The Danger of Vows

5 08 2015

What kid could resist Jesus? His pictures always showed Him kind and loving; so gentle and welcoming – especially if the male faces around them are angry and mean most of the time; their actions rough and unkind.

The Sunday School class I attended as a child used big songbooks with beautiful pictures. My two favorites were “Fairest Lord Jesus” and “How Great Thou Art.” I fell in love with Jesus because of those two books!

As a child, though, we moved countless times to several towns and three states. Church wasn’t a high priority, and we attended only on Christmas and Easter most years.

The ‘face’ of Jesus that I’d come to love when I was little began to be replaced with the one I saw every day, everywhere we moved…because he moved with us. Back then families didn’t split up. You went to a new location where ‘things were going to be better.’ When you’re taking the ‘problem’ with you, that just doesn’t happen.

Like kids do, I assumed that God was like my ‘dad.’ Distrust of His love for me took root.

After all, if He was supposedly in charge, why wasn’t He doing something about the way we were treated by this man? And, without spiritual leadership – people who could explain free will and the other factors involved, I was left to figure out how it all worked on my own.

Few eight-year-olds are equipped to do this well.

By the time I was ten, I’d decided that the God-Who-Was-In-Charge either didn’t care about me, or was too weak to help. If life was going to get better, then I needed to take over.

Vows made in times of distress are dangerous.

“When I grow up, I will live in one place.”

“When I have a family, my kids will have a happy childhood with loving parents.”

“I will never let a man treat me the way my step-dad treats my mom.”

These little seeds are planted, but lay dormant for many years.

It isn’t until we become adults that these vows begin to interfere with life.

If we closely examine our vows, we discover that many factors were beyond our control.

For instance, where we will live is not dependent solely upon us. Unless we were able to purchase a house right out of high school, moves would happen. Apartments, more apartments, rent this house and that, until we bought a home and settled down.

When it came to parenting, I was only one voice of many in my kids’ lives. Since five out of seven were boys, I had less of a voice than any male. The simple truth is that it takes a man to raise a man. While this is not a popular belief, it is true nonetheless.

I had no control over how my kids’ dads would treat them…whether he would be loving or bring happiness to our home.

As for men…well, I can’t control how they choose to treat me. I can only control my response.

Here is where the vow becomes a problem:

I’d set boundaries around what my life would look like. Because none of them were dependent solely upon me, they were unsustainable.

Take my first vow: I will live in one place.

Hubby says, “I want to move to (this town, or that house).”

That’s a problem. I swore I would never move when I grew up. Now I have to decide which vow will be broken – the one about not moving, or the one about my kids having a happy family.

If I refuse to move, but dad has a job in another town and must go, then that means a split in our family – and there goes the loving home.

{Keep in mind, this is not a stable, healthy family to begin with. In a godly family, one where Christ is central, this would all work out. I get that.}

Or:

Hubby is abusive (no man will treat me…). If I take the kids out of this mess, I now bump up against the other two vows: I will not move, my kids will have loving parents – plural. What to do?

The bottom line is this: the vows I made boxed me in. No matter which decision I made to maintain one, others would be broken.

Before you judge me as an idiot, you need to know that I didn’t consciously remember the vows I made. My line of reasoning didn’t look like what you just read. At the time, I had great confusion as to the ‘right’ thing to do. I could see no way out of the messes I got myself into. I did the best I could, without ever understanding the underlying issues…my vows.

Consequently, I’ve made decisions that made no sense to anyone – including myself. As a result, I saw myself as a huge failure, and thus deserving of whatever kind of treatment I received from the world at large, and from the family members whom I’d failed.

But God loves me and wants me free. Over the course of the last year, He’s revealed countless vows that I made when I was young so I could dismiss them. Bit by bit, I’ve relinquished control to Him – the only One who can work all things for my good.

I’ve had to forgive myself for making the vows, and let myself off the hook for how things panned out. I take responsibility for those areas which were truly dependent upon me, and leave the rest on the table.

There is a lightness to my heart these days. Much of what I presumed to be my failure turned out to belong to someone else. They can have it!

“But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. Matthew 5:37

*****

Next time we’ll discuss agreements – the ugly twin to vows.





Prodigal Surprise

9 01 2015

“Familiarity breeds contempt,” as it is said. While I didn’t have contempt for the prodigal’s story, I was so familiar with it that there seemed to be nothing new to glean from this parable.

How wrong I was!

Luke 15 finds Jesus drawing tax collectors and sinners, while Pharisees and scribes looked on and complained.

He begins to tell them stories – three, in fact:

The lost sheep

The lost coin

The prodigal son

All three have one thing in common: something was lost.

In the first two, however, a search ensues. They leave what is safe in the fold and in the house, and go in search of what is lost.

(This is where our story gets interesting!)

Is this true?

Sure enough, the ‘prodigal’ is out there somewhere, living it up, spending all he has.

Who goes in search of him?

No one.

Broken and broke, he returns home, prepared to spend the rest of his life as a ‘hired hand’ to his father and brother.

The father runs out to meet him when he sees his son from a long way off…

…but he hadn’t gone in search of the prodigal.

There is great rejoicing – as in the other two stories. He’s given the best robe (probably his father’s), a ring, and sandals. A party is thrown and everyone invited. They kill the fatted calf for this shindig.

It’s a big deal!

Hey, wait! Wasn’t the father’s inheritance split between his two sons (Luke 15:12)?

So, whose robe, ring, and sandals was the younger son wearing?

The older son’s. They were eating his cow, too! (See verse 31) When he found out, he was turned inside out with anger.

Now the search ensues.

“But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore the father came out and pleaded with him.” (verse 28)

Father went in search…not of the “bad” son, but of the “good” one.

If this family is to survive, the older son has some work to do.

It has to begin with his own heart.

He will need to take stock of his attitude of self-righteousness, realize that his motives in doing all he had were not pure – at least the younger son was honest about his feelings – and to see his own sin in all this.

He would rather point to his brother’s sin and carry on about what this ‘bum’ deserves. He actually owes a debt of gratitude…

…little brother made him look pretty good!

But out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks…and there isn’t a shred of grace, mercy, or love in his words.

If his heart isn’t too hard, once he faces its ugliness, the tough work of forgiving must begin if they are to live ‘happily ever after.’

Further, the older brother must come to terms with the fact that his sibling’s acting out will cost him.

It’s already cost him a robe, ring, shoes, and a big party. These all came out of his pocket.

Beyond that, little bro came home flat broke. He spent everything he had on “riotous” living. He’s already had his fun; now he’s come home completely spent.

All he offers is his broken, penitent heart. It’s all he has left.

He will need to be supported, for everything now belongs to the eldest. They will have to learn to work together. That’s a lot to ask of the older brother.

This will only be possible through forgiveness.

Then, and only then, can the big brother walk in freedom from bitterness, anger, and resentment.

The choice is his.

The sad truth is that when we are related to a ‘prodigal’ son, their sin will cost us – things that can seldom be tallied on a spreadsheet: embarrassment, humiliation, dignity, self-respect, and lost years.

Getting to forgiveness is a process, and will take time.

The cost of refusing to forgive is far greater, though. We will become bitter, resentful old people whom everyone avoids…lonely. We cut ourselves off, not only from others, but from our Father Himself.

That never goes well.

What is being asked of us will twist our minds every which way. It’s not fair! This is not my fault!

Forgiveness feels just plain wrong!!!

Why should our younger brother get off ‘scott-free’ – while we foot the bill for their actions?

And yet, is this not what our Big Brother did for us? Can we not pass on the grace which we so freely received?

We must, especially when we consider how much more we have to lose by hanging on to unforgiveness.

Do we really want to pay the high price of bitterness because of another’s sin against us?

I certainly don’t…but I haven’t “arrived” yet!

I want to, though. Lord, teach me to walk in the freedom of forgiveness.

As you can see, the prodigal’s story contained some surprises for me. Hopefully it did for you as well.

Whooee! This year is certainly starting off with a bang!!





Life-Giving Grace

8 01 2015

“Hello, my name is (Name Your Failure Here).”

Ever felt that way? Believed it deep down? This is how I secretly ‘defined’ myself for years.

There’s good news for us:

Grace is radical!

I don’t think we even begin to comprehend the freedom we have because of this marvelous characteristic of God.

This shackle-cutting truth escaped my understanding, for sure. Thus, most of my life, I’ve lived from a position of “because of my failures, I am unlovable” and worked hard to earn Father’s love.

However, grace is not something we earn. It is a gift, freely given by God. (Ephesians 2:8-9). In fact, the very faith by which we believe in Jesus is a gift, and not something we “worked up” in order to become His.

Where my ignorance nearly became my undoing is in the area of failure.

Sometimes these were unexpected outcomes. I never saw it coming. For these I can believe there is grace.

However, sometimes the failure came as a result of premeditated sin. I chose to do the wrong thing. The end result was failure on many levels.

God didn’t “owe” me grace for my eyes-wide-open sin. I messed up. There were consequences, and I just had to buck up and get through life as best I could.

Is this the kind of life Jesus died to give me??

Reality check: When Jesus died, all my sins were yet future. Even those I have yet to commit. (Yes, because I am still breathing, I will continue to sin…even if it is confined to my thoughts. Um, so will you!) See Romans 5:8.

NO!!

He came that we might have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)

While we were yet sinners!

What I discovered this last year is that I have been tolerating much in the name of “consequences” for my premeditated sin. There was no grace for this, in my mind. I did it. I deserved what I got as a result of my choices.

What did I do, then, with one of my cornerstone verses: I know the plans I have for you…plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope?

I had it figured out that, because of my poor choices, I would just have to “gut this out” for the rest of my life. My ‘hopeful future’ would now have to wait for heaven…and I longed for death so I could get there.

With enough effort on my part, once I arrived I wouldn’t be stuck as a shoe-shine girl on the corner of Celestial Avenue and Heavenly Way.

Underneath all of my “understanding” was seething hatred of a God who could be so harsh as to leave me where I was with a “Tut-tut! You should have chosen more wisely.”

I believed that God was withholding His promises from me because of my own stupidity.

I would tell you that God is good – but didn’t believe it for myself.  My private opinion of His character was that He was cruel and unloving.

How could He tell call Himself my loving Father – and yet demand that I live my life as a victim as a ‘consequence’?

I believed that due to my failures I was no longer worthy of anyone’s love. “This is your new normal. Deal with it.”

I believed that all I could expect from Him was ‘just enough’ to make it through life.

This, my friends, is what happens when we seek man’s concepts about God, grace, love, and all the rest – instead of asking God Himself. We can, and should, seek godly counsel; but don’t stop there. Take their words to the Lord and ask Him to reveal what is true and what is not (Acts 17:11).

Well-meaning spiritual counselors and advisers spoke Scripture into my situation…but I don’t think they stuck around to see how I processed what they said; what their words looked like after it went through my “God” filters.

I’ll bet they’d have been horrified.

Satan also used Scripture to try to derail Jesus. No doubt he continues this today. Since everything I ‘thought’ I heard turned out to be a lie…and the oldest lie in the Book (God is holding out on you), I know he was an active participant in how I understood what I was told.

Here’s what I know today:

My failure(s) did not create me; therefore, they cannot define me. Only God can tell me who I am…and He calls me “Beloved,” “Delightful,” and “Princess.” I am fully forgiven. {sigh of relief!}

Yesterday, I had to do a “Hard Thing.” (I’m loving Havilah’s study!) On the way back to my car, I sidestepped a large rock. When I glanced at it, I noticed that it was a heart!

(I have a mound of them. They are God’s special communique to me of His love.)

He was letting me know that I’d done well, and that He is proud of the steps I’m taking to walk in victory at last.

His grace is radically sufficient…for even me!

My Father loves me!

My Father loves me!





Remote Control Words

31 07 2014

Most of my adult life has been spent ferreting out the lies I believed about God as a result of treatment by the men in my life. It’s sad, but true.

Children do not have the emotional maturity to distinguish between their parents behavior – especially their fathers – and God’s character and nature.

Because these are our parents, it is assumed by every child that they love us. Consequently, we define love by their words and actions. We lack the experience necessary to discern our parents’ shortcomings, and assume that we are the ones to blame…that we are bad and don’t deserve any better.

They are all we have in the way of security. They are all that stand between life and death for the child, by his or her limited understanding.

As we get older, and interact with more people, we may begin to feel a sense of injustice about our relationship with our parents, but due to utter dependence upon them, are powerless to change our lives.

Many end up with a shut-down heart, and an intense hatred for and distrust of God.

As a child, I went to a vacation Bible school, and fell in love with Jesus. He didn’t seem to share other’s opinions about me, and that made Him as attractive as a magnet to a fridge in my mind!

We didn’t go to church much, though. After while, He faded into the background…

…until I made a mess of things at the age of 12.

My cousin and her friend decided to have some guys over while her parents were gone. We set up a table in the garage with booze and snacks. (Where it came from, I’m not sure).

However, I’d never me the fellow they’d invited to keep me company. I was a nervous wreck, so helped myself to some of the alcohol…then more…and more.

I don’t remember anything about that evening. I was already blacked out by the time they arrived. Still on my feet, but completely unconscious.

By the time my aunt and uncle returned home, my body was rejecting the alcohol. I ‘baptized’ their house from one end to the other.

The next day, instead of yelling at me and carrying on, my aunt sat me down and gently spoke to me about her concern for my future, and how sad Jesus was about what I’d done.

Grace.

Her act of lovingkindness caused me to determine to become a “good girl” and go to church. I picked out the nearest one and began attending Sunday school, morning and evening services, a prayer breakfast for teens, the mid-week service, and youth group.

Jesus loved me, I knew this for sure.

Too bad His Dad hated my guts!

Just like my dad and step-dad…and nearly every other man I’d ever met.

Religion became a chain tightly wound around my neck, choking the life out of me. God had so many rules, and seemed so hard to please. I never knew what was going to set Him off.

Just like my dad.

Meanwhile, Jesus loved me, coaxed me to walk with Him, to trust Him.

It wasn’t until I was in my 40s that I realized all the lies I’d believed about God because of experiences with men.

I thought God was altogether like them.

Today I have a loving relationship with my heavenly Father.

He is nothing like my dad.

For many years, I was angry with God for choosing the parents He gave me. After all, He could have given me healthy, whole, God-fearing parents. Was this all He thought I deserved?

Then I realized that in order for me to be created, it took a specific sperm, and a specific ovum to combine. Any other combination, and I would not exist! This had to come from my mother and my father…no one else on the planet could have done it.

He didn’t hand-pick them; He chose me!

All this to say,

“Men, you have been given the responsibility to bear the Father’s likeness to the world. It’s a high calling.

“These are big shoes to fill, and you will fail in some respects. You will need Abba’s heart if you are going to do this well.

“The men and women in your life need you to reflect the Father’s love, to speak His heart to them, to empower them to become the person He intended the day He chose them.”

A woman’s voice does not carry the same weight as a man’s.

Not when it comes to identity. 

Here are a couple of quotes by William M. Struthers (from Wired for Intimacy, p. 150):

“The masculine voice of affirmation spoken to a woman lets her know that she is loved because of who she is and that she is worthy of pursuit.”

“The masculine voice is received as a voice that speaks unchanging truth. Just as we think of the Word of God being truth that is unchanging, so a man’s words speak what he knows to be true.”

Because men are not nurturing, as a rule, their words are received as concrete truth – whereas a woman speaks from her heart to make things better. Man ‘sees’ the truth and speaks it out.

That’s how humans perceive your words. Did you know that?

It is for this reason that we are told that there is power of life and death in the tongue.

When a man we perceive to be an authority figure makes a judgment call about us, good or bad, we believe it.

Please be certain that your words reflect God’s heart. They will remotely control people for years to come.

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. – Ephesians 4:29





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.





How to Use Crayons

29 05 2014

My husband and I are new to the “prophetic word” concept. It’s taken us a while to understand what’s going on, and every Sunday we’re being stretched a bit more in this regard.

Holy Spirit has been faithfully leading us into truth throughout the process. I’d like to share what we’ve learned.

Each one of us has their own “box of crayons” with which to draw pictures of one another (and ourselves). Without realizing it, this is what we do with our words.

Throughout most of my life, I’ve sat under the teaching of various pastors. One thing they had in common was the picture they drew of the “charismatic” churches in our area. The colors were dark, and beneath were the reds, oranges, and yellows of the flames of hell…which was sure to be their destination.

As a result, when one of the members of this “type” of church would offer a prophetic word, I would listen politely…then let it go in one ear and out the other. I don’t recall a single thing spoken over me (which happened fairly often, by the way!).

My pastors and teachers seemed to have missed this little verse:

Do not despise prophecies.1 Thessalonians 5:20

(Which comes with this cautionary word:

Test all things; hold fast what is good.. V 21)

And they missed this verse as well:

Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.1 Corinthians 14:1

Wow! We’re supposed to desire this gift of the Spirit. Guess what? We do prophesy…

By our choice of comments, we either use the dark colors to depict what’s wrong with another…

…or the pastels to draw out what we see God doing in them.

It becomes  a question of the source of our statements.

The pictures our words evoke can either bring life or death.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue. Proverbs 18:21

It becomes clear that we ‘prophesy’ over people all day long. We tell them what we see within them – state it matter-of-fact – as if it is truth.

We either color a picture from God’s perspective, and offer a future and hope…

…or we color a picture of whom our adversary wants them to become.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. James 3:9,10

{Is anyone besides me feeling convicted??}

 Yes, there are times when people need a word of correction, or “admonishment,” as the Bible calls it. However,

If our motive isn’t love for the person, 

then this isn’t our assignment!

We are in no position to speak to another regarding their behavior until we have gone to the Lord and asked for His view of that person. If we don’t see them as the torn, bleeding sheep they are, we can’t even really pray for them accurately! (Aren’t you thankful that the Spirit fixes our prayers so they are in line with what is true about others??)

Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. Ephesians 4:29

So, how will we use our box of crayons today? Will we impart grace to those with whom we communicate? Can we speak words that give them hope for their future? (Which, of course, isn’t something we just ‘make up,’ or wishful thinking on our part. For we have the mind of Christ…let’s use it!!!

Go forth and color your world!





Who’s Idea Was This?

23 05 2014

When God asks us to obey, He doesn’t make us responsible for the outcome…merely for our obedience.

Sometimes, what follows when we obey looks like a train wreck. That’s when we begin to second-guess what we thought we heard.

Then we set about to fix our *mistake.*

However, from God’s perspective, everything is heading toward His desired end.

We have a situation that looks very much like this at the moment.

God asked us to make room in our home for two other families.

That’s all we were asked to do.

Love them.

Not fix them, not correct them, not have an opinion about their separate issues, take sides, or get involved.

House them.

Love them.

We obeyed.

All hell broke loose.

Oddly enough, not in our home.

Despite the various trials each of us is going through, there is a level of peace that can only be from the Lord. Each person has their own volatile test which affords enough stress to float an aircraft carrier. Thrown in with four other like people, the opportunities for conflict abound. Nevertheless, even after a couple of months we continue to enjoy the calming mantle of God’s Presence.

We fight for one another’s heart, instead of fighting one another.

Further, the Lord is providing extra funds to help cover expenses. We’ve had money drop out of nowhere unexpectedly several times.

At the same time, there have been repercussions in external relationships.

Apparently, association equals approval and support of a person’s behavior.

If that’s the case, then Jesus set a bad example for us to follow. 

Judas was embezzling. Yet, Jesus not only welcomed him into the group of disciples, but also made him their treasurer…and washed his feet along with all the “good” disciples.

In addition, Jesus obeyed God by choosing Judas after an all-night conference – and to His own hurt.

Judas betrayed him.

Sometimes obedience seems counter-productive. It may look all wrong for a while.

We will wonder if we heard correctly.

Obedience may cost us in ways we never imagined.

(We will also grow in ways we never thought possible!)

Thankfully, our part is to respond to God’s invitation to join Him in His work.

He takes full responsibility for the outcome!

I can’t wait to see what He’s going to do in and through our home.

All will end well – because it was His idea;

and He is good all the time!