elbow room

Posted: January 25th, 2017 | Filed under: God | Tags: | No Comments »

In those days I went all out in persecuting God’s church. I was systematically destroying it. I was so enthusiastic about the traditions of my ancestors that I advanced head and shoulders above my peers in my career. Even then God had designs on me. Why, when I was still in my mother’s womb he chose and called me out of sheer generosity! Now he has intervened and revealed his Son to me so that I might joyfully tell non-Jews about him.Paul in Galatians 1:13-16 MSG

Everything I know about God tells me that He has a plan and that He gets His way. He took Paul, hell bent on destroying Christians, and made him so influential for His purposes that he is one of the major contributors to the very book we use as the primary source for spiritual information and guidance. Another thing I know about God is that nothing is a surprise to Him. We are living the story He wrote. The ups and downs are all His. Paul confirms that even before he was born, God had designs on him. We can say that about ourselves, too. Paul, murderous Paul, was playing his part in the story that God wrote about us. You, flawed and self-centered you, are, too.  There is always a bigger story that our small, even guilty and traumatic, moments fit into.

My focus today is to leave room for God to be who He is. Nothing is as it seems and I trust him.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

Keep your life so constantly in touch with God that His surprising power can break through at any point. Live in a constant state of expectancy, and leave room for God to come in as He decides. – Oswald Chambers


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If grace is not for everyone, then who is it for?

Posted: January 2nd, 2017 | Filed under: God | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

If grace is not for everyone, then who is it for?

I spoke at a church conference a few years back and had an interaction I had with the pastor that has been replaying itself in my head since. For reasons beyond me, I always seem to end up speaking at churches that are ripping themselves apart over the meaning and application of grace. They have people who are barely clinging to the implied hope of an explicit Gospel on one side and people who are trying to maintain some form of orderly structure that resembles a religious institution in their communities on the other side. Then, here comes me: this incredibly small person with a giant message of grace and a free spirit with no real respect for structure or status.

My message was always the same. When I needed a Savior to forgive my sins, standards and structure weren’t the answer. They can alter behavior, but not the heart. They can make you pass human inspection, but not the Holy Spirit’s. You need Jesus, even at the expense of getting nothing else in the religious realm right. As a matter of fact, all the religiosity, structure, and status are used to crush the one who needs Jesus, not lift him up. So, yeah, I have no workable respect for religious status or man-made structure.

The church was located in gorgeous Massachusetts. I used to live on the Cape and left a bit of my soul there, so any chance I can get back there, I jump on it. The visit was timely for me because it wasn’t long after the Boston Marathon bombing and I wanted to be close to others who had the same hurting New England heart that I had.

We were sitting in a Mexican restaurant having lunch when the topic of the bombing came up. In preparation for speaking, the potency of grace was paramount in my own mind. The two subjects rolled around together in my mind in the days and weeks leading up to my speaking engagement. The one surviving bomber was only eighteen, the same age as my oldest daughter. I could be his mother. He ran over his big brother trying to get away. He hid and bled out while, undoubtedly, trying to reaffirm his mission as the events and his fate played over and over in his mind. I have been the villain and I know the hell it can be. My heart, as a mother, broke for him. My heart as a grace recipient had hope for him.

I said as much in response to a comment the pastor made about the young man. My burrito was steaming up at me from my plate and I could feel the screeching halt of conversation as I took a bite. I looked up to see the pastor and his wife exchange raised eyebrows. They turned the subject quickly and I ate in silence wondering where the limits of grace were supposed to be, even for a grace preaching pastor. He was losing half his congregation because of his message about God’s love, but I found his faith limit within the first ten minutes of meeting him. All I thought, for the rest of my time with them, is about how they could possibly embrace anything I have to say if I’m preaching an unconditional love to a conditioned congregation.

My question then and my question still is this: If grace is not for everyone, then who is it for?

Boston


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repugn the weathercock

Posted: October 30th, 2016 | Filed under: God | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. -Romans 13:1 NIV

You have a choice regarding how you look at life. You can choose fear or faith. You can’t have both. You can’t choose fear when it socially suits you in your pursuit of relevance, only to choose faith when the emotional fork-in-the-road is over. Decide who you are, what or Whom you serve, or forever become an empty reflection of an unthinking social media ticker. One day they abhor divisive talk and the next day they bait a divisive discussion. One day they choose left, then the wind changes direction and they are the biggest advocate for the right. Repugn the weathercock.

They burn with fear and call it passion. What will become of all of their fear-talk and ultimatums when this is over? The braveheart would fight to the death. They present as warriors for their cause when they’re behind the safety of a screen, but time and change turn them into weak and insipid pawns. They won’t fight to the death, they’ll normalize it and find some other parade float to ride on.

Choose faith. You already know Who wins. What is your problem? Don’t you recognize fear-mongers taunt by now? They report as though there is no God. They speak as though He cannot hear. They flirt with your need for something meaningful and call you away from your First Love. The easily manipulated take a bite like they’ve been invited to a King’s feast. Run from them. Fear’s secret lovers think they know how this is going to turn out. They confuse satire for breaking news and sing karaoke quality gossip like they’re going to change the lives of their listeners.

Make hope your center of gravity. Seal out irrational sensationalism. Don’t be a cheap conduit of panicked ultimatums. There are forces that want to pit us against one another, but we are not naturally inclined to be like that. We don’t look for differences, we look for similarities. But, when presented with requisitions and threats of impending doom, we are forced to consider the faulty logic and reject the weak-minded fuel of the mob mentality.

Pray. Do it with certainty that God has authority. Pray with faith based on the fact that He gets His way. Pray without doubting and if you have people in your life who make you forget, then silence their voices by blocking their path to your door. It’s weird seasons like this that are a sieve to catch the unstable and uneducated. You can’t talk sense to a nonthinker, they’ll just dumb down your efforts. The intelligent publicly ignore the nonsense of fools and privately pray for the prevalence of unity, freedom, intelligence, and truth. Go down in history as an advocate for wisdom and peace. Be a Rock-anchored beacon and let the storm kick up your hair, making you all the more beautiful.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. – James 1:5-8 ESV

Photo by *Prismes

Against The Wind by *Prismes

 


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i’m not a marlin

Posted: September 6th, 2016 | Filed under: God | Tags: , , | No Comments »

Most of my writing, lately, is in the form of bad penmanship in a little notebook by my bed. I’ve been busy raising my daughters for the past few years. All of the things I’m learning and the areas where my time goes aren’t directly “grace is for sinners” related. My kids were small when I started this blog. Now they’re bigger than I am.

As I grow as a writer, I’ll try different approaches and allow myself to go where it takes me. One of those places is a multigenerational word blog, Long Live The Thing. “…we’re mostly about real, raw, honest, and encouraging words…

“There is one body, but it has many parts. But all its many parts make up one body.” 1 Cor 12:12 (NIRV)

My first post on that blog is up today. It will be a good writing outlet for my other passions. In the mean time, I’m working on another book. It will be my childhood framed as fiction.

Here’s an excerpt from today’s blog at Long Live The Thing. It’s called, “I’m not a Marlin”.

“I’ve been having bad dreams lately. It happens when my anxiety kicks in. It’s such a dichotomy within because I’m a breeze-loving free spirit, but stress wakes residual symptoms of PTSD. I talk myself through most things and reason that as long as my family is with me, nothing else can really break me. But, my kids are growing up and venturing further away, making it impossible to use them as my barometer for safety. I’m thinking that using my family isn’t the best tool for treating my stress anyway. I need something else. Something immovable.

I have four daughters: 20, 16, 13, and 10. Having one become an adult has been a huge wakeup call for me. People always say this, and it’s true, they grow up fast. I secretly cried for almost the whole year my oldest turned 18. I had put so much of my identity into being a mom that them actually growing into self-sufficient adults never seemed real to me. But we were on the cusp, and I wondered if I did my job right. Did I teach her anything? Would she survive without me? This thought process reveals more about me than my daughter.”

Click here to read the rest.

I'm not a marlin


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look at me, daddy

Posted: August 29th, 2016 | Filed under: God | Tags: , | No Comments »

Dan King wrote the 29th chapter of Soul Bare. He titled it, “Look At Me, Daddy”.

The message in Dan’s chapter is a soft introduction to the idea that maybe God isn’t asking you to perform for His attention. Dan admits to being a performer. He decided that he would be more active in his faith when he was in his twenties and started doing things he thought God was interested in.

“…I decided to get serious about this God and church thing. Once I did, I was fully committed to the mission of the church. I was one of those guys who refused to be out-served. …Serving was important to me because I thought it was important to God” (page 183).

When people use this kind of language, “this God thing”, “the church thing”, “this faith thing”, it immediately reminds me of religious salesmen. I picture middle-aged white guys, trying to dress like college students, standing in a sea of dark skinned faces in some third world country. Americans feel like rockstars when they go to these places. The people are in such need that they treat the average American like royalty. You get to feel like a god, bringing new stuff to them. I think that might be the problem… feeling like a god. Doing so much. You get the accolades, the gratitude, and the photos. It’s all about “I”.

“…I’ve served in the youth group, led small group studies, led the twentysomethings’ ministry, taught in vacation Bible school, served on the board of directors, taught in the school of ministry and organized major (and minor) out reach events. And that’s just for starters” (page 183).

He continues to name the education he’s received, the “half a dozen ministry opportunities that [he’s] involved with at any given time”, and the missions trips he leads every year. He says that this long list doesn’t adequately illuminate all that he’s done.

“I’ve had friends over and over say to me, ‘Dude, I don’t know how you do it all!’ And others would totally validate me by saying things like, ‘You’re an inspiration,’ and, ‘You’re living the Christian life like all of us should be living it!’ (page 184).

He was undoubtedly offering up his religious resume for his readers. I kept waiting for Dan to write about a soul baring realization that he was making his religious practice all about him, that he had set himself up for failure by putting himself on the Throne of Servitude. But, his realization was a lot more of a soft introduction to a thought process.

“And as I learned that our relationship with God the Father is influenced by our relationship with our earthly father I found myself asking, Why do I work so hard when it comes to my relationship with God? (page 185).

He didn’t have a solid father figure in his life, so he’s still searching for that love. The resume posting, accolade collecting, gratitude seeking, religious photo-op grabbing is all an attempt to earn something that cannot be earned. He wants his earthly father and his heavenly Father to take notice. He wants a strong hand to muss his Opie hair as they walk off into the Mayberry sunset. I know how he feels.

“It sucks feeling like you’re invisible” (page 186).

What I wish people in this position would say is that by believing that their actions can get them closer to the heart of God, they’re also saying that their actions have the power to remove them from the heart of God, which isn’t true. Flipping it around reveals its nature. The truth is the same forward and backward. I wish people in this position would talk about Jesus instead of themselves. Jesus is the only way to the Father’s heart. You can’t get there through yourself no matter how much you give away.

Dan writes about the pull between knowing his “salvation isn’t based on [his] works”, but he can’t graft that knowledge with the belief that God doesn’t want him just “sitting around and worshipping our Savior”. And this is where the hair stands up on the back of my neck. Dan doesn’t even mention Jesus. This reader notices the vague mention of a “Savior” preceded by “our”, not “my”.

Jesus is the way to God’s heart. That’s it. It would be so much better to get to know that basic truth more intimately, and spend your free time worshipping from that place than it would be to spend yourself trying to win the Heart that Jesus already won.

Dan King

Jennifer Dukes Lee wrote the 30th chapter of Soul Bare. She titled it, “The Cup”. I’ll write my thoughts about her chapter next.


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