Shine

I’m super excited for the upcoming weekend. It’s Easter! Yay! But even though I love celebrating Jesus overcoming the grave every year, this year I’m especially excited.

The college/young professional ministry  that I’m a part of is going to make this weekend about serving the homeless.

Ever since we got the idea in our minds, I’ve kept thinking about the story of the Lost Son from Luke 15: 11-31.

Obviously the point that Jesus was trying to emphasize is that it doesn’t matter where you’ve been, what you’ve done, the Father is always ready to welcome you back into His kingdom.

We can also learn from the brother who stayed, who had a bad attitude when he saw his father welcomed back his brother without hesitation. Sometimes our humanness shows through more than Jesus when we start looking at what God is doing in the lives of others, when we aren’t seeing much going on in our own lives.

But while these are probably the most obvious lessons Jesus was teaching us, this isn’t the part of the story that has been playing over in my mind these past few weeks.

13 “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. 14 About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. 15 He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. 16 The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.

In the New King James Version, it says in verse 13 that he spent his money on “prodigal living.” That’s why some people call this the story of the prodigal son… but Jesus never called him that. Jesus has a way of separating our actions from who we are. He sees us as we were created to be, not the mistakes we make on the way to finding out who that is.

Why can’t we as humans separate someone’s bad choices from who they are? I mean, there’s total denial of someone’s issues… like the mother who doesn’t want to believe her child has an addiction, so she just overlooks it… but then there are those rare people who can see the person inside that doesn’t want to be stuck in a perpetual mess. They don’t want to keep doing the wrong thing, but they don’t know how to escape the mess they’ve gotten themselves into.

That’s what I’ve been focusing on as I prepare to serve the homeless population this Easter weekend.

Did some of them make bad decisions to get in this situation? Yes.

But Jesus talks about how the man wasted his inheritance, but then a famine also hit the land. Maybe he would have been able to gain back some of what he lost, but then disaster struck, and he couldn’t get back on his feet.

How many times in our lives have we done something stupid, and then felt swallowed up by the waves that came as a result of that decision? I may not have made any mistakes that landed me on the streets, but I know what drowning feels like. I know what it  feels like to struggle against pride to solve a problem I’ve created myself…Don’t you?

And maybe I’m over-analyzing this portion of the story, but in verse 16, it seems like Jesus made it a point to mention that this man was hungry and no one did anything about it. Maybe the people in that country were just like us in their thinking:

It’s a recession, I can’t afford to spare anything.

They should’ve made better choices.

They could work or get another job, they just choose not to.

They’ll just waste what I give them on booze or drugs.

Not my problem…

We have so many reasons to remain indifferent to the suffering of those around us…To condemn them to remain in their situation.  But then should we really be surprised by the world around us growing darker? If we won’t be a light, who will?

So, this Easter, I hope you shine.

I hope you remember that Jesus died for you, not the “highlight reel you” that you show people on Facebook, but the real you. The one who struggles and falls short.

I hope you remember that He died for the people whose struggles and shortcomings are more public, and that right now they are just a little lost, but not beyond reach.

And I hope you remember that He overcame death so that we can overcome our sin.

Happy Easter!

 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

John 16: 33

 

 

 

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Scars.

For a girl who has had 8 surgeries in the past 9 years, I’ve accumulated a few scars.

I’m not  one of those people who are like “scars are beautiful and are the marks of survivors” blah…

They’re hideous and I wish I didn’t have them, but when I look at them, I am reminded that I’m not hurt or broken anymore. That pain is a part of my past that I no longer have to live with, and I’m thankful I get to just move on.

With Easter approaching, I started to think about Jesus’ scars. His scars mean more to me than any of the ones that mark my own body. The scars on Jesus’ body are kind of like a receipt of the transaction that occurred on the cross. His life paid for our sins. In an uneven exchange, we gave Him our worst, and God gave us His best.

As someone who is very logical, it was really hard for me to believe in Jesus… But then I encountered God in a way that left no room for a single doubt in my mind.

Kind of like Thomas… (some of  you may know him as “Doubting Thomas.”)

In John 20, he’s the one who was all “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

Psh! Oh ye of little faith, Thomas! Shun the nonbeliever… shuuuuuunnnn

Oh… but that didn’t happen.  (Also, side note about Thomas: He might have doubted that Jesus was resurrected, but he was the first one to be ride or die for Jesus. Check out John 11:16 “Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” BOOM)

Instead, Jesus said, ““Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” So Thomas did and was all like “It really is You!”

First. Gross.

Second, Jesus didn’t want Thomas to remain unbelieving. He wasn’t offended by his skepticism. Jesus was happy to reveal Himself to Thomas, and gave him the proof he needed to believe. That’s what I love about God. He isn’t afraid of our questions or doubts, and He’s willing to reveal Himself to us when we need Him to.

One of my favorite Bethany Dillon songs is called “The Way I Come To You” and the bridge goes:

“You loved me when I was Your enemy, and You chose me when I didn’t believe.”

I love that line… because I wasn’t always so sure about Him, but God always knew and loved me.  And He has the scars to prove it.

 

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1 Corinthians 1:18

 

 

 

 

 

 

Holier Than Thou

There are days when people are jerks.

Being human, I want to be a jerk back.

But I’m usually not.

I usually vent to a close friend (or 9), and move on.

I tell myself to be “the better person”, turn the other cheek, and forgive (that pesky F word!).

When it’s the same person doing the same thing over and over and over and over again… I remember that Jesus said to forgive someone 7 x 70 times (That’s 490 times)…

When I start keeping track, God tells me that I should love those who hate me…

And then I remember that verse in  1 Corinthians that says love keeps no record of wrongs…

And I’m back where I started telling myself to be “the better person.”

Maybe some would call this a “Holier Than Thou” attitude… except I’m not trying to be better than the person who is harassing me…  I’m trying to be better than myself.  I want to be “the better person” that God pulled me out of my sin to become. I am not self-righteous, but I was given the righteousness of Christ to walk upright, no longer a slave to sin. And while I’m still getting my bearings from being chained down for so long, God has grace enough to catch me every time I stumble.

So every time that I get upset and want to give to someone what I think they “deserve” I remind myself that I deserve hell. If God hadn’t pulled me out of my old life, I would still be headed in that direction. It is with that heavy conviction that the desire to pray for those who persecute me begins to stir in my heart. It is with that knowledge that I can willingly forgive any trespass against me, because I know that the same was done for me when I didn’t deserve it.

Sometimes I wish God wouldn’t give me the things I ask for in the moments when I’m feeling pretty strong in my faith… because it’s in those moments when I ask Him to make me more like Him… but God doesn’t just snap His fingers for requests like that. He will give opportunities to grow into those characteristics. And even though I don’t enjoy the opportunities themselves, I’m thankful that He loves me enough to refine me a little more each day, so that I can be a little more like Him.

But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do;  for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” — 1 Peter 1:15-16

Cheap.

Valentine’s Day bothers me. Not because I’m terminally single, but because it feels cheap. It’s an opportunity for companies to make money by defining love as a transaction. And I’m not upset because people capitalize on our own willingness to sell ourselves for temporary enjoyment of fleeting pleasures…

It upsets me because that’s all people think love is.

Love is not a debt. We don’t owe it to anyone. It can’t be bought. It’s a gift that is freely given… without expectation of getting anything in return.

But who does that these days?

We’re all jaded and only looking out for Number One. That attitude turns “I love you” into “I love you because…” That is conditional love. It’s why we see more divorce in this generation than ever before.  I love you because you make me happy. I love you because you are beautiful. I love you because you make me feel safe… But once the conditions are no longer fulfilled, we decide we’re not in love anymore and are free to walk away.

The real problem is that we are trying to find fulfillment in another person. We all have deficits in our lives, holes that have been created by our past experiences that we desperately try to fill so that we can feel at peace. Peace meaning nothing is broken and nothing is missing. So we go to the junk pile of human solutions to try and complete ourselves. Ultimately, you can find something that will tide you over for a while, but it’s never enough and it never lasts. We seem to have a stupid cycle of settling for a while, then searching for the next thing as soon as we can’t stand settling any more. Like we believe that if we just wait long enough, that the love story from the movies will be played out in our own lives.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? The devil always plays the same trick on us… making us believe that we’re missing something… when we’ve had all we needed from the very beginning… And we buy it every time…

In this generation, people think of God and they think He’s all about rules and regulations… No drinking and partying, no sex until you’re married… and it has to be with the same person for the rest of your life! (gasp! the horror…the horror… (heart of darkness reference! +10 points from my 12th grade English teacher!))

But it’s  funny that Jesus boiled down all the “rules” into two commandments in Mark 12:30-31

  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.

And it’s also funny that God boiled down the sins of the world into two wrongs in Jeremiah 2:13

 “My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

God is love. He loved us first so that we might love one another. He loved us so much that He sent His Son to die for our sins… even the sin of forsaking Him. That doesn’t even make sense in my tiny human brain. He told Hosea to marry Gomer (what an unfortunate name) so that He could illustrate how He loves His people, though they continue to whore themselves out to other gods, false idols that cannot give life, and to show that He would take them back no matter where they have been…

Where have you been? Did you even know that you are dearly loved and cherished by the Creator of the Universe? That there is no price He wouldn’t pay to have you back? And this love is given even without your reciprocation. It’s unconditional, no strings attached, you don’t even have to say “The Sinner’s Prayer” (though if you feel compelled to accept Christ, I highly encourage you to do so.)

So if you are so loved, why would you want the fake candy-coated version that eventually leaves you with wide hips and tear-stained cheeks?

That’s what this blog post is really about… our willingness to pay for a cheap imitation of love, when the real thing is free and waiting for us.

Another thing I feel like God has taught me a lot about His love is the chance to give it out. I work with kids with autism.  A lot of people would call my kids  “unlovable” because they break every nice thing you buy them, they throw disproportional temper tantrums when they don’t get their way, some kids will never speak or show any sign of affection towards you…

But it’s when I am forced to listen to all the faults of my kids, I start to look at myself… I’ve wasted countless blessings in my life, I complain to God when my “plan” for my life isn’t going the way I think it should, and if I’m really honest… I forget to pray more times than I remember… but God still loves me, even though I don’t deserve it. And it is because He loves me that I am able to give love to those who some would deem “undeserving” of love. And it’s not a love that can ever be repaid or reciprocated… it’s simply given because I have it to give.

So, based off of that knowledge, that is why I think Valentine’s day is cheap. It’s commercialized and done up to make you feel like you HAVE to do something… I’m not saying that you can’t buy your wife flowers or write down all the things you appreciate about your husband… but maybe ask yourself where that love is coming from… is it from a broken well? Or is it from the wellspring of life? Is it Living Water or radioactive water? All I’m saying is that if you need a “holiday” so that you can buy a greeting card with words someone else wrote to express how you feel about your significant other… you might want to check your heart… And if you think buying someone a Vermont Teddy Bear is a good idea… it’s not.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. — 1 John 4:7-8

The F Word.

Before I begin, I would like to just clarify that becoming a Christian has been the best decision I’ve ever made, or will ever make, in my entire life and I never want to go back to my old life…And this post is mostly me kicking myself in the butt…

But being a Christian is sometimes the worst.

Before I became a Christian, I thought a lot less about my behavior and feelings. Ignorance is bliss, like all clichés, was birthed out of truth. I was happy to hold grudges and feel justified when I was hurt or wronged. I wasn’t all that interested in forgiving people. If you messed up, it was “have a nice life” and I was done with you. I wasn’t heartless, I just liked feeling right. I didn’t care to see the hurt in others when my own ego was bruised. Who isn’t like that?

Then Jesus called me and was like “Hey, I’ll forgive you.” and I was all like “For what?”

…He had a pretty long list…

And so  I was so relieved He was willing to forgive me and that there was nothing that He could not forgive me for (unforgivable isn’t even in his vocabulary!)… but then I found out that His forgiveness was conditional.

Get ready for a buzz kill…

 Matthew 6:14-15: “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (emphasis added…obviously)

UGH!

Knowing that, it makes it really hard when someone wrongs you… because you have passages like “turn the other cheek” and “forgive or you won’t be forgiven” popping into your head. After going through the Bible, you find out that unforgiveness is the root of bitterness, and bitterness will eat you alive and keep your heart hardened so you can’t receive blessings… that’s the hardest part for me… knowing that I’m wrong, even when someone else was wrong first, and knowing that I’m standing in the way of the blessings God has for me.

But what about the big things? The horrendous, gross, malicious actions of others intentionally inflicted upon people for the hell of it? Are those so easily forgivable? How can that make for a just God?

I’m always amazed at stories of people who have gone through horrendous ordeals and can still willingly forgive the people who wronged them. Many people know Joyce Meyer’s background of sexual abuse at the hand of her father as a child. Another woman, Shelley Hundley, had a similar story of abuse as a child, but she was assaulted by a pastor while her parents were serving as missionaries in Colombia. She has an amazing book called A Cry for Justice: Overcome Anger, Reject Bitterness, and Trust in Jesus Who Will Fight For You. In the book, she talks about how every wrong will be made right. We can either say that it was paid for on the cross, or we can trust that Jesus will come back one day with one thing on His mind: Justice.

That sounds super intense… but if you’ve read Isaiah 63… it kind of IS intense… He comes back with His robe all stained with blood, and He’s all like, I didn’t have anything clean to wear… ALL my clothes are this stained because I’ve been too busy kicking ass and taking names to go to the dry cleaner’s. (I’m the worst Biblical paraphraser… go read it yourself!)

So it basically boils down to this: Forgiveness isn’t a feeling, it’s a decision. You can decide that Jesus died on the cross, not just for your sins, but also for the sins of others that have hurt you… or you can decide to hold on to it simply because you want to be “right.”  Sometimes making that decision is hard because your feelings are hurt and the person didn’t even apologize! I get it. I’ve been there. I’ve sat on the floor and just cried bitter tears waiting to “get over it” and thinking that there are so many worse things out there happening that it isn’t even a big deal…

That’s why I say being a Christian is sometimes the worst. Because you know what you SHOULD do… but it doesn’t make it any easier. That’s why I love this passage:

 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t.  I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.  But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong.  I love God’s law with all my heart.  But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.  Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. — Romans 7:18-25

In it’s own little way, this verse is my justification when I’m feeling upset or angry and can’t really find the motivation to let it go just yet… Not that it’s OK, but that it’s not a struggle unique to me. If Paul, who is a million miles ahead of me in his walk with God, struggled to do what he knew he should do, maybe I’m not doing as bad as I feel I am in the moments when my feelings overtake me, and I’m not acting “very Christian.”

Anyway… I think only like 5 people even read anything I write, so I mostly only write things that I need to hear myself, and sometimes try to give you a little pep talk at the end, just in case you’re a lot like me…

So just get over it. And forgive, even if no one has said sorry yet, because it’s for your own benefit…and if that doesn’t help, just remember how much you have to be forgiven for…which is fun to think about…not (Can you tell I have some forgiving to do?).

Or remember that Jesus is coming again, and if you just pass that hurt along to Him, He will make it right, and maybe He’ll let you ride shotgun and you can pound your fist into your hand while saying “someone’s gonna get it…”

(I’m just kidding, you probably won’t be invited because Jesus says vengeance is His… but it’s fun to think about sometimes…)

The end.

 

 “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven.”  — Luke 6:37