Archive for the ‘God’s Love’ Category

Independence Day

Monday, July 4th, 2016

Today’s Independence Day. It’s a day off, the end of a long weekend, and a good time to relax and think.

My son is with me — I’m planning to make a cake for his birthday today, since I’ll be out of town on his actual birthday at the end of the month. But he’s had a skype visit this past week with a possible roommate in Portland area, and he’s got a phone interview next week for a possible job in Portland — and he’s soon going to be Independent from me.

And that reminds me of Independence Day four years ago, when I finished reading the book Why We Broke Up and put away my wedding pictures and declared myself truly Independent from my ex-husband. Sadly, but with finality and a certain joy.

And now I am soon to be Independent of my son. Or him Independent of me.

I recently made an honest effort to get a job in Oregon to be closer to both my kids. I didn’t get it, and I had prayed hard about it, and I felt like God was saying that He has something for me here.

But, you know, I don’t actually want to be Independent!

At the same time, I know it’s good for me.

Something a friend said recently reminded me of one of the blows that struck when my husband left me. The way I knew I was lovable was that my husband loved me. When he left, I had to come to grips with the fact that I am still lovable.

And being Independent forced me to do that.

And some of the same things are at play if my kids aren’t close by, needing daily mothering.

My life is valuable because I’m needed, right? My life is significant because I am significant to them, right?

Now, I’ve had well-meaning friends say that I am lovable because God loves me because of Christ. Or that I am nothing without Christ, but that God looks at me and sees His Son, sees me as perfect in Christ.

Those ring hollow for me. I believe that God sees and loves me.

George MacDonald has some harsh words about the notion of “imputed righteousness.” God sees Truth when He looks at us. And He is actually building character in us, not just pretending that we are already righteous. But I do believe that as we love our children even when they haven’t matured yet, so with God. And as we love the quirky individuality of our children, so with God. And He knows that He is building our character.

I don’t want to be Independent. Attachment is good for people, and we are made for Community. I fought tooth and nail against my marriage ending — until God finally showed me He had something else for me.

But God is teaching me things in my current state of Independence, and that is good.

He’s teaching me that He loves me in all my quirks — I believe God loves my number nuttiness, my love of children’s books, and my excitement about spotting great blue herons, for example.

Yes, God sees all that I can be — but I believe that He loves the quirky uniqueness He created in me. I believe He loves even my childish baby steps toward becoming like Christ.

He’s showing me that I have things to contribute to the world, independent of my husband. (I was happy to accompany my husband around the world, just supporting his career.) He’s given me the gift of a career of my own, and one that I love.

And most of all, He’s saying to me,

Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.

I may be Independent. My kids may be Independent. But I am not alone.

Stones of Help, Stones of Fire

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016

Today is my 52nd Birthday.

Because 52 is such a cool number, and because there are 52 weeks in a year, I’m embarking on Project 52 — reflecting each week on one year of my life.

I’ve also been thinking very much about Healing today.

Ten years ago this summer was when I left Germany, utterly brokenhearted, and moved to Virginia.

Now I am settling in — and I feel Healed. And that’s a wonderful thing.

And I was thinking about I Samuel 7:12, where Samuel sets up a stone as a monument to God’s help. He names it “Ebenezer,” which means “Stone of Help,” and says, “Hitherto hath the Lord helped.”

Today I planned to go to Great Falls, which I did, and pick up a stone to remind me of God’s help. I have some other stones. This one (actually I picked up two) is going to represent Healing.

Here are the stones I chose along with some souvenir playing cards from places I loved. (I played some solitaire tonight using 52 cards at a time. It’s appropriate!)

BirthdayStones

But, rather more amazing — this morning I checked my doorstep (I’d forgotten to check last night), and there was a birthday package! It contained a gift from my generous friend Lauri Ann of beautiful opal earrings.

Opals are special to me because one of my favorite books as a kid was a book written by missionary Isobel Kuhn called Stones of Fire. In it, she compares a Lisu tribeswoman to a fire opal. She talks about how the colors of the opal come from pressure and brokenness.

I love that thought. As I’m thinking about Healing — I declare that my healed broken heart is part of what makes me beautiful.

So my Stones of Fire are also my Stones of Help. They speak to how far God has brought me — and that He has not only Healed me, He used those awful times to make me beautiful.

Three years ago when I went to Great Falls on my birthday, the many great blue herons I saw represented Great Blue Herons of Happiness.

This year, they were back!

GreatBlueFalls1

So the walk in great falls was about Healing and Happiness both.

GreatBlueFalls2

We got amazing views of many, many herons.

GreatBlueFalls3

And here I am modeling my Stones of Fire that represent Healing, with a Great Blue Heron of Happiness behind me.

Opal

Hitherto hath the Lord helped!

What Was the Pharisees’ Mistake?

Saturday, November 21st, 2015

Yesterday was Transgender Day of Remembrance 2015. I observed this day because I recently learned that my 27-year-old son is transitioning to become my 27-year-old daughter, which she says more clearly matches who she really is.

I was pretty shaken by the news, but fortunately, she got to tell me in person, so I could feel in my heart that, regardless of gender, this is still the person I love with all my heart. Their essential being hasn’t changed. I haven’t lost my child.

And I’ve done some reading on verbal abuse. I think it’s abusive to tell someone that I know better than they do what’s going on inside their own head. If my kid tells me that living as a woman better fits the person they are inside, I am going to listen. Because no one knows better than they do what is going on inside their own head. (Some would say it’s not abusive, it’s just invalidating. Either way, it’s not very nice.)

This news came last summer. Last week, I got to spend some time with my new daughter in Portland, Oregon, and with a trip to the Oregon coast. It was a lovely, wonderful time. She is very happy about transitioning. And I still think she’s one of the most wonderful people God ever created.

20151110_161159

Not all my friends and family members, however, think I should be happy that my child is happy.

After all, they are absolutely sure the Bible teaches that changing gender is sinful. They say the gender you appear to be at birth is what you are, because Adam and Eve were male and female. Therefore I should not “go along” with my child’s sin, and I should not “give in” and call them by the new name they have chosen.

Meanwhile, I joined a Mom’s Facebook group for Christian mothers of LGBTQ kids. My transgender daughter is an adult. But many of them have children who are being given messages that they are an abomination and evil. Many tried and tried with prayer to change who they are, only to despair.

I’m coming to think of this not as a simple expression of intolerance but of active harm.

However, though I strongly disagree with their interpretation of Scripture, I feel like I do have some sympathy. I can remember what it was like to look at the world — and the Bible — that way.

You see, I was a teenage Pharisee.

Okay, I was also a child Pharisee and an adult Pharisee. I grew up in a loving Christian home. We went to an evangelical church, and I accepted all the teachings from an early age. I thanked God that I was born into a home where I was taught the Truth. Too bad that everyone who didn’t believe this was going to hell. But it was what they chose by not believing the Truth.

I went to a Christian elementary school. I started in third grade, which was where I met two dear friends who are still among my very best friends today. I went on to a Christian high school and a Christian university. We signed statements of faith as well as codes of conduct where we agreed that we would not do shocking things like smoke, drink alcohol, or dance. And I was happy to sign.

Like a good Pharisee, I memorized Scripture — the entire New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs. Now, the real reason I could give significant time to it was that my parents paid me, but I do have to say that memorizing Scripture did me good in spite of myself. Filling my mind with Scripture got it into my heart. And I still love the Bible today.

I married a good Christian man — a fellow student from the university. I was all set to live a good life, pleasing God. Don’t get me wrong — I knew there would be “trials,” but God would get me through. We’d be a nice Christian couple and raise a nice Christian family. And I wasn’t even tempted to bend the rules. No smoking, drinking, or dancing for me, even if I hadn’t signed a code of conduct recently.

But in my memorizing, I noticed something about the Pharisees. They believed they could prove from Scripture that Jesus was not from God. It’s right there in John 9:14 —

Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.

My heart goes out to the Pharisees. They thought they had it all figured out. They thought they knew how to please God. They thought they had all their ducks in a row.

They got things in black and white, and they didn’t have to guess if they were doing it right. They knew who was right with God and who was a sinner. They thanked God that they weren’t like those sinners. Hmmmm. Kind of like me.

And then Jesus comes along and says things like this in Matthew 12 —

“If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

That rule, which they’d all worked out? He said it wasn’t the end-all and be-all.

What’s more, he criticized their nice definite lists of rules, the way they clarified things for God. In Matthew 23, he said they missed the point —

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices — mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

Now, when I was a college student, I used to wonder when my professors presented me with a detailed chart of how the end times were going to go. It seems to me that God doesn’t like to be predictable. Jesus fulfilled prophecy — but he certainly didn’t fulfill it the way those who’d received the prophecies expected the Messiah to fulfill them. What if God was going to deal with prophecies of the end times the same way? What if they aren’t given to us so we can know in black and white exactly what will happen? What if we just need the message of who is going to win?

But I still didn’t see it with the Rules. God lays out in his Word what’s Good and Bad, what’s Right and Wrong. A good Christian believes that and follows those Rules. A good Christian does their best not to sin.

Gradually, over the years, God eased me out of being a Pharisee. He ever-so-gently showed me that maybe the point isn’t the rules, but loving God and loving your neighbor.

One of the earlier things to shake me up was reading George MacDonald, a nineteenth-century preacher. George MacDonald clearly loved the Bible and read it in the original languages — yet he seemed to be teaching that All would (eventually) be saved. How could he believe the Bible, yet teach that?

I tried to set aside my preconceptions and read through the New Testament again — the New Testament that I’d memorized and thought I knew well. I was amazed that this new interpretation flowed much more naturally out of the text! (For more on this see my review of a book by George MacDonald and links to other books at the bottom of the review.)

So — how astonishing that the interpretation of the Bible that I’d grown up with and believed was the Only Saving Truth — was not at all the only possible interpretation, and that there was even one that seemed much better and much more in harmony with God’s love.

Now I still believe that everyone comes to God through Jesus, but that your chance to trust him doesn’t end at death. I believe that hell isn’t punishment, but correction. And though it lasts for eons (the word used in the Greek), it doesn’t last for eternity.

Hell is not senseless, unending vindictive torture. Hell is the length to which a loving God will go to bring his children back to himself.

But wait — that means those people I believe are horrible sinners are going to wind up in heaven with me.

Okay, that shakes up my way of looking at people.

That means maybe God will bring other people to himself using a different path than the one that led me to him.

And . . . just maybe . . . it’s possible that sometimes my interpretation of Scripture is wrong.

George MacDonald also cautions his readers against putting their trust in the Bible, when our trust should be in Jesus.

Because we aren’t reading the original language, and even if we were, our interpretation can vary.

It seems to me, that’s what the Pharisees did.

Now, in the case of lesbians, gays, bisexual, transgender, and queer people — there are definitely other ways to interpret the Bible.

Here’s a nice link with an alternative view. Or there’s an outstanding book written by an Episcopal bishop, God Believes in Love.

And what, after all, does Jesus say are the “more important matters of the law”? Doesn’t he say in Matthew 22 what’s most important:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

If Jesus’ words aren’t enough, Paul echoes it in Romans 13 —

The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

It seems to me that if your interpretation of Scripture results in actions that don’t seem very loving — maybe there’s something wrong with your interpretation of Scripture.

Do we really want to put more faith in the Bible — or our interpretation of it — than we do in Jesus and his Spirit who lives in us?

Shouldn’t we be concerned when we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that what someone else is doing is sin?

Even if we’re right and it is sin, that brings us to Jesus’ words in Matthew 7 —

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

And how does Jesus deal with sinners? Does he confront their sin first? Not so much. (Religious people who did not believe they were sinners, yes.) Look at his interaction with Matthew, partying with his friends, in Matthew 9. Look at the entire chapter of John 4 where Jesus shocks his disciples by talking with an immoral Samaritan woman at a well. Here’s what he tells her:

You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you have now is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.

Do you hear a word of condemnation in that? (She didn’t seem to. She changes the subject but continues talking with him.) Sure, I hope for her sake that she found real and lasting love later in her life. But at that moment? Her lifestyle, sinful or not, is not the point. Jesus loves her and wants to give her living water.

***

Now, brothers and sisters, I’m trying to be clear that I can easily remember thinking very differently about this. I’ve gone more quickly down this path because now it affects one of the people I love most in all the world.

But it does make me sad that my new daughter doesn’t naturally look to Christians for love and acceptance. And it makes me sad that Christians aren’t urging me to love my kid all the more.

So let me humbly suggest some questions:

Does my interpretation of Scripture fit with the principles of mercy, love, and faithfulness in this matter?

In what ways can I love my lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer neighbors as myself?

Am I straining out a gnat but swallowing a camel?

And to any lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer people who may be reading this post: God loves you. You are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Let me close with words from Romans 8:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And that, Dear Reader, includes you.

Thanksgiving Psalm

Monday, April 13th, 2015

Blossom

In my last post, I looked at the form of the Lament in the Psalms – the most common form used in the Psalms. I posted an example I wrote a year ago.

Yesterday, I thought it was time I wrote another personal Psalm. However, I wasn’t in the mood for a lament. I’d been trying to remember the bright side of being single lately, and I’d been succeeding. In fact, writing out the lament itself brought me to a happier place.

So instead, I decided to write a Thanksgiving Psalm. And I’d focus on the wonderful home that I feel was a gift from God.

Here’s the form of a Thanksgiving Psalm:

I. Introduction

I will exalt you, O Lord,
for you lifted me out of the depths
and did not let my enemies gloat over me.
— Psalm 30:1

II. Call to Praise

Let the redeemed of the Lord say this –
those he gathered from the lands,
from east and west, from north and south.
— Psalm 107:2-3

III. Account
A. Crisis in Retrospect

The cords of death entangled me,
the anguish of the grave came upon me;
I was overcome by trouble and sorrow.
— Psalm 116:3

B. Deliverance
1. I called.

Then I called on the name of the Lord:
“O Lord, save me!”
— Psalm 116:4

2. You heard and you intervened.

You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.
–Psalm 30:11

IV. Praise

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for men.
Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people
and praise him in the council of the elders.
— Psalm 107:31-32

So that’s the basic form.

My challenge is this: Try using this form, along with parallelism. (Repeat yourself!)

It’s a lovely way to remind yourself what God has done.

Here’s what I wrote yesterday morning. It’s not eloquent – just an example of how you can use this form to recount something God has done for you.

God is good.
It is always worth it to seek Him.

Praise the Lord for his kindness;
praise Him for noticing our needs and longings.
Notice the Lord’s compassion,
for He notices us.

I was abandoned and alone,
in debt after divorce,
a single mom with an empty nest,
pouring money into rent,
with a guest room that was never used,
with furniture for a family I used to have.

I asked the Lord if I should look for a home to buy,
or look elsewhere for a job?
Should I stay where I’d healed after my divorce
or look further afield for something new?

He answered to enlarge the place of my tent
and spread my tent curtains wide.

I thought I found a home—
farther from my church than I’d wanted,
but surely the best I could afford?
It didn’t have a view,
but couldn’t being nice inside make up for that?
Then it fell through, after inspections were done.
I had to start all over again.

Then I saw this place, and looked out on a lake.
The first place kept me busy
while waiting for the gift you had for me.

And every day I look out on my lake
and my soul is soothed.

I’m near my church family,
and the whole church helped me move.
Now a Small Group meets in my home,
and I’ve had more visitors than my last two homes combined.
Walking by my lake
restored my health after my stroke.
The birds and ever-changing plant growth
constantly speak of your loving care.

Father, I thank You for giving me the disappointment
that led to the perfect timing of the home you had for me.
Thank You for knowing what I needed in my life
for this time.
Thank You for giving me much more than I asked for
and always dealing with me with love.
Thank You for the egrets and the great blue heron,
the robins, blue jays, woodpeckers, and cardinals.
Thank You for the enticement to walk
and the soothing lap of the lake.
Thank You for Spring blossoms,
Summer growth,
Autumn splendor,
and Winter whiteness.
Thank You that Your gifts never run out
and You are good.

I Am Not Alone

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

I attend a Small Group of folks from my church who get together and talk about our journeys. We’re currently going through John Eldredge’s book, Waking the Dead. The book is talking about spiritual warfare and how demonic spirits try to get a foothold by getting you to make agreements with them.

Now, I think of myself as good at avoiding negative self-talk. But as I’ve become aware of this, I’ve noticed negative statements about myself which I’m tempted to believe.

I think one tip off that the suggestion might be of the devil? It often comes with the word, “See, . . .”

I’ve noticed lately, I keep getting the thought, “See, you’re all alone.”

It came when my toilet broke. It came when I had to call the police about a problem customer at work. It came when my oldest son had a birthday and I remembered really good times in my marriage. It comes when I think about that nice man I found on a dating site — who hasn’t been online since. It even came when my younger son told me he’s applied to graduate early.

How to fight this?

Being aware of these lies, I think, is the first step.

And the next step is rejecting the lies in the name of Jesus. And filling your mind with the opposing truth.

Deuteronomy 31:8 —

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you;
he will never leave you nor forsake you.
Do not be afraid;
do not be discouraged.

And what better way to get truth into your heart than to sing it? I’m going to have to order Kari Jobe’s CD that includes this song, “I am not alone.”

Delight

Thursday, January 1st, 2015

Happy New Year!

I’m thinking about a Theme for 2015 and verses for 2015, and I’m coming up with “Delight.”

I want to especially remember to Delight in the Lord this year. But also remember that He’s said He delights in me.

How amazing is that?

My verses for 2015 were going to be Psalm 37:3-4 —

Trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Delight yourself in the Lord
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

But after looking through all the verses I can find that use the word “Delight” (See below.), I think I will add Zephaniah 3:17 —

The Lord your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.

Using my handy-dandy Strong’s Concordance, I want to look at some other verses that use the word “delight.”

I Samuel 15:22 —

But Samuel replied:
“Does the Lord delight in burn offerings and sacrifices
as much as obeying the voice of the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams.

Psalm 1:1-3 —

Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.
But his delight ins in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.

Psalm 16:5-6 —

Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup;
you have made my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.

Psalm 18:19 —

He brought me out into a spacious place;
he rescued me because he delighted in me.

Psalm 35:9 —

Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord
and delight in his salvation.

Psalm 35:27 —

May those who delight in my vindication
shout for joy and gladness;
may they always say, “The Lord be exalted,
who delights in the well-being of his servant.”

Psalm 37:23-24 —

If the Lord delights in a man’s way,
he makes his steps firm;
though he stumble, he will not fall,
for the Lord upholds him with his hand.

Psalm 43:3-4 —

Send forth your light and your truth,
let them guide me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
to the place where you dwell.
Then will I go to the altar of God,
to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the harp,
O God, my God.

Psalm 51:16-17 —

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.

Psalm 112:1 —

Praise the Lord.
Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
who finds great delight in his commands.

Psalm 119:16 —

I delight in your decrees;
I will not neglect your word.

Psalm 119:24 —

Your statutes are my delight;
they are my counselors.

Psalm 119:35 —

Direct me in the path of your commands,
for there I find delight.

Psalm 119:47 —

for I delight in your commands
because I love them.

Psalm 119:77 —

Let your compassion come to me that I may live,
for your law is my delight.

Psalm 119:92 —

If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.

Psalm 119:143 —

Trouble and distress have come upon me,
but your commands are my delight.

Psalm 119:174 —

I long for your salvation, O Lord,
and your law is my delight.

Psalm 147:10-11 —

His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his delight in the legs of a man;
the Lord delights in those who fear him,
who put their hope in his unfailing love.

Proverbs 11:20 —

The Lord detests men of perverse heart
but he delights in those whose ways are blameless.

Proverbs 12:22 —

The Lord detests lying lips,
but he delights in men who are truthful.

Isaiah 61:10-11 —

I delight greatly in the Lord;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the soil makes the sprout come up
and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise
spring up before all nations.

Isaiah 62:4 —

No longer will they call you Deserted,
or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah,
and your land Beulah;
for the Lord will take delight in you,
and your land will be married.

Jeremiah 9:23-24 —

This is what the Lord says:
“Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom
or the strong man boast of his strength
or the rich man boast of his riches,
but let him who boasts boast about this:
that he understands and knows me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 15:16 —

When your words came, I ate them;
they were my joy and my heart’s delight,
for I bear your name,
O Lord God Almighty.

Micah 7:18-19 —

Who is a God like you,
who pardons sin and forgives the transgression
of the remnant of his inheritance?
You do not stay angry forever
but delight to show mercy.
You will again have compassion on us;
you will tread our sins underfoot
and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.

Malachi 3:12 —

“Then all the nations will call you blessed,
for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.

I Corinthians 13:6 —

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

What will I delight in this year?

And I hope to remember, through thick and thin, that the Lord delights in me.

What will my Father sing over me this year?

Sunday Songs

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

Our pastor is doing a series on Finding Jesus, and today’s topic was Simplicity of Identity.

Alyssa got up and talked about all the different ways we find our identity — from our physical qualities, our job, our hobbies, what our friends say, to quizzes on Facebook. Then they showed this music video:

Pastor Ed’s sermon was from John 6. When we read John 6, we can see how secure Jesus was in his identity and how firm he was about it. And Jesus’ identity is firm and secure because of his connection with the Father.

But the point of John’s biography isn’t to help us identify Jesus. It’s to help us find our identity in Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t ask for us to understand him — He wants us to come to him, to eat and drink of him.

In our lives, we have identity indicators and identity anchors. My identity will be secure if my anchor is my connection to Jesus.

The only way to get free from the crippling identity messages that come at us is to find our anchor in Jesus.

I was especially touched by this sermon because before and after they sang a song that was sung at my wedding — “Take My Life, and Let It Be Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.”

But my marriage ended badly, and many messages were flung at me that I was unlovable, a failure, and a cruel person.

But I had honestly prayed on my wedding day, “Take my love, my Lord, I pour at thy feet its treasure store.” Things didn’t work out the way I wanted them to, but what a nice reminder that God considers me His Beloved.

Beloved. We are beloved by God. He will never let us go.

Sunday Songs – Forgiveness, by Matthew West, with Jonah 4

Sunday, September 2nd, 2012

This song, Forgiveness, by Matthew West, has reached out and grabbed me when it plays on the radio lately. I do believe that Forgiveness is the key to living a joyful life. It’s the opposite of bitterness, which eats away your life. I believe that forgiveness is for the person doing the forgiving more than anything. As he says in this song, “The prisoner that it really frees is you.”

Here’s the song:

Today’s sermon was on Jonah 4, and it struck me that Jonah 4 is a story of unforgiveness.

When Jonah tried to run from God, God went after him. Jonah repented and did what God told him to do — but his heart was still bitter.

Jonah preached to the Ninevites, and they repented. He should be happy, right? Instead, he tells God, “O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

What do you suppose Jonah had against the Ninevites to hate them so much? We know they were barbaric conquerors, and we also know that they conquered Israel’s northern kingdom. We know they fully deserved total destruction from God.

No mention is made of Jonah’s family. What if Assyrian soldiers killed his children? What if they raped and murdered his wife? That would certainly explain his bitterness, hatred, and anger.

My first reaction to those “what ifs” is to think, God would never send Jonah to the Ninevites if that had happened.

Wouldn’t He?

Jonah was so angry with the Ninevites, when God forgave them, he wanted to die. He sat outside the city, hoping God would change His mind and blast them after all.

What if, besides wanting the Ninevites to repent, what if God wanted to free Jonah from his bitterness?

You know, it’s easier to be forgiving when the person in question is suffering for their sin. If everything you hear from them sounds like complete misery, what’s to be angry about? They’re suffering as they deserve. But what if they repent and God forgives them? What if things start going well for them? Why do we feel like it’s up to us to remember how awful they are and all the punishment they deserve? Why do we feel we have to carry the torch for their wrong-ness, to make sure it’s never forgotten?

God put Jonah into the belly of a whale. Jonah had to beg for God’s mercy and face his own need for forgiveness. In chapter 4, with the vine, God tries to make Jonah see those he hates as people, too.

God asks Jonah, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”

I love this quotation from George MacDonald about why God cannot forgive those who don’t forgive:

“When we forgive our neighbor, in flows the forgiveness of God’s forgiveness to us. For God to withhold his forgiveness from the one who will not forgive his neighbor is love as well as necessity. If God said, ‘I forgive you,’ to a man who hated his brother, what would it mean to him? How would the man interpret it? Would it not mean to him, ‘You may go on hating. I do not mind it. You have had great provocation, and are justified in your hate.’ No, the hater must be delivered from the hell of his hate, that God’s child should be made the loving child that he meant him to be.” (Wisdom to Live By, p. 162)

What if this is why God specifically sent Jonah to the Ninevites?

I’d like to think Jonah indeed learned from this, that the message of God got through in the end. And I do have reason to hope that: After all, how else did that chapter get into Scripture? Jonah and God were the only ones who were there. I’d like to think Jonah was the one who told people about the aftermath of his preaching. He had some time to think about it, and he added to the story, “Here’s what God taught me in the end.”

And in the process, I’d like to think Jonah stepped out of his prison of bitterness.

And maybe that’s a greater miracle even than God sending the great fish.

Sunday Songs – Stronger

Saturday, June 9th, 2012

I know, I haven’t been posting on Sonderjourneys much lately at all. Today, I’m participating in Mother Reader‘s 48-Hour Book Challenge. How does that relate to this blog post? Well, reading and blogging is allowed to contribute to your time. Now, since most of my daily Quiet Times consist of reading various books, I have no problem counting that in my time.

But I also usually write in my journal about what I’m learning, talking to God.

So I’m going to cheat just a tiny bit and blog about what I’m learning. The appropriate place is this Sonderjourneys blog.

And I’d been meaning to start a series on songs that have blessed me. I’m going to call it Sunday Songs because I love alliteration (gosh, could you tell?) and I’d like to be reminded about this weekly. However, I will feel free to post in this series on other days of the week, and I think the heading will tip people off that these are Christian songs.

Yes, I listen to Christian radio. Yes, I listen to Christian music on CDs. To me, there’s no better way to affirm what I know in my mind and start on the journey of knowing it in my heart.

That’s why I chose “Stronger,” sung by Mandisa. I’ve loved this song for awhile. It makes me want to dance. And it’s so true — but the message is so easy to forget.

Yesterday, this song played on WGTS 91.9 when I was driving to work. And it was a timely reminder. I’m currently on the 23rd day of what was diagnosed as a vestibular migraine. But is it really a vestibular migraine? Everything fits — except the 23 days part. And the last time I had such a long headache, it didn’t stop until I went to the hospital with a stroke.

So, yes, I’m keeping my eyes wide open for any stroke symptoms (and I definitely know what those are) and I’m communicating with neurologists. But in the meantime, it’s easy to get discouraged. That’s where this song comes in.

I do believe that the pain won’t last forever. I do believe that this experience, like so many others, will definitely make me stronger. And especially, I believe that God is right there, that even if it’s hard to see Him, I know that he still cares.

And that is worth dancing and singing about.

Words of Comfort

Saturday, June 5th, 2010

This weekend, I’m doing Mother Reader‘s 48-Hour Book Challenge.  The Challenge is to spend as much time as possible in a 48-hour period reading and blogging.  Though the challenge is targeted to book bloggers, I didn’t see anything in the rules that declared you had to confine your blogging to blogging about books.  So I think this will be a good time to blog about my last eventful few weeks.

On Tuesday, May 11, what I feared happened — I got a RIF notice.  Due to the library budget cuts, they were having a “Reduction in Force.”  The people who got notices were determined by seniority.  I knew that I was right around the cut-off of who would get RIF’d.  And, sure enough, when they gave me the RIF packet, I was told that I was the most senior Librarian I to get RIF’d.  That’s actually rather a good thing — it gives me a better chance of getting placed somewhere else in the county, since placement is also done in order of seniority.

I half-expected it, but there was no denying that I was sad.  I loved my job as a youth services manager — a children’s librarian.  My co-workers at Herndon Fortnightly Library were wonderful.  I worked there more than two years, and it was a wonderful job.  I had a Mother Goose program with babies a few days later, and it dawned on me how much I will miss those sweet babies.

But God provided me with three most gracious things in the day after I got the notice.

First, on the morning of the day I got the notice, when I strongly suspected that my boss had gotten a call from Library Human Resources, and I was going to get a notice that day, a song I’d heard on the radio kept going through my head.  Here’s the song:

One of the primary emotions I was feeling was fear. How would I pay my rent? What if I didn’t find a job? Would I have to give up having work that was so meaningful to me, that did good for the community, that helped people, including small children and families?

When I was driving home from work after getting the RIF notice, I was listening to a book on CD. When the book finished, the radio came on — and they were playing that exact same song, right at the start.

With words like “Be strong in the Lord.  Don’t give up hope,” “Don’t live life in fear,” and “God’s got his hand on you,” “You’re gonna do great things,” and “Take your time and pray,” the song was just exactly what I needed to hear. God was still in control, I was still in His plan, and things were going to be okay.

The second comforting message from God was in a card from my boss, which showed up on my desk after she left work.  The Sunday before was Mother’s Day, and our pastor had three women from the church give the message.  One of them, a friend of mine, has gone through similar things to what God’s been bringing me through.  She talked about how her life fell completely apart, but God found a way to tell her:  Be still.  Listen to me.  That part of the message truly resonated for me.

Then, on the card from my boss, it said: 

“All the truth and beauty,
all the peace and strength you are seeking
are right there in your heart…
Be still and listen.
Be brave and believe.”

The “Be still and listen” resonated with Sunday’s message, and the next line, “Be brave and believe” reminded me that the reason I do not need to fear is that I truly believe that God can work even this out for good.

A third thing truly touched my heart and felt like it was coming straight to my heart from God.  That was in an e-mail from my friend Mabel who is in my Life Group (a small group from my church that meets weekly to share our lives together).

I read her e-mail the day after I got the RIF notice.  I had been having a low-grade headache since I got the news.  I hadn’t been able to sleep much at all that night, and I was feeling tired and sad and beaten down.

She gave me the verse Revelation 3:8 — “I know your deeds.  See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.  I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.”

She talked about the verse in the e-mail, and how encouraging that was!  Yes, I felt that I had absolutely no strength left.  I had applied to 18 different places, and hadn’t heard anything back except a few rejections.  I had a job that I felt was following God’s calling for me — but now I was losing it.

As God reminded me through Mabel — I am still in God’s hands.

I was a little proud that, after my husband left me, I got my Master’s in Library and Information Science and landed a good job as a librarian.  Now this RIF notice reminded me that this job, was a gift from God, coming exactly when I needed it.  Losing my job felt like a door closing, and I was applying for some jobs that simply didn’t sound as inspiring.  But God was going to open a door for me that no one can shut.  I am safe in His hands.

How good to be reminded of that!

So, God allowed me to go through a dark valley, but He sent me three special words of comfort at the same time.  He is good, and He is loving.