Posted in Faith

God Gets In The Weeds

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I’m sweating like a sinner in church.

It’s an old wisecrack meant to alleviate tension, but it points to an underlying belief about God and especially His followers, the belief that God only really wants to deal with really good people, that He has no tolerance for those who stray from the straight and narrow path. God, and especially His people, don’t like to get their hands dirty.

But these widely-held beliefs could not be further from the truth of our living, loving God.  The One who loved us enough to die a humiliating death on the cross for us embraces the wounded, the broken, and those who stumble. He knows more than anyone the imperfections of His creations and loves us anyway.

When we deny that salvation is a gift from God, we fall into the trap of thinking salvation has to be earned by our actions. When we work on the earned-salvation model, we are doomed to make mistakes, doomed to judge ourselves and others, and doomed to lose sight of God in the midst of our efforts to ultimately save ourselves.

We must accept that salvation cannot be earned, that the love of God alone saves us, in order to see the world from a more Godly perspective, to support each other rather than judge, to embrace the imperfections in all of us as an indication of our equality before a perfect God.

God’s love is so great, His willingness to get into the depth and breadth of our indignities so limitless, that our finite brains cannot begin to comprehend it. When Jesus had the power to rule the world and dine with kings, He chose to live as an itinerant and dine with tax collectors and prostitutes, some of the most despised social classes of His time. When Paul held Stephen’s cloak while his compatriots stoned the first Christian martyr to death, God didn’t turn His head, but instead saw the potential in Paul to be one of His greatest crusaders. God is not averse to getting His hands dirty if that is what loving us requires.

We know that God is in the weeds as well as on the mountaintops because God is everywhere:

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you;  the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. (Psalm 139:7-12)

If we live knowing God gets in the weeds, then perhaps we would do better at tolerating the imperfections in ourselves and others. We would do well to remember that Jesus managed to hold people accountable for their actions without making them feel unloved or de-valued. We would know the difference between truth and petty judgments. Church would be a place where love lifts up sinners instead of making them sweat.

Living by putting God’s love first may seem impossible, but all things are possible with a God who is willing to get down in the dirt with us:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32)

The God who loves the humble fosters an open heart in all of us, as well as a desire to do what is good and right. But when we stumble, He is always ready to take our hands and pull us back to our feet again. Finding yourself in the weeds? He’s right there, waiting patiently, for you to find Him.

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Posted in Christian Fiction, Christian Living

A Name In Lights or In the Light?

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Only by losing the self do we truly see our “names in lights.”

I don’t mind if you have something nice to say about me . . . . I want to leave a legacy.

Nichole Nordeman’s song, “Legacy,” explores the concept that God’s idea of success is not the world’s idea of success.  Being a fan and knowing the depth of her writing, I can well imagine that this piece is as much a warning to Nichole herself as it is to the listener, for in it, she expresses her great desire to shine the Light of God instead of her own light:

I won’t lie, it feels alright to see your name in lights
We all need an ‘Atta boy’ or ‘Atta girl’
But in the end I’d like to hang my hat on more besides
The temporary trappings of this world.

The legacy Nichole defines in the remainder of the song is very specific: choosing love, pointing to God so that His mark is left on the good she does, leaving offerings out of her abundance, living mercy and grace, and praising God without worrying about what others might think about her.  In other words, Nichole defines legacy as a true life lived in Christ, being so committed to shining His light, that our ego or pride gets pushed aside so that God always comes first.

At first, living this way may seem like we have placed our ego on a chair, waiting for an outing that will never happen again.  Our egos feel deflated and cast aside.  But, at the same time, when we see our egos laid out in this way, we see them for the pathetic things they are.  For, what is more lonely than a ball gown and an empty pair of slippers, lying like the promise of something that will never really be as wonderful as one might have imagined?

When we empty ourselves of ourselves, we make room for Love, for the Holy Spirit to fill us and shine for others in a world of darkness.  We are calm, strong, patient, merciful, and we always know peace.

This putting aside of the ego is a hard, life-long practice, however.  It takes discipline to face each day knowing you plan to pay attention to your inner thoughts, your words, your actions.  What motivates you?  What does your self-talk revolve around?  Are you concerned about being right because it makes you feel better, or are you looking out for what is the rightness of God’s truth, which begins with love and compassion?

Working on my writing is also an act of fighting the ego.  I must constantly hold myself to a standard that seeks to shine the right kind of Light.  If all I want is to see my name in lights, i.e. write the “great American novel,” then I am no better than any other humanist who has attempted to make herself feel better about herself because somehow I have couched my endeavors in the lingo of making the world a better place.  But, if I really believe that God has given me a certain ability with words in order to serve Him, then I have to keep praying that my ego doesn’t get in the way of the messages He wants me to send.

I also have to fight the desire to hole myself up in a corner and write all the time instead of doing some of the other things that a life in Christ requires.  Love, mercy, patience, and offerings are not exactly accomplished through written words on the internet or in a book.  Balancing the talents God gives us to work for His good is a daily act of saying no to the ego so that our choices are based on God’s needs (which is most often the needs of others) instead of our own wants.

Nichole sums it up best:

Just want to hear instead, “well done, good and faithful one;”
No, I don’t mind if you have something nice to say about me.

Posted in Christian Living, Love

The Challenges of Abundance

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When I was still in junior high school, my sister and I asked our grandmother about what it was like when she finally had things like vacuum cleaners and washing machines to use in her household chores. Had the new gadgets made life easier?

Without batting an eye, my grandmother, who had grown up the daughter of a sharecropper in East Texas during the Depression, lived in one-room houses with packed-dirt floors, and raided pack-rat nests for pecans to sell to the grocer for thread, gave us a quick and emphatic, “NO.”

Instead of reducing her workload, the advent of these electric aids to housework only gave my grandmother more to do!

Today, smartphones are supposed to make our lives easier as well. But, if you are like me, you know that a device that allows you to easily take a phone, email, internet connection, banking interface, social network, endless library, and gaming center wherever you go doesn’t simplify anything at all.

I have finally “smartened up” and put a hiatus on my electric devices after a certain point in the evening (unless I am writing my blog or a novel, of course) in an attempt to reduce the constant strain on my neck. With increased access to everywhere, I am also experiencing increased and unceasing stress!

Our consumer-driven society has given us an addiction to abundance that makes us less likely to slow down, be still, and feel the power of God around us. The challenge of balancing work, family-life, friendships, responsibilities and relaxation may just be the major crisis of our century.

But there is another kind of abundance that brings with it a different set of challenges. I’ll tell you right up front that I like these challenges much better.

The abundance I am talking about is the love of God for us, a love so great that Jesus died for us, accepting the punishment for all our sins when He Himself had done nothing to deserve punishment, so that we might have a chance to accept Him as our Savior and thus achieve salvation.

Christ’s love for us is an abundance that we must be willing to accept with the faith of a small child, and that we should desire to share with others. Christ’s love is a way of being when we interact with it on a daily basis.

How do you meet the challenge of the abundance that comes with a God who loves you so much, He comes to earth in the form of man to be humiliated in the end and crucified for you?

If you really accept this abundance, you will exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, as Paul describes it to the Galatians:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23).

This abundance of love is something that we humans can so easily take for granted, which means we aren’t as patient with others as we ought to be, we gossip just a little, we watch more television than we spend time in the Word, prayer, fellowship.

In other words, we are very good at proving over and over just how fortunate we are that Jesus was willing to die for us. None of us are perfect. But God’s love for us should make us want to be.

How do we take advantage of the abundance of God’s love? All we have to do is ask:

“Ask and it will be given to you;” Christ tells us, “seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8).

But we can also practice the disciplines of love: studying God’s word, praying, being still to listen for God’s direction, being in fellowship with other believers who can help us be accountable to God’s truth, paying attention to our actions and repenting of our sins to God.

Abundance can be as bad as it is good, but in the case of God’s love for us, the abundance of the gift of salvation is certainly uphill all the way.