Archive for the ‘God’s Love’ Category

Let the Redeemed of the Lord Tell Their Story

Saturday, October 13th, 2018

I’ve been reading in Psalm 107 lately. I think NIV has tweaked the translation, and I love the way it reads now, at the beginning:

“Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story…”

Then the psalm is about various people, in different kinds of trouble, who cry out to the Lord — and he comes through, every time.

There’s a format to each story, a refrain.

God has come through for me, multiple times and in multiple ways. I thought I’d take one of those times and put it into a Psalm 107 format:

Some were lonely and broken,
rejected by the one they loved most,

told they were unworthy of love,
told their failings were unforgiveable.

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress.

He sent forth his word and healed them,
he sent a community to nourish them.

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind,

for he heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.

How about you? What is your story?

Christ-life Inside Us

Saturday, September 15th, 2018

I’m reading in C. S. Lewis’ Book of Wisdom: Meditations on Faith, Life, Love, and Literature, compiled by Andrea Kirk Assaf & Kelly Anne Leahy, and found this quote on page 56, taken from Mere Christianity:

The Christian is in a different position from other people who are trying to be good. They hope, by being good, to please God if there is one; or — if they think there is not — at least they hope to deserve approval from good men. But the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside him. He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.

To me, this puts the whole idea of guilt and that we can somehow disappoint God into perspective.

He doesn’t love us because we’re good. He makes us good because He loves us.

Was the Father disappointed when the prodigal son took his inheritance early and chose to squander it and go feed the pigs?

Well, it’s not like he was happy with the choice, and it’s not like he wouldn’t feel his son’s pain along with him.

But an all-knowing, all-seeing Father would also know that the son He ended up with has much better character, is a much better person altogether than if he had pouted and sulked and not really lived out his rebellion. In fact, he ended up in a better place than his older brother who did everything “right.” So, knowing the big picture, can the Father really be disappointed?

He sees His son make a bad choice — but knows that it going to make him end up as a good person — and better than he started out.

He loves his son. His bad choices, his treating the father disrespectfully don’t change that. And he knows that in the end, good will come out of his son’s bad choice.

And that, to me, is an answer to when I feel like I have let God down. Who do I think I am? Did I think God loved me because I was doing everything right and now I’ve jeopardized that?

No, God loves me. God loves me!

I do think He watches with joy when I make good choices. And He feels my pain when I make bad choices.

But He knows that the circumstances He lets into my life are shaping me into a better person, in spite of myself. And that’s delightful.

Wow.

Birthday Reflections

Thursday, June 14th, 2018

I had a lovely day today – I got to spend a few hours out on my balcony reading with blue skies and gentle breezes blowing.

And I drove a short distance and went for a walk in the woods by the Potomac River.

On the way to Red Rock Wilderness Park, I heard Casting Crown’s new song on the radio, and it struck me as a perfect Birthday Song. Truly God is the God of all my days.

But that also got me thinking of Psalm 37:4 — “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

I am in the middle of getting the desire of my heart, make no mistake about it.

No, I don’t have every desire of my heart.

But I am in the middle of a huge one being fulfilled – I am on the Newbery committee! I get to tell the world about great books! And – I get to spend my birthday reading great books, sitting out on a beautiful balcony. I get to go walk in the woods and have my spirit restored. I even have loving friends who come read with me (I spent the evening at my Silent Book Club) and bring me cupcakes and flowers.

Truly, God has given me the desire of my heart. My cup overflows.

May I continue to see all the reasons He gives me to find delight.

Three Little Lessons

Friday, April 6th, 2018

I was thinking today about what I’m learning in my life lately. And I came up with three things. Thinking about them made me happier today.

The first one came from lately being hyperaware of single men somewhere near my age and whether I might meet them. A friend told me about a single man she’d met – and there was absolutely nothing to indicate that he might have anything in common with me – except that he appeared to be single. (No ring on the fourth finger of his left hand.)

On top of that, I’ve been joking with friends about where I might meet single men – it’s pretty much an attitude of scarcity.

But lately I’ve been talking with other single women. We talk about how nice it is to set our own schedule and make our own choices and pursue our own interests. I’m remembering a bigger truth:

Lesson One: Even if I never get married again, I’m going to have a richly happy life.

When I think about what I don’t have, I forget how wonderful my life is right now.

I by no means want to get married just for the sake of getting married. I do believe that someone may come along who could enhance my life and make it even better than it is now. But if such a man never comes along? It is no tragedy. Life is very good.

There’s a balance. I don’t want to rule out finding a partner or shut men out of my life. But lately, I was thinking a little too much about “finding a man” as being a problem.

But I absolutely don’t want just any man. Being single and somewhere near my age is not enough! He’s going to have to be exceptional to win a place in my life!

And today was a good day to remember that. And relish a day that was exactly what I wanted it to be.

Lesson Two: Enjoy this time while I’m on the Newbery committee.

I recently made a new plan to get more reading time in: Reading every day from 7 to 9, whether morning or evening or both.

But then I noticed I wasn’t necessarily getting in a quiet time. And I was getting a little bit uptight about whether I got the reading time in.

And I just need to remember – this is a time I’ll look back on all my life. Might as well enjoy it!

With that in mind, today I sat out on my balcony in the afternoon and read a book from start to finish!

It meant that I needed to do some other things from 7 to 9 tonight. But while I was out there, winds were blowing, and birds were singing. It was warm enough I didn’t need a jacket. The wind meant I could hear gentle ripples coming from the lake. I have a comfortable chair and can put my feet up.

In short, it was a lovely, idyllic afternoon. I’m so glad I seized the opportunity while I had it.

Lesson Three: Remember how far the Lord has brought me.

This came from reading Mark 5:34 this morning. Jesus says to a woman whom He healed, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

I’ve been reading Project 52 this year, which I wrote last year. And it reminded me that 12 years ago, I was suffering. Suffering greatly.

Today, I am free from my suffering.

And I am so thankful.

Okay, those lessons aren’t as big as the ones I learned when I was suffering. But they were good to think about today. Call them Lessons in a Time of Joy.

Resurrection and Brahms’ Requiem

Saturday, March 31st, 2018

When I was a young adult, I was part of a choir, the William Locke Singers, that sang Johannes Brahms’ A German Requiem. We were told that this is a Protestant Requiem, and is all about hope.

We sang it in English, and indeed the text is entirely taken from the Bible – verses full of hope and about the beauty of heaven and about comfort.

Some time before we performed the Requiem, a college friend died in a freak accident. This requiem – and singing those words over and over again – comforted me.

I often play the Requiem over and sing along at Easter when I’m thinking about Resurrection.

This year, today I’m attending a memorial service for an elder of our church who died after a long battle with cancer. He was only a little older than me, and leaves a wife and two adult kids – and a grieving church.

So – today not only am I listening to this wonderful requiem, I’m going to type out all the verses in the text.

Now, in the music form, this is extremely, extremely repetitive. So learning this piece gets you thinking about these things and repeating them in beautiful music over and over and over again. The words are beautiful – but singing them in this incredible piece of art puts them right into your heart.

I.
Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall have comfort.

They that sow, that sow in tears, shall reap, shall reap in joy.
Who goeth forth and weepeth, and beareth precious seed,
shall doubtless return with rejoicing, and bring his sheaves with him.

Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall have comfort.

II.
Behold, all flesh is as the grass, and all the goodliness of man is as the flower of grass;
For lo, the grass with’reth, and the flower thereof decayeth.

Now therefore, be patient, O my brethren, unto the coming of Christ.
See how the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit, the precious fruit of the earth,
and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early rain and the latter rain.
So be ye patient.

Behold, all flesh is as the grass, and all the goodliness of man is as the flower of grass.
For lo, the grass with’reth, and the flower thereof decayeth.

But yet the Lord’s word endureth, endureth for evermore.

The redeemed of the Lord shall return again, and come rejoicing unto Zion;
Joy everlasting upon their heads shall be.
Joy and gladness, these shall be their portion,
and tears and sighing shall flee from them.

The redeemed of the Lord shall return again, and come rejoicing unto Zion;
Joy everlasting, joy upon their heads shall be.
Joy everlasting.

III.
Lord, make me to know the measure of my days on earth, to consider my frailty,
that I must perish.
Surely, all my days here are as an handbreadth to Thee,
and my lifetime is as naught to Thee.

Verily, mankind walketh in a vain show, and their best state is altogether vanity.
Man passeth away like a shadow, he is disquieted in vain,
he heapeth up riches, and cannot tell who shall gather them.

Now, Lord, O, what do I wait for?

My hope is in Thee, my hope is in Thee.

But the righteous souls are in the hand of God, nor pain nor grief shall nigh them come.

IV.
How lovely is Thy dwellingplace, O Lord of Hosts, O Lord of Hosts!
For my soul, it longeth, yea, fainteth for the courts of the Lord;
my soul and body crieth out, yea, for the living God.

How lovely is Thy dwellingplace, O Lord of Hosts, O Lord of Hosts!
Blest are they, O blest are they that dwell within Thy house;
they praise Thy name evermore, they praise Thee for evermore!

How lovely is Thy dwellingplace.

V.
Ye now are sorrowful,
howbeit, ye shall again behold me, and your heart shall be joyful.

Yea, I will comfort you, as one whom his own mother comforteth.

Look upon me; ye know that for a little time labour and sorrow were mine,
but at the last I have found comfort.

Yea, I will comfort, will comfort you.

Ye now are sorrowful;
howbeit, ye shall again behold me, and your heart shall be joyful.

Yea, I will comfort you, as one whom his own mother comforteth.

VI.
Here on earth have we no continuing place,
howbeit, we seek one to come.

Lo, I unfold unto you a mystery.
We shall not all sleep when He cometh,
but we shall all be changed,
in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the sound of the trumpet.

For the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible,
and we shall be changed.

Then, then, what of old was written, the same shall be brought to pass.

For death shall be swallowed in victory, yea, in victory!

Grave, where is thy triumph?
Death, O where is thy sting?

Worthy art Thou to be praised, Lord of honour and might,
for Thou hast earth and heaven created,
and for Thy good pleasure all things have their being, and were created.

VII.
Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth.

Saith the spirit, that they rest from their labours,
and that their works follow after them.

Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth.

Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord.

Amen.

I looked for a youtube video of Brahms’ Requiem sung in English, and found this playlist, which should take you through all the movements.

Love and Connection

Friday, October 20th, 2017

I’ve been thinking about love lately.

Our pastor preached on “Right Connection” last Sunday. Although I agreed with his points – We are made for connection; right connection with God helps us have right connection with people and vice versa; right connection is incredibly important – a couple of implications from how it came out bothered me a little bit and got me thinking.

In talking about how much right connection with God helps us to connect with people, he mentioned how much a tough marriage affects your whole life and hurts your happiness.

But – I have experience with a tough marriage and heartbreak in marriage, and I have friends in similar situations. Being in a tough marriage does not mean something’s wrong with your connection with God. And I especially disagree with any implication that heartbreak has to destroy your happiness. I mean, by definition heartbreak makes you sad. But – finding joy in other things was a crucial part of healing for me. And being surrounded by the love of friends was also crucial.

So – all that got me thinking about love. I’d also just finished reading Lorna Byrne’s book Love from Heaven. Lorna Byrne says that from birth, she has been able to see and talk with angels. She also says that the angels taught her what the force of love looks like coming out from people. Angels showed her that people are born with a soul of pure love – but with one thing and another, we learn to wrap a band around our hearts and lock up our love.

(You can feel love and peace coming from a newborn – at least one who’s sleeping!)

Now, I believe that loving others is all wrapped up in following Christ. My pastor also preached on Sunday about two passages that affirm this. Jesus said that people will know his disciples by their love for one another. Jesus also said that the two commands that sum up the Law and the Prophets are Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.

So why do I know so many Christians who are in marriages that are breaking their hearts? If our faith helps us to love, why does that happen?

Well, to me, the thing about humans loving others is that we get hurt. We fail to be as loving as we should, and in return we are not loved as we should be. Or it may even be no fault of our own – even babies are not always welcomed into a loving home.

What made me want to write about this was a memory that came to me this morning. It was not long after my husband had told me he wanted a divorce. Now I could tell people that I was having marriage difficulties. I told my family, and I told my Sunday school class. And I remember there was a Sunday when three different people told me, “You need to let Steve go.” The first two, I thought were just saying that because they were divorced themselves. But when my wise mentor who’d had marriage difficulties but was still married said so – well, I finally figured out God was trying to tell me something. (I managed to loosen my grip a tiny bit. Actually letting go took years. But the process was beginning.)

Anyway, what I remember about that day was that a woman in my Sunday school class who had been divorced and was standing there with her new husband was one of the people who told me I needed to let Steve go. But she also told me, “You will become hard.” She said that she had become a much harder person during her divorce, and I could in fact see it in her eyes.

I decided in my heart right then that I didn’t want that to happen to me.

And I’m not talking about dating or getting married again. I’m talking about opening my heart to love.

Lorna Byrne says that it’s all the same thing. Locking up your love affects your ability to love anyone. If you let out love in one way, it’s going to help you release love in other ways.

And that rings true.

It’s not even only love of other people, but also love of yourself and love of life.

And that ties in with what Steven Stosny talks about in his books. Among other things, he says that when you value other things or people – even something like beauty in nature – you will feel more lovable. You’ll “access” your core value.

When I was struggling through my marriage falling apart, it helped so much to find other things that brought me Joy. They helped me remember who I really was, what I was about. Sure enough, it helped me feel more lovable and valuable. (That takes a big hit when someone who’s promised to love you until death parts you decides you don’t deserve his love.)

I’m also reminded of the book Deeper Dating. That author, Ken Page, talks about finding your Core Gifts. He talks about expressing your Core Gifts and finding people who are attracted to them, attracted to you.

In a roundabout way, he’s saying the same thing as Lorna Byrne: Loving yourself makes you more lovable and more able to love. Release that love! Don’t wrap a protective band around your heart.

When I think of these in light of what Lorna Byrne is saying, it all fits. They’re talking about loving yourself – and like Lorna Byrne says, that gets you releasing love and more able to love others.

I think following Christ can also help you release love. Connecting with a community of Christ followers can also help you release love. That’s how faith can help in this.

Releasing love is dangerous though. There’s a really good chance you’ll get hurt. Being a Christ follower definitely won’t keep that from happening. You’ll be tempted to become a harder person.

But I do think that faith and loving people can help you open your heart again and love. Believing you have God’s tremendous love for you goes a long way. And actually seeing that love expressed through people – That is gold.

So – that’s what I’ve been thinking about. It’s come out a bit incoherent. But I’m trying to say that Joy in life and Love and Forgiveness are all wrapped up together. Let’s try to loosen that band around our hearts – whatever it is that’s happened to us. And let’s release that love and compassion. Let’s connect with others and refuse to become hard, even though it feels like it’s a lot safer.

And if you harden your heart in one area, I really do believe it’s going to affect your ability to love in every area.

Praise God! He loves us unconditionally, and we can go to Him when loving brings wounds. And try to learn to open up and let out that love again.

Recently, my cousin, who’s divorced, asked if someone who has once given her heart, given her all, can ever get that again.

Now, my cousin clearly loves life. I don’t think she’s wrapping a tight band around her heart. I think she’ll find that love.

And, no, romance again isn’t guaranteed. But I want to learn to radiate Love. I do believe it goes hand-in-hand with Joy and adds so much richness to life. And the thing about following Jesus is that he showers that love on us. He will help us spread that love to others.

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.