And Still More Beach-iness

In my last post I shared about how much fun being at the beach with my teenagers was and how we actually enjoyed the beach itself.  During one of my people watching breaks in my week-long Sit Still and Do Nothing But Read-A-Thon, I spotted a little girl, probably less than a year old because she could sit up but not walk, with her parents about ten feet away.  She was the inspiration for my thoughts on vacationing with little ones versus teenagers.  That little one and her parents also inspired this post.

I first spotted Little One (I don’t know her name and I don’t want to keep calling her “Her”) on the second day of my world record mission.  Little One’s Mom brought her down to the edge of the water where her Dad was hanging out.  After hugs and kisses Mom sat her down in the sand right where the last vestiges of waves would roll onto the sand.  As the thin layers of water would gently kiss the sand as far as they could, Little One got splashed.

What really caught my attention was that when Mom sat her down on the sand, before the first wave rolled in and nothing had happened yet, Little One threw up her arms, turned her face upward and laughed with expectancy.  It was like she was saying to God, “Go ahead and WOW me!  I can’t wait!”

For the next fifteen minutes I watched her and every single time a wave rolled in, no matter how rough or gentle, she had the exact same reaction – she threw up her arms, turned her face upward and laughed with expectancy, as if to say, “Do it again!”

Obviously as a mom myself I realize I probably witnessed her celebration of God’s creation immediately following a nap, a diaper change and a snack (in other words, her little universe was in order during those fifteen minutes), so I don’t want to take this too far. However, the tide was starting to come in, so some times the waves would gently tickle her toes and sometimes they would flat-out knock her over.  She experienced everything from a refreshing splash to sand in her mouth and salt in her eyes, but EVERY single time she righted herself (with Mom and Dad’s help), celebrated with a round of applause and invited another one.

The other mesmerizing thing about Little One’s party was that everyone around her was totally caught up in her celebration.  It was captivating and contagious.  For a brief second it made me want to get up from my chair and join her, but I was having a celebration of my own.

We are God’s children, what if we lived with that kind of expectancy?  What if we celebrated God’s goodness and love even when we get knocked down, have sand in our diaper and salt in our eyes?

God is good no matter what our circumstances.  He is good all the time.  He is love all the time.

What if instead of looking for our circumstances to be perfect, we looked for the perfect God in all of our circumstances?  What if we expected Him to reveal His love all the time?

What if instead of gritting our teeth and resigning ourselves to just getting through the next crashing wave, we threw up our hands in praise of the God Who is with us in ALL things, Who works all things together for the good of His children?

How would those around us be affected if we chose to live in celebration instead of defeat or resignation?  Would light actually dispel darkness?

In the interest of full disclosure, I did see Little One in less impressive moments that week, so she was in fact a real baby, human just like the rest of us.  But I appreciate the invitation I received to her beach party and am grateful to God for glimpses of pure, unadulterated joy and His invitation to enjoy not just a few moments, but an abundant life of joy.

Thank You Father that You invite us all to celebrate You and the abundant life Jesus offers.  In Christ, we reign in our best circumstances and our worst, when we live in expectancy of Your goodness and Your love.

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Pencil Girl

Pencils

This morning my middle daughter, Madelou (love that nickname), was sharing that in a few days she would have her scores from the AP European History exam she took in May. If you are unfamiliar with AP Exams just think BIG, SCARY tests at the end of a long, difficult, painful year of classroom prep that you can take for $80. If you score well you can earn college credit for a class that could cost $1000+ at your university.

The idea of AP Exams appeals to my frugality and need for efficiency so I have been as loving and supportive (or sometimes task master-ish) through this entire process as humanly possible. As usual, in the interest of full disclosure I may or may not have actually said, “Suck it up, Buttercup” in the face of one particularly difficult assignment, but have since expressed my deepest and profound apologies. At this point all I can say is that we both made it through the class and the exam and no one died. And last week we started speaking again.

As we were discussing her angst that she might not score a “5” (the highest score – I just don’t know what gene pool this kid came from, she’s so unlike both of her parents – SARCASM ALERT!), she told me about another girl that took the test with her. Apparently about five minutes before the end of the exam Madelou heard a noise and looked up to see the girl erasing something she had written in her test booklet.

It took about a second for it to dawn on her, she’s erasingshe took the test in pencilthis is a PEN ONLY EXAM! Madelou looked around to see if anyone else had noticed, particularly the proctor, but she was alone in her observations. She briefly entertained raising her hand, but then worried someone might think she had been looking at other people’s papers. So she had to let it go.

(Just as an aside, I think it’s ridiculous we’ve gotten to a place in our culture that we treat exams like a national security issue and feel like we have to scare people to death to get them to follow the rules, so much so that they are afraid to even raise their hands. Before you email me about integrity and the lack of it in our society, believe me, I get it. I just don’t think taking tests should require 15 forms of I.D., a retinal scan, a DNA sample, and sitting like robots for four hours afraid to exhale because it might make too much noise. End of rant.)

But this taking the test in ink requirement is a really big deal to the AP Exam people. As she was telling me this story my heart sank for this girl. Here she had spent an entire school year in a class that probably had at least double the work load of her other honors classes.  She had taken practice exams.  She might have bought a Barron’s AP review book and spent countless Saturday’s pouring over all things European History. Her social life suffered and she missed all of her favorite TV shows to study …oh, wait a minute, that was me 25 years ago.

But Pencil Girl might have done all of that too. It all came down to those four critical hours and just because she made a mistake a whole year’s worth of work might be for naught.

Have you ever had that feeling that everything was for naught because of one mistake? That it all hinged on nailing it all perfectly ALL THE TIME? That you were disqualified or didn’t measure up because even though the proctor told you 12 times to use a pen, even though it was written all over your test materials, and even though you had practiced using a pen multiple times, when the rubber met the road you were so overwhelmed and overcome with anxiety that you accidentally used a pencil? And the irony is you may have used the pencil so you could erase any mistakes.

The Good News is Jesus died for this too. Before Christ we were disqualified and we could never measure up. It did hinge on us and we could never get it right. We were failures, worse we were dead. But in Christ it’s all Him and because of Him we get to live free. We no longer have to strive and work to achieve. We have worth and value because of Him.

And this is important so listen close…in Him even our mistakes are opportunities. Even when we accidentally use a pencil when we should have used a pen, or worse when it really is all our fault, we can take it straight to Him. At that moment when we engage our Redeemer, even on our worst day and no matter how we got there or who is at fault, it quits being about the pencil and starts being about Him. It’s about our relationship with Christ, not about our circumstances. It stops being about blame and outcomes.  That’s more than success, that’s life, that’s reigning in life.

So Pencil Girl, if you are out there (and for all of us Pencil Girls), please know, there’s grace for this too. I am praying for you (and for your momma).

Romans 8:28 (ESV)“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”

For the record, this post has the Madelou seal of approval. 🙂

Free Indeed

English: Blooming rose

English: Blooming rose (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I feel I owe anyone who read my last post a bit of an update.  In Another Transition I shared the mental picture I had of leaving rehab my eight month discipleship course and my concern I might de-rail the grace train and have to return to the facility shortly after leaving because I don’t know how to live in the wild (better known as real life).

In the interest of full disclosure, I did in fact have a momentary departure from grace to my coping mechanisms the DAY AFTER our commencement from rehab the course.  But a fellow sojourner through this process quickly got on the phone and talked me down off of the proverbial ledge and helped me land safely in the arms of Jesus.  The upside of this is that I had a fresh reminder that my flesh is alive and well and still wants to have its own way.  So I have to daily choose Life.  It’s not a one-time decision, it is a moment by moment choice to be led by the Spirit.

In other words, the eight month course did EXACTLY what it was designed to do – equip us to go out into the world, led by the Spirit in community to live in intimate, dependent communion with the Father.  And when we see our sister, or brother, starting to tank, we grab them by the hand and love them back onto the path.  We don’t pretend to have any or all the answers, we simply point them back to the ONE who always does, without judgment or pretense.

I know you are all astounded that it only took me eight months…after 44 years of bondage…but all I can say is “(S)he whom the Son sets free is free indeed.”

This too is abundant life.  Not trying to get it perfect every time, but looking at everything, whether it appears good or bad, as an opportunity for fellowship with the Father.

Amen.

It’s Official – It’s No Longer A Series, It’s Graduated To A Theme

A couple of weekends ago I was chattin’ with the Lord about some things on my heart:  family, grace, love, vacation, the grocery store, making dinner, Bible study, writing.  You know the usual stuff.  I took a lot of notes about our conversation.

I keep several small notebooks around all the time because you just never know where you are going to be when inspiration hits and you’ve got to jot it down.  I am apparently at that age when inspiration hits you better get it down fast or it’s gone, quick.  And I mean like lightning.  Sometimes it’s gone before I can even uncap my pen!

I’m just going with the flow though.  It’s a season of life and Jesus is enough.  I just try to laugh… A LOT!

Sometimes when I am chattin’ with the Lord He answers questions for me.  Sometimes He just tells me things I wasn’t even thinking about.  He often speaks to me in the shower or when I first wake up and haven’t gotten distracted yet.  Sometimes, our conversation is more of a regular dialogue and less of a question answer session.  You know, like a regular relationship.  So as we’re chattin’, I jot down notes.

In case it’s not obvious, I have spent quite a while talking to Him about grace, love, The Resurrection, abundant life and reigning.  The more we talk about it, the more He reveals and I have begun to realize that it is truly a never-ending topic.  And for that, I am profoundly grateful.

So back to a couple of weekends ago, as we were talking, I heard a question in the back of my mind, “What would you write if you thought it wasn’t for public consumption?”

I thought about what that meant.  Honestly for a while I wasn’t sure I even understood the question.  But what I finally came around to was, if I wasn’t concerned about audience, format, topic, length, voice, marketability, etc., what would I write?

Once I understood the question I had to admit that I wasn’t sure I knew the answer.

So I sat down to find out.

I started doing some regular, spontaneous free-writing (I am sure there is some technical writing jargon for this process, but I am learning as I go and someone can tell me in the comments what it is called) just to see what would happen. So I’ve been sitting down with a blank Word document, praying and then I just start writing and see what happens.

 

Writing Desk

 

And you know what inevitably happens? Every single time no matter how I start at the beginning I end up dialoguing with God on paper instead of out loud or in my head.

And you know what we talk about?  Grace, love, Jesus, abundant life, reigning, Bible study.

I guess my point is, even when I sit down in a completely unstructured environment with no expectations or planned outcomes, this is still what’s coming out of me.  Therefore, I think it’s safe to assume for the foreseeable future it’s going to be a theme around here in this space.  My series on abundant living and reigning in life has graduated to a theme.

I would also like to take this opportunity (or should I say risk) to invite you to share your thoughts here.  Maybe you have some examples to share or ideas about what it means to walk free in Christ, to live abundantly and to reign in life.  Maybe you even disagree with my ideas.  Adventures are so much more fun when we share them together.

It’s Being Vulnerable

As I was re-reading and editing my last post, Well, It’s A Little Bit About Us, the thought kept floating through my mind that for God to truly love us (versus controlling us like robots) there is an incredible amount of risk involved, our ability to choose.  He has exposed Himself and made Himself vulnerable.  He has, in some sense, given us the ability to actually hurt Him.

He could have created Adam and Eve without free will, but He didn’t.  Not only did He give them the ability to choose, He created the choice itself.  He created the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Not only did He create both trees, He pointed out both trees (as a parent I would have just camouflaged the tree I didn’t want them to eat from so they would never know it was there).  And might I add, by saying, “Don’t” there may have been some provoking involved.  He almost seems to have forced a choice early on in the relationship.

He made Himself vulnerable over and over throughout Israel’s history.  Even when He, God Himself, the One who had just rescued them from Egypt, tried to speak to the people at Mt. Sinai they threw their hands over their ears and told Him to speak through Moses.  They couldn’t handle it.

His people rejected Him over and over, but God kept loving, kept being Love, (See 1 Corinthians 13) kept extending Himself to us, reaching out to us.

God made Himself vulnerable by giving us the ability to choose, but He wasn’t afraid of our choices.  He wasn’t terrified we would choose poorly and forever wreck things.

Why?  Because Jesus was already part of the plan.  In fact, Jesus was The Plan from the beginning.

Jesus gave us a new commandment, to no longer just love our neighbor as ourselves (old covenant), but to love others as He has loved.

How did He love? By controlling our every move and giving us a sure-fire, mistake proof, how-to manual to achieve prosperity and pain-free living? (Some would argue that the Bible is that mistake proof, how-to manual, but I find it interesting how little detail the Bible actually gives us for day-to-day living and in fact guarantees us suffering and tribulation in this life).

He made Himself vulnerable to us.  He gave all of Himself to us.  He squeezed all of Himself into a tiny earth suit and arrived here on planet earth in the most vulnerable way possible, as an infant.  In the womb, in a manger, on the run from Herod, at home (His brothers weren’t always nice to Him), in ministry (one of His closest friends was the betrayer), at His trial and on the cross.  He made Himself vulnerable in every possible way.  He gave us not only the opportunity to hurt Him, but to kill Him.

But that’s how He loves.  He took the risk.  He allowed us the opportunity to embrace or reject, to love or inflict pain.

Jesus made Himself completely vulnerable to us.  He risked pain and suffering to love us.  He freely loved, and still does, while giving us the freedom to choose our response.

If we are to love as He loved, can we do that without making ourselves vulnerable to others?  Is there a safe way to love?  Can love possibly be pain-free?  And can we truly love anyone if we place expectations on how they are to respond to our love?

Jesus, I don’t understand it and I can’t muster it up on my own. Love others through me.  Tear down the walls of fear, self-protection and control.  As I abide in You, abide in me and bear much fruit. 

Well, It’s A Little Bit About Us

In my last post, It’s All About Him, I talked about how abundant living is believing and trusting God is Who He says He is and will do what He says He will do.  And I also said, “…even though God includes us in the story and invites us to partner with Him in the story, IT’S NOT ABOUT US and the outcome does NOT depend on us.  It all depends on God, His infinite Love, amazing grace, and His Sovereign plan.”

I wanted to follow up on this a little bit because while all of that is true, I don’t want to create a sense of God being distant.

Have you ever asked yourself, “What’s the upside for God?”  Well I have.  My close friends know that for the last couple of years I have said this many, many times.  And while most of the time I was being sarcastic and funny (I know, you are shocked) I truly wanted an answer.  I truly wanted to find the purpose in all of this for God.

Back to my question…do you get my point?  I mean really, from the very beginning, Genesis chapter 3, our story is one of disobeying and rejecting God.  Even in a perfect world, the Garden of Eden, we rejected Him and His plan.

This is our story, Love reaches out to us and we reject Love.  So what does He get out of all of this?

If you back up further, I think there’s a question that comes before, “What’s the upside for God?”  I think the first question is, if God is Omniscient (and He is), “Why did He set all this in motion in the first place?”

I think Jesus told us the answer when He met Nicodemus…God so loved.  The God who is Love, the Triune God, who lived in perfect community with Himself (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit) loved so much that He wanted to express that love and multiply it.  Love created us to love us and for us to be so loved that we would multiply that love in all the earth.

Love creates, Love expresses, Love needs an object.

We were created to be loved by Love Himself and to express that love.  And that is how it becomes about us.  We are the creation and object of His love.

But He knew we would reject Him.  He knew we would reject Love instead of receiving it and living it.

So again, why?  Because He is Love regardless of what we do, whether we love Him in return or not.  He continues to be Love and to Love.  He is the definition of unconditional Love.

As believers in Jesus Christ, reigning in life is allowing the Love of God in us, that Love that created us, saves us and transforms us from the inside out, to reach out to others.  It’s exactly what God said to Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply.”  It’s the same thing Jesus said to His disciples, us, “Go make disciples.”  Jesus also said, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

How did Jesus love us?  Unconditionally, fully and completely.  He gave all of Himself for us, knowing not all of us would receive it.  Knowing in fact that many would reject His expression of love and refuse to be the object of His love.

For those of us who receive Him reigning is receiving Love and then in turn loving.  It’s allowing Love, Jesus in us, to create through us, that same Love in us to express itself, and that same unconditional Love in us to love others, the objects of His love, even if they reject Love.

And that, I believe, is how it’s about us.

It’s All About Him

Since I haven’t written much about Jeremiah for a while, I thought I would just post about him again this week.  Love this guy!

Towards the end of Jerusalem as they knew it, when it became very apparent that the city and the Temple of the Lord were on the verge of total destruction by the army of King Nebuchadnezzar, God gave Jeremiah a personal word.  In Chapter 32, He told him that his cousin, Hanamel, was going to come to him and ask him to buy his (Hanamel’s) field back in Anathoth, Jeremiah’s home town.  God told Jeremiah to buy the field from Hanamel.

There are a couple of pieces of background information helpful in making my point:  1)  Jeremiah was “…shut up in the court of the guard, which was in the house of the king of Judah (in other words, he was in jail) when God gave him this word; and 2) it was part of the Jewish law that if someone became poor enough that they needed to sell their land then their closest living relative had an obligation to buy it from them (very simplified explanation of this complicated law) in order to keep the land in the family.

So, just to be clear, Jeremiah was in jail; the entire country was getting ready to fall to the hands of the King of Babylon; Hanamel (Jeremiah’s cousin) had become poor; and God told Jeremiah to buy his land from him.

I don’t know about you, but in the natural, this makes absolutely no sense.  For us, this would be like buying a house in downtown Baghdad right after the United States declared war on Saddam Hussein.  Crazy, right?

Not only did God tell Jeremiah it was going to happen, it actually did.  And Jeremiah bought the field for seventeen shekels of silver.  According to Jeremiah 32:14, Jeremiah had two copies of the deed, “…put in an earthenware jar, that they may last a long time.”

Why?  It was a symbolic act meant to demonstrate the promise of God to His rebellious people that after their 70-year exile He would bring them home.  According to 32:15, “For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Houses and fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.’”

Getting around to my point about living an abundant life in Christ…even in the crummiest circumstances we ALWAYS have hope.  Even when our crummy circumstances are our own fault we can still have hope.  At this point in the book of Jeremiah, jail (Jeremiah was imprisoned), poverty (Hanamel had to sell his land), and defeat (the Babylonian’s destroying Jerusalem) were not the end of the story.  God is always the end of the story.  God alone is the Author and Finisher of our faith.

Why?  Because even though God includes us in the story and invites us to partner with Him in the story, IT’S NOT ABOUT US and the outcome does NOT depend on us.  It all depends on God, His infinite Love, amazing grace, and His Sovereign plan.  God is always the end of the story.  God alone is the Author and Finisher of our faith, not our enemies and not even us.

Even though the Jews had completely rebelled against God here was His promise to them:

Jeremiah 32: 36 – 44 (ESV) –  “Now therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning this city of which you say, ‘It is given into the hand of the king of Babylon by sword, by famine, and by pestilence’: Behold, I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation. I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.  “For thus says the Lord: Just as I have brought all this great disaster upon this people, so I will bring upon them all the good that I promise them. Fields shall be bought in this land of which you are saying, ‘It is a desolation, without man or beast; it is given into the hand of the Chaldeans.’ Fields shall be bought for money, and deeds shall be signed and sealed and witnessed, in the land of Benjamin, in the places about Jerusalem, and in the cities of Judah, in the cities of the hill country, in the cities of the Shephelah, and in the cities of the Negeb; for I will restore their fortunes, declares the Lord.”

Notice how that entire passage is about what God is going to do.  It’s about what only He can do.  You know what our job is?  Believe Him and trust Him to be Who He says He is and to do what He says He will do even when it doesn’t make sense to us.  That’s it.

The gospel of John calls it abiding.  Paul calls it reigning in life.  I call it wonderful.

Stay tuned next time for:  “Well, It’s a Little Bit About Us”