Letters to Jesus (You Know My Name)

Dear Jesus,

You may not remember me. I met you a few years ago at a “charismatic coffee house.” I thought it was pretty cool watching men, women, children, and even nuns all raising their hands to praise you. They all got along and seemed to really like each other. You may already know that I went outside to get high while they were singing. Even though I was high, I felt something there. It was something real. Something good. There was that one night when I prayed with two other teenagers to follow you. I liked those kids – I mean they were really square but seemed to be happy about being so uncool. I felt like they genuinely liked me. Me! Not for the drugs I could provide, or the parties, or an act I put on to be accepted – but just for me. I can’t really explain it, but for the first time in my life I felt kind of clean. Maybe even good. I felt like my life mattered. 

Dear Jesus 1

The coffee house was pretty far away from home though and I didn’t have anyone to take me there. When I went back to school I was called a “Jesus freak” and mocked out. I was known for being a fun person, a party person. I didn’t have anyone who would accept me. I couldn’t stand being alone. I hope you can understand that. I mean you created Eve because you said it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone. I was all alone and it just wasn’t good. My old life drew me back because that’s where my friends were. I don’t know how to be alone. I guess I am kind of like Adam in that way.

I never stopped looking for you. I went to a church one time, but the people were really cold. I don’t think they liked me. Maybe it was the smell of cigarettes, my ripped jeans or Sarah on my hip that turned them off. I didn’t know there was a special way I had to dress or act to go to church. I really didn’t like living with David, but that’s where we were at. I wasn’t sure if you liked it either, but it seemed to matter more to the people in the church, than introducing me to you. Besides, the pastors I called refused to marry us anyway. Ben had been raised going to church and he told me I shouldn’t expect anything different. There it was again. Where are you? I kept reading my bible and trying to find where you hung out, but the people I asked scared me. Actually, the truly kind people were everywhere BUT the churches. I was very confused. What I was reading about you in the bible was really different from the people who said they knew you. I would have liked that coffee house again.

dear jesus 2

I met an old lady who said she knew you. She was really kind and brought us cookies and meals after Katie was born. She used to talk all the time about what you “did” for her, and how much she loved you. I had no idea what she was talking about, I didn’t understand what “saved” or “born again” meant.  It was all sweet, but it didn’t make any sense to me. I wanted her to introduce me to you, but I was afraid to ask. I figured because of my drugs, cigarettes, jeans, and unholy lifestyle you wouldn’t want to meet me. Maybe, I don’t really want to you meet you if these are the people you like to hang out with now. Come on, I am nicer than most of the people who say they know you! I may not dress all that great, smoke cigarettes or swear, but at least I am kind to strangers. They are all so “better than thou.” Didn’t you write the story about the man who was hurt on the side of the road?

I began to understand that I couldn’t possibly have really met you because if I had, I would have said a “sinner’s prayer” and given up my “old ways.”  At the least I would have “known” I was “saved.” That’s what they told me. I guess there would be some kind of lingo I spoke to show I had met you. I wasn’t really sure about all the things they said I had to give up either. I didn’t understand what they meant by “sin.” It didn’t seem like I was doing anything wrong or hurting anyone. I am still trying to find someone who likes me the same way those kids in the coffee house did. I am still trying to find someone who is willing to be my friend, and show me where you live or hang out. I think I’d still like to get to know you Jesus, at least the Jesus who hung out with people like me. But the “Christians” who tell me that they know you make me question if you are even real.  Or worth it.

Maybe those nice people at the coffee house who said you loved me just for me, were were just my imagination.

Sincerely,

You Know My Name

Between the Spaces

“God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.” I John 4:17-18

Advent is over, New Years is now a memory, and resolutions abound. The twelve days of Christmas begin December 25th and ended yesterday, January 6th, with the Epiphany.  Today my tree is coming down. A week later than usual this year due to many time commitments.

It is now a time between the spaces – a time between times.

between 3The decorations have been boxed and the unwanted presents returned. The children have all gone back to school and for those who were fortunate to take off time during the holidays, they also are back to the routines of daily life. We are caught between the spaces of warm, fuzzy, feelings with cookies baking in the oven, and the plans and hopes of an unfolding new year. I have said good-bye to some of my children – again – without any plans or knowledge of when we will be together next. I am caught between the times of family togetherness and family absence. It has been many years since all of my children have been under the same roof – the family photo is very outdated, missing the addition of grandchildren.  I long for the time when we will “all be together again” as stated by “Jo” in our traditional Christmas movie, Little Women. 

History has been caught in the time between the spaces as well, when a perfect world fell to the effects of an imperfect creation, leaving us groaning and waiting for the restoration of all things at the end of the age.

DSCN5427 (3)God painted a picture of purity. It was full of beauty, unconditional love and acceptance. Humans and animals lived together without fear, every need given to them by the hand of their loving creator. “Subdue the earth,” they were told. No shame, no work, no rejection, no pain, and no fear.

The clouds kissed the ground in a harmony of sights and sounds, colors and fragrances. God looked upon Adam and Eve and they gazed back at His beaming smile, just as a Father beholds his toddling child; full of joy unspeakable and breathing in contentment.

He did it all for the sake of companionship –  the God who loved them – who loves us –  immeasurably.

Then came an impenetrable darkness, and with it entered shame, regret, pain, death, and fear – a myriad of ugly effects that would haunt the creation forever.

The between times.

DSCN5430 (3)But God is love. He didn’t leave us alone in the between times, He knew we couldn’t survive with the shame.  He knew we would be paralyzed by the fear. And the rejection. And the pain.

He knew we needed the Love.

So He gave us the Perfect. He restored us to Himself.  He reunited us as children, to walk again safely with Daddy.

The effects of darkness remain.  They will stay with us until He establishes his Kingdom once and for all, but the Father child relationship has been restored, fully, totally and irrevocably.  Just like it was before darkness made its ugly mark. The Light shines in the darkness and children have no need to fear when the light is shining.

between 4The pile of trash that caused a stench too strong for God has been tossed out by Jesus. He carried it out away for us. He wasn’t afraid of what was in it, how bad it smelled, or whether or not He would be contaminated by it. He still isn’t. Now, with every mess we make, he smiles and says, “No problem, remember we are in the between times. I’ve got your back in this place. It’s my job. No need to feel dirty, I made you clean. No need to struggle to hold it, it’s already gone. Once and for all.

Game over man. You are mine.”

God smiles at us with each faltering step we take. He beams with pride when we fall down and hop right back up again, “Atta girl. You’re OK.” He is watching us with adoration. Just as a father delights with each new phase of the journey, with awe.

He delights in us. He is pleased with us. He loves us.

We run to Him in total abandonment, grasping tightly to the knowledge that Love has made us brand new.

Love changes us. Love completes us. Love takes away all fear between the times.

IMG_8009 (4)The darkness is still around us. It comes and goes. There is pain, suffering, sickness, wars, poverty, and calamities in the between times. But Jesus has conquered them all.

He is the life and breathe between the times, “…when we take up permanent residence in a life of love…”

Here’s to living in His love during 2015.

A Towel and a Bowl – Forgiveness and Betrayal

Yes, I am obsessed sometimes. What it is that has kept me from posting things that have been burning in my heart simply because I did not post part 2 to this writing? I started out last year wanting a daily 40 days posting at one point, but it didn’t happen. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” I have people tell me that because I am now a “leader,” a “pastor / chaplain,” and in the “public eye,” that I need to be careful to do what I say I am going to do – even in a blog.

Really?

IMG_7076Are we as humans (I won’t even say as Christ followers) so caught up in ourselves, that we don’t allow others the room to change their minds, to feel differently, or to be lead in another direction?  The process of knowing God, ourselves, and humanity gets more complicated and goes deeper with age. Things happen. People change.

And yet, I will write  my “Part 2” because it is what I want to write about today – at this moment in time. Not by spending a lot of time on it, not even by leaving scriptural references – you can do that, but by simply stating a few facts as I see them.

Why did Jesus wash Judas feet?  Why not skip over Judas?  I mean, Jesus saw in to the heart of Judas and knew he was going to betray him.

First, to reveal to us what preemptive forgiveness looks like. Just like a military preemptive strike, Jesus wants us to live in a constant state of ready forgiveness. Can we see into another persons heart? Of course not!

But all of us have seen a betrayal, pain filled event, or argument in the making. Jesus modeled that the worst kind of betrayal can be forgiven in advance. Not easy, but possible.

I’ve been betrayed – badly – on two occasions. I didn’t handle it well either of those times.  It took me a while to forgive.

Does that mean we allow others to betray us, or that we reconcile to betrayers?  Absolutely not – that’s not biblical either. But we learn to forgive, and then act in a way towards that person or situation that is wise.

There is a difference between reconciliation and forgiveness. I have no desire to be reconciled to at least a few people in my life. It would be self-abasement and abuse. It would not be “healthy boundaries.”

I can love them better from afar.

Jordan alone in a roomI have sought forgiveness from those I have wronged when I have known there was an offense, and even if I was the person who was wronged – I have sought forgiveness for my reaction to the betrayal, if and when it was warranted.  I can’t make another person forgive me for my offenses, I can only ask them to. Then, the responsibility is theirs. There are some who have not chosen to be reconciled – or even (it seems by actions) to forgive.

Second, Jesus modeled that we are to leave room for the betrayer to seek our forgiveness. Without getting into the debates of things like sovereignty, election, or predestination and keeping this strictly on a human level –

Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. A kiss was a symbol of friendship, and Jesus was acknowledging that in His statement to Judas. He was calling Judas a friend, and he was betrayed by His friend – and Proverbs 27:6 says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” 

By his friend. 

There are some people I trusted and called friend, that I can only image by their ongoing actions, are clueless that they even did me any wrong. I just let it be. Forgiveness yes. Reconciliation – not so much. We make the determination that if a person is that clueless to anthers well-being, we are juts not following the same path in life. We can choose our friends. I will accept as Proverbs says, “the wounds of a friend can be trusted.” If there was a deep betrayal involved – we are not friends – I can’t trust you.

judasSo Judas kills himself. With Satan in his heart, and no longer interested in the money, he has nothing to live for. He was called by Jesus Himself, “A son of perdition,” or a person doomed to destruction. Yet, what about Peter – Peter also denied Christ the very same night. What is the difference between the two?

The heart – specifically, faith and humility. 

One heart was turned towards God but with momentary weaknesses, the other was turned directly away from God. One wanted things done his way and when they weren’t, Judas was prideful, and he totally and completely lost all faith based upon his own human thoughts and opinions. Peter, held on by a thread. Completely alone and confused, Peter was broken, but held on to faith in God’s mercy. There was still hope in the future. Somehow.

Could Judas have wanted to repent but his sin was so grievous that he couldn’t forgive himself?  Did he indeed repent?  Suicide is the ultimate cry of pain; the no turning back because I have nothing left to live for. 

Our responsibility is to give and receive the kiss of forgiveness – like Jesus did.

Preemptive strikes of forgiveness aimed at those who will continue to wrong us. Like Peter, we will probably deny this concept more often than we live it, lose our faith, deny Christ in weak moments (denying Christ takes on many forms), hurt friends, and family, and continue to live in a frail and broken human shell…

But we are forgiven. Utterly forgiven.

Our responsibility is to have faith that God can redeem anyone – and allow Him to determine “perdition.”

We are to forgive in advance.

Even a blogger like me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Towel and a Bowl Pt. 1- Veterans

Serving others sometimes involves dirty and undesirable tasks that none of us really want to do. Yet Jesus said that we would be “blessed” if we did them. What kind of blessing was He referring to? There is a lot of debate surrounding this passage of scripture, some holding to foot washing as part of the ceremonial ordinance like communion -the bread and the cup, and others tossing out the idea that we are to literally wash the feet of the saints.

wash20feet The evening meal was being served. The devil had already tempted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. He had told Judas to hand Jesus over to his enemies.  Jesus knew that the Father had put everything under his power. He also knew he had come from God and was returning to God. So he got up from the meal and took off his outer clothes. He wrapped a towel around his waist.  After that, he poured water into a large bowl. Then he began to wash his disciples’ feet. He dried them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

 He came to Simon Peter. “Lord,” Peter said to him, “are you going to wash my feet?”  Jesus replied, “You don’t realize now what I am doing. But later you will understand.”  “No,” said Peter. “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you can’t share life with me.” “Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet! Wash my hands and my head too!”

 Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs to wash only his feet. The rest of his body is clean. And you are clean. But not all of you are.” Jesus knew who was going to hand him over to his enemies. That was why he said not every one was clean. When Jesus finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes. Then he returned to his place.

“Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.  “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord.’ You are right. That is what I am.  I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet. So you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have given you an example. You should do as I have done for you.  “What I’m about to tell you is true. A servant is not more important than his master. And a messenger is not more important than the one who sends him.  Now you know these things. So you will be blessed if you do them.” John 13:1 -17

I have had it both ways – in our past fellowship it was ceremonial footwashing, awkwardly done once a year to prove we followed God’s command. Women washed women’s feet, men washed men. The women more often than not left their stockings on. Absolutely no ones feet were dirty or unkempt, but to the contrary, properly washed and pedicured to look our best. I suppose that somehow it made us more holy to be willing to submit to this awkward practice of dripping water over a pair of stocking feet, while we all murmured a “praise Jesus” or two.

I am not meaning to be trite – but when I reflect back upon what it meant to me as a  fairly new believer, I must admit that any spiritual growth or significance was really lost to me. Then again, I was in a legalistic cult at the time, and  I couldn’t opt out for fear I would miss the mark, and disappoint Jesus.  (Maybe even lose my salvation for not being “obedient to the Word.”)

Maybe awkward itself is the humbling part.

However, when Dave and I  had a foot washing as a surprise ending to our marriage weekend,  it was a huge success. The act of washing each others feet, combined with a vow of covenant, made for a really sacred time. The majority of couples all talked about it being the very best part of any weekend -symbolic of the commitment to serve each other and not themselves.  Clean feet, sacred purpose.

It’s all about heart and attitude.

Acts of service are often dirty, smelly, difficult, and embarrassing. The humblest of jobs.  Mary wiping Jesus feet with her hair seems pretty humbling to me. Pretty dirty and messy too. And very, very,loving.

when women love 3Caring for the toilet needs of dying, elderly and infirm are also really humbling. It was much easier for me to wash stockinged feet than to attend to the most basic needs of elderly loved ones. How about midwives attending to laboring women? Nurses?  But love goes into the deepest gutters to serve.

Mother Theresa did.

Let’s talk about the homeless.  Their feet aren’t very clean. They usually smell, sometimes have lice, missing teeth… Our hands get very dirty.

We are just weeks away from Veterans Day but Halloween always gets much more P.R. than our nations military. We have the population of an entire city of veterans without a home, in need of a literal footwashing…

…as well as a figurative one – in need of love and care. They need someone to find them, help them, feed them, care for them, and love on them. We can’t always fix the problem, but we can try – we can at least educate ourselves in traumatic stress and try to enter into their world of darkness.

The light of Christ’s love shatters darkness brighter than any LED.

We can let them to know that they are not forgotten; let them know that the price they paid for us does not go unnoticed.  We are thankful. Truly, deeply thankful.

wash feet 2We can let them know that Jesus loves them. That He can’t be here to wash their feet and feed them, so “please may we come in His place?”

There are two main points in the act of Jesus washing the feet of His disciples –

First,  He was willing to wash the feet  of Judas – the one who was going to betray him. (Anticipatory forgiveness -part 2 of this blog)

Second, washing their feet was sacrificial service beyond the call of duty.  The Para-rescue of the religious services.

Jesus’ death was imminent. He knew that. He could have been hanging out, telling his disciples that the end was near so “take care of me,”  and “serve me”. He could have been telling them he wanted to go hang out at home and enjoy His last days with his family.

If I knew that I had days to live, I don’t think I would be saying, “Hey, I’m going to spend my last few days  serving the poor and washing their feet.”  But not Jesus. Jesus wanted us to understand the importance of Christian service up until the end. Until it hurts.

Whether it is ceremonial or not, Jesus modeled for us the heart and attitude of acts of service. It is the very thing that  under-girds every one of His words and actions. Everything is done from the place of love.   If we don’t serve others, and practice ordinances with the heart of Christ, it’s just another washing.

And we know how he felt about that.

“The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus 2and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.

So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”

He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:“ ‘These people honor me with their lips,but their hearts are far from me.

They worship me in vain;their teachings are merely human rules.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.””

wash f

This veterans day, let’s consider how we can wash the feet of our homeless veterans, and model to them the love and service of Jesus Christ.

Thank you.

When Women Love

I have met so many women with a deeply ingrained ability to love and love well. We were created to be caregivers to the ones who are entrusted daily into our care.

When Women Love 2And to each other.

Like mother bears we are passionate about serving, protecting, and helping others.

We love deeply.

Sometimes,

we hurt deeply.

Large families, infertility, death, divorce, illness, image issues, abusive churches, domestic violence, human trafficking, gendercide, abortion…

So many issues that we experience, feel, hurt, regret.

When women connect intimately, they have the capacity to transcend all boundaries of race, color, ethnicity, creed- even religion; and when the women share the same agape love of God through Christ Jesus, the possibilities of healing are endless.

Women are gifted for so many acts of service that are often overlooked in the church and community. Sometimes we feel ill equipped to do the  very things that we are the most suited for.

This is the basis for my training and teaching women to respond to loss and trauma. From military families and vets, to tornado victims, and everything in between, the ability of women to minister to others with deep seated empathy is amazing. In today’s society where up to 95% of people will witness or suffer a traumatic event, women unleashed for service would to help hurting people is a powerful force for sharing the Good News.

In Genesis 2:18 were created to be “helpers” and without getting into a theological debate of the Hebrew behind this (saving that for another blog), suffice to say that the same Hebrew word used for helper suitable in Genesis is the same words that refer to God as our helper in many other passages.

We are powerful helpers to our husbands and to mankind in our capacity to love.

Mary was a perfect example of deep love, compassion, and human emotion.

when women love 3

Jesus loved her.

Anointing the feet of Jesus – wiping them with her hair – she would later go on to reveal very human disappointment when he delayed in coming to save her dying brother, Lazarus. She hesitated in running out to meet him and when she did she said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would have lived.”

In other words, “Lord, I have loved you so, couldn’t you return that love by saving my brother?”

Sometimes despite our love, the glory of God must be revealed.

And it hurts.

Jesus wept when Mary hurt.

Raised from the dead.

Lazarus lived again.

The glory of God revealed through deep pain and suffering.

Later, we again find Mary at the feet of Jesus.

But this time it is the foot of the cross.

IMG_5778Weeping at the cross she revealed for all to see her love of Jesus.

Wearing our hearts on our sleeves, we reveal ourselves for all the world to see.

We want to be seen. We want to be known. We want to be accepted.

We want to be loved for who we really are.  Without religious masks or Christian jargon, quick retorts of “I’m fine,” or hidden tears. We want to be connected to God and each other as it was in the beginning. Before the fall. Before the pain.

Before the humanity donned masks of shame and regret.

We want to reveal our true selves. Often we share our hearts too quickly, too often, and too openly, and it leaves our hearts battered, broken, torn, and burned.

And we, like Mary, go to the foot of the cross,

and reach for Jesus, revealing our tattered, broken, hearts to the the One who makes us whole.

 

 

 

 

Judging Others is Like Walking Into the Wrong Bathroom

Yes, I did it. Today while shopping at Walmart I accidentally walked into the men’s public bathroom.

I could have happened to anyone…

I drink a lot of water – nuff said. We had just purchased some groceries and I took off for the ladies room. I told Dave I would meet him and Sam outside and I was rushing. I began to walk into the ladies room when I looked up into the face of a man looking back at me. Seeing a man, I did what any woman would do – I made a 180 degree turn, and walked directly through the door behind me.

I quickly headed for a stall in the back, my peripheral vision barely catching some people to my left who were washing their hands at the sink. There was a little boy about age ten, leaning against the stall ahead of me and wearing a perplexed expression.  Naturally my full attention was drawn to him. I said, “Hello there” as I swung by him and walked into the first stall.

And that’s when it hit me…

mens-bathroom-sign

“Oh my God, I’m in the men’s room!”

And yes, I said it out loud.

I heard a chuckle and attempted to exit as quickly as I entered. As a walked back out I realized those sinks that had been to my left were not sinks at all – they were urinals!

Those men were not washing their hands.

UGH!

I threw my hands up next to my face to cover my vision (and hide my face) as I squealed, “SORRY GUYS.”  My exit was followed by a bit more hearty laughter.

It was then I saw the big bucket in front of the ladies room, which was being cleaned by a MAN!  (Lesson learned – pay attention to cleaning buckets!!!!)

There was no way I was going to stand outside the bathroom and patiently wait to use it now. I wanted outta there.

Henri Nouwen wrote, “We spend an enormous amount of energy making up our minds about other people.  Not a day goes by without somebody doing or saying something that evokes in us the need to form an opinion about him or her.   We hear a lot, see a lot, and know a lot.  The feeling that we have to sort it all out in our minds and make judgments about it can be quite oppressive.

The desert fathers said that judging others is a heavy burden, while being judged by others is a light one.  Once we can let go of our need to judge others, we will experience an immense inner freedom.  Once we are free from judging, we will be also free for mercy. 

yokeLet’s remember Jesus’ words:  “Do not judge, and you will not be judged”  (Matthew 7:1).

Judging others is like walking into the wrong bathroom.

At first glance, I saw a man standing inside the doorway – my perception was that I was headed into the wrong bathroom. I thought I knew by an outward, quick, judgment, that I should flee in the other direction. I completely misjudged what I saw.

Sure that I was then correct in my assessment I turned completely around and headed into the men’s room. With confidence I walked deeply into the room and into the stall, ignoring the uneasiness that I felt. It wasn’t until I went to latch the door – a moment of stillness – that I knew. My outer judgement had been completely wrong. My perception of the situation had been completely wrong. 

It was only deep inside the situation that the TRUTH was revealed.

“Love is the expression of the one who loves, not of the one who is loved. Those who think they can love only the people they prefer do not love at all. Love discovers truths about individuals that others cannot see”  Soren Kierkegaard

To be honest, I have walked into a men’s bathroom, and almost walked into the men’s bathroom before – more than once.

But I have never walked completely into the bathroom while it was in use.  It was humbling to say the least, embarrassing, and totally awkward to be inside the inner recesses of that bathroom.

All because of a decision based upon an ever quicker judgement.

To love others we have to be willing to go far enough into their lives that we can have a reasonably clear view of what it looks like. We have to be willing to go far enough in to see a glimmer of the truth about their lives. We can’t judge the heart – only God can do that, but we can try to understand what makes their inner man tic.If you see a brother have need....Does the love of God dwell in you?What are their struggles? Do I know what they have suffered? What regrets do they live with?  What brings them joy? Do they have dreams? Or are they all gone?

Dried up with the wind.

The answers lie beyond where it is comfortable to walk. The answers lie in the inner recesses of love.

We have to learn not to judge others based upon a fleeting moment or a quick assessment – a wrong perception of who we think they are.  We are headed in the wrong direction, and it will be embarrassing for us when we stand before God and see others as God sees them.

In His image.

He has better for us.  He has perfect love. He desires we see others as He sees us – from the inside out.

“But the LORD said to Samuel, “Don’t be impressed by his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. God does not view things the way men do. People look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” I Sam. 16:7

Is Grace Cheap? Actually, It’s Completely Free

Martin Luther said, “Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.” 

For the last week I have been deeply pondering grace (again); not something new for me as I have actually become kind of a grace addict.                                          (Ever since I was introduced years ago to John Lynch and TrueFaced ministries through one of my former Liberty University professors.) 

I like it any form I can get it, I’m not fussy. I savor it like dark chocolate, a thick juicy grilled steak, fresh blueberries right off the bush, or strawberries off of the vine, summer sweet corn, or tomatoes warm out of the garden sun,  some good Irish Breakfast tea and a hot scone on a cool day, or Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream on a hot one – preferably locally home-made. No high-fructose corn sugar or cheap imitations. The real McCoy – home-made, healthy, genuine goodness.

grilled_steakI bet the food in heaven is all farm fresh and we can eat and eat but not get fat. Oh, boy!

But I digress.

Grace is like that. A picnic of the finest food where we can eat and drink until our hearts are content. Stuffed with heavenly goodness.

Jesus is the sparkling living water that fills us up to brimming. We learn to love Jesus through faith alone – by grace – nothing of our own.

Because He first loved us.

 “Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” Ephesians 2:9

Why is it that people come to Christ, so unworthy and filled with hope in the unconditional grace and acceptance of a Holy God, who loves us so completely he died for us – only to spend the rest of their Christian lives struggling to earn his love, acceptance, and salvation? Always striving to be better, be more, pray more, do more, read the bible more…

And sin less – definitely sin less…

…in some vain attempt to gain acceptance, or a misguided notion it is the path to righteousness?

How’s that been working for ya?

It sure didn’t work for me.

It was so very freeing when I learned how to jump from that Merry-Go-Round of works and more works, and never measuring up, to rest in the knowledge that my filthy rags can never be improved upon in comparison to the shining cloak of Christ. I get to undeservedly wear his righteousness despite my own ongoing failures, and nothing can ever separate me from the love of God. It sure makes me love Him more. He sure makes me a better person.

It was for freedom that Christ has set you free. Gal. 5:1

Sometimes the lure of an amusement park catches me unawares and I succumb to riding again,  but now I know the road that leads me back home into the arms of grace and acceptance. I am learning it blindfolded. When I let His eyes lead me.

It’s called  “No Condemnation to Those Who Walk in Christ Road,”  and it is the MOST beautiful and peaceful road, and it never, ever, ever ends.

Grace roadAre we really that deceived to think that anything we can ever do can surpass Christ’s righteousness in us? 

Isn’t the whole New Testament the story of a rag to riches fairy tale where we get turned from an ugly, wart covered, murky pond dwelling toad, into an absolutely breathtaking,  princess – the bride of Christ- by the kiss of grace passionately bestowed upon us?

frogThe kiss that makes us full heirs to the Kingdom? The marriage of all marriages. The marriage by a King who was willing to die for his bride to bestow that kiss. That beautiful, passionate kiss given to us by the lover of our souls.

Better than human kisses. Even better than the kiss of our earthly lovers or the sweet smell of a baby’s breath.

The kiss of spiritual life.

Zoe kisses.

The more I used to strive to be like Christ, the more I failed. (And I have yet to meet anyone who can beat me in my former self-righteousness, or in my trust even if I die, you die or others die convictions. Something I’m not proud of, but I am completely forgiven.) 

Don’t tell me about works, legalism, spiritual abuse, cults or “cheap grace. I spent year riding that Merry-Go-round that leads to rejection, anger and failure.

The road that leads to guilt and self-condemnation.

Round and round – try more.

Round and round – pray more.

Round and round – do more.

Round and round – submit to God more so the devil will flee.

merry-go-roundRound and round and round and round and round and round and round and round….

It left me feeling sick to my stomach.

Isolated.

Alone.

Always reaching for God.

Always falling short.

It left me spinning without direction.

Then I saw it. Right in front of me. Jesus was reaching for my hand standing on a path I’d had glimpses of before. A path I had even walked on before. It just seems too easy, too beautiful – to simply take his hand and accept it all.

It feels undeserved.

hand-reaching-out-300x225

And it is.

The “No Condemnation to Those Who Walk in Christ Road” always lead to spiritual growth, because it’s where we are…

Loved.

Forgiven.

Accepted.

Embraced…

despite my sin which is more starkly contrasted the closer I get to Jesus,

as His unconditional love is more starkly revealed…

…along with my inability to do absolutely anything to earn it.

Completely, utterly, forgiven.

We were sinners in our self-righteousness and God loved us anyway.

We were sinners in our works, and God loved us anyway.

We were sinners in our sin, and God loved us anyway.

We still are.

God loves us anyway.

How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? Gal. 3:3

In the morning (3) - Copy copyJesus Christ. Nothing more. Nothing less.

“It is finished.”  John 19:30

 

Step on Broken Glass and You’ll Cut Your Feet

Ever notice that some of the kindest, most caring, loving, helpful, lay-down-their-lives kind of people are the ones who have been the most broken? More often than not it is the beautiful and broken people who want to help other beautiful and broken people. They are often the ones reaching out to help the not-so-broken and not-so-beautiful as well.

They are also the ones who most often get stepped on. They take people at face value. They trust too easily (how do you think they were broken?)  They often have some form of abuse in their past – physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, sexual, verbal…  It is easy to take advantage of people who have been broken. They don’t always have boundaries.  But they are survivors, and if you walk over top of them, you may just get cut. Badly.

Ever walk on broken glass?

Glass 3

Boundaries are difficult for those of us with caregiver mentalities – I know. I just learned what healthy boundaries truly are, very recently. Shortly after I learned that there was absolutely nothing I could ever do to separate me from the love of God. When you gain that understanding – truly deeply embedded in your heart – that God is so totally and completely in love with you,  boundaries are set up kind of naturally. Peacefully.  To give and receive that kind of love – it is an amazing, life altering event.

It requires being really secure in who you are as a person, really secure as to who you are in Christ to have healthy boundaries, or the boundaries can be gate-less brick walls that keep everyone out. A boundary should be something that people can walk across if they are invited, but not break bones if they run into it.  It should have a gate than can easily open to invite others in with the knowledge that they will be warmly welcomed.

gate

At least when it isn’t locked -there are times for locks. Very, very, secure locks.

The bible speaks about a “hedge of protection” being around Job to keep Satan from him. We tend to think of this hedge as something to keep us safe from harm, the “devils” tactics, accidents or calamity. It was a hedge of densely grown thorn bushes – the type that would tear even the thickest coat on a wolf or other predator if he tried to go through.

Boundaries are that hedge for us. The hedge is our ability to say “no” to others for our own health and well-being. It is the wall that keeps others from stepping on us when our compassion or kindness begins to exceed our human abilities. It is a protective barrier when our trust, going the extra mile, or giving the benefit of the doubt is trounced upon by another.

It keeps others from getting cut when they push too far and walk upon broken glass. Better a hedge than bloody and torn feet.

When the hedge is in place it acts as a barrier against the storms and allows the waves of grace to wash over us and smooth the broken shards into beauty. It gives us the strength and peace to extend grace, so that when others do overstep a boundary we don’t make them bleed. We give them a shard free space to retreat. God’s grace is always a shard free zone.

Broken Glass 1When the grace and love of God fill someone’s heart, all fear and pain is washed away – replaced by total acceptance.

The most effective catalyst for lasting change is the unconditional love of God; sweeping motivation from the inside out.

Instead of being met by shards of failed perfection, smooth stones reflect the beauty and glory of God.  He will do the work in us, and in others, if we just get out-of-the-way and let Him.

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,

‘Prepare the way for the Lord,

make straight paths for him.

Every valley shall be filled in,

every mountain and hill made low.

The crooked roads shall become straight,

the rough ways smooth.

And all people will see God’s salvation.’ ” Luke 3:4b -6 

 

The Holes are Deep

inside a holeI fell in a hole a few days ago. It happens every once in a while when I am not watching where I am going. All of a sudden this hole pops up in front of me and down I go. Sometimes the hole is really dark and full of scary images, but fortunately I always carry a light with me now which helps to prevent a total loss of illumination. Usually I can keep my bearings by looking up where the light varies from a flicker to full illumination.

There have been times when the hole has been deep and dark and I couldn’t get out.  I discovered that if I write, the words tend to weave a kind of mystical  story rope, allowing me to shimmy just a little bit higher to where the light shines. Once you learn the art of weaving story ropes, you can pass it on to others. I have begun the journey with many who are finding their way out of dark holes through writing. One of my new curriculum’s is based on this healing art of rope weaving. The truly magical part is that the stronger the rope gets, the easier the climbing becomes.

There have been times when the caverns were so deep, I needed a friend to help shed some of their light inside for me to be able to weave. More often now, I stand on top of the hole and shine the light for someone to begin their weaving.

Sometimes the holes are not quite as deep and the sun shines enough to produce and pleasant vines and flowers growing up the sides. When that happens the rope isn’t always needed and I can climb out among the vines without fear of falling. My story tells about the beauty of the journey, weaving the suffering into a picture of grace.

Inside-Looking-Out-4cd727eedbc03_hiresOftentimes, the holes are more horizontal in nature. I think those are the type most of us fall into. They don’t required an intense weaving to get out of, nor even climbing up the vines, but they do create a struggle as we crawl upwards. We bruise our knees and scrape our hands and it is just so refreshing to breathe the fresh air and bask in the light again.

The greatest thing about weaving ropes of healing stories, is that each rope gets stronger the more practice we have. Like any other sport, talent, or occupation, the more experience we gain by doing the wiser we become. And it doesn’t matter if we weave the story rope alone or in groups, for ourselves or for others. The rope will surely appear as a ladder to freedom.

More often than not, I now weave a bridge into my stories that gives me a place to cross the holes safely. It is really a developed art to recognize the landscape where the holes pop up and avoid them.  A friend of mine named Jesus is teaching me that particular art and with His help, my weaving will be perfected.

Relentless Pursuit

road 2We used to sing a song based on the King James Version of Psalm 139:7-9, “Wither Shall I go, wither shall I flee from thee. If I take the wings of the morn, thou are still with me.”

As a thirteen year old teen whose parents were in the middle of a messy marital separation, fleeing was a regular part of my life. I fled from home, I fled from school, and I fled from reality. Drugs became my alternate reality – a safe place where I could temporarily flee from the pain of a confused life.

I will always remember the “charismatic coffee house” that a friend and I attended weekly. Her parents were faithful Christians and undoubtedly they believed this was a great idea. However, they weren’t fully aware of what exactly it was that we did there.  Though it was a good environment for two wayward teens to hang out at, we snuck outside and smoked dope, returning to the service with a new perspective on the cool things happening inside. There were always plenty of “munchies” and the combination of Pentecostals, Methodists, Baptists Lutherans, and even Catholic nuns, speaking in tongues, raising their hands and praising God, was, well, “Far out!”

I was drawn to the power and love that I always felt in that place, even before I got high. The people all seemed so genuinely happy, and the other teens that were there, even though they were totally “square” had something I didn’t. They were completely confident in being hopelessly square, and “born again Christians.” How can it be?

One night, I had an experience that was so compelling, it drew me. I knew for the first time what I was experiencing was the awesome presence of God. One of the teens talked to me for hours about Jesus and I could sense his presence. By the end of the night, I had prayed the sinners prayer, and had accepted Christ as my Savior. I vowed to live for him.

It lasted about two weeks.

Far from the Christian environment, far from the unity among those believers, back among my friends where my acceptance was gained by dealing drugs and giving them away, back among the chaos of my home life – my new-found faith was very far away. “What are you some Jesus freak? Come on Jamie, get over it.” Acid was much more real to me in that time and place than faith. I was alone.

Jamie, hear my voice. I am. I AM.       Relentless pursuit.

There are those who would argue I was always “saved”, there are those who would argue I was never “saved”, there are those who would argue I was “fallen away” – doesn’t matter what doctrine you choose – it’s not the point – the fact is I was far from God living a life of sin.

He however, was not far from me. Relentless pursuit.

That experience created in me a never-ending desire to find that peace again. I never stopped looking – from southern Christian churches who turned me away by their non-acceptance of my cigarette smell, dirty jeans or bra-less t-shirts, to Eastern Religions like Buddhism and Baha’ism, I was on a quest.

I have loved you with an everlasting love. (Jer. 31:3)

God brought Dave to me to teach me unconditional love, to challenge my morality, and to question our place in eternity.

Relentless pursuit.

God set us next door to Christians who daily helped us by bringing us water when the well in our new home ran dry to teach us about him, and how his church functions. (Rom.12)

Relentless pursuit.

And even though we found Jesus in a Christian cult and spent many wounded from it, God brought us person after person, event after event, situation after situation to confirm His existence, and his never-ending grace.

The more we run, the more tired we get. Eventually I chose to fall into the embrace of the God who loves me, I chose to live a different life, to let him change me, mold me, deliver me from the harm I was going to myself.

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit…” Eph. 1:13

Relentless pursuit.

Just like the song – where can you flee, where can you hide, God is there. He is pursuing you. Fall into his arms.