Me

The things that have caused me the most pain in my life have been people.

People who lived outside God’s stated guidelines for how life works best for everyone concerned.

Yes, He could step in and “take ‘em out.” The weird thing is that He loves them, too.

He is not willing that any should perish.

He wants us all.

And so He gives every man, woman, and child the freedom to choose.

Then, cleans up the messes they make when they reject Him and His ways.

He’s cleaned up many of the wounds left in me by other humans (and continues to do so, I might add).

He’s also cleaned up many of the wounds I caused in others (Thank You, Lord!).

Further, by giving the freedom to choose, there is the added benefit when we end up in the mire of our choice and desperate for help. It isn’t until the pain is intense enough that many of us ever considered the need for our Creator.

Guess what? Some of the ugliest stuff in my story is now the platform from which I can testify of the goodness of God…

…a platform I would not otherwise have.

(Ever had someone who’s never “been there, done that, and bought all the souvenirs” try to counsel you through a tough time? They may speak truth, but it’s hard to ‘connect’ with them; they have no experience in the matter, only theory.)

God never wastes anything!

I don’t have this ‘all figured out’ by a long shot. I’m mostly thinking out loud. If this post sounds like a ramble, that’s because it is!

The bottom line, I guess, is that I like the freedom to choose how I’m going to live life. If I can have this, then others must be allowed to do the same…even if their choice is to commit evil against others.

I suppose at the end of the day, God can still be blamed. After all, He did plant that tree in the garden. He wasn’t content to have a relationship with us simply because we had no other option.

It’s only when love can choose that it is love at all.

Sadly, that means the freedom to choose Satan’s will and way, if that’s what they really want.

God, being no respecter of persons, is very “black-and-white” in this regard:

Freedom for none,

or freedom for all.





Kick God When it Hurts

21 07 2014

If you are not anchored in the goodness of God, you will lower your theology to match your pain. 

- Christa Black Gifford

If you don’t know her story, look her up on the Internet. Not long ago, her baby was born premature. She and her husband had a brief forty minutes with their child before the veil between this world and the next was opened, and their little one was ushered through.

I have been alive long enough, and gone through enough painful circumstances to know the truth of her statement, and to have learned that when I am hurting it is important to remember that God is good. He took care of me in the past, and He will do so again.

In the early years, I blamed God for causing the pain. I was angry that He did not intervene. Someone was at fault, and in my book the “buck stopped with Him.” For a couple of decades, I got my gray matter all bunched up trying to figure out free will versus God’s sovereignty.

Although I was well acquainted with my Bible, having read it through several times, I missed the verse in James 1 that states:

“Every good and perfect gift comes from God, with Whom there is no shadow of change.”

As a child, church attendance was a rare occurrence. I’m not sure if my parents knew that they were open between Easter and Christmas!

When I looked for a church to attend after a drinking bout (I was 12, and it seemed like the logical thing to do), the one I chose was big on putting “the fear of God” into us. It was a manipulative tactic to get us to behave and not make God look bad.

Since my step-dad was an alcoholic, his mood swings were unpredictable. Mom, my brother, and I did our best to avoid Dad’s wrath.

As is common, I equated God’s character with that of my dad and male spiritual leaders.

What none of them ever taught me was the goodness of God.

Thus, when pain came along, I believed it to be punishment, or because God didn’t care about me. In fact, they taught me that God was ever watching, waiting for me to blow it so He could slap me down.

I was unlovable. The fault was mine.

This put me on the treadmill of works. Do more, try harder, be better.

Pain was stacked upon pain. Nothing I did made a difference in how “God” treated me.

I had lowered my theology to match my pain.

What a gracious and patient Father we have, though. He stuck with me while I was misrepresenting Him to the world. “Be a Christian – you, too, can enjoy a God who whops you when He’s in a bad mood.” (I didn’t have any ‘takers,’ making me a failure at evangelism, too!)

He continued to pour His love on me, and to slowly correct my understanding of His character, His nature.

This last year, although I finally ‘get’ it, He flooded me with His love through various acts of kindness, and words of affirmation. By Christmas there was no doubt in my mind that I am genuinely loved, and without conditions. It’s a wonderful place to be!

As you know, if you’ve read my sparse posts this year, we’ve been in a season of training. “Wax on, wax off,” “sand the floor,” and all that. It felt like my Father was teaching me “muscle memory” – but I didn’t know why.

Today, I see that my hunch was correct. I did need to be able to move quickly and without thinking through each move beforehand in order to fend off the blows of the enemy.

I had a “tsunami” crash down upon me without warning. Most of the “structures” lay in ruins. One thing is certain…the Foundation remains solid and intact!

The enemy is attacking with a vengeance, throwing lie after lie at me. My earlier training is paying off, though, and few of them are causing additional damage.

Because God was determined to teach me that He is good – that He has no dark side – I am free to trust Him now.

“Why?” is a futile question when standing in the midst of wreckage. Once blame has been affixed, what changed?

“What?” is a better one. What do I do now? What is the take-away from this?

…Or “How?” How will You bring good from this? (For He will!)

To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.”

- Isaiah 61:3

and

So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten,
The crawling locust,
The consuming locust,
And the chewing locust

- Joel 2:25

and my favorite:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

- Romans 8:28

For most of my life, I’ve “kicked God” when I was hurt…which, in fact, cut me off from my only true source of comfort and hope. In the next post I’d like to explore this topic a bit more.

Thanks for taking time to read!





Make Mine a Movie

19 07 2014

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s post, Whimsy – Living Life Out Loud.

I got so fired up about living a better life that I searched for more videos by Donald Miller and Bob Goff. It didn’t take long to realize that I’m missing out on a lot of living!

Then I began to wonder:  How on earth could I do things differently? Don came to the rescue with this suggestion (for those of you who don’t want to watch the 22-minute YouTube video below). I’ve added comments of my own as well to clarify some of the points:

1. Write down the things we want.

2. Imagine watching a movie about the kind of life that would get these things, working through each one at a time.

The example he gives is of a man who wants a BMW. His movie is about him working hard all his life as a grocery clerk. At the end of the movie, he buys the car of his dreams and drives off into the sunset. His big conflict? Earning enough money to buy the car. {yawn}

Would we be likely to recommend this epic movie to our friends and family? Hardly. Would it make us cry when he got what he really wanted? No. This would be a boring movie.

Is there anything wrong with wanting a BMW? No. But if it is what drives us to get up each morning (no pun intended), then it’s a very small story.

3. If the ‘movie’ stinks, cross the desire off the list. Demote it to a subplot if you want, but it’s not a worthy purpose for which we will trade our lives to attain.

4. If the ‘movie’ looks like it could be an epic, anticipate what some of the conflicts might be.

5. A good ‘movie’ must require effort, will include failure, and times when we don’t think we will make it through, and cry out in desperation. It requires something of us.

6. Circle the ones that would make a good movie.

7. Imagine the climactic scenes. For instance, one ‘movie’ may be to get married and have a family.

This story will require relationship, marital conflicts, self-sacrifice, and love…all great components of an epic movie (a little different outlook for those of us who are parents, eh? I hadn’t thought about parenthood quite from this angle.)

The climax of this story is when the child is newly born and being held my Mom or Dad. So…

8. Between now and then, put no scenes into your movie that will interrupt the climactic ending.

You can ‘edit’ your life as you go through each day. “Will this action/activity move me closer to the climax – or will it hinder/prevent reaching the desired end?” Our choices will be determined by the story we want to tell with our lives.

Outside influences will become conflicts to be overcome, as well. We can’t control other people or circumstances, but we can choose whether they will be permitted to derail our movie or get us to quit trying altogether.

The Bible says, “Where there is no vision (revelation), My people perish…” Prov. 29:18. We must have an idea of what we want to accomplish, and what we’ve been created for if we are to attain our goals.

Here’s to living a better story!

 

If you’d rather hear what Don had to say (so much more than I’ve shared here…;)), here’s his talk (same one I posted as a PS yesterday.)





Whimsy – Living Life Out Loud

18 07 2014

There’s nothing like having small children around to stir our hearts to lightness and laughter. We have the privilege of enjoying three of our grandchildren up close, for they and their parents are staying with us for a while.

It’s fun to watch them play, imagination turning the living room into a jungle or corral or restaurant. They are un-selfconscious in their play, free to just ‘be.’ I envy them.

A couple of weeks ago, one of our pastors recommended a book by Bob Goff: Love Does. It’s a fantastic book by an adult who is enthralled with whimsy – it sounds like fun, may look a little silly, be risky…let’s go for it! You’ve GOT to read this book!

At the same time, I heard that Donald Miller has a new book out as well. I didn’t know what the title was, or what it was about, but love to read his rambling style, and how he challenges what I believe.

It was his book, Searching for God Knows What that helped me get over people pleasing. Once I realized that real life in Christ does not involve “Values Clarification” (who is worthy to be saved in a calamity in order to help build a new world), I was liberated from the need to compare myself to others and work out (in my mind) why I deserved a seat in the lifeboat and they didn’t.

After all, the ground at the foot of the cross is level – and there is room for all.

Donald Miller’s new book is A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, and its subtitle is “How I Learned to Live a Better Story.”

Here’s Don’s brief description of his book:

The two books, read at the same time, complement one another.

It turns out the two are friends. Each has a short section in their book which mentions the other author!

What are the chances I’d get them both to read at the same time?

The two of them challenge me to live a life that includes whimsy – is more spontaneous, and lived out loud. Life is meant to be an adventure, to include risk, and to be FUN!

Yes, there are times when the going gets tough, when all seems dark around us, and nothing makes sense. I want to sandwich those times like a thin piece of salami between two thick slices of the Bread of Life – abundant, enjoyable, whimsical life with Jesus.

Crammed between the two I want all the condiments that make a sandwich a masterpiece – lettuce, onions, pickles, mushrooms, olives, bell pepper, and eggplant, or (fill in the blank), slathered with the oil of the Spirit, Light mayo, mustard seeds of faith, and sprinkled with the salt of the earth.

Now that’s a sandwich that will invite others to dine with us, don’t you think?

I went in search of a photo of Bob’s book, and found this YouTube video instead:

Both books are about living a good story…one that is worth being ‘read’ by others.

There are two quotes from Donald’s book that stuck with me:

“The basic structure of a good story has a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it.”

(In other words, a good story is not lived on Easy Street) – and -

“Great stories go to those who don’t give in to fear.”

(There’s an element of risk!)

When I think of the opportunities that I missed because I wanted to be “proper,” “do things right,” and “act my age” (who came up with that dumb idea, anyway?), it saddens me. I’ve been mostly sedate, glum, and safe.

And boring.

The few times I’ve stepped outside of my comfort zone and done something childlike and free, people have been drawn to me.

For instance, there was the day I was on the beach and decided to sing to the Lord the new songs He’s given me. Two women kept moving closer and closer (Really, ladies? This beach has plenty of room for all of us!). One of the women was drawn by the music, said she heard the Lord in them.

I handed her an unusual barnacle I’d just picked up. She accepted it with trembling hands, then told me how her brother drowned nearby earlier that year, and the gift I’d given was the Lord’s message to her that all was well. Her brother was safely Home.

Only because I decided to do something silly and sing with abandon like a child.

She would not have been drawn to me had I merely been collecting shells…

I want more moments like that! 

I’m betting that Jesus was like this – a fun, whimsical person to hang out with. One who was unpredictable – spitting in people’s eyes to give them sight, delivering the oppressed (read Mark – this is in nearly every chapter), walking on water (who even thinks to try something like that?), and making lame people walk.

There had to be something vibrant and exciting about Him…even when He was merely passing by.

No one walks away from their steady job to follow a drudge.

Hmm. There’s no crowd behind me.

How about you?

Every one of us was created to be unique, not a carbon copy of someone else. To the extent that we are striving to be like someone else, we are short-circuiting the freedom Jesus died to give. Our gifts, and natural talents and abilities – even our very character – are going unused.

The world needs someone exactly like you, exactly like me, or we would not be here. How different this world would be if we loved better, laughed more, took risks, and weren’t afraid of making fools of ourselves.

Maybe, just maybe, we would discover that abundant life Jesus promised. ;)

It’s time to set aside the lie that we must “act our age” – live with the heart of a child once again (which is not to say be childISH – yuck!). 

People will be drawn to us, to discover what makes us different when we learn to embrace whimsy…

…and live life out loud.

PS I went back to YouTube to check out some of Donald Miller’s videos. If today’s topic stirs something up in you, check out this video filmed at The Gathering, Lipscomb U. He gives some wonderful insight into how to live a better story. (22 minutes long.)

http://youtu.be/ggLQwxS-rcI





Pit Crew

17 07 2014

I’m a “mastery” sort of person. Once I’ve done something well, I rarely repeat it, but want to move on to learn something new.

For this reason, I’d be a lousy race car driver! After about 3 or 4 laps, I’d dust off my hands and say, “Okay, got that figured out. What can we do next?” Then drive off the track and on to the next adventure!

Speaking of racers, I think they’d have handled the Wilderness Adventure with Moses better than the Israelites. They don’t mind looking at the same terrain for hours and hours while they drive in circles – and do this year after year! Just sayin’!

Life is a journey for each of us. Trials are kind of like finding oneself making laps around the track while we master how to weave in and out without causing or incurring damage, and how to take the curves without getting slung into the wall.

As with racing, one key component is a good pit crew. Without one, or even with a poor one, we don’t stand a chance in the Indy 500.

We were never intended to do life alone.

We need good people around us, ones who know their stuff – especially when we’re in the fast lane of a trial.

One of the things a pit crew handles is fresh tires. There are little balls of rubber on the track, known as ‘marbles’ which come off the tires due to the high speeds and sharp maneuvers. The tread wears off in no time. Slick tires can be deadly, making the vehicle harder to handle.

In the same way, our ‘crew’ needs to have fresh Scripture to give us, something with teeth in it that will help us get a better grip!

Our crew must be willing to wash the windows of our spirit as well, which allows a clearer view of the stuff we’re dealing with.

They need to be especially good with the gas can, able to re-fuel us with encouragement, which gives us the strength to continue.

The better our ‘pit crew,’ the better our chances of finishing well.

Above all we need the Crew Boss (Jesus) to direct the crew – and us as well. He calls us in for pit stops at just the right time, and directs the right people to the right task in order to keep us in the race. He’s awesome that way! ;)

Without a support team, we may finish the race like Lightning McQueen from Cars. We’ll  jump and bounce on our bare rims toward the finish line, with our tongue stuck out, in hopes that the checkered flag will wave for us!

Kachow!

If you haven’t seen the movie, Cars by Pixar, you should. It’s a great object lesson for those of us who think we don’t need anyone! Never get ‘too old’ to watch a good animated movie!





Chicken Circles

16 07 2014

The definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over, yet expect different results.

It is not uncommon for those in recovery to do this very thing. We do the same old thing and expect a new ending. We’re not the first generation to take this approach to freedom.

For instance, in Genesis, we find the Israelites happily living in Egypt. Life is good, all is right in the world.

Life was so good that the people were multiplying like crazy. Pharaoh became concerned and realized that if they kept increasing in number, there was a good chance that they would become powerful and overtake him, so he ordered the death of every male newborn, and made the Israelites his slaves.

God had other plans, and Moses was spared…and brought into the household of Pharaoh to be raised by his daughter as if Moses were her son.

Eighty years later, having completed his “leadership training course,” Moses returned to Egypt with a one line message for Pharaoh from God: “Let My people go.”

Pharaoh took a little persuading. In the end, the Egyptians were glad to see the Israelites leave – and loaded them up with gold, silver, fine fabrics, and all sorts of goodies.

The Israelites had seen God at work – He was hard to miss, what with the water turning to blood, several plagues, and the death of the firstborn of any house that did not have blood on its doorposts!

Then there was the scene at the Red Sea. What was it like to walk across on dry land, I wonder? It wasn’t a narrow corridor, either. The path was two or three miles wide to allow the passage of so many people in such a short period of time. I’d have wanted to be on the outer edge so I could check out the wall of water!

The sea back in its place, Pharaoh and his army drowned, the people were free…

…physically.

Mentally, they were still slaves.

They fought God every step of the way into the Promised Land. It took them forty years to make an eleven-day journey. In the end only Joshua and Caleb were permitted to enter the land.

At every turn, they kept defaulting back to their old slave behavior. Even though God provided food for them on a daily basis, they complained and stated that they preferred leeks and onions in bondage to “What Is It?” (manna) in freedom. When they thought they’d been abandoned by Moses, they went back to worshiping their old idols.

No longer would they feel the sting of the whip on their backs. No longer would they toil in the blistering sun to make bricks for their harsh taskmaster. No longer would they have to scrimp and save to clothe themselves.

Instead of gratitude, they grumbled and complained. Despite the many miracles God performed on their behalf, they struggled with being able to trust Him.

Once they discovered giants living in the Promised Land, that they would have to fight to take possession, they sat on their backsides and whined. That was their undoing.

It can be ours as well.

We can take away many insights from their story, but the one I want to focus on today is that of possessing our possession.

The land was theirs – guaranteed freedom, a land flowing with milk and honey. With their own eyes they’d seen evidence of what awaited them.

There was one tiny problem…

…giants.

This became my problem as well. In a most amazing way, the Lord led me out of captivity to an abusive marriage, through the wilderness where I literally had to rely on Him for every meal, and assured me of a Promised Land here on earth.

Once I was free, though, I kept returning to what I knew – old coping mechanisms, false idols in the form of men who would be “able” to protect and provide. It was easier to default to the old known ways than to face the giants before me.

The first giant I had to face was in the form of an apartment manager! When I met her to get an application for one of the townhouses, I should have worn an overcoat. I later learned that her tenants called her the Ice Queen.

I filled out the application and returned it to her. My attempts at friendly chatter were met with cold, clipped responses – or icy stares. I went back to my parents’ home and said, “There’s no way she will rent to me. She hates my guts!”

After two weeks, with no response from her, I assumed that we would have to look elsewhere. What a shame. After living in a broken down trailer where neither the water heater nor heater worked, and we were often without propane, so I cooked outside on a BBQ grill, the thought of living in a brand new townhouse thrilled me.

What could I do? I was helpless in this situation.

I went through some mental gymnastics as I worked my way through the thing.

Had she turned down my application?

No.

Did she threaten me with bodily harm if I came back?

No.

What was the worst thing she could do if I asked if she would rent to me?

Say, “No.”

That wasn’t so bad!

If she did? And no one else would rent to us either?

We would be homeless.

What’s the worst thing that could happen then?

We might die…

and live with Jesus.

Oh. No more worries. Well then, what do I have to lose?

I picked up the phone and gave her a call.

“I approved your application a couple of days after you dropped it off. I was wondering if you were still interested,” she responded. “You have a choice between these three units.”

The next day we moved into our beautiful, brand new home!

That episode caused me to wonder how many opportunities I’d missed because of a lack of courage, and a mindset that there was nothing good in store for me. Since that time, I have learned to talk it through. In every instance, the worst thing that could happen is death. Jesus removed death’s sting, so that’s not much of a threat in my book!

 

At the core, the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years because of fear. I’d rather learn from their mistake than to experience this for myself.

I don’t want to go around in circles for the rest of my life because I’m a chicken!

 





The Shortest Distance

15 07 2014

When I was a pilot, I learned that in order to go north, sometimes you must point the nose of the aircraft northwest. If the wind is coming from the southwest and you aim for north on the compass, you’ll end up far east of your destination. This is known as “crabbing.”

Life is no different. We get a goal in mind. As a passenger, we think we should be headed north toward that goal. Looking out the window of our mind, we keep seeing the sun at 10:30 when it should be at 9:00. We begin to get a little nervous. Surely we will miss our mark at this rate!

This is when we begin to question the Lord, and even to suggest that we take over the joystick for a while.

What we fail to realize is that the winds of adversity are blowing strong, steering us off course. Because we can’t see or feel it, or even see its effects, a glance at the compass causes us to fear. The reading isn’t zero (straight toward our destination); but is three hundred degrees. This will never do!

However, like an aircraft, sometimes we must move toward our goal sideways, like a crab.

This has been my experience over the last few months. At long last, I knew what my purpose was in this world – write songs that would impact lives.

Then I glanced at the “compass” and saw that I was flying over the land of relationships and learning to love well. This is a worthy destination, but not the one I was positive belonged to me!

We’ve flown through some heavy storms. The thunder was loud, and the lightening threatened to fry us to a crisp. Our heading was completely contrary to where I thought I was supposed to go.

One thing about Jesus, though. When He says, “Let’s go to the other side,” He doesn’t mean, “Let’s fly into this storm and end up as a plane crash.”

Little by little, He is disclosing the need for some of the detours. He’s shown the mountain peak that was barely missed, hidden in the clouds, and the radio tower that would have split us asunder.

The storm is beginning to abate, but there is damage control to be done. There were times when I refused to let the Lord lead my life, but also refused to take the wheel myself. Life was tossed here and there like a piece of paper in the wind. This is never a good plan, by the way.

The Lord is faithful, however. He is beginning the restoration process. I’m thankful that He never quits on anything He begins (Philippians 1:6). There is the promise of the return of the years the locusts have eaten as well (Joel 2:5).

So, when our lives appear to have veered off course, we must keep our eyes on the Pilot, and not the compass. He knows the path we should take, and what we will need in the way of preparation to reach our destiny. The shortest distance between two points may be a straight line, but unseen obstacles along the way may keep us from arriving!

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, don’t lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths…even when it looks like you’re taking the long way ’round!








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