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”

Jesus Is Reigning in Life

I haven’t written much about our study on Jeremiah recently.  The truth is that this study is hard.  The message is heavy and sad.  And the more I learn the more I realize just how difficult Jeremiah’s life was.  I’ve talked about it before, but even now after being in this study since January, I have tears in my eyes thinking about what he endured in this life in order to serve his God and serve His people.

Not only did he share virtually the same message for well over forty years (he probably not only sounded like a broken record, he probably felt like one, too), but he was hated and despised for it.  People tried to kill him.  His own family members (the men of Anathoth) plotted against him.  God told him not to marry or have children, so he was devoid of seemingly even the smallest human comforts (no wife to hug him or little Jeremiah’s or Jeremina’s to jump in his lap after a long day of prophesying).  He often had to hide.  He was held prisoner in a cistern and almost starved to death.  There are many parts of the book that indicate he wrestled with his emotions (anger, fear, grief, and intense loneliness) and suffered with doubt and confusion – just like us.

All he truly had was the Lord.  And while we might not like to think about it this way, Jeremiah the Prophet reigned in life.  He reigned in life because all he had, everything he hoped in was all wrapped up in El Shaddai, the All Sufficient One.  He needed no one and nothing else.

God hasn’t called many of us to the type of ministry that He called Jeremiah to.  But we all face challenges (if you don’t and your life is seamless and perfect, email me, we need to have coffee so I can find out what kind of meds you and/or your family are on):  difficult jobs, health crisis (what’s the plural of crisis?), financial challenges, marriage difficulties, rebellious teenagers and 10,000 other possibilities.  I have been in seasons of my life where I have experienced several of them at the same time.

The question for us is, if nothing about our circumstances improved or even if they actually got worse, is Jesus enough?  Is the All Sufficient God of the Universe, Maker of Heaven and Earth enough for us?  Or are we willing to say that anything (pick one or pick five above) has the power to undo us?

When we stop fighting our circumstances and start embracing our Savior, we have abundant life.  When Jesus is enough we are reigning.

Love Transforms

I realize this so-called series on reigning in life may now have morphed into a general theme for the blog rather than just a series.  But then again, Pentecost Sunday isn’t until May 19th, so I guess technically speaking, in a church calendar sort of way, we’re still celebrating the Resurrection.  Shouldn’t we be doing that anyway???

I made the shocking revelation in my last post that Elf is one of my favorite movies (right up there with Steel Magnolias and Mr. Holland’s Opus) and that I believe it has some great parallels to abundant life.  I ended that post with a thought to ponder:

Love transforms us from the inside out, while the law conforms us from the outside in.

We all know there are several forms of love and in the Bible specifically, there are three.  So just for the sake of clarity let’s focus on the unconditional kind.  The kind that God has for us, agape.  Not only does God have this type of love for us, but according to 1 John 4:8, God is Love.  God is unconditional Love and through Jesus Christ we have direct access to that Love.

Not only do we have direct access to Love, but the living God, who is Love, then comes and takes up residence in us.  At salvation we are united with Christ.  It is no longer we who live, but Christ in us the hope of glory.  (Sorry for the huge leap, but I am making the assumption that we all ‘get’ the idea of the Trinity…if not, well apparently WordPress will allow me to write and post as many things as I would like and we can discuss it another day.).

So let’s just talk about the impact of that Love, the God of unconditional Love, that comes to dwell in us.

I think the Bible records the transforming power of Love most beautifully through the lives of three amazing men:  Peter, John the Beloved (as opposed to John the Baptist) and Paul.  These men were so changed by their encounters with Love and the life Love lived through them that their names were actually changed.  Simon became known as Peter;  John, a son of thunder, became John the Beloved; and Saul became Paul.  By the time Love was finished with them, they were completely different men.

Love transformed an uneducated fisherman into a pillar of the new church.  It took a man who wanted fire to come down from heaven and kill people who didn’t believe Jesus and transformed him into a man whose major theme in writing is Love.  It also took a man who followed the law to the nth degree, even killing under its authority, and transformed him into a man who wrote most of the New Testament.  And what was one of his primary messages?  That we are no longer under the law and we are to live free from the law.  We are to live by Love, Jesus’ new commandment.

What was so wrong with living by the law?  What is wrong with it now?  According to the New Testament it kills.  It brings death.  There is no life in the law.  The only life is found in Jesus who is The Way, The Truth and The Life.  By definition the law does not transform it conforms to pre-determined specifications.  It is limiting, confining.  And the truth is we can NEVER live up to the law’s expectations.

So, why do we go back to something that is going to kill us, hem us in and keep us from experiencing the unfathomable depths, heights and widths of the Love of God?  I am not necessarily talking about the over 600+ Jewish laws.  What about all the rules we put on ourselves to be closer to God, that we use to define a “good” relationship with God?

I am talking about “good” things like, a quiet time with God at 5:00 am every single morning, an hour reading the Bible every day, or being at church at least twice a week, or feeding and clothing the homeless every week.

Have you ever started the New Year with one of these goals in mind because you want a closer relationship with the Lord?  Then of course by the second week, unless you are highly self-disciplined, you have already missed a few quiet times or Bible readings because you got up late or your kids were sick or…fill in the blank.   So what happens then?  The condemnation comes.  Why?  Because that is what laws do (even the ones we place on ourselves), show us where we fail.

The problem with developing our own system (you could substitute the word law for system) for a closer walk with God is that it becomes all about us instead of Jesus.  It becomes about what we do instead of who we are.  Life in Jesus isn’t about a system or a formula, it’s about a relationship.

I am not saying there is anything inherently wrong with any of the things above, but when they become a set of rules they become death for us instead of life.  They become one more way for the enemy to tell us we don’t measure up.

The Bible doesn’t record any system Peter, John and Paul followed to be closer to God.  It records some of their relationship with God, and some of the things God LED them to do, and then the eternal fruit that came from that relationship.  They had Christ IN them and as believers we do too.  Honestly, we can’t be any closer to the Lord than Christ IN us.

As Paul told Timothy, the law is for the unrighteous.  The law, even our own moral codes and formulas, only have the power to tell us what we do wrong.  They don’t change us.  God’s Love IN us has unlimited ability to transform us, if we let it.  If we can lay down our own expectations and definitions of successful Christian living, then God can make us unrecognizable too.

Elf Yourself

Just as a follow-up to my snack food post, Guilt Free, I wanted to let those of you who may be wondering, the expensive snack I tried was good, but not great.  But since I realized I had built it up so much in my mind over several weeks that it never could have met my expectations, I did ask my husband what he thought about it.  He agreed it was good, but not great.  As further confirmation, there is still a partial bag in my pantry which means no one in my family was thrilled.

My point in that post was simply that living the resurrected life, on this side of the cross, means that we are no longer constrained by guilt.  We are in fact guilt free and that is where I would like to pick up and continue.

The reason that we are guilt free is that God so loved the world.  As believers in Jesus Christ, He set us free from the law of sin and death.  We have been crucified with Christ and have died to the law.  The law is what used to convict us and pronounce us guilty.  As believers in Jesus Christ we no longer live by the law, we live by the Spirit.  In Christ, the law no longer has the power to convict us.

We are well-loved people.  God is love and out of His divine nature He beckons us to live in that love with Him, through the blood of Jesus – or to put it another way, to put on our tiaras and reign in life and live abundantly.  Often though, we choose much less than God’s perfect love.  When I allow guilt or fear (residuals of the law) to keep me from embracing all that God has for me, then I am living a “less than” life.

So as I was thinking about what it meant to live well-loved  (e.g. embrace all that God has for me, to receive His love, to live in expectancy) and what that would look like in day-to-day life, I got this mental picture of Will Ferrell’s character Buddy the Elf.  Yes, from the movie Elf.  I really am not trying to lose all credibility here (if I ever had any), so hang in there with me for just a little longer.  By the way, Elf is one of my favorite movies and once again I have to ask you not to judge me and not to email me, I am simply sharing my heart here :).

BuddytheElf

I LOVE how Buddy moves through almost every scene in that movie expecting good things to happen.  He never self-protects, he never shields his heart, or erects walls between himself and others.  In fact, he isn’t even aware of the walls others have built to protect themselves.  He just pushes right through them.  He opens himself to everyone he meets, he celebrates even the smallest things (that “World’s Best Cup of Coffee” scene makes me laugh until I almost wet myself), he enjoys every second of his life (the “The Revolving Door Scene”).

He fully embraces other people for who they are, not what he wants them to be.  Even when his birth father rejects him at the beginning of the movie he never loses hope.  He lives well-loved (by Santa and Papa Elf) and out of that loves other people.

I realize the analogy could start breaking down at any second here so I’m going to restrain myself from going further with it.  But the truth is, I smile every time I think about it.  I could go on and on about Buddy the Elf, but by the time I elaborated on all the examples of living expectantly and well-loved, then I would really have recounted the entire film.  So, if you haven’t seen it, watch it.  If you have…well I think you get my point.

I am not advocating wearing a Happy Mask every single day.  Real is better than well-behaved.  God can deal with real, fake…well that’s just hiding and being dishonest.  Honesty, even if it is ugly, is one of the characteristics of the abundant life.

When I talk about Buddy the Elf, I am talking about living from who we are, not developing a formula for how to live.  We don’t need to all go buy elf costumes and pour maple syrup on everything we eat.  That would just be exchanging one law for another and every time we reduce living the Christian life to a formula we are cheapening the gospel.  It is so much more than a formula and a set of rules.  And yet it is simple, living in dependent relationship with God.

I am going to pause here and leave you with one more thought that I want to talk about next time:  Love transforms us from the inside out, while the law conforms us from the outside in.

How Reigning in Life Is A Little Bit Like Soccer

This post is a first for me.  Unable to go back to sleep and opening my laptop at 4:00 a.m. to write, well this could prove dangerous…or at least embarrassing.  We will have to see how this goes.  Feel free to give me feedback.

On Saturday I was sitting on the sidelines watching my youngest daughter’s soccer game and at one point Father God seemed pressed the pause button on the game to show me something.

One of her teammates (my daughter’s team is Purple and their opponent was in Blue) intercepted the ball from the Blue team along one of the sidelines.  It took her a couple of seconds to gain control of the ball.  She was trying to keep it from going out-of-bounds while turning it around and kicking it towards her teammates near the Purple team’s goal.

For just a second she had her back completely to the field, away from the rest of the players.  In that second, unbeknownst to her, a Blue team member was very swiftly, and stealthily, running up behind her to steal the ball.  She had no idea it was even coming.

However, standing right in front of her on the other side of that boundary line was her coach.  Her coach had a completely unobstructed view of the field and he saw what was coming before anyone else.  Immediately, he told her what to do.  She didn’t hesitate.  She did exactly what he said and disaster was temporarily averted.

How does this relate to reigning in life?   Well like it or not, on this side of eternity we only see in part.  No matter how close we feel to God, no matter how much He speaks to us, no matter how much we speak to Him, HE IS THE ONLY ONE WHO SEES EVERYTHING AT ONCE.  We can want to, we can try to, we can even think that we see all the possibilities, but only God actually does.

1 Corinthians 13:12 (NLT)“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.   All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”

Therefore, we had better be in constant communication with Him.  I think this is what Paul meant when he said:

1 Thessalonians 5:17 (NLT)“Never stop praying.”

Praying doesn’t have to be complicated.  It doesn’t have to be at a certain time of day for a certain length of time.  In its most simple form (you know I love SIMPLE), it is a conversation with God.  For me it is a continuous conversation with God.

If the girl in my example hadn’t been listening to her coach and looking to him for direction, she would never have known to make the adjustments necessary to save the play.

Another thing I noticed was that the coach communicated to her in more than one way.  First of all he yelled (in that encouraging, coaching, I-want-you-to-be-successful-and-WIN sort of way) at her so that she could hear him over everything else.  He also used hand signals to show her what he wanted her to do.  I don’t know whether she responded to what she heard or what she saw, but she immediately did what he said.

She did what the coach said.  Hhhhmmm…interestingly, what the coach told her may have seemed counterintuitive at the moment, but she did it anyway.  Her objective was to move the ball towards her goal so that another teammate could score.  However, in that moment when the play was in jeopardy he told her to move the ball back down the field a little bit, away from her goal, to a waiting teammate who was open and in a better position to make the play and set up the goal.

Instead of arguing with the coach that she wouldn’t accomplish her objective of setting up the goal, she trusted him and followed his instruction.  Several plays later, her team scored the goal.

Just in case I rambled at this ridiculous hour of the morning, my point is this:  a life of abundance and reigning includes a lot of conversation with God.  We may not every achieve our specific objectives (save the play or be the one to score the goal), but regardless we will be in an ever-deepening, intimate relationship with Him.

That is what I believe reigning in life really is, intimate fellowship with the Father, Abba, our Creator, the Lover of our soul.

Guilt Free

Sounds like a snack food label, doesn’t it?  Sort of like Gluten Free or Fat Free.  I suppose if it’s Gluten Free, Fat Free, Lactose Free and Low Sodium that might qualify as a Guilt Free snack.  But then again it’s probably Taste Free as well.

Speaking of guilt free snack foods and abundant life…the other day I was in Costco with my husband picking up just one thing.  Have you ever tried to go to Costco and get just one thing?  Well, that’s why I try to limit myself to one trip per week so I get everything at once because getting just one thing DOES NOT happen (can I get an amen?).  Last week I managed to forget the one thing I couldn’t get through this week without.

One thing I love about Costco is that they often have interesting products that you can’t find other places, so as I go through the isles I see new things that I would like to try.  The key phrase is that I would like to try them, but I have absolutely no sense of adventure, ESPECIALLY when it comes to food.  I know what I like and I am perfectly willing to eat it every single day of my life.

So there I am on a Monday in Costco with my husband, who is NEVER off work on a week day and NEVER gets to go to Costco with me and whose sense of adventure extends well into the culinary realm.  In other words, he is willing to try just about anything at least once and sometimes two or three times to determine if he does or does not like it.

Well, several weeks ago I spotted a snack that boasted pistachios, pomegranate seeds, dried cherries and black pepper.  I have walked past that bag of snacks every week since and every week I pick it up, read the ingredients, check the weight and then check the price…15-ounces for $10.89.  And every week I think, “That’s ridiculous,” and put it back, secretly dying to try it.

So as my hubby and I were cruising the snack isles I pointed out my fantasy snack and he grabs it and says, “Why don’t you get some and try it?”  My jaw just about hit the floor and I heard myself say, “Do you know how guilty I would feel paying $10.89 for something I’m not sure I would even like?  And it’s such a small bag?”  Sometimes he just gets the craziest ideas in his head.  And then he said, “Well, I’ll get it, we’ll pretend it’s for me and I’ll let you try some.”

And yes after knowing me and my version of crazy for over 26 years now, he knew that somehow that logic would work in my mind.  And it did.

So…why in the world would I feel guilty about buying a snack food? (Just erase food issues from your mind, I wasn’t even going there ladies.  This was all about how much it cost and how little product I felt I was getting for my money.  I’ll get to food-issue-crazy another day.)   Then I started thinking about other things I feel guilty about spending money on and why.  Yes, I did just write a post a couple of weeks ago that included a message about there being no condemnation for those who are in Christ.  I am slow.

What was there to feel guilty about?  Absolutely nothing.  Don’t get me wrong, there have been times in my adult life when $10.89 would have blown my weekly food budget and I remember it well.  Back when my husband ran his own business and we had to pray in every single dollar and every assignment that came in…well, it makes me hyperventilate just to think back on it.  The cost of that bag of snacks would have bought a week’s worth of diapers back then and it was a big deal to indiscriminately spend that much money.  But not now.

Somehow though, in those LEAN years instead of seeing them as temporary struggles to count as joy, knowing that my faith was being tested and perfected to produce endurance (see James 1:2-3), I believed a lie that I didn’t deserve good things.  I equated Christian living as doing without any and all forms of pleasure and fun.  I resigned myself to the idea that doing without somehow made one more holy and God required it.  With that mind-set, even when good things happened I couldn’t enjoy them because the guilt was too overwhelming (think everything from snacks to vacations to Christmas gifts).

Back to snack foods, abundant living and reigning in life, when Jesus said He came that we may have life and have it abundantly, I believe He truly intended for us to enjoy the good things He brings into our lives.  Whether it’s a bag of our favorite snack, a nap, a vacation, our job, our relationships, our ministries, He intends for us to enter fully into each moment with Him free from guilt.  Because as His children that is what we are, FREE FROM GUILT.

And now one more time let’s all say it together, out loud, just for me (the slow kid in the group):

Romans 8:1 (NASB) – “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!”

Led Not Driven

One Wednesday night a couple of summers ago I sat in my church listening to my pastor, McLean Faw, teach on John 10, the passage about The Good Shepherd.  Not one day has passed since that I haven’t thought about that message.  I can’t remember it word for word (I am sure I could find it in one of my MANY notebooks somewhere), but the heart of the message from God to me was, “Sheep are led, not driven.”

Sitting there that night I was weary.  And I had been weary for a very long time.  I had hit the wall again, yes the one that has made my eye wonky, and not only did I know I didn’t have it in me to pick myself back up, I knew I didn’t even want to.  Those words, “Sheep are led, not driven,” were like cold water to someone who’d been in the desert way too long.

He went on to explain the difference between sheep and cattle.  The shepherd goes ahead of sheep and the shepherd’s own sheep will follow him wherever he goes.  Cattle are driven from behind, poked and prodded and pushed.  They won’t just follow where they are led, they have to be driven.

I was being driven, by the lies of the enemy and desires of my own flesh, toward what I thought was the life God expected of me – living a life of just TRYING HARDER to be perfect, to make myself acceptable.

Right there in John 10, where Jesus is sharing about the relationship between The Shepherd and His sheep, He reveals His purpose for coming.  The whole point behind God putting on an earth suit, submitting Himself to the care of flesh and living apart from His divinity for 30+ years:

John 10:10b (AMP)“… I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows).”

Abundant life is following the Lord wherever He leads, not running towards a goal, a destination.  It’s focusing on the relationship with Him and others, not striving for a particular result.  It’s being wide open to all the possibilities available to us in Him not hyper-focused on the outcomes we desire.

Lord, give us ears to hear Your voice and help us to follow The Way to abundant Life.  Thank You that Your intentions toward us are always good and through the blood of Jesus we are righteous.