Posted in Christian Living

I Want a Jesus Kind of Love: GOD Doesn’t Have To Be Liked, Part Two

Shine His Light

The kind of love that wants what is best for you, God’s kind of love, is sometimes hard for mere humans to understand. Because God sees all and knows all, including the future and our deepest flaws, His love sometimes requires discipline that we need even though we don’t want it. Love whose primary goal is to make us into our best selves will of necessity include boundaries.

As we discussed in part one of this series, humans want to make God into a like-able deity who lets them do whatever they feel like. But, the very nature of God’s love means that God doesn’t need to be liked by us. Our worship of Him is not dependent upon how He treats us but on the pure awesomeness and perfection of the very nature of God, the Creator of the universe.

Unfortunately, the perception many people have of God’s love only comes from their interactions with mere mortals. We Christians try to love like Jesus loves, but we mostly fail miserably.  When He walked among us, Jesus, who had every right to judge, instead offered a kind of love to people around Him that somehow inspired them to become their best selves.

What does a love that stands in truth yet does not condemn look like? How is it that that kind of love manages to foster a stricter following of the rules instead of the licentious free-for-all one might expect from such a response to sin?

A Jesus kind of love:

  1. Looks past the outer appearance and into the heart of a person.
  2. Asks the kind of questions you are compelled to answer truthfully, because He has your best interest at the core of any interaction with you and nothing about Himself to prove.
  3. Shows you the beauty of a life lived in the Spirit but gives you the freedom to grasp that kind of living. He won’t force you to do anything. You choose.
  4. Thinks nothing of Himself in the moment, but everything about the soul standing in front of Him. He never compares Himself to others and only offers the example of His life well-lived as a part of the teaching He gives to those who by choice seek His instruction.
  5. Jesus only sees the world through a perspective that keeps in mind God’s view of things first and foremost.

 

Jesus sees the real person

If you are looking for proof that Jesus sees past the outer appearance into the very heart of a person, you need look no further than His choice of disciples. Among these men of God we find some of the most lowly men in the world of their time. Simon Peter was a fisherman, Mark a cursed tax collector. Only a God who could see past the outer shell would have chosen Saul, a persecutor of Christians, to bring the word of God to the Gentiles.

As humans, we may lack the ability to perceive the heart of a man in the same way that an all-knowing God perceives, but we can certainly learn the lesson of waiting to draw conclusions about others until we have a chance to really know them. That means avoiding judging people based on the clothes they wear, the cars they drive, or even the jobs they do. Instead, we should wait to know people based on the words they say and the actions they take.

This waiting fosters a respect in us for other human beings, and respect honestly given is a hard thing to turn away. No wonder when Jesus said to Peter, Follow Me, the fisherman did not hesitate to become a fisher of men.

Jesus asks the kind of questions a person has to answer truthfully

If you ask a question totally confident that you already know the answer, the person you are interrogating can sense your attitude. They know you are trying to paint them into a corner or make a judgment against them. That immediately puts them on the defensive.

When Jesus asked questions of people, He did it in such a way as to reflect His real interest in their answers. His questions were not challenging, but obviously curious. Jesus wasn’t trying to make a judgment of the person He was questioning, but was always trying to lead them to the ultimate truth.

Examples of Jesus’ ability to draw the truth from people abound. He tells the adulterous woman He will not condemn her after challenging her would-be judges, and then admonishes her to go and sin no more (John 7:53-8:11). He asks the Samaritan woman about her husband in such a way that she feels comfortable admitting that she has no husband since the man she is currently with is her fifth “partner” (John 4:3-42). “He told me everything I ever did,” the Samaritan woman tells her fellow townspeople. They invite Jesus to stick around, and many are converted, at first because of the woman’s testimony and then because of Jesus’ words to them.

The questions Jesus asks of His listeners and modern-day readers are likewise direct and simple, hitting straight onto the core of the matter. You can review a list of 135 of these questions here.

Jesus' words make others believe

Gives you the freedom to choose

At the core of God’s love for us is His decision to allow us the freedom to choose to believe and follow Him. God demands respect, but He doesn’t force us to bow down to Him.

This freedom makes our love for Him that much more powerful. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” Jesus says (John 14:15). The prophet Jeremiah promised, “You will seek me (God) and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (29:13).

Realizing that God wants us to have this freedom to choose should color our interactions with others. We cannot force another person to believe as we believe, but can only present by our kind words and living example the message of what we believe, allowing Jesus and the Holy Spirit to do their work in the souls of those for whom we pray.

Jesus puts the welfare of others before Himself

Perhaps another great key to Jesus’ success as a communicator is the way He puts the needs of others before His own needs. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us not only that we shouldn’t do to other people the kinds of things we wouldn’t enjoy being done to us, but also to treat others as we treat ourselves and long to be treated. “Greater love has no one than this,” He tells His disciples, “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).

As the perfect lamb of God, Christ chose to become like man in order to die for all mankind. This ultimate sacrifice makes Jesus’ love for us perfect, just as His actions on this earth were blameless. When we carry the Holy Spirit in our hearts once we accept Christ as our Savior, we begin the life-long work of perfecting our hearts to project the same kind of love Christ holds for us to the people around us.

When Jesus asks us to be salt and light to the world, loving and communicating like our Savior is at the top of the list of the tasks we should undertake to help bring Jesus to a land struggling in darkness.

Jesus keeps a God-perspective always

Because Jesus’ treasures are stored in heaven, His life on earth always had a godly perspective. How else would He endure the vagaries of being condemned despite being innocent, of being spat upon and ridiculed, of dying on the cross for sins He never even committed?

Even Jesus, Himself a part of the god-head, sought to know God’s will always. He prayed perpetually and most famously on the night before His crucifixion, asking God to take away the cup of the cross but promising to do God’s will alone.

When others question Him or ridicule Him, Jesus takes the taunts in stride. He empathizes with those who challenge Him, turning their own reasoning against them. When He is accused of throwing out demons by the power of the devil, He calmly explains that this wouldn’t be the case since that would mean a house divided against itself.

In fact, the only time Jesus seems to get really angry is when offenses too great are made against God. He sacks the temple when it is being misused for commerce instead of worship. He tells us that any sin may be forgiven except the sin of mocking the Holy Spirit.

Pulling it together

So, what does all this mean for those of us striving to be Christ-like in this modern world? I think about the people who stand outside Planned Parenthood, for example, and wonder if that is how Jesus would have handled the situation. I rather think He would somehow be inside the clinic, asking frightened girls questions about themselves, about how they feel and why they feel that way, trying to help them see the path through all their charged emotions to an ultimate truth.

And what would Jesus say to a culture that embraces sexual freedoms, so that the boundaries that once strictly defined family and respect and community are all blurred into a free-for-all that has left us with so many young people who have no sense of self-respect or even, it seems, right and wrong? I know Jesus would not tell a young man who felt he was gay that he was less-than, that somehow Jesus would make the young man understand there was a way out of condemnation to a path free from sin.

Not being one with the power to condemn or save, I also know that my job is simply to explain what Jesus’ love means for these lives of ours that are tainted by a sinful nature and then to allow that seed once planted to be fertilized further by the workings of our mighty God, Whose ways are well beyond my limited ability to know.

 

God loves unconditionally and with the earnest intent to make us into our best selves. That kind of love means His ways won’t always be popular. Sometimes, the perseverance required to grow makes us even question God’s love. But despite our limited perspective, God is able to do all things, especially in the lives of those who believe. Loving God and loving like God are two of the most important things any Christian can do. I hope these thoughts will help me and others do a better job of showing the world how great Jesus’ love truly is.

In Christ,
Ramona

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Posted in Christian Living

GOD Doesn’t Have To Be Liked: Part One

The heart is deceitful and an unreliable guide for life

“I thought spirituality was all about what makes you feel good,” the character on the popular television show, Glee, reasoned, succinctly relating mainstream culture’s definition of God, the feel-good deity of Hollywood and your Facebook feed who desperately desires your friendship. He wants you to live the life you feel in your heart you have been put on the earth to live regardless of any fallout from your choices. He wants you to love and be loved in all its forms with no limits. He wants you to let yourself off the hook for the things you mess up on without taking much time to think about your actions or consequences because He is the “feel-good” God.

The problem with going along with mainstream culture’s definition of God is that the consequences of pursuing what makes you feel good are generally winding up on a never-ending treadmill of reaching for a sense of joy that is ultimately fleeting. When the foundation of your sense of worth is based solely on what you feel, you are subject to the vagaries of the human heart, to the pitfalls of listening to the wrong voices, to believing the negative talk you hear from others and from yourself, negative talk that has no basis in truth. Truth itself is fluid if you base your sense of God on what you feel.

Despite our feelings that the world is continually going downhill, really not much changes. In Biblical times, people also pursued the feel-good gods. Despite the one Lord’s admonition to love Him only, the people also worshipped the wooden idols who promised better crops and emotional pleasure. Ultimately, the result of these actions was that God punished them for that attitude. People in Biblical times who went with the flow of everyone else around them participated in activities that God clearly denounced as wrong. But because most everyone else around them was doing it, most people were content to go with the flow and still think they could rightfully claim they followed GOD.

Even though God loves us so much that He sent His only Son to die for our sins so that we might be saved, God does not require that we actually like Him. In fact, love and worship are a far cry different from like. Think of your family members, for example. You love them because you share the common bonds of blood and childhood memories, but you don’t necessarily like your family all the time. In the same way, God loves us unconditionally, even though most of the time we act in ways He totally dislikes.

Even though God knew I would be judgmental, prone to gossip, a glutton, and an avid television watcher, among so many other sins, even though He knew every act in my life He was going to dislike, Jesus still died on the cross for my sins. He gave His unblemished life so that I could have eternal peace with God.

God’s love has the unique goal of truly longing for our best selves from the perspective of His heavenly, omnipotent knowing. Just as the parent of a teenager has to lay down rules that aren’t popular, God, who sees the biggest picture of all, loves us enough to give us the boundaries required to achieve a heavenly perspective.

Even though these boundaries are clearly defined in the Bible, we humans manage to argue the point, especially when we confuse God’s love for us with a human need to worship a likeable God. God isn’t very likeable when He tells us not to have sex outside the bounds of marriage or when He insists that marriage should be an unbreakable vow between a woman and a man.  He isn’t likeable when He proclaims His right to be the one and only God in our lives so that we should not make idols of other people, like movie stars, or earthly things, such as our possessions.

But God’s love for us trumps any need to like or be liked. Knowing the true God requires us to strip away the layers of our cultural influences, to seek Him in quiet places and learn to listen for His voice. We have to know His Word, all of it, and not just the parts of it that we tend to agree with. If we diligently seek Him, we will be less prone to being led astray by the popular thinking that swirls around us, by the pressures of society to just get along no matter the cost to God’s truth.

It’s wise to regularly take an inventory of your perspective of our awesome God. Are you standing in the truth of God’s love, which encompasses His discipline as well as His compassion, or are you accepting popular culture’s feel-good description of a likeable God? Your growth as a Christian depends on you knowing the difference.

There’s another important component to this concept of a likeable versus a loving God, and that is how we humans fumble through trying to love like Jesus loves. Too often, we only manage to project a condemning and judgmental God who ostracizes instead of encompasses. This alienating approach to making people understand our loving God does Him a great disservice and keeps so many from really hearing the message of God’s true Word.

Next time, let’s look more closely at what it really means to love like God loves, including why God’s love, like any true love, includes boundaries that are for the ultimate good of these souls who are perpetually reaching for the perfection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

How Do You Cope? : Turn Your Mind to Jesus

A mind focused on Jesus learns to cope

God is awesome. He deserves our love and our praise. If we are wise, He also deserves the courtesy of our fear. Do you doubt it?

Sitting in the comfort of a home this week that kept the unending rain at bay, I thought about the mightiness of our LORD, how the strength of terrible weather, which I think goes part and parcel with a fallen world, reflects the awesome power of our Creator.

But God’s greater strength showed itself through His people, who reached out from all over Houston and this country to help those who have lost everything, washed away like so much refuse as the rain continued to pour.

Long after the news cameras tire of stories about boat rescues and flooded highways, people in Houston and across the Texas coast will be doing the most important work of all, which is learning to cope with the challenges that will continue for months and even years to come. God will show His strength in helping people cope, too.

Coping is a skill I’ve been honing the last several years. My grandmother, father-in-law and brother-in-law have all died, the latter within days of each other. My mother is battling ALS. Had I not learned to cope, I wouldn’t get out of bed.

Christ is the avenue to our best coping skills. When your mind begins to wander into worries you can do nothing about, think on Him. Draw your mind to Christ by thanking Him for the things around you, for the blessings you are most grateful for. Before you know it, He will bring your mind to a place of peace that pushes away the worry. He may give you the next step to take. He may send you to a scripture that expresses just how you feel. He may simply help you to just be still.

Time with the Trinity is more important than anything. Spending time in God’s word is the only way to learn just who He is. If you know your Bible, you know if the messages you feel are truly in alignment with that word or just the murmurs of your own heart’s desires. When you truly bend your will to God, you learn to accept the times when what you want is not what God says you need.

In Houston, there is a religious venue for every 1,000 people. This is a big city with a big heart for God. I like to think this belief plays a large role in our reactions to natural disasters. In these last few days, images of neighbor helping neighbor reflect the kind of things that happen when we take the love Christ has for us and pay it forward.

A mind set on the things of this world is subject to worry and angst. A mind set on our awesome God is destined to calm and peace. I know which mindset best serves me in times of ease and conflict. I hope you also prize your time with God so that no matter how the rains and winds blow, your mind is at heavenly peace.

In Christ,
Ramona  

Posted in Christian Living

Kind Words: The Little Things That Mean A Lot

Running on the treadmill earlier this week, searching as usual for anything to think about other than the sweat making its steady stream down my back, I remembered a sunny day many years ago when I had just finished an outdoor run in the park at my hometown.

“You have really good form,” an unfamiliar voice wafted past the pounding in my ears to me.

I looked up to see a younger girl in perfect shape. She had no reason to compliment the thirty-something bookworm who had just jogged around the track at a speed many could walk. Still, she took the time to let me know I was doing something right.

I thanked her roundly and headed back to my car to drive home, my back a little straighter, my heart filled with the warmth of human kindness. I was the kid whose third-grade teacher gave her a ball and jacks to work on her eye-hand coordination. When others were perfecting dodge-ball moves, I was the one with her nose in a book, watching enviously from the sidelines. I did not get compliments on anything athletic. Ever.

But, ever since that day, I have always felt that my jogging form is good, worthy of compliments. I have some foundation for this confidence besides one stranger’s kind words. My husband actually has taught me the running form the young lady admired that day on the track. Still, her words, which took only a moment of her time, have stuck with me through the years. Laboring on the treadmill in the gym, I know I am not the fastest person in the room, but I also know I pump my legs like a real runner, all because a stranger decided to compliment me on a windy, West Texas day.

Words really are just that powerful. They can build up or destroy with minimum effort on the speaker’s part. No wonder the Bible warns us: But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken (Matt. 12:36).

Knowing the power of words is one reason I try to speak my compliments to strangers instead of just thinking them in my head. I admire a scarf or jewelry, I note the pretty eyes or hairstyle, I praise the young boy who holds open the door. So far, no one has rebuffed me for saying something nice to them. It’s literally one of the smallest things I can do to spread the love Jesus feels for all of us.

Kind words serve me in other ways. When I spend my time thinking about kind words, I put myself in a place of love and thankfulness that pushes out anger and fear and ultimately draws me closer to God. When I am in His presence, I find it even easier to discover kind things to say. It is a cycle of love that we should all want to be caught up in.

In an old song, Kitty Kallen croons,

Blow me a kiss from across the room
Say I look nice when I’m not
Touch my hair as you pass my chair
Little things mean a lot

When it comes to living each day as Christ-like, embracing the idea that little things mean a lot can go a long way toward spreading the love of Jesus. In fact, if we concentrate on the little things, God promises He will do the heavy lifting:

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

Never underestimate what God can do with your kind words. His mercy is no little thing, but the little things are exactly what He calls on us to strive for, keeping each day’s worries unto itself, leaving the bigger picture to our awesome, heavenly Father.

You are special, and you are loved.  What kind words have made a big difference in your life? Think about God’s blessings in your life and be inspired to go forth and be kind.

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

With God, Simple Things Can Mean A Lot

God makes even simple things into something magnificent, according to His purpose

I am very good at making things more complicated than they have to be. Pick almost any area in life, and I have figured out a way to look at the issue that gives it many more twists and turns than really exist.

Take salvation, for example. All I have to do is believe in Christ and His purpose and profess that belief, and yet I make that simple act of faith into something much more complicated. I tell myself I have more responsibility in this act of living my faith than God ever said I had.

For example, I think that it is somehow up to me to make other people believe about God and the Bible the way that I do. I get frustrated when people disagree with me, even angry when I think they are saying something wrong about the word of God according to the way that I understand that word.

God has led me to a focus shift this week, one that should help me quit taking on responsibilities that are not my own. Through my Bible reading and conversations with other believers, I have been reminded that God is the One who holds the responsibility for what others ultimately believe. He alone is Judge.

I must not apply my usual habit of shoulds in life to my plan for living my faith. A to-do list is not what being a Christian is about. Instead, we are asked to live through love.

In the Old Testament, we learn an important lesson about the simplicity of our salvation when we truly hand over the responsibility for that salvation to our Holy God. Naaman, the commander of King Aram’s army, goes to Elisha to be cured of his leprosy. When Elisha tells him all he has to do is go dip himself in the Jordan seven times, instead of being thankful such a simple task is all that is required, Naaman gets frustrated. He doesn’t understand how the solution could be so simple. Why wouldn’t a body of water in his home country be even more likely to heal him, if that is all it would take, Naaman wonders?

In fact, Naaman feels affronted that Elisha’s solution does not require more of him, as if his station deserves to be recognized by the level of responsibility required for healing. Naaman would have wandered through the rest of his proud life, full of responsibility and covered in his skin disease, if not for his servants, who asked the obvious but profound question:

“If the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you ‘ wash and be cleansed?'” (2 Kings 5:13)

Luckily for him, Naaman realizes the truth to this statement and proceeds to follow Elisha’s instructions from God. In the end, Naaman walks out of the Jordan with skin as whole as if he had just been born. More importantly, he learns the profound truth that in even the smallest of ways, God can do great things.

As I was settling into the truth of these verses during the week, I was offered another important lesson when it comes to how God works in our lives, which is the comfort that comes when we believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to do good things in this world that is full of evil.

In this season of my life, I have as much reason as anyone to see the world in general and the act of living in particular as a losing struggle against forces that are gunning for my ultimate destruction. Beginning in 2014, in the span of some fourteen months, my grandmother died, my husband’s father and oldest brother lost their battles with cancer within a few weeks of each other, and my dear mama was diagnosed with ALS.

If I didn’t believe that the only way God can offer us the free will to choose Him is to allow for both evil and good to exist in this life, then I would have given up on the idea of a loving God a long time ago. But, in acknowledging the truth of the need for evil to exist in a fallen world, I realize that I have somehow lost the even stronger truth that God controls everything, even, somehow, the process of letting us tumble into His always waiting, open hands.

God’s control negates my need to be responsible for outcomes. Notice, I did not say actions. Free will means I am inherently responsible for everything I say and do. But, when what I say and do is in alignment with the life of Christ and His teachings, I can trust the outcome will be according to the will of God, even when things look farthest from that conclusion. His Holy Spirit can so easily bring to fruition whatever seeds my Christ-like words and actions may plant. But, I have to live like I believe that, even in simple ways, mostly in simple ways.

What a powerful realization this working of the Holy Spirit in our lives is for those who believe. When we forget about His power or try to usurp it by manipulating situations toward our own desired outcomes, we do a disservice to our faith. We also overlook the little, simple things that God can make truly great, like the mustard seed that grows into a mighty tree.

God is always able

 

Just like Naaman, I am guilty of wanting something more difficult than the simple truths of God’s promises. He wants me to know that He has things under control in accordance to His Master Plan, a plan my human mind is incapable of fully understanding. When I contain myself by worrying about only my actions and words instead of putting myself in the role of judge over others, I give myself the light burden and peace that Christ promised as the gift of believing in Him. I grasp God’s simple solution to life’s complex problems.

In Sunday school, we reached the point in Romans where Paul asks why we think we have the right to judge those who serve God. We are not their masters, after all. But for those who allow God to be master, the promise is clear:

To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. (Romans 14:4)

The Lord is able to bring about our success in walking by faith. Not long after Naaman discovered that God’s truths can be powerful even in simplicity, the prophet Elisha faces a dangerous situation that further underscores God’s ability. When the King of Aram sends an army to harm the prophet, God provides His own, conquering army to protect the servant of our heavenly King:

When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked. “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them. And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:13-17)

When I profess my faith, when I show love in the face of hate, when I turn the other cheek, God is able. He is surrounding me with His angels, looking out for my ultimate good. If I live each day knowing this truth, I will simplify my walk with Christ. I will be free to love other people in full knowledge that the paths of their lives and their ultimate judgment are in God’s hands, not my own.

Christianity is simple. We humans are the ones who tend to complicate things, forgetting despite all His promises, that God is able.

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

Finding His Strength in My Weakness: this Broken Road

My grandmother’s life of hardship offers lessons about learning to lean on God’s mercy and power.

We fickle humans do not thrive in abundance. Sitting in my fancy easy chair typing these words, I have more in my possession today than past generations of my ancestors ever hoped to possess. And yet, I daily struggle with doubts and fears, pride and anger that are incongruent with my economic “wealth.”

I have fallen victim despite the roots of my practical raising to the dream of finding happiness in a world where evil dwells. Even though I know that God’s reason for me has nothing to do with my happiness in this life, I still keep trying to find it.  Even when I embrace the idea of seeking to thrive despite the pitfalls of living in a fallen world and I strive toward becoming what God needs of me for my eternal home, I too quickly fall back into the mind traps of the transient peace that happiness offers.

I don’t think it takes a scientific analysis or Gallup poll to figure out that those who face the most challenges tend to be the most at ease with themselves and the God they worship. My grandparents didn’t have time to contemplate their mental states on a regular basis. They were too busy scratching out a living on unforgiving soil, stitching up clothing well beyond its use-by date, laboring with hands cracked by years of exposure to sun and wind, doing without when crops failed, stealing pecans from the pack rats’ nests to sell to the grocer for thread.

When a bath takes more work to make happen than the pleasure being clean subsequently brings, tell me of your repugnance to the smell of those who adhere to the once-a-week bathing regimen. When the only light you can afford is the billowing, blackening heat of a kerosene lamp, you’ll understand the wisdom of a sun-up to sun-down mentality.

Living in a world where abundance is hard to come by makes you appreciate and recognize blessings. You’ll walk miles in bad weather to catch the matinee on Saturday. You’ll eat bar-b-que you didn’t have to make off of strips of brown, butcher paper as if you were dining in an elegant restaurant with linen tablecloths instead of the planked, rough boards where strangers sit elbow to elbow, dripping sweet, savory sauce from puffy lips.

God understands the importance of our weakness to make use of His strength. He offered abundance to His people as they wandered in the desert. For forty years, He gave them sufficient food for each day, food they did not have to labor for or worry about. In this abundance, His people forgot about Him over and over again. They worshiped false gods even though the proof of the One, True God descended upon them in harvest every morning. They married outside of their own faith despite His warnings to the contrary.

We read about the wanderings in the desert with a little contempt today, but are we any different? Even the poorest among us in this country have more than most of the rest of the world and instead of thanking God for our abundance, we shun His very existence. We let others mock His power and forgiveness. We put up with those who would silence us when we want to call out His name.

When I am weak, He is strong. When I am most aware of my human frailty, I am most likely to feel gratitude to a God that saves me from even greater evils than those I face. In weakness, I will understand the satisfaction of a life lived as testimony as opposed to a life lived for my pleasure, the difference between a broken road and a road that will break you.

I asked my grandmother once about the invention of such time-saving household tools as the vacuum cleaner. My textbook said women loved these things because it gave them more leisure time, after all.

Grandmother had lived in houses whose floors were hard-packed dirt. She had worn clothes made from flour sacking and been the cook and cleaner and clothes washer and butter churner and quilter and more in her childhood family of three brothers and her dad since her mother passed away when my grandma was a toddler. She had cooked over campfires and seined coal from the river, walked miles to the mill where gathered grain could be ground for flour and plucked chickens she had slaughtered for the evening supper table. She worked seven days a week from the time the sun rose to the time the sun set in a world where all the people around her were eking out the same kind of existence.

These were the greatest generation, those who fought for the freedoms of people a world away, sacrificing life, limb, and the little things at home to make sure the world was a safer place. People planted gardens, learned to like margarine, rationed everything, saved even the dirty grease from the stove to donate to the factories for the cause of making rubber. The Depression had taught them how to make an onion and some parsnips last to a week’s worth of suppers, inspired the pickled mesquite bark in their cupboards and the repurposing of everything so that years later, my grandfather saw nothing wrong with using the same pan for his famous popcorn as the family also utilized for upchucks.

So, did Grandma think the vacuum cleaner was a gift sent from God? Definitely not. This abundance just meant she had more work to do. Standards of cleanliness rose along with our ability to clean until she was left with even more work than she had experienced before.

God’s enough is defined by our weakness turned toward His strength, which manifests itself in our love for Him and His Word, and the resulting love we then have for ourselves and others. If I can concentrate on being thankful instead of on the electronics I have surrounding me or the pretty clothes or the nice car, perhaps I will finally find that core of strength that is woven in my DNA from those who lived when abundance was only found in weakness. I appreciate the lessons they taught me by merely surviving amidst untold hardship and tragedy. I appreciate even more that they survived in full knowing of the gratitude they owed the Divine for every victory He allowed them, even in the midst of sandstorms and rain, of brown, crispy harvests and loved ones laid much too soon into the hard, cold ground.

Despite a lifetime of hardship and loss, my grandmother never gave up on her belief in God. She treasured the large print Bible I gave her on her 90th birthday because it gave her the ability to read more of the Bible daily than her cataract-challenged eyes had otherwise afforded her.

The capacity to find God’s strength in our own weakness might be summed up in a photograph I found among my grandmother’s belongings, a color snapshot of a chihuahua, my grandmother’s long-time house dog long-since passed, sitting on a plaid blanket, with these words written on the back in a steady hand:

A small brown dog with big, beautiful eyes that wanders through the halls of my memory.  Helen

If she, who had lost mother and husband and son and father and brothers, and yet never lost her faith in God, could find sweetness in the memory of loss, then what other proof of the value of accepting my weakness do I need?

I will try to recognize my abundance and its concurrent enemies of seeking happiness and fulfillment for what they are, which are obstacles to my ability to know and give the love God so freely offers to all who believe in Him, especially to those who allow Him to show His strength through the very weakness we usually fight to keep away. As I heard Rick Atchley preach just recently, we cannot ask God to make us stronger Christians and also ask Him to make everything all right. Only through the suffering that weakness brings can God truly do His work in us.

My grandparents’ generation proved the truth of this theology. More importantly, Christ sealed the truth of it when He willingly died in weakness on the Cross so that all humanity might be saved through faith by the love of the Almighty. That’s the strength I lean on. Won’t you join me?

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

No Plot Twists Too Great for the Greatest Storyteller

We cannot know what God does

In the classic satire, Princess Bride, a very young Fred Savage plays a little boy listening to his grandfather tell him a fantastic story with so many twists and turns that Fred interrupts him at one point to exclaim in exasperation, “Gee, Grandpa, what are you telling me this story for?”

So often as I study my Bible, I find myself empathizing with little Fred. I am so engrossed in the action and emotions of the story that I am reading, that I often do a double-take when the narrative shoots off at a wild angle, completely different from anything I might have predicted or expected. In those moments, I find myself asking God, “Why are you telling me this?”

A case in point is the wonderful exposition of the life of King Solomon. David’s son begins with the greatest of intentions. He asks God for the wisdom to properly rule the kingdom of Israel. This wisdom is something much more than being a walking encyclopedia. Instead, the type of wisdom Solomon asks for and receives is the discernment to “read” the world from a holy perspective. It’s the kind of wisdom that allows him to know that the true mother of a child would rather see that baby given away than cut in two. It’s a wisdom that allows Solomon to amass a fortune and demand a level of respect around the world heretofore unknown in the Jewish experience.

And yet, even with all this wisdom going for him, we read that Solomon acted not so wisely as well. He married women, so many women, even those outside his Jewish religion, despite God’s express command against such unions, a command that included the warning in no uncertain terms that such unions would lead to the nation’s downfall. At one point, we are told, Solomon had some 700 wives and 300 concubines!  Especially in his old age, these women from foreign lands were easily able to lead Solomon into worship of other gods—gods the scripture defines as detestable to the Lord.

So we come to my why are you telling me this moment involving Solomon. As I read for the umpteenth time this morning the story of Solomon’s lack of judgment which ultimately led to the splitting of the kingdom of Israel and its eventual downfall, a lesson from Solomon’s folly came to me that I had not quite considered before.

My “God messages” and “Holy Spirit lessons” have been coming to me lately involving the themes of grace and becoming. I am saved because I believe in Jesus as my savior. I spend the rest of my grace-covered life becoming what God has pre-determined I need to be for that heavenly home that lasts forever and makes this earthly existence look like the blink of an eye. But, nothing I do in the process of becoming has anything to do with the promise of my salvation. The two processes are locked together and yet intricately separate. And, if I can get this truth clear in my emotional as well as logical response to people and situations, I feel that I will be so much better at loving the world around me instead of judging it.

From Solomon’s folly, I am reminded that no matter how smart I think I am, my brain is an unreliable vessel for my salvation. I cannot stay in relationship of good standing with my Creator unless I go through His son, Jesus, and that process involves my faith, not my wisdom. Despite a mind gifted with discernment known far and wide and across time, Solomon’s choice to move out of relationship with God by turning to other idols cost him dearly.

grace is God wanting to be in relationship with us, no matter what

Even with discerning wisdom, look how quickly Solomon fell into the trap of thinking he could manage his own relationship with God. What other explanation would there be for a man so wise to ignore the clear rules God had laid out for His people? Don’t marry the women who are native to the land you are entering, lest you fall into the trap of worshiping their gods, He told the wandering Israelites as they prepared to enter the Promised Land. Despite being wise, Solomon allowed the temptation of his attraction for these foreign women to over-rule the knowledge he had of God’s law.

This leaning on one’s own understanding by acting outside of the dictates of an omnipotent God is a kind of arrogance in one’s own knowledge that makes me think about the modern world in which we live, where scientists are sure they have explained the unexplainable and intellectuals flick the ashes from their cigarettes and disdain the quaint belief systems they see as naïve at best and evil conservatism at worst.

If we really want to be wise, we would concentrate our whole selves on the goal of loving God and appreciating the close relationship we have with Him because Jesus died on the Cross for us. Anything that gets in the way of that love should be cast to the side so that we do not fall victim, like Solomon, to letting the ways of this world get in the way of our much more important connection to the next.

The “twist” in Solomon’s wisdom story isn’t so much a twist, then, as it is the wisest thing we might learn from a king famous for his mind. Seek discernment on your path toward righteous living, yes, but lean on the grace of Jesus’ gift of salvation if you expect to remain in a right relationship with your Creator, especially throughout a long life full of the pitfalls that can trap a man, or woman, bent on thinking his or her way out of the scrapes that ensue when we start listening to our own hearts instead of the heart of our ever-present and oh-so-loving God.

In Christ,
Ramona