Play It Again: Love Transforms

This post originally went live in the spring of 2013, but it’s a message that plays over and over again in my mind.  Living Loved in relationship with the Father instead of living by expectations and rules…

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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.

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.

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.

The Apple Store, A Thirteen Year Old Girl, and God’s Amazing Love

Lest anyone think I sit atop a mountain of grace with this whole thing figured out, let me present Exhibit A, and allow it to testify to all the things I still need to learn about God’s great love for me.  I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but apparently every word was required in order to communicate how great God is and how slow I am.

So last week I heard the words that I dread, “Mom, my iPod screen is frozen.  I need to get it fixed.”  Why dread these words?  So many reasons:  1) I am a technology dinosaur; 2) I am not sure my kids, or anyone else’s these days, know what life apart from technology at the touch of a thumb is (therefore, I don’t know what my kids are like apart from technology, just kidding girls :)); and 3) (most importantly) I am afraid of the Apple Store.

When I say I am a technology dinosaur what I really mean is that I am lost in the world of Apple.  Who wouldn’t be overcome with panic when they have so cleverly, and intimidatingly, named the store tech support the ‘Genius Bar’?  Not only that, but in order to get to the Apple Store I actually have to go to the mall.

Malls are a whole separate problem for me.  When someone says, “Let’s go to the mall,” my blood runs cold and I start to sweat.  It’s the mass parking, all the people, all the choices in the stores, and did I mention all the people???  I just don’t like large crowds or spending lots of money or making decisions about spending lots of money and to me those are the things that going to the mall is all about.

So, back to my dilemma with the frozen iPod screen.  My daughter looked me straight in the eye and said, “We need to go to the Apple Store and they will give me a new one.”  When I resisted (because I could not believe such a thing was possible in what could be considered the worst possible customer service period of history!) she repeated it, numerous times.  My daughter is the most persistent person I know and completely uninhibited about asking for things she needs.  I have no idea what gene pool she drew from, but it was not mine.

Since I was horrified at the thought of the mall and the Apple Store (two phobias for the price of one) I told her I would see if I could Google a solution.  I was positive this has happened before and some genius twenty or thirty years younger than me had posted the solution online for me to find.  I jumped online full of faith that God was not going to make me go to the mall or the Apple Store because He loves me that much!

But of course that would be the end of the story and I am convinced God loves a really good story.

When I had to admit that my Google prowess had failed (I am otherwise known as ‘The Google Queen’) I told my daughter that I agreed that we would need to go to the Apple Store.  That was on Thursday.  I told her I thought we could work it in on the following Tuesday.  I figured this was going to be an all-day affair, I’ve heard the horror stories of others, and the following Tuesday was the first spot on my calendar that I had a long, uninterrupted block of time.  I also figured that would give me several days to mentally prepare for the trek.

Yes I know I was acting like this was going to be the equivalent of climbing Everest.  But you see, for me, it was the equivalent of climbing Everest.  And God knew that.  And He didn’t try to make me feel guilty about it.  He just met me right where I was with love and not condemnation.

When I dropped my daughter off at school Friday morning she asked me if we could try to go to the store that afternoon.  So I started to ask myself, “Why can’t I go this afternoon?”  The truth is fear was the only thing keeping me from going.

I heard a sweet whisper in my spirit to hit Google one more time.  Through a series of what appeared to be random mouse clicks (but you and I both know differently) I found that I could make an appointment that afternoon at 4:30, so I did.

My daughter got home and was ELATED when I told her we were going.  I, however, felt like I was preparing to enter a medieval torture chamber.  I couldn’t imagine any scenario where this went well.  I thought we were going to be there for hours and at the end of the day my daughter was still going to have a broken iPod, which translates to a broken heart for a teenager.

We arrived at the mall at 4:10 and headed in through one of the department stores.  I told my daughter I didn’t know where the store was and she said, “Why don’t you ask that lady?”  Duh.  I think I wrote something about self-sufficiency LAST WEEK!!!  Probably the day the iPod broke.  The lady at the make-up counter gladly pointed us in the right direction and off we went.

As we turned the corner into the store I almost had a full-blown panic attack (as if everything else I have recorded in this post hasn’t proven I need to be on meds).  The store was wall-to-wall people.  My heart started to race and I think I stopped breathing for a few seconds…I hold my breath when I am stressed, like I am waiting for a punch in the stomach.

God showed up.

My daughter led me to a friendly young man with an iPad.  We told him we had an appointment.  He said, “Great!” and asked us to wait over by the wall.  Before heading there I said something like, “You should serve alcohol.”  He laughed.  I think he must hear that a lot.

Within five minutes a kind, older woman walked up to us, introduced herself and started looking at the iPod.  After no more than two minutes she looked up and said, “I’ll be right back with your new iPod.”  Since we all know my hearing is not great, I looked at my daughter and asked, “What did she say?”  She replied, “She said, ‘I’ll be right back with your new iPod.’  I told you mom!”

The truth is, until we were walking out of that store and got into our car with a new iPod (a mere 20 minutes after our arrival at the mall), I still didn’t believe it.  How could this have been that easy?  It didn’t cost me a dime.  It barely cost me an hour on a Friday afternoon and it was 100%, completely taken care of.  I didn’t have to ask her to do anything.  She assessed the problem and solved it for us.

It was ridiculously easy.  I still can hardly believe it.  I can also hardly believe the unnecessary stress I put myself through.  By the time I pulled out of my parking spot my stomach was hurting from having been in a knot all day.  On the drive home my daughter was so happy and kept saying, “I knew it.  I knew they were going to give me a new one.”  And it’s true, she never doubted for a minute she was going to leave with anything less than a working iPod.

So I asked the Lord, why didn’t I know it?  Why didn’t I expect something good to happen?  Then He showed me all the ways He had been good to me through the whole process – leading me to make an appointment, giving me the perfect parking spot, the lady at the make-up counter who gave us directions, my daughter who confidently led me through the entire process, the kind check-in guy with the iPad, the sweet Genius Bar lady who gave us the new iPod.

My point, in relationship to reigning in life and abundant living?  When our tiaras are on straight, we live in expectancy; expectancy of God’s goodness towards us and His love for us, not necessarily of perfect outcomes.  We can walk through the most challenging situations (even if they are only in our minds) knowing that God has good things in store for us regardless of the results.

Even if we had not walked out of that store with a new iPod, God was amazing to us every step of the way.

Thank You Father that Your love never fails.  You are faithful even when we are faithless.  Thank You for mercies that are new EVERY SINGLE DAY even when we struggle to receive them!

It’s Not Without Risk

The last post contained three VERY key messages from our Father, straight to our hearts.  They are so important (and I am so slow and forgetful) that I just want to recap: 1) There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus; 2) your flesh patterns (another word for coping mechanisms) are not who you are; and 3) your flesh (and mine) was never designed to work in the first place.

Now that I’ve covered lots of things that definitely aren’t found in abundant living (TRYING HARDER, fear, and self-sufficiency), it’s time to look at some things that are (I heard the collective sigh of relief from your side of the screen :)).  The first one I want to talk about is honesty.  I know it seems obvious, but is it really?

This week in our Bible study group we got to an interesting place in Jeremiah chapter 26.  In that chapter God tells Jeremiah to stand in the court of the Lord’s house, the temple in Jerusalem, and speak to ALL those who come to worship ALL the words He commands.  And then just for emphasis God says, “Do not omit a word!”  And yes, the NASB includes the exclamation point (verse 2).

Here is what God has Jeremiah say:

Jeremiah 26:4-6 (NASB) “And you will say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord, “If you will not listen to Me, to walk in My law which I have set before you,  to listen to the words of My servants the prophets, whom I have been sending to you again and again, but you have not listened; then I will make this house like Shiloh, and this city I will make a curse to all the nations of the earth.”’”

And here is the response of all who heard the words from God:

Jeremiah 26:8 (NASB) “When Jeremiah finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, the priests and the prophets and all the people seized him, saying, “You must die!”

Let’s just camp here for a minute.  Jeremiah faithfully gave the word of the Lord and the immediate response of the people was a call to kill him.   Can you imagine the look on Jeremiah’s face as they turned to grab him?  I am sure he was confident of what the Lord called him to say, but don’t you think that at that moment he must have quaked in his sandals just a little bit?

If this were a game of chess then in a natural sense we’d have to question Jeremiah’s next move.  He restated God’s first message to them (vv. 12-13) and then added:

Jeremiah 26:14-15 (NASB) “But as for me, behold, I am in your hands; do with me as is good and right in your sight.  Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood on yourselves, and on this city and on its inhabitants; for truly the Lord has sent me to you to speak all these words in your hearing.”

In a very difficult, stressful, life and death situation, Jeremiah fully placed his trust in the Lord (he said he was in their hands, but we know who he really trusted in, right?) and he spoke the truth.  He didn’t back down.  He didn’t soften the message.  He didn’t run.  He didn’t even burst into tears.  Even when his life was on the line he spoke the truth.

I can’t say that I’ve ever found myself in a life and death situation that depended on what I did or did not say, but I have been in plenty of VERY UNCOMFORTABLE situations where I was so worried about what was going to happen next (e.g. someone yell at me, someone get angry with me, someone not like me, etc.), that I either didn’t say what I was thinking at all or I didn’t say exactly what I was thinking in order to soften the message.

Let me bottom line it for you, I was not being truthful.  I was trying to protect myself and trying to control outcomes so that everything and everyone remained civil and polite.  But there was a war raging inside of me.

Not being honest about how you feel or what you really think (even if it is super ugly), is not abundant living.  It’s painful living.  When we do things to protect ourselves and control outcomes instead of trusting God, we are erecting walls around our hearts that keep Father God and those we love out.  Eventually there’s a price to be paid for it too – a cold heart.

Since I said we were going to start discussing what abundant living and reigning in life DO look like, let me turn my example around to say, honesty and transparency are hallmarks of abundant living and reigning in life.  But there’s risk involved, it can be dangerous to wear a tiara (or a crown in Jeremiah’s case).  It gives people the opportunity to do you harm, just like the people who wanted to kill Jeremiah.  But my trust isn’t in them, it’s in the Lord.  Every time I choose to be honest and transparent it demonstrates that trust and draws me closer to Him.  It opens my heart for intimacy with Him and others.

And Now, This Important Message from Our Sponsor

Actually there are several important messages, not just one, from Our Sponsor (Father God) I would like to share in this post.  If you have been following along in this series that I now affectionately refer to as ‘Tiara Tilters and Abundance Drainers’ (and even if you haven’t, all of the following is still true for you too because God is awesome like that), I have been focusing on what reigning in life and abundant life DO NOT look like according to God’s Word and how it has played out in my personal experience.

So the first message from Our Sponsor is:

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

If you have personally identified with any of the ways I have lived a less than abundant life or recognize anyone that you know in my experience, know this, God is not here to condemn you about all the ways you’ve lived this Christian life wrong.  If that were true I wouldn’t make it out of bed each day…oh wait, I’ve done that.  But it was only a couple of times :), or three.  Please don’t judge me.

Know this too, I am not sharing any of this from a position of self-condemnation.  I am sharing as a woman on a journey.  I am not where I want to be, but I am not where I was either.  I used to live in that place of trying harder, fear, and self-sufficiency (and a hundred other things I will never have time to share and you would never want to read), but now I visit there less often.  I still battle my flesh daily, but my automatic, go-to responses for dealing with life are not the same.  So please don’t read this and think, “Poor Kim.”  While I would prefer to have done this all right the first time around, I realize that our experiences, even the horrendous-don’t-want-to-even-talk-about-try-hard-to-forget ones are all part of the process.

The second message from Our Sponsor is (and I would highly recommend you memorize this because it is life changing):

YOUR FLESH IS NOT WHO YOU ARE!!!

Galatians 2:20 (HCSB) “…and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. “

Just in case I haven’t been clear about this, when I (or anyone else) function in the ways I described above and in previous posts, I am living out of my flesh, as opposed to being led by the Holy Spirit who dwells in me.  Trying harder, fear, and self-sufficiency and all of their manifestations were simply coping mechanisms for dealing with the difficult things in life.  And just to make it even more clear, EVERYONE does this to some extent.  Life is hard.  We are frail.

Our coping mechanisms or flesh patterns are what we do, they are not WHO WE ARE.  It is very important that we get this distinction.  It’s the difference between behavior and identity.  As believers in Jesus Christ our identity is in Him.

As a funny/sad side note, about a year ago I really started getting a clear picture of my flesh and the scope of how it has impacted my life.  I realized that if someone asked most of the people I knew to describe me that they would do so based on my coping mechanisms.  I laughed and cried.  I began asking God to show me who I am apart from my coping mechanisms because the truth is I didn’t know.  I’ll let you know when I find out because He and I are still peeling that onion together.

The third and final message from Our Sponsor for this post iiiiiissssssss (can you hear the drum roll in the background, a big crescendo and a clash of cymbals?):

OUR FLESH WAS NEVER DESIGNED TO WORK, TO SUCCEED OR GET US THROUGH LIFE!

You know how I know this is true?

Romans 7:5(NASB)  “For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death.”

Romans 8:6 (NASB)  “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace,” 

John 6:63 (NASB)  “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.”

The Father is all about giving us life.  The efforts of our flesh (good flesh or bad flesh, it doesn’t matter) bear the fruit of death.  And that my friends was one of the many ways I knew something was seriously wrong…I could smell the stench of rot in my life.  Everything I was busy doing or not doing was yielding a whole lot of what I like to call Death Fruit.  I dressed that fruit up, I made it look good, but I could never cover up the smell of rotting flesh.

So if you are confused, frustrated, noticing a bad smell following you around, asking God why you ever started reading this series or wondering where you go from here if it’s not supposed to work anyway, STAY TUNED!  It gets so much better!

Father, thank You that because of Jesus Christ we don’t live under condemnation, even when we fail or live in ways less abundant than You designed.  Thank You that we are not defined by what we do, but who we are in Christ.  And thank You that You love us so much that You desire us to live in intimacy with You.  I humbly ask that any area of my life where my flesh is propping me up that it would fail so that I can walk in deeper relationship with You.

Your Tiara Might Be Tilted If…

I had some hysterical conversations with people after my last post.  One friend said that she got a mental picture of me running headlong into a wall I never saw coming.  When I hit the ground I ‘gracefully’ picked myself up and took a few steps back and did it again…and again…and again.  We agreed that yes this is the cause of my wonky eye.

The good thing is that I must have clearly presented the message because that is exactly what I saw in my mind when I wrote the post.

The other thing I saw in my mind about hitting the wall was the character Annelle Dupuy in ‘Steel Magnolias’.  At the point in the movie when she finds out her husband of two weeks is in trouble with the law and has left her with no money or clothes she looks at her new employer, and says, through tears and a stiff upper lip, “Miss Truvy, I promise my personal tragedy will not affect my ability to do good hair.”  She didn’t see the wall coming either.

It has always been my goal that no matter what kind of hell I was walking through that it not affect my ability to do anything…especially if it involved rescuing someone else.  Just nod at your computer monitor if you have ever heard me say to myself, “Just suck it up and keep moving.”

After my last post I also heard someone say that her tiara is not crooked, but has actually fallen off and she thinks she has now been sitting on it so long that she may need to use Ex-Lax if she ever wants to see it again.  I really couldn’t have said that any better myself, so I asked if I could quote her as long as I left out her name.

(It’s really not my goal to embarrass anyone other than myself.  There is a fine line sometimes between my story and other peoples’ stories and to the best of my ability I will try not to cross it in dishonoring ways.)

Through the laughter (and a couple of shed tears) I realized that the first several times I hit the wall and gracefully picked myself up it was because I didn’t recognize the warning signs.  So just in case you have stuck with me through this series (which I promise is not going to last forever even though it may seem that way), but have yet to identify with one thing I have said about what it DOES NOT mean to live abundantly or reign in life, a few thought-provoking questions might be in order.

If you answer yes to any (or all) of the following very-scientific-psychologist-approved-unfailingly accurate questions, you might need to talk to the Lord about the position of your tiara:

  • Am I tired most of the time? (I mean for most of your life or at least entire decades)
  • Do I have an inability to say no when people ‘need’ me?
  • Do I throw on my Superwoman (or man) cape and spring into action at the first hint of guilt?  Or worse, do I just leave on my Superwoman cape so I am always at the ready?
  • More often than not, do I do things because I ought to not because I want to?
  • Do I say, “I am sorry” ALL THE TIME (almost compulsively) even when I have nothing to do with whatever happened?
  • Do I feel responsible for other people and their decisions? (I mean the whole world)
  • Do I constantly worry about making mistakes? Follow up:  Do I feel like the fate of my destiny (and those around me) hinges on me getting every single decision right?
  • Do I feel like a total failure if I make any mistake, no matter how big or small?  Or to ask it another way, do I feel like I have to be perfect?
  • Do I embarrass easily and frequently?
  • Do people often tell me that I am good, invaluable or indispensable and they don’t know what they would do without me?
  • Do I have unresolved, long-term digestion problems or health problems in general?
  • Do I change the subject when people ask how I am?  Or, is my default answer to that question, “Fine” because I really am not sure how I am?
  • If my sweet husband (or wife) asks where I would like to eat dinner (or what movie I would like to see or what I would like to do together), do I often draw a total blank?  Do I say I don’t care and defer to the desires of someone else?
  • Do I know how I feel?  Do I think it’s wrong to be angry?  Do I think some emotions are bad or wrong?
  • Do my family and closest friends struggle to buy me gifts? (Because they DO NOT EVER know what I like, want or need)
  • Do I struggle with a sense of loneliness even when I am with other people?
  • Is every second of every day jam-packed with activities?  Follow up:  Do I appear to be more busy than others around me?
  • Do I have a general lack of peace?
  • Do I despise asking for help?
  • Do I own a t-shirt that says, “Suck It Up Buttercup” or have I seriously considered making my own?
  • Do I move through life trying not to be a bother to others?
  • Do I worry about God being angry with me or punishing me if I don’t do things exactly right?
  • Am I hyper-vigilant about keeping ALL. THE. RULES. ALL. THE. TIME.?
  • When good things happen to me do I struggle to embrace and enjoy them?

While my little list of questions is partially tongue in cheek, it is designed (and I use that term very loosely, more like scribbled on the back of a napkin) to make us think about whether or not we are reigning in life.

We all experience these things periodically, but if they tend to be the norm or if they seem to be true ALL AT ONE TIME, then ask the Lord about it.  He has a much better way and He is quite eager to share it with us.  I didn’t know it for a very long time, about 36 years, but the gospel really is good news.  In fact, much better than I ever imagined.

God really does want to see that tiara beautifully resting on top of your gorgeous head and it hurts His heart to see us settle for less.

Amen.

Could Someone Help Me Straighten My Tiara?

I laughed to myself after my last post because I started thinking about how this series really could have been positioned as letters of apology to my family.  I didn’t live Trying Hard and Fearful somewhere alone in a cave.  I did it right up front and center in my own home.

I really would like to say thank you to my poor husband who is my polar opposite, but has loved me and endured all my attempts to figure this walk out for over 26 years.  When I talked about ‘mothering’ fearfully, I did use that word specifically because parenting is a two-person process (really five if you are wise enough to include the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit).  When our girls were little my husband was definitely a ‘let-them-touch-the-hot-stove-so-they-never-do-it-again’ kind of guy, while I was a ‘let’s-cordon-off-the-entire-kitchen-so-they-never-even-know-there-is-a-stove’ kind of girl.  It never occurred to me that God had put the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden in the first place AND had actually pointed it out to Adam and Eve.  I am a slow learner.

Somehow God knew that if He paired us together our kids just might make it.  And they have more than made it.  They are all three beautiful miracles who love God and all have their unique expression of Him.  It is a testimony to God’s goodness and not to any formula I managed to concoct and adhere to.

So back to ways not to reign in life…I always think of tiaras when I think of reigning (Princess Diana and Princess Grace rocked the tiaras!).

My mom likes to say that I was born 40 years old.  She was referring to the fact that I seemed so mature and responsible for my age, almost adult-like.

Well, on the outside it made me a ‘good’ child, but on the inside it was a crushing weight.  Somewhere along the way I believed a lie that I was responsible for EVERYTHING.  How I got there is complicated, but let me just say that all the approval I got for being mature, responsible and good, launched me on a life of independence and self-sufficiency.

I learned very early on that if I didn’t do it, no one else would.  Sadly, I even believed this about God.  I lived thinking (not necessarily consciously) He wasn’t very good at His job so if anything good was going to happen in my life I would have to make it happen.  There are a 1000 ways this played out like killing myself to get straight A’s in school, working full-time in high school, going to the right college, and above all else NEVER asking for help.

It’s a very lonely existence being Superwoman.  No one ever asks if you need anything because you’ve trained them not to.  And when you do raise your hand (think of a drowning person weakly lifting their hand above the surface of the water), often there is no response because you have so distanced yourself from others.  True community and relationships are forged in a mutual dependency on one another and God.  I knew absolutely nothing about that.

There’s a reason the Bible tells us to ‘bear one another’s burdens.’  We can’t walk this journey alone.  We either won’t get very far or we will be crushed under the weight of it.

The funny thing is I did have relationships, but they were based on need.  Other people needing me.  I forged fast friendships based on some way I could help others.  But when it came to my needs I felt as if there were something wrong with either having them or sharing them.

Jesus said in Matthew 11:28 (NASB)“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

I thought that verse was just in there for the weak people.  I had no idea Jesus was talking to me and that in fact He had become my Sabbath rest.  I could actually cease striving for my own success because it was really all wrapped up in Him.

I didn’t get it until my good flesh stopped working for me.  I hit the wall.  Actually I hit the wall a bunch of times (maybe that explains my wonky eye???), but when I finally hit it and then could no longer pick myself back up it made me ask, “Why?”  Asking why and honestly being open to the answer was the beginning of a paradigm shift.

Bottom line:  Self-sufficiency is definitely another tiara-tilter and abundance-drainer!

And Then There Is Fear

Since this turned into something of a series on abundant life and reigning in life (see The Day After and Abundant Life?), it probably would have been helpful to title them consistently and add numbers.  I guess hindsight really is 20/20.  Thank you for your patience, I am learning as I go and really enjoying the process.

The process, I use that term loosely, but what I mean by that is sitting down and talking to the Lord about the things He is doing and has done in my life and asking Him to help me articulate them…as much for me as for anyone else.  So if it ever seems as if I am thinking out loud on the computer screen, I probably am.

My thoughts turned to abundant life and reigning in life as I reflected on the importance not only on the celebration of Resurrection Sunday, but celebration of the Resurrected life.  The truth is, as believers the cross represents the crucifixion of our old self (our human spirit that was dead to God), our burial, and our resurrection (us made alive together with Christ).  Shouldn’t our lives be different?  If ‘Christ in us, the hope of glory’ is true, well…that’s a total game changer, if we let it be.

Thinking about this it seemed the obvious place to start was with what abundant life is not, since that really is the part I am most familiar with :).  I think I made a good case in my last post for the idea that TRYING HARDER IS NOT ABUNDANT LIVING (is it true that when you use all caps it’s like raising your voice to your reader?  Please let me know because I want to scream that from the mountain tops)!  My life is an honest example of the truth in that statement.

Another honest example from my own life is that FEAR is not reigning in life.  The fact that I had so many of these to choose from (fear examples) made this post hard to write.  Fear based living could become a series within a series…or a book.  The easiest one to see is in how I mothered my girls.

Every decision I agonized over was based on the fear that if I made the wrong one their lives would be forever off-track, the perfect track, God’s track.  School was a big one for me.  I knew early on that homeschooling was not for us, but I didn’t feel public school was ‘safe’, so at great financial cost I insisted my kids go to Christian school for several years.  That way they would be in the right environment, with the right friends, learning the right Christian things to keep their lives on the right track.

It finally became financially obvious that we could no longer continue in Christian school, so we enrolled them in public school.  You know what?  In the beginning I felt very defeated by this, like I had failed and because of that the enemy had really gotten a victory.  However, it turned out to be the best thing we could have done for them (one more instance of lacking perspective).  Has it been perfect? No, but honestly the things we’ve faced in public school were not really any different from Christian school.  People are people wherever you go.

I am not advocating thoughtless, careless parenting, but at some point don’t you just have to trust that God is bigger than your mistakes?  I can’t protect them from every possible danger that can potentially come their way, but I can place my trust in the One who can.

While mothering has been a very pronounced example of how I’ve lived in fear, the truth is I’ve lived afraid of a lot of things.  Afraid that if I didn’t pray and read my Bible every day that I wouldn’t have God’s favor.  Afraid that if I made a mistake God wouldn’t love me, bless me, use me (fill in the blank).  Afraid that as a Christian I wasn’t representing God very well if my life wasn’t perfect (talk about carrying a huge weight – it’s a miracle I can even stand up straight any more).  Afraid that if I wasn’t doing enough for the Lord He might get angry.

What was I afraid would happen?  The absolute worst, whatever that was.

The apostle John had this to say about fear:

1 John 4:18 (NASB) – “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.”

John was exactly right.  I had met Perfect Love, but I didn’t really trust Him to be Lord.  I walked around waiting for the other shoe to drop, expecting the punishment I was sure I deserved for all the mistakes I was sure I was making.

But you know how the Lord handles our mistakes?  He confronts them with His love, not His wrath.  Two of the biggest mistake makers in the New Testament, Paul and Peter, prove this.  Paul was actually murdering followers of Christ and was on his way to kill even more when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus and you know what Jesus said to him?

Acts 9:4-6 (NASB) – “… and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”  And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am
Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the
city, and it will be told you what you must do.”

Paul wasn’t even a believer at that point, but Jesus simply confronted him with a question.  A question that immediately revealed to Paul (then Saul) what was in his own heart and who Jesus was.  And then He told Paul what to do.

Then there is Peter.  The disciple who swore his willingness to die for Jesus (John 13) and then turned around and denied even knowing Him that same night (John 18).  Talk about a mistake!  How did Jesus handle it?

John 21:15-17 (NASB)“So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.”

Jesus dealt with his mistake by asking him questions that caused Peter to think and then He gave him instructions.  Just like He did with Paul.  Their mistakes were confronted by Perfect Love, not punishment.

So, all that to say, living in fear is NOT reigning in life, but apparently living loved IS.