Sunday, December 30, 2012

I Will Find a Way

Growing up, love was a four-letter word.  It lived down the road, or around the corner…anywhere but in my house.  After an innocent need to say, “Excuse me,” I commonly heard, “There’s no excuse for you.”  After I won the national DECA championship as a senior in high school (a marketing organization keen on training and raising up the next generation of business professionals and entrepreneurs) my mother retorted with, "I always knew you could bull-@#*! your way out of a paper bag."  My “brother”, a 20-pound ball of fur with fangs, chased me up the stairs nightly, egged on by both parents and pounding fists on the two-story walls.  Parental entertainment at my expense occurred regularly.  But the words “I love you”?  As I already told you: a four-letter word.  My young, injured heart took cover like a child playing hide-n-seek in the curtains. 

Now that I’m a parent myself I realize my parents did the best they could…really.  Without the Lord in their hearts, their best was as tainted and skewed as the sin-ridden world surrounding them.  No human love is perfect, even if you do love the Lord, or your children more than chocolate.  And while I vowed “not to do what they did,” this conviction alone ensured nothing.  Not doing the wrong thing does not equal the right thing.  I was still human; no human love is perfect.  There had to be a more perfect union between the human and the heavenly.  There had to be a better way to love the children under my own roof.Enter in Love Day.  

Jeff and I used to poo-poo Valentine's Day.  We called it a commercialized opportunity to fill the coffers of American enterprise in the name of looooove (insert long, southern drawl here).  I knew Jeff loved me. And my hips really did not want a box of chocolates to prove it (really, they didn’t). But it seemed unnatural to overlook the children on Valentine's Day.  The least I could do was make a big deal out of the one day when they most expected to be loved, right?

 Love Day started on the all-expected February 14th when Sam, in all the wisdom of Solomon, lamented, "I wish we had Valentine’s Day every month!"  Now I'm sure his wish had everything to do with scoring extra sugar on a monthly basis, but he had a point.  Why not love regular into these precious little hearts?  Why not establish a tradition of long-expected affection?  Isn’t that just what our heavenly Father does?  Love passionately; love patiently.  Love with a deep, deep love that, like the song testifies, is vast, unmeasured, boundless, and free?  Sam was onto something.  Every month’s 14th day was hereafter proclaimed, “Love Day.”

In preparation I bought out the local Dollar Store: left-over candy, heart-shaped everything (from plates to place mats to balloons), anything red and sparkly.  (And on February 15th it was all on sale!!) When Love Day came around March 14th, I would be ready.

But while my human aspirations soared, my human actions fell flat.  I forgot.  March 14th, April 14th, May 14th all came and went.  By June, Love Day was long-lost memory, but not long-forgotten. 

“Lord, what am I missing?  I so desperately want to love these children as you love me, and yet I forget, or more honestly blow-off my chance to love on these children.  How can I make this a more perfect love?

"Tell them how much I love them" He replied.Ahhhh.  The crickets from last week danced a little tango while the Truth of this settled in.  Tell them of the love of Christ.  Tell each one how much they are treasured and lifted up and purposed for God’s Kingdom.  I am only human, and human love is never perfect.  But God will never fail them.  God loves them with an everlasting love.  God loves them perfectly: vast, unmeasured, boundless, free.

So I set to work writing individual love letters to each child, straight from Scripture.  Nothing more, and definitely nothing less. 

Dearest Sarah,

See how very much your heavenly Father loves you, for He allows you to be called His child, and you really are!
- God (1 John 3:1, NIRV)

Dear Emilie,
I have loved you with an everlasting love.- God (Jeremiah 31:3, NASV)

You belong to me, my dear Samuel.  The Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.  - God (1 John 4:4, NLT) 

I may not have experienced perfect love at home, but Jesus understood my experience perfectly. And He already had a rescue plan for the child behind the curtains.

“No hiding place has ever kept her save,” He says.  “So she hides inside herself.  Now to reach her heart the only way, is to hide in there as well.  I will hide in there as well.” (I Will Find a Way, Jason Gray on the album Christmas Stories)

And that's the point.  Love Day is perfect because it pulls back the curtains on a child’s heart.  Jesus captured my heart by hiding inside with the fearful little girl.  He wants to do the same for these four precious souls.  I can either fill their hearts once a year with tokens of an imperfect love.  Or I can fill it regularly with treasures of perfection – God’s very Word. 

"I like that one," Sam, my doubting Thomas, says after the second Love-letter delivery.  And I watch as True Love’s words set something free inside his heart.  Jesus just took residence in a corner previously kept hidden.

Might I Pray for You?

Dearest Jesus,
We know you love us.  Without flowers or chocolates or cards, your love lives deep inside our hearts.  Forgive us for expecting human tokens of imperfect love to have the same impact as Your Word - heavenly treasures of perfection.  Show us how to love with the love of Christ; how to live with the love of Christ; how to forgive with the love of Christ.  Thank you for loving us day in and day out; for seeking us in our hiding places; for wanting to do the same for our precious little ones.  Help us to trust You to find a way to hide in there as well. Amen.

Notes of Encouragement

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Arms Full of Grace and Truth

The crisp 40 degree wind nipped at my nose and frightened my bare fingers.  Ahhh…fresh air, time alone (!) and a winding wooded path ahead.  My natural response?  An old song that that comes effortlessly: "Oh God, you are my God.  And I will ever praise you..."  Oh don't go imagining that any of that was in tune or in the right key, or even out loud.  It wasn't.  But in my mind it was perfect.

Anyway, I'm out walking, singing silently when I remember the first time I crooned this tune…

Back in college I visited my boyfriend's childhood home over an extended break. His mother....oh Mom Beers, how I love you...his mother loved on me in ways I didn't think humanly possible. She didn't lavish me with gifts, or a Martha Stewart reception, but she loved me with her whole heart, a heart wholly in love with Jesus.

I woke up the first morning in her home, in a place where Jesus truly had made a home, and my natural response?  A song.  I sang that same song, not quietly to myself, but out loud.  I sang with all the heart I had and somehow even wished Mom Beers would hear me and come in, for I just knew she would sit down and sing with me (although I really didn't even know her yet).  "Oh God, you are my God.  And I will ever praise You.  I will seek you in the morning and I will learn to walk in your ways, and step by step you'll lead me, and I will follow you all of my days."  (Please, just imagine a good ‘ol 80’s style Rich Mullens tune).

Now here I am, twenty years later, singing the same old gig, seeking the same good God, asking for the same thing. "Lord, teach me to walk in your ways.  Lead me step by step.  Yet again, I promise to follow you all of my days."

Until I tore my ACL last May, walking was my time alone with God.  Even when I was walking with one child in a stroller, another biking with training wheels, and two more defying death ahead of me on the sidewalk, I was alone with my thoughts and my God.  Because of the surgery, my lifestyle shifted suddenly and so did my habits.  Fresh-air time waned.  My God conversations dwindled.  My life, like my lungs longing for the crisp whip of the wind, felt stagnant. I need to take a walk…

"Where have you been?" I asked the Lord.

"Right here" He said.  I knew that.  I wanted to know why I felt so alone.

"Then why haven't I heard you?" I asked.

"You haven't been listening, My child."

"Lord, I'm tired.  I'm confused.  I can hardly get around properly and there is so much to do.  The children ask so much of me and right now I feel like an empty of cup of coffee at 6AM.  I don’t want to care for any more needs.  I just want a friend.”  I let it all hang out.  He listened. 

“Like tonight.  I just wanted to enjoy the Christmas Candlelight Service, but what did they need?  A jacket on the floor (not to wear mind you, just to have out of her sister's hands), a bulletin to draw on, a lap to sleep on, a shoulder to lean on (three of them - at the same time!), an ear to hear their complaints about it being too dark, and too cold, and this taking too long.  And I haven’t even mentioned the head-butt right into my nose as I leaned over to counsel the sulking 10-yr old.  I'm tired of giving.  I have nothing left to give.  I want to enjoy this precious family and instead I resent what little I have left at the end of the day."

Crickets.  (Remember - I was there listening for His voice, right?)

"Lord?"  Had I walked too far off the path?

"Are you ready? You're not going to like my answer." He replied.

I wasn't ready, but I couldn't stand the thought of walking away from His voice.  "Bring it on.  I just need to hear from You."

"Tracey, are you tired of responding to children who act just like you?"

The crickets were now having a family reunion.

"You come to me only when you need something.  You only come to get something – get peace of mind, get time alone, get wisdom for life.  You, like your children, come to meet your needs.  When was the last time you came just to meet Me?  Just to receive My love? Just to be my beloved?  You don't know Me yet, Tracey.  You only know the law."

It's been a one-way street, this following Jesus all of my days. I think I've been giving Him my early mornings, my (sporadic) prayers, my time in His Word, but in reality, it's Jesus who has been giving me all I ask for; giving me all I come to take; giving me all I think I "need".  I come to receive counsel and He counsels.  I come seeking comfort and He soothes.  I come to gain protection and He defends.  He offers more than I can ask or imagine, and the only thing I offer is another unfulfilled need.  No wonder I don't really know Him yet.

"But I want to know you Jesus!  I want to know what people mean when they sing, 'What a friend I have in Jesus.' But in all honesty I don't really have a clue!  You are God.  You are my Savior and Redeemer...but are you really my Friend?"

This following Jesus is not like following a law.  The law requires that I do all sorts of things "right" for Jesus.  In fact, that’s what I do best.  I do my devotionals.  I do school with the children.  I do the dishes, the laundry, and sometimes even diner.  I can do all sorts of things, but I can’t do a relationship with Jesus.

Following Jesus is more like yearning after a dear friend.  Jesus may have come to earth to fulfill the law, but He also came with arms full of grace and truth (John 1:14).  Like a subject under the law, I considered Him the King whom I earn the right to stand before.  But with arms full of Grace, He is more like the loving Father who, after nearly losing His beloved child to certain death, celebrates her very presence and delights in her company.  The Law requires doing what needs to be done so I can receive what I think I deserve.  Grace offers what I don't deserve at all - a Savior, a Redeemer, and yes, even a Friend.  If I abide by the law, my needs are met.  If I abide by Grace, I meet Jesus in my needs.

What a difference it would make if I acted like the Christian I claim to be - a little Christ.  Instead of doing so much and drowning in all my children's needs, I may just be for my children what Christ is for me – a counselor, a defender, a protector, a friend.

Might I Pray for Us?

Dearest Jesus,

I want to learn to replace the law with Grace.  I want to learn to follow You.  Not follow another set of requirements that wear me out, but follow after You as one seeking the companionship of a dear friend.  And yet, I shy away from relationship and seek You merely to fulfill another need.  Help me to stop do-ing what I think will earn my right to stand in your presence, and help me be in relationship with You.  Help me to see my relationships here on earth as a reflection of Your relationship with me – not a set of laws to follow in order to earn their affection, but rather an opportunity to be in relationship with my children.  Be their counselor.  Be their comforter.  Be their defender.  Be their friend.

I love you, Jesus. Forgive me for treating you like a tyrant king and grant me Grace to be-friend You in my weaknesses.  Amen.

Words of Affirmation:

“We have almost forgotten that God is a Person…The continuous and unembarrassed interchange of love and thought between God and the soul of the redeemed man is the throbbing heart of New Testament religion."

-A.W. Tozer: The Pursuit of God

Notes of Encouragement:

This song from Third Day caught me off guard while washing the dishes.  I love singing along with his deep, deep voice.  Click here to sing along with me.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Investing in Penniless Titles (#71 - 77)

Soul Idolatry.  That's what he called it.  A bowing down.  A reverence not for God the Creator, but for God's created.  Worshiping anything (a person, a place, an object, even an idea) in God's place to give you only what God can give you - saving Grace.  For the Gospel saves by Grace.  Soul Idolatry attempts to save by any other means available.

Pastor Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church nicknamed this deity exchange "soul idolatry."  "Any good work done in the name of the Lord is fruitless unless it exposes the idols of the heart," he said.  "Christian counseling must discern, expose, and ultimately destroy idols if it is to do any good thing".  In other words, working in Christ's name is akin to doing nothing if the subject of idolatry is avoided - nothing - no thing worth doing.  For the seed of all sin rests in idolatry (Romans 1).

That's quite a statement. No good thing?  Well, if modern day idols are so pivotal, they sure breath an air of elusiveness - a shadow of evil that I can't quite wrap my mind around.  So I've been studying.

Dr. Ted Tripp rocked my world by exposing the idols of childhood in Shepherding a Child's Heart.  Francine Rivers brought me to tears over my own unbelief in Redeeming Love.  And the Lord has continually whispered warnings against false gods throughout my days.  But this message.  This message from Tim Keller finally brought soul idolatry into focus. 

I have been studying this subject too closely.  Like those pictures on the back cover of a Highlight's Magazine for Children - where a close-up of a strawberry seed looks like Mt. Everest resting on the red sea - I've been wandering my wilderness arbitrarily inspecting roots when I couldn't even identify trees.  I missed the big picture.  Tim Keller's message widened my perspective. 

Idols come in three varieties:  lovers, masters, and saviors.

Like a lover, idols of the heart woo, admire, and encourage.  A spiritual lover draws you into another identity and a new reality.

Like a master, idols of the heart command.  A spiritual master lies to you and gives you no choice but to say, "yes" to its unruly demands.

Like a savior, idols of the heart promise salvation.  A spiritual savior requires sacrifice as payment for redemption.

The problem (or really the solution) is that there really is only one True Lover, one True Master, and one True Savior - Jesus Christ.  When we erect idols in Christ's place, when we bow down to another lover, another master, or another savior, we attempt to cash in earthly treasure for heavenly promises.  It really is the deity marketplace. 

For example, spiritual lovers charm us with good things: love, acceptance, a place to call home.  But when these good things become ultimate things we've robbed the Creator for His created.  God offers ultimate Love, and we are satisfied with human passion.  God offers ultimate approval and we settle for admiration.    He offers the ultimate foundation, and we build our house on something, anything less. 

It only gets worse.  Not only do we reject abundant riches, we invest in penniless titles.  Falling for false spiritual lovers makes us spiritual harlots.  Serving false spiritual masters makes us spiritual slaves.  And worshiping false spiritual saviors (small s!) makes us spiritual frauds.

I know.  I know.  Uplifting, right?  But there is hope.  Join me next week to look at idolatry from God's perspective.  For now, let's look at the answers to some critical question:
  1. Which lover's admiration do I seek, encouragement do I hunt for, wooing do I heed?
  2. What master's pressure am I under, chains am I dragging, demands I am minding?
  3. Who am I looking to for salvation, for redemption, to receive my sacrifice?

My answers?  This week's list.  Seven (good and perfect...oh that's hard to swallow) idols of my own heart.

71. Spiritual lover #1 - Society.  I "must" get a workout into my day.  I can't believe I've let myself grow into those size pants.
72. Spiritual lover #2 - Myself.  I can do it!  Like a toddler, I even thought I could recover from knee surgery by myself.  My tears in the ER?  Not from pain.  But from the realization that I needed, really needed help.
73. Spiritual master #1 -  Society (yet again).  I obsessed over decorating my new home in record time.  To satisfy whom?  Clearly not the family I left in my wake.
74. Spiritual master #2 - Perfectionism. For months I didn't pick up a pen to write out of fear.  I believed the lie that If I couldn't do it right, then I shouldn't do it at all.
75. Spiritual master #3 - Control.  That false reality that I hold the reigns and direct my own path.  I often forget that I hold only chains that dictate only my own destruction.
76. Spiritual savior #1 - Reputation.  Oh god of reputation.  If I sacrifice enough time do-ing your bidding, will you save me from public embarrassment? 
77. Spiritual savior #2 - My husband.  For years I lived in downright fear that he would die, and I would no longer be redeemed from my past. 

Notes of Encouragement - Check out the newest release from Tenth Ave North:  Hallelujah, we are free to struggle.  We're not struggling to be free!
Listen to all the pretty things that take our hearts away.

Words of Affirmation - There seems to be a never-ending supply of books on modern day idolatry.  Here a few popular titles:

May I Pray with You - Heavenly Father.  You alone are the only true lover, master, and savior of our souls.  We confess that we have turned your good things into ultimate things.  We have exchanged The Creator for the created and worshiped at the feet of modern day idols.  Forgive us, Lord.  Turn our hearts back to The One who woos us, who frees us from our own chains, who already paid the sacrifice for my sin and redeemed me from hell.  Thank You for opening our eyes to the Truth that sets us free.  Help us to walk in faith as we seek Your face.  Amen.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Seek and You Will Find (#64 - 70)

Scalpels and sutures and sickness, oh my!

This past week I went under the knife.  A former track coach turned surgeon removed my broken ACL (knee ligament) and all it's attached hardware (I had done this before) and replaced it with a bright and shiny new ligament (and more hardware.) 

Needless to say, opportunities to write have been replaced by scalpels, and sutures, and sickness.  But since all is grace, isn't this grace as well?

This week's list?  A seek and find.  Seven good and perfect gifts of grace in this moment.  This one right below. 
Me and My Caretakers. (The fourth is yielding the camera)

64. I got a shower!!  (notice the wet hair)
65. The room abounds with the joyful expression. (no downcast faces in this place)
66. That zebra stripe back there?  That's a pillow made in my honor by the missing Caretaker.  A tangible gift.
67. The light of the world streaming into the room from my head to my feet.  This is not a dark and weary place.
68. A place to rest.  "Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
69. Availability.  Each child knows just where to find me, and I won't wander off before their words end.  I'm forced to be available.
69.  Time.  Time to watch.  Time to listen.  Time to live.  Just where do I put all my time otherwise?

Notes of Encouragement - Just a little reminder that all really is grace.

Words of Affirmation - “They say time is money, but that's not true. Time is life. And if I want the fullest life, I need to find fullest time... the busyness of your life leaving little room for the source of your life...God gives us time. And who has time for God?" - Ann VosKamp

May I Pray with You? - Dear and Precious Lord.  You are good to us.  All of life is a gift of grace.  Thank you for the hidden gifts in the mundane.  The unexpected joys in the journey.  We confess that our habit is complaint versus contentment, and self pity versus seeking righteousness.  Help us to hear you when you say, "[You] love those who love [you]; And those who diligently seek [you] will find [you]." Amen.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Thank You for the Fleas (#57 - #63)

"Fleas!" I cried.  "Betsie this place is swarming with them!"
We scrambled across the intervening platforms [of the bunk beds], heads low to avoid another bump, and dropped down to the aisle, and edged our way to a patch of light.
"Here!  And here another one!" I wailed. "Betsie, how can we live in a such a place?"

Corrie Ten Boom and her sister Betsie had just arrived in Ravensbruck.  Some people called it a concentration camp.  Others called it hell.  Corrie and her sister called it home.

"Corrie!" [Betsie] said excitedly.  "He's given us the answer!  Before we asked, as He always does!  In the Bible this morning.  Where was it?  Read that part again!"...

In the feeble light I turned the pages.  "Here it is: 'Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.  See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all... .'"  It seemed wrtten expressly to Ravensbruck.
"Go on," said Betsie.  "That wasn't all."
"Oh yes: ' one another and to all.  Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus-'"
"That's it, Corrie!"  That's His answer.  'Give thanks in all circumstances!' That's what we can do.  We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!"
I stared at her, then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.
"Such as?" I asked....

"Such as?"  A pocket-sized question with over-sized implications.  If we never answered the question, "Such as?" would leave us empty, dark, and foul. Like the room Corrie and her sister stood.  But the answer to such a question replenishes the empty.  Kindles the dark.  Sweetens the foul.

"Such as being assigned here together."
I bit my lip.  "Oh yes, Lord Jesus!"
"Such as what you're holding in your hands."
I looked down at the Bible.  "Yes!  Thank You, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here!  Thank You for all the women, here in this room, who will meet You in these pages."
"Yes," said Betsie.  "than you for the very crowding here.  Since we're packed so close, that many more will hear!"  She looked at me expectantly.  "Corrie!" she prodded.
"Oh all right.  Thank you for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed, suffocating crowds."
"Thank You," Betsie went on serenly, "for the fleas and for-"
The fleas!  This was too much.  "Betsie, there's no way even God can make me grateful for a flea."
"'Give thanks in all circumstances,'" she quoted.  "It doesn't say, 'in pleasant circumstances.' Fleas are part of this place where God has put us."
And so we stood between piers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas.  But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.
Those words: "Thank You God for the fleas."  They stuck with me - the way honey sticks to the bottom of the bear's jar.  I only wanted to say I had read Corrie Ten Boom's iconic story, and I found myself stuck in her words, "Thank You God for the fleas."  I've never quite broken free.

How many times have I walked around complaining about so much less than fleas?

"Who spilled water all over the floor?  I just love stepping in this mess."
" How did this rug get way over here?  Why does it always end up on the other side of the room?"
"Seriously child.  You're the one who took off your shoes.  How am I supposed to know where you put them?"

And all this in just one afternoon!  If you can believe it, I actually topped off this splendid display of gracious motherhood with a snide comment towards my husband.  After explaining his rough week and horrible night's sleep I said, "You know, it's not much fun to be around you when you're so critical," (Talk about the plank in my own eye!)  He gave me an eye of his own.

So I sit here tonight convicted of my critical spirit: Momma's audible never-ending commentary on life.  Commentary laden with sarcasm disguised as wit, and self-righteousness disguised as discipline.  How far away I am from being able, no willing (!) to utter, "Thank you for the the spilled water that flows so freely in our home."  "Thank you for the child who trusts me enough to ask for my help."  "Thank you, Lord, for the fleas."

This week's list?  Seven good and perfect unpleasant circumstances for which I say, "Thank you."

57. Thank you for the massive brown, fuzzy spider who has made his home behind the siding of our front door.  (Please help him capture all the fleas.)
58. Thank you the abundant amount of food that makes its way to the floor every day.
59. Thank you for the LEGOs, the K'nex, the Chick-fil-A toys that we can afford to scatter under my bare feet.
60. Thank you for my oldest son who needs me to share Your Grace and Mercy daily.  What would I do without Your ever-present wisdom?
61. Thank you that Great-Grandma passed away last month and now sits in Your glorious presence!
62. Thank you that my ACL is torn again and I will undergo surgery on Thursday.  Please help me be a Light in a world I would otherwise never have entered.
63. Thank you that I haven't seen my Mom and Dad in over 7 years...

Notes of Encouragement - Oh these lyrics.  Like a double-edged sword.  They cut to the bone. 

Words of Affirmation - If a picture is worth a thousand words, may the picture painted by these words never fade.

May I Pray with You? - Oh Lord, you are good and perfect.  And all that you give is good and perfect.  Help me to see the world at the end of my pointing fingers. Help me to exchange my critical spirit for thankfulness.  For all is a gift, no matter what the circumstance. Amen.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

What Has Become of Your Life? (#50 - #56)

It’s habits that can imprison you and it’s habits that can free you and when thanks to God becomes a habit, so joy in God becomes your life.

- Ann VosKamp
I made this crazy commitment to write.  I am not "a writer."  I'm a  home-school Momma of four in love with Jesus. I search desperate for Truth and sin miserable in this life.  But God called me to write.  So I made this commitment - to the Lord, to myself, to the four silly souls who might someday read what their Momma really thought about during those years of child crazy and family frenzy.

I began a new habit.  Not only to practice the art of writing, but to practice the art of holiness - a setting apart. By setting apart time to share this journey with you.  A journey like the Israelites of old: freed from slavery, brought to the promised land, and turned back because of unbelief.  I'm not saying I don't believe.  I do believe.  I am merely saying, "help my unbelief."

As I head to my promised land, I, like the Israelites of old, doubt God's love.  Although I am free, I still think like a slave.  And as I stare at my Jericho, I wonder how I'm ever going to cross this Jordan - this raging river poised to whisk me down...and out.

So I began this new habit of holiness - setting apart time to publicly thank God for the present of His presence.  I walk through my wilderness exposed, challenged by New York Times' best selling author Ann VosKamp, to write down one-thousand ways joy in God has now become my life.  To compose one-thousand notes of grateful thanks.  To re-collect one-thousand of His gifts into a heaping pile of remembrance..on the other side of my Jordan.

I know.  I know.  At this rate (one post a week) I'll be at this until mid-December 2014!  But by then her challenge will surely become my habit.   With faithfulness, joy in God will undoubtedly become my life.  

Rejoice with me over seven more Good and Perfect Gifts for August, 2012?

50. Gift white - Color of little boy's laundry after inaugural spin in new washing machine (shocking!)
51. Gift eaten - dinner for six where all rejoice and  six plates are swept clean
52. Gift at 10AM -Evidence of answered prayer, "Lord, do whatever it takes to help this child see his need of a Savior."  Hard Eucharisteo.
53. Gift sitting - Me. Here. One hour of solitude despite dinner dishes and bedtime routines.  Ahhh the bliss.
54. Gift upside down - Jack.  Hanging high from his feet above Daddy's head
55. Gift in water - Flower bouquet secretly tucked into grocery bag
56. Gift in His Word - Realizing this: "Blessed is He who is not offended because of Me" (Luke 7:23) really means, "Blessed is He who forgives because of Me."

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Here's Hoping Nothing Comes my Way (#36 - #49)

"But love your enemies, do good and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great...Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful." (Luke 6:35-36)

I sat in my "Momma" chair, strolled through this morning's Scripture reading, and stopped dead in my tracks.  How is it that I have been a Christian longer than I haven't, and I still discover Bible verses I never knew existed.

I mean, I know about, "BE holy, as I am holy" (1 Peter 1:16) and

"BE still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10)

and even, "BE transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2).

But somehow BE merciful completely passed me by.  I think the bigger reason this verse halted my parade through Luke was the five-words phrase in the previous verse - "hoping for nothing in return."

Luke and I tromped through familiar ground with the words, "love your enemies, do good, and lend."  But when He got to, "hoping for nothing in return," my walk in the woods became a march through the wilderness.  I no longer knew where we were headed.

You see, previously Luke explained the difference between a Christian and a sinner:  Even sinners love those who love in return.  Sinners do good to those who do good to them.  Sinners even lend to those who repay in full.  So what makes a Christian?  Those five scary words "hoping for nothing in return."

True Christianity loves friends and enemies, with no retribution.  True Christians do good with no hope of return.  True Christians lend without expecting any repayment.  And there's no getting around this one, friends - lending without expecting repayment is really giving.  All lending in the name of Christ is a FREE give-away.

So here's where it gets daunting.  Not only do I have little to zero hope of ever truly loving, doing, or giving freely, but doesn't this also mean (and forgive me if I get struck down by lightening as I say this), but doesn't this mean that God loves me, does me good, and gives to me hoping for nothing in return? 

In the words of singer/songwriter Jeremy Riddle, I must confess. I wonder how great is God's love and how great is His faithfulness.  Will He really still  love me when I do what I do best - give Him virtually nothing in return for His mercy?

For this is what hoping for nothing in return really boils down to - acting as our heavenly Father acts. Acting with mercy.

I have heard mercy and grace described this way. Grace is getting what you don't deserve.  While mercy is not getting what you do deserve.  Grace offers dessert after a 'yucky' meal because your big brother finished your plate for you.  Grace offers: 
  1. His Word (do I deserve full, unrestricted access to the Truth that sets me free?)
  2. His Son (do I deserve the death He died for me?)
  3. His Spirit (do I deserve His quiet whisper when I stomp my feet in sin?)
  4. My faithful husband (this I definitely do not deserve)
  5. Our four precious children - souls who call me, "Momma." (do I deserve their devotion?)
  6. His Healing (do I deserve rescue from the brokenness I create?)
  7. And this...just this from my own back yard...
(do I really deserve Beauty?)

  Mercy, on the other hand, offers no such thing.  In fact, mercy offers no-thing and yet everything worth possessing:
  1. No condemnation - Romans 8:1
  2. No punishment for sin - Romans 4:15
  3. No guilty fear.  1 John 4:18
  4. No stain or wrinkle or any other blemish - Eph 5:27
  5. No accusation to stand against us - Col 1:22
  6. No height nor depth nor anything else in all creation to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus - Rom 8:39
  7. No hope of ever receiving what my sin rightfully deserves - death, even death on a cross.
In this upside down Kingdom, emptiness leads to mercy-full living.  Vacant stores of expectation.  Barren repayment ledgers.  Blank record of wrongs.  Here's hoping nothin' comes my way.
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