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For years, the Bible has been my go to for answers.  Prayers not being answered? You just are praying with wrong motives so change them.  Children not obeying? Then you are not teaching them properly from Scripture.  Remember, train up a child in the way they should go and when they are older they will not depart from it.  Conflict between people?  Then one is right the other is wrong so find the sin. etc, etc.  And a true Christian would never do _________.

Only, praying God’s word back to him does not guarantee you answers, much less some of our prayers.  Sometimes God is silent.  And children don’t obey because like all of us, they are individuals with individual bents and sometimes they are taking a stand for a position they believe to be true and sometimes sin just is affecting them like us all.  And sometimes the parent is the one in the wrong with the demand.  And sometimes conflict arises because both parties believe whole-heartedly they are right and have Scripture to support themselves so at this time, there is no resolution.  And yes, true Christians commit heinous sins and unbelievers can look like true Christians.

These are not the answers I look for.  So if my go to book is failing me, where is the hope?

It is in the Gospel.

The Goody Goody Rule Follower 

I have spent the better part of my life being a rule follower. I am not saying I have never broken a rule; I have but in doing so I am consciously aware of what the rule says, and it bothers me.  As a young person, I was often made fun of for being the goody two shoes of the bunch. I wouldn’t drink or smoke until it was legal. I was embarrassed by in appropriate jokes. Etc. And never has this been truer than in my Christian walk.

I have worked tirelessly to be above approach, to show kindness, to be a good parent raising my children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, made sure I followed those put offs and put ons, and made sure I knew my Bible. I feared false teachers and looked to see if the words I heard could easily be seen in the pages of Scripture.

And my life was following the linear path of do the right thing and right results will follow – until recently.

That statement – follow the path of doing the right thing AND right results will follow. This is very reflective of Moses’ call to the people of Israel when he was on Mount Sinai, the blessings and curses charge.

I used to believe the gospel was for salvation only.  Tell people that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  Tell them because of God’s love for mankind, he sent his only Son to earth to pay the debt for our sins (John 3:16, 1 John 2:1-2).  After meeting God’s perfect justice, He rose again to life and is seated at the right hand of God (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Ephesians 1:20, Hebrews 1:3).  So all who believe in his name now has a bill that says paid in full – I am covered by his righteous act and have been adopted into the family as a daughter of God (Isaiah 53:5, Romans 5:9, Galatians 3:13, 4:4-5). Once you are saved, then the gospel becomes that ring for others to grasp.

Funny how it takes a complete collapse of your framework to realize that you may just have the wrong focus.

As the things I had grown to trust were failing me right and left, my need for the gospel every day became so clear.  I was beginning to see that I had fallen into the trap of legalism.  And by God’s grace, I am seeing how destructive it was.  Reading your Bible is “good” as is showing kindness, doing “good” deeds, walking in obedience to the Word. These actions on the surface are above reproach.  But God speaks to this throughout his word. The Pharisees followed the law pretty near perfect.  Yet Jesus called them white washed tombs.

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

That is the danger of legalism.  It sets you up to focus on YOUR deeds instead of on God and his character. For the Christian, it results in us losing sight of why Jesus came to die for us.  It puts the focus on me working out my salvation/sanctification and God approving it.

Yes, there are verses that point us to “do”: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12); the put off and put-ons of Ephesians 4:22-32; and “Be doers of the word…” James 1:22. I certainly do believe that believers will have actions that reflect their faith.  But when we believe that we are doing these actions to prove our faith, to cause ourselves to find justification in our works, then we have lost the point of the Gospel.

The accounting of the rich young ruler shows us the reality of our thought processes that we can do the work necessary to please God.  In the synoptic Gospels (Matthew 19, Mark 10, and Luke 18), we see a rich young come up to Jesus and ask what must he do to have eternal life.  Jesus asks him in return “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. (Matthew 19:17)” [In Mark and Luke, Jesus is recorded as saying no one is good except God alone] He then tells the young man to keep the commandments.  The young man claims he has so Jesus tells him to sell everything, give it to the poor, and follow him.  This causes the young man to leave disheartened.  This young man thought he had done all that he needed to do until Jesus tells him to sell everything.  He even tells the young man he will have treasures in heaven.  But the cost was too much.

Jesus tells the disciples that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of God and they are astonished.  Their exclamation?  “Then who can be saved?”

“What is impossible for man is possible with God”

I love how Jesus was showing the disciples truth.  I also am amazed at how we forget that truth.  As Jesus was telling the young man (and all those within hearing) the list of commands, it was interesting to notice what was left out – all the ones that deal with loving God.  His question to the young man is so important; “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God”.  The “good” we have to be to receive eternal life is a perfect and holy good.  Why would Jesus say there is no one good? For me, this has become a key to my struggles.  It speaks to the truth of Romans 3:23 – for ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. So why give the list?  To reveal the young man’s heart – and our own hearts.  That is what the law does – it reveals to us the nature of our hearts. Our deeds will never measure up for we will always fall short.

We need to know that when we seek to follow the law, we are missing what Jesus tell us.  It is impossible to live by the law.  If we stumble in just one point, one aspect of the law, this sin makes us impure, unable to stand before a holy and righteous God (James 2:10).  Angry at your brother?  You’ve committed murder in your heart. Looked a little too longingly at the opposite sex? If married, you’ve committed adultery and if single you are lusting after another person.  We stumbled.

But God

“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:9-10)”  God’s love for us is what saved us.  God’s love – to do what we couldn’t, is shown to us in the gospel.

God so loved us that he sent his Son to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17) and of his own free will, take our place on a cross, to lay down his life for his sheep (John 10:15) so he could take his life back up again (John 10:17) that we might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10).  Because of his love for his own, he became the perfect sacrifice to atone for our sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that he might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18).  He did that work to bring me to God, who loves me. He is the author and perfecter of my faith (Hebrews 12:2).  And I am sanctified by the Spirit working in me (1 Peter1:2, 2 Thessalonians 2:13)  He began the work, he is working, and he will complete the work he began in me.

The Gospel in its simplest form is that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose to life.  This simple truth is so full of a deep love, when seen for what it is, cannot be resisted.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind”

As I read the Bible, I see God saying over and over again, know Me.  As we look to him and learn who he is, as we see with eyes that behold his glory, then, upon seeing how far we are to being “equal” to him, we can see his great love.  And this is what should cause us to love him.  We love him because he FIRST loved us (1 John 4:19).  I can’t do enough to measure up, but I can know Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.  I can pray and seek his face.  I can learn how God is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Exodus 34:6).  I can meditate on his immeasurable love for us.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2 Peter 1:3-4)

For this rule follower and easily trapped into legalism believer, this passage helps bring things into perspective.  Because of God’s great love for me, according to his purposes established before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1:4, 1 Peter 1:20), he sent his Son to be the satisfaction for the debt I owed as a result of my sin.  His perfect satisfaction of God’s justice made the way for me to be granted ALL things that pertain to Life – Jesus (John 14:6) – and godliness.  This comes from me knowing God and Jesus.  Jesus tells us in John 17:3 that eternal life is that we know God, the only true god, and Jesus Christ whom God has sent.

The Holy Spirit guides us into all truth (John 16:13).  AS the Holy Spirit guides me, I become a partaker of His love and knowledge.  He is leading me into all truth and Jesus tells us in John 17:17 that God’s word is truth.  John 1 tells us that Jesus is the Word made flesh.  And the Bible is the inspired Word of God.  This is where I will begin to know God.  As I spend time in the Word, the Spirit within me will renew my mind and as my mind is renewed, I will be transformed (Romans 12:2).

This is why I need the gospel every day.  To remember that I need Jesus.  That I need to abide with him.  He has not left me alone.  I can learn how to abide in him as I spend time in his Word and seek the Spirit’s leading. I need the gospel every day so that I don’t treat the Bible as some self-sanctifying manual and thereby get trapped in legalism.  I need the gospel every day to remember that I need the Bread of Life that sustains me each day.

My life is going to continue to have those trials that bring me to a place of brokenness, and I am glad. For in that brokenness, I will receive His love and strength to remember he began a work and nothing I do can thwart his completion of that work in me.  And as I cling to the gospel, I will be able to rest in his immeasurable love for me.

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IMG_2848I was cleaning a cabinet the other day and came across this cup.  It belonged to my mother who passed away 34 years ago.  It is broken because on another occasion I had left it in a precarious place and I carelessly dropped something on it that resulted in it breaking.  Weeks before my mother passed away, God had opened my eyes to understand that being a Christian is more than a religious club.  So this cup had stood as a memorial to the beautiful woman who gave me life and to God who gave me hope in the gospel that carried me through the grieving process of losing my mother.

I repaired the cup and while it is “whole” again, it is not the same.  The evidence of brokenness is still there.  And it reminds me of life and the brokenness in it.  There are “scars” on my cup, just as there are scars in my life.

From the time that I came to walk as a believer to four years ago, my Christian walk had been relatively easy.  Yes, I have had moments of selfishness that resulted in hurt and anger, arguments that made me wonder where God was.  But as the emotions of the moment passed, I knew how foolish and petulant I had behaved.  Or I trusted God to make things right.  After all, he promises to make beauty from ashes and to work all things together for my good and his glory.  So “this too will pass.”

I have heard the Word of God and been involved in the church for 34 years.  So how could Rosaria Butterfield’s book speak so strongly to me?  It is not that I related to her conversion, for mine was pretty unimpressive.  It wasn’t because I knew the challenges of being a pastor’s wife starting a church plant or being a family of adopted children.  No, her own experiences were not what resonated.  God gifted her with being a powerful communicator of words that God used to speak to my soul.

Her words resonated with me because they have played on the strings of thoughts and struggles I’ve had meandering in my mind.  Her words spoke empathy to my own hurts that I had experienced and also challenged me to consider how to be a better thinker.  Her story echoed the need for Christians to let go of their “laws” and look to Christ alone.  Her challenges directed at the Church resonated with my own understanding that the Church has failed the LGBTQ community and other communities because we are so focused on their particular sins that we find anathema that we fail to show them Christ.

Sometimes in crisis, we don’t really learn lessons.  Sometimes the result is simpler and more profound:sometimes our character is simply transformed. (STUC pg 27)

I read this and I thought to myself how true.  The last four years have brought trials and challenges to my life that had some ugly results.  Yet as I sit here today, I know that while I can see some lessons, I also have been profoundly changed.  And it began with a question – Do you trust me?

Four years ago, every area of my life entered a season of total chaos.  Our church family endured the discovery that one of our elders sharing teachings from the Bible on Sundays was then going home and abusing his family.  The betrayal our body felt was deep and visceral.

I clearly knew that my foundation had been shaken a little for I wrote about where we should put our trust and I shared how I had been struggling. I thought I had a solid answer and even wrote a blog about it; you can read that blog here.  As I reread those words I wrote nearly four years ago, I am embarrassed that I fell so hard after writing them.  But, it was a tool.  God tested me and although I came up wanting, he restored me anyway.

We all know the Sermon on the Mount.  Towards the end of it, Jesus teaches about how those who hear his words will be like the wise man who built his house on the rock;

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wide man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” Matthew 7:24-25

Honestly, I think I have always kind of glossed over that passage in Scripture because whenever I came to this passage I began to hear the Bible song, “The Wise Man Built His house”.  I think there are even hand motions to this song.

So I never really pondered the words used to describe what that house endures.  Floods are violent.  Water, when it is rushing and moving, has incredible force.  How often when we watch the news do we see a foot of water move 2,000 pound vehicle without any trouble.  The wind storm of early March blew shingles off roofs and for the first time in all the years of living in my home, I feared the roof blowing off.  This is what this passage is depicting and this is what I had overlooked in this passage.

And then I lived it!

My husband’s job requires him to go to customer sites and one customer site in particular was such a toxic environment that he hated his job.  He is also an elder in our church.  So along with dealing with the aftermath of the other elder’s betrayal, his work environment was exhausting emotionally.  On top of that, I was struggling with some relationship issues that resulted in my being very overwhelmed.  As an expressive, verbal processor who was overwhelmed with all that was going on in our lives, my words became like 10 foot waves crashing on the shore over and over again.  And so, instead of depending on each other, we became irritants to each other.

The final straw for me came when a dear sister in Christ, whose walk with God encourages me to seek a deeper relationship with him, fell into depression.  Her faith is inspiring.  Every decision she makes is filtered seeking to follow God with her whole heart.  She served in church, spent time in the Word and spoke about God in a very real and personal way.  So to watch her succumb to depression as a believer was devastating.

“Where ARE you God?  How could you do this to her? How could you allow our church to suffer and that person not suffer at all?”

I think that many of us have a hard time believing the God we believe in, when the going gets tough.( Pg 25, STUC)

Those words were true of me.  My world was crashing down and my faith was shaken to the core. Deuteronomy 30:19 says “… choose life that you and your offspring may live”.  Walk in obedience and you will have life.  I knew that the Bible tells us that we will have trials and I always believed those trials would come from the world.  But inside the Christian community?  It turns out I was NOT prepared for trials.  As I looked at our church and my family, I saw that we followed Biblical principles when our church leaders disciplined this church member.  We raised our children according to biblical principals as given in various parenting books.  We served in our church and we participated in virtually everything.  This dear sister had done everything right.

So since we were keeping our end of things, how could you do this God?

Christians still scare me when they reduce Christianity to a lifestyle and claim that God is on the side of those who attend to the rules of the lifestyle they have invented or claim to find in the Bible. (Pg 5, STUC )

My attitude at the time of the “Hurricane Life” reflected very much the Christians that Rosaria “fears”.  In hind sight, the trap I fell in happened subtly and deceptively.  Although I knew we live by faith and not by the law, returning to the “law” is so easy.

We in America have an easy believism that results in us throwing temper tantrums when things don’t go the way we want.  It results in us calling other people’s faith into question when their lives don’t look like ours.  It results in Christians biting and destroying each other so that our testimony about the power of the gospel is lost to a world that sees nothing but our hypocrisy toward one another and our lack of faith in our God.

Reading Rosaria’s words about how Christians reduce Christianity to a lifestyle a year plus after the worst of the “storm” makes me sad to know I was one of those Christians.  We Christians like our “laws”.  We want to know what to do, the right way to do it, and the Biblical support for doing it all to protect ourselves from the storms.  Let’s be honest – we love the law.  And when we have to actually live by faith, it is a scary thing.

I was so angry with God.  I cannot tell you the number of times I denied my faith.  I told God I wanted nothing more to do with a liar who didn’t answer prayer, who punished the righteous while letting the wicked go along without any consequences.  Every possible thing I could blame God for, I did.

I was still serving in my church and there were still people who wanted or needed help.  Every time I would shout to God that I was done, very shortly there after, a person would come to me and my first response was to point them to God and to Scripture.  I would sincerely remind them of God’s love for them.

There are only so many times you can tell others how much God loves them and that even if things didn’t make sense you could trust him, that you begin to realize you cannot renounce your faith.  Jesus says in John 10:27-28, speaking to the Jews, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and NO ONE will snatch them out of my hand.” (emphasis mine)

 

 

I am part of that “no one”;  I can’t remove myself from God’s family.  I have been sealed with “the Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance …” (Ephesians 1:13)  God began a work in me and “he will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)  My easy believism was shown to be a house of cards – yet a house of cards built on the Rock as my foundation.

Everything I had known and how to do life was failing.  And what I felt God was saying to me was “Do you trust Me?”

I finally confessed no, I don’t trust you.  This became my prayer.  “Lord, I can only turn to you , but I don’t trust you.  Help my unbelief.”  By praying this, my anger slowly died.  It was replaced with resignation but this resignation allowed for me to begin to listen.   Faith is given by God – For by God’s unmerited favor we have been saved through faith.  And this faith is not of our own doing; it is the gift of God, not the result of anything done by us so that we can’t boast. (adapted from Ephesians 2:8-9)   That faith is at work in me and in spite of my attitude, the Spirit worked on my heart.

I began to see things through different eyes.  The Lord helped me handle learning that my personality – the expressive verbal processor, is very over whelming to my introverted family.  I came to learn that many conflicts that occurred between me and another family member were due in part to them being different from me and not necessarily understanding the passion with which I can express myself.  I learned the importance of getting in the mud with those struggling.  And I learned that it is okay that my prayer is “Lord I don’t trust you – help me to trust you.”

The gospel – it is the power of God for salvation …For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith (Romans 1:16,17).  About two years ago, I came to see that I had been walking in sludge.  Not as bad as walking in the futility of my mind, but I had been doing the Christian walk by my own knowledge and power.  The Bible became for me an it – a manual for how to live the Christian life.  “Just follow the steps in this book and you will have true success.”

But the Bible is NOT a manual.  The Bible is a recording of the Word of God – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. John 1:1  Jesus is the Word of Life and the Bible is a recording of his words.  God speaking to us.

If I can live the Christian life by my own power, then Jesus died in vain – For if righteousness were through the law (Christian morality), then Christ died for no purpose Galatians 2:21.  Why did Christ die?  Because it is impossible to be righteous apart from Christ.  I can’t live life apart from Christ.  And he tells me this every time I open up his word.  He loves us so much, he lets us know what we will want to do – walk by the flesh, but reminds us we are not of the flesh, we are his.  Because we are his, we need to walk by the Spirit.  How do we walk by the Spirit?  By knowing Christ, by fixing our eyes on him so that we listen to the guidance of the Spirit in us.

The gospel opened my heart up to the truth of Romans 8:28- And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  God is good and he works HIS good into every situation.  When I sin, he works his good into that situation.  When others sin and we have to suffer the consequences of their sin, God works his good into the situation.  God doesn’t remove trials or consequences from sin from our lives.  If he did that, we’d never seek him.  Instead, he works his good into the situation.  Nothing is outside of his sight and nothing and no one can thwart his purposes.  So we can rest knowing that in spite of how our reality seems to be, that God is working in our reality his good.  And he will bring beauty from the ashes of our lives.

I have learned a lot from the last four years.  I am still struggling with how to embrace the challenges of trials.  I stumble often.  As Rosaria says,

A life outside of Christ is both hard and frightening; a life in Christ has hard edges and dark valleys, but it is purposeful even when painful. (STUC pg 5)

I can say Amen and Amen to that.

My life over the last four years has been fraught with challenges.  My “firm” foundations turned out to be houses of cards.  Things I thought would never change, have.  Relationships I thought would last until we went to glory, possibly gone forever.  And “monsters” that entered my world when I thought it couldn’t happen.

And through it all, my God who has never left me or forsaken me, even when I deserved to be abandoned.

To say my faith has been shaken and challenged is an understatement.  To steal from the latest book I just read, my faith went through a train wreck.  But never have I personally experienced the truth of Romans 8:28, that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose, as I have now.  This good is not what I deem to be good; it is his Spirit working in my life to aid me when I am weak in my prayer life or walk, guiding me into truth, interceding for me to the Father.  His work is the good that works all things together so that God’s purposes are accomplished.

I have been slowly and sometimes painfully led down a path that has opened my eyes to the deficiency of my understanding of the God I love.  As Rosaria Butterfield puts it, “I think that many of us have a hard time believing the God we believe in when the going gets tough.” (STUC*, pg25)  The challenges I faced caused me to have to face the question – what do I truly believe?  I came away seeing that I have been seeing things through a haze that suddenly dispersed upon reading the latest book for our Women’s book club.

Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert is Rosaria Butterfield’s account of her journey from a lesbian lifestyle to answering the call of Jesus Christ upon her life.  I honestly did not believe that I would have more than a “that’s nice” reaction to her story.  How wrong I was.  In reading about her journey, I found myself resonating with so many of her comments.  She gave words to thoughts I was having but couldn’t quite define.  in reading her book, I found that many things came into focus for me as to what had been bothering me in my faith journey.  She shares her conversion experience and subsequent journey with transparency, honesty, and challenges.  And I found myself longing to be that open,  honest, and active.

Our book club is meeting tonight, and I know that there will be a lively discussion of this book.  I am sure that at least one thing will resonate with each reader as Rosaria’s life touches so many areas that others experience.  From adult conversions, to philosophical debates, homeschooling, adoption, and how to worship, there is so much that will spark engaging talk.  And I know I would add my two cents to the conversation.  I would keep it all safe and broad.  And I would miss sharing some of the deeper impacts that her book had for me.

There are so many quotes that impacted me immediately upon reading them.  It is so hard to describe the nagging sense I had that something was off as I reflected on Christianity and the issues of life.  But this quote from her book seemed to open the flood gate to clarity:

Christians always seemed like bad thinkers to me.  It seemed that they could maintain their worldview only because they were sheltered from the world’s real problems, like the material structure of poverty and violence and racism. … “The Bible says” always seemed to me like a mantra that invited everyone to put his or her brain on hold. (pg 4)

As she honestly reveals her thought processes and shares her journey, I found my heart breaking free of the nagging feelings and wanting to cry out “YES” with so many of her comments.

In coming posts I will present some of the insight I gained about me and God.  I hope to make it clear that God is showing me some things and maybe, he will use my thoughts to begin a path for you.  We serve a personal God who knows each of us personally.  He understands our unique qualities, weaknesses, and needs.  And He uses each of us in the lives of others to help us do one thing – learn to know him.  In John 17:3, Jesus tells us what is eternal life – that we know the Father, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he sent.  Rosaria’s journey is her own, having been orchestrated by God for his purposes and his glory.  And he has chosen to use her book to speak to my heart to lead me into a deeper understanding of who he is and the life he is truly calling me to.

 

 

 

I must confess – I often hide my true feelings.  And I know I’m not alone.  I see people all the time and as far as they are concerned, life is great.  I say I’m fine but busy.  I smile.  I ask how they are doing.  Often times I truly pursue how they are doing.

All the while, I’m crying inside.

And social media makes it even worse!

How does one deal with isolation?  I know what the Sunday school answer is – “Jesus”.  And He truly is the reason I can keep going.  And yet, the loneliness still looms ever near.  And I’m not alone in dealing with feelings of loneliness. I hear from others how disconnected they feel.  I watch people leave groups they’ve been with for years all because they feel abandoned, alone, isolated.

What is the answer?

It really is Jesus, but I think we forget the form He “takes”.  He expects US to be His hands and His feet.  He wants us to reach out to others, to include others, even when it might be uncomfortable.  He wants us to spend our time caring more about making connections than the inconveniences to ourselves.

Philippians 2:4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also the interests of others.  Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted…

And the opportunities that abound!

How many people were like me, sitting at home on Superbowl Sunday because no one reached out to say, “Hey, come join us.”  How many then struggled with the darkness looming ever near?  How many got the twitter feed or snapchat/instagram feed of the evening festivities that they were not a part of and the gloom grew.  How many felt the isolation driving deeper into their spirit when on Monday morning they learned from Facebook posts of all the friends who were at parties and not one included them?  How many then began to lose the battle with the darkness, even those who know Him?

I struggle with the answer.

I don’t claim to be a theologian nor do I claim to have the answers that will prevent one from ever feeling the despair of loneliness.  All I have are my thoughts  –  and my heart.

This feeling of isolation is so overwhelming at times.  It can feel like a wave that you see coming and think you can ride out only to have it crash over you and drag you under such that you can’t catch your breath.  Then, when you break free of the wave, you lie on the beach, exhausted, struggling to even move.  But you must, for the next wave is coming.

My heart breaks for every person who feels the deep abyss of that isolation because I feel it sometimes.  I know the despair that threatens to overwhelm.  I also know the frustration of being the one who tries to connect only to be – forgotten.  I know the journey of trying to be in relationship with others only to be rebuffed at every turn.  I know this isolation and it can be consuming.

So what is the answer?

I know what most of us want and also to some degree what most of us think “we” should do.  We should include others in our lives.  We should invite people over.  We should be aware of our special “inner” circles that we really don’t let others into – our cliques.  We should go outside our comfort zones.  We should seek to get to know the “strangers” in our midst.  We should …

And of course, we often look at others and see how much they are not doing what we think “we” would do all the while we aren’t actually doing all that we think we are.

So, we who feel isolated see others who are living life, having fun with each other while we sit on the outside, looking in wishing desperately that we were on the inside too.

And we cry.  But do we cry out?  For the answer lies in crying out.

Psalm 34 presents an answer – dare I boldly say THE answer?

When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears …v17

For those who know the Lord, there is comfort found in His word.  The promise that when I cry out God hears me.  The assurance that the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (v18).  He is ready to carry us through the desert called isolation.  It is not that He promises that my loneliness will ever abate – for it may not.  His word  – the living and active word, can work as a salve to our soul if we let it.

Our Lord is so patient.  He has made promises to us about His presence in our lives and when we choose to fight against the goads, He patiently waits for us to return to Him.  And when we return to Him, seeking Him alone, He actually allows us to have a taste of His sweet rest – the rest that we will have in complete fulness in heaven.  Oh taste and see that the Lord is good!  Blessed is the man (or woman) who takes refuge in Him! (Psalm 34:8)  He is our refuge and our strength.  By resting in Him, our feelings of isolation, loneliness abate.  As we seek Him to care for our broken hearts, He gives us the strength to be His hands and His feet regardless if anyone ever invites us to do anything ever again.  By seeking Him as our refuge, we learn to say even in my isolation Lord I will yet praise you.

Whatever you do, do all to the glory of the Lord.  We can even do “isolation” to the glory of God.  Yes, we can!  We can trust that what is going on in our lives at this moment is not beyond His sight or care.  We can remember that there are many people who not only feel our isolation but they are missing hope for they do not know the Lord.  We can continue to reach out to others never knowing if that next contact may become our dear, dear friend.  It has been my limited experience that God does not shine a spotlight on our path.  He gives us just enough light for the next step.  And He does it because He loves us.  So I can feel isolated; then I can choose to seek His face and walk forward trusting His work in my life.

God never promised that I would feel great all the time.  He did not promise my life would be easy or free from struggles.  He told me that in the midst of all that is going on in my life, He is working all things together for good.  And this can be enough to get back up after the wave has hit and keep seeking to make the connections, be that light, remembering we have been entrusted with the message of reconciliation as ambassadors for Christ to those who are lost and dying.

I hope that if you know me and you are feeling that isolation that you will take a chance on me.  Let me know you are getting hit by the wave.  I will in turn do my best, by His grace, to walk with you and help you walk through.  For I know this place of pain and I want to be His hands and feet to you.

The other day I made the comment that God uses everything in our lives to mold us and shape us.  I was struck anew by how true this is when I began to reflect on Apollo.

Apollo was a beautiful Manchester Terrier – dogs that are about 18 inches tall but have the look of Doberman Pinchers.  We got Apollo as a puppy.  He had a quirky disposition and loved to play fetch.  He looked so stately.

But he had a dark side too.

We first began to experience problems with Apollo the night we brought him home from being neutered.  He had had surgery so when he bit my daughter, we concluded she must have accidently touched him in a very sensitive spot.  Unfortunately, that was the first of over 30 bites the members of this family sustained.

We could never make the connections to what was setting him off.  If we were preparing food and we moved while he was underfoot, he’d bite our feet.  A few times he bit us as we were trying to get a toy out from under the couch.  Every time he bit us, he had that shameful look dogs get when they do something wrong.  So we thought it had to be us.

Things got to the point where we did not invite people over.  He hated men so that nixed us being able to entertain.  If people came to our house, we had to make sure he was locked up.  This is not a way to live.

By law, we were supposed to report each bite and we didn’t.  We couldn’t.  We truly believed this was a matter of training and we had to work through this.  We also knew that by Virginia law, 2 bites labeled a dog as vicious and he would be euthanized by the state.  We truly did not believe Apollo was vicious.

My youngest was the first and the last victim of his biting.  The last straw came when he attacked her foot.  The only things she had done was stand perfectly still and quiet.  In other words, there was no stimulus to warrant his action.  He just got freaked out by something and attacked.

My oldest and I took him to the vet to do what we never wanted to do.  We had him euthanized.  The entire time I was weeping.  It was the most painful thing I have ever done.

Once he was gone, we had some freedom and spoke of our problem.  I had people judge us – “I would never allow a dog to bite me once and live much less more than 30 times”.  We had a rescue organization tell us we were unfit to have a new dog because we euthanized a dog that bit us over 30 times.  We couldn’t win.

Why did God allow this to happen to our family?  To prepare us for such a time as this.

Currently there is fallout from the sins committed by a friend.  From the ramifications of this friend’s sin I am seeing how God has used the events of Apollo in my life to help me have compassion and seek after God.

We humans are so quick to judge when we are not the parties involved in the exposed sin.  We make hard and fast judgment calls about how, why, when, and what.  Some go so far as to excuse horrific behavior while others are willing to condemn with no room for redemption or restoration.  The immediate sufferers of the sin are being looked at as how could they let this happen with no understanding of what it must be like to be in the middle of loving a person who is in sin.  Many are ready to blame God for the choices made and the consequences of sin.

How did this happen?

The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?  Jeremiah 17:9 . 

We deceive ourselves.  For whatever reasons, we convince ourselves our actions aren’t wrong or our actions are excusable.  We convince ourselves if we just do x, y, or z that we can prevent any further problems.  Sometimes we know what needs to be done but it is HARD!!!  So we endure the situation, making accommodations for the sin until we are left with no other option. – like with Apollo.

There is a whirlwind right now because the sin is no longer hidden.  And people are responding in a variety of ways.  And as I look to see how can I minister to any who need it, I was reminded that I have walked this road in a weird way and there are lessons to be learned.

God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Numbers 14:18)

Events in our lives are not so simple  and clear as black and white.  God, knowing our natures, is patient with us.  So we need to be patient with each other.  We need to show steadfast love even for the one caught in sin.

God will not be mocked and does in fact allow us to do that which will bring about our own “destruction” (Isaiah 30:1-3, Galatians 6:7-8)

We cannot continue in sin and never suffer the consequences of it.  Apollo was going to keep biting.  And the law was clear about biting dogs.  It could not be mocked.  We were left with no other choice but to judge our dog according to the law of Virginia.  And we as Christians need to remember that God will not be mocked.  We cannot make excuses for our sin.

The consequences of sin do not just go away because we admit to it.  (John 20:26-27)

If you were to look at my arm, you would see 5 scars from the bites I sustained from Apollo.  His bites were such that the wounds did not heal in a manner that hides the cause.  They are a reminder of what he did to our family.  Our sins leave scars.  It is the scars of our sins that Jesus told Thomas to touch when he doubted that Jesus lived.  Our glorious Savior carries the scars from our sin.

God restores us even as He allowed us to suffer the judgment for sin (Isaiah 30:18-26, 53:5; 1 Peter 2:24)

It is crazy to use this picture but it works for me.  Although Apollo inflicted much pain to this family, he was one dog.  From having him in our lives we found we really were a dog family and immediately began the process for bringing another dog into our home.  We were judged by one rescue group.  But we didn’t give up.  We found another rescue group that listened to us, they showed compassion, and we became the family to the sweetest tempered dog.  Our youngest daughter no longer fears dogs like she was beginning to.  This dog has helped to heal her scars from Apollo.  We could see he needed a friend and from the same rescue got a second dog that also has helped us heal.  These two wonderful dogs have helped restore trust and brought healing to us.

God’s great love for us heals us from sin.  He is the Author and Finisher of our faith and He is in the business of restoring us.  Isaiah 61:1-3 reminds us of how He is going to replace the ashes of sin with a beautiful headdress and replace our mourning with the joy of gladness.

He longs to restore my friend, His child.  And I know He will in His time.

I sit in awe of my God who uses all things in my life to show me His great love for His children. Romans 8:28

If one gives an answer {makes up her own conclusions} before he hears, it is folly and shame. … The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him. Proverbs 18:13,17

I commented on facebook that this passage had so much more meaning to me than it used to.  I spoke to life being a jigsaw puzzle.  I talked about ranting at God.  But my comment was also short of the mark.  I had come to a conclusion about a situation and I just KNEW my thoughts about it were correct.

Isn’t it just like us humans to draw our own conclusions as to the truth of a situation, to question the very character of a person just because WE don’t see the answer, hear the answer we want?  I know these verses are used when addressing conflict between two people.  But it applies to when we interface with God too.  You see we believe OUR side over his.  OUR thoughts as to what is going on instead of His character.  We compartmentalize so much, failing to see that God uses EVERYTHING to work out our sanctification.  Do we look to that irritating driver as being part of God’s plan for our lives?  What about that cold we got, the food intolerance we’ve developed, or that prickly person who just rubs us the wrong way?  God even uses our own tendencies to lie to ourselves, puff ourselves up, or our insecurities.  He uses ALL of it to speak to our souls.

We kind of take it for granted that people do that people will make predeterminations and jump to conclusions.  We make assumptions as to what people are thinking/planning/doing.  We spread gossip.  We get caught in our mouth mischief. And we move on.  But the heck of it is, we do this to GOD!.  We presume that what we think, how we feel, and our interpretation of events are the truth of a given circumstance.  We rant at God because He failed us.  He showed He didn’t care – He allowed some injustice to occur.  We give our answer without hearing God.  We state our case and Believe our case without “hearing” God’s side.  And we then rant because He is doing everything wrong.

That is until He reveals to us why His plan is the best plan.  Then we humble ourselves and apologize for our rants and go our merry ways.  

Why is that?  Why do we question His character and believe our own character?  We trust in our own knowledge more than in His knowledge.  We follow our own thoughts, ideas, plans and then wonder why our life is a mess.  We accuse Him of every conceivable thing only to find out in HIS time that His plan was the best plan all along.

I believe most conflicts with people stem from the fact that we actually trust ourselves more than we trust God.  Now that is just my opinion and I am sure that this could be argued.  But hear me out.  I say I am a Christ follower.  I say God is sovereign.  I say He is active in my life.  So why, when life does not go the way I want it to go do I question the One I say is sovereign, trustworthy, perfect, all-knowing, all powerful?  Why do I doubt that He is still active, still in control, still sovereign, trustworthy etc?

Because I believe myself first.  Because I choose to trust my opinions, thoughts, “knowledge” above the Creator of all.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are Mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” Isaiah 43:1b-3a

Such powerful words.  He knows me intimately.  He is with me wherever I am.  He will not let the flames of the fire consume me. Doesn’t mean things won’t get hot or that I won’t feel the pain of the fire.  It just means that the fire will not scorch me to a crisp such that I am consumed by the flame.  What a promise!  

And I KNOW this – when life is good.  I even know this when life is in total crisis mode.  But those in between times.  When the heat feels like it is starting to get to be more than I want.  When I feel a major injustice to my pride.  It is in these times that I show my true colors.  I trust me more than God.  I do not hold to His promises like I should.  I cling to my thoughts, my wisdom.

And thus, why I say I am so dull of learning.

God revealed another piece of the puzzle the other day and my “faith” was restored.  And He has been patient with me through this.  But my faith in God should not be dependent on me learning why He chose to allow things to happen to me.  My faith needs to be in HIM.  (I am pretty sure I keep coming back to this truth).  God’s character is all I need to rest in Him.  HE is I AM.  So as the storms of life occur – and they will occur, I should be resting in Him.  Joseph rested in Him and was sold into slavery, accused of sexual impropriety, was forgotten by someone he helped, and finally, after 12 years, was made a powerful leader of Egypt.  David was told he was God’s anointed to become king only to have the reigning king seek to kill him.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego trusted God’s character and were thrown into the furnace.  He never promised life would be easy and go the way we wanted it.  He promises us He is with us.  And this is where I need to look.  NOT to the circumstance but to Him.  I need to truly cling to His character instead of my bad informed knowledge.  

I am so glad that every time I question Him, He graciously shows me, in time, a portion of the puzzle that helps me accept His plan.

I long for the day that I can just accept His plan resting in who He is.

In the mean time, I will celebrate how He uses the most interesting situations to reveal those puzzle pieces and how gracious He is with my stubborn heart.  I will look to His word to help me grow.  And I am going to cling to those promises, no matter how weakly for He is I AM.

 

ImageHebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us

Lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely.  Quite the command.  How often do we truly look at what weighs us down or the sin which so closely clings?  It is more than physical weight that holds us back.  Actually, I would argue that our physical weight is just an outward manifestation of our inner weight.  We turned to food (an idol) in order to try to deal with something in our hearts that was weighing us down.  We don’t just turn to food.  We turn to sleep, to texting/instagram/facebook/etc, exercise, shopping, smoking, drinking, drugs, gaming, reading, socializing, cutting, vengeance, gossip, you name we turn to it all because we have something weighing us down.

This something (or multiple somethings) is in our heart.  When I began these ramblings I said that my success would come from dealing with the heart.  And I said I wanted my journey to be one that others could benefit from.  But how do you benefit if you don’t know where I am turning?

So let me ask you something –

How is that heart?  

When we seek our solace in things of this world, things made by human hands, we are trying to run from what we are feeling – we are angry, envious, jealous, insecure, scared, alone, disconnected or any other debilitating emotion.  We don’t like this feeling so we seek that which will make us feel better.

There is nothing inherently wrong with most of the things on my list of go tos.  I love to read.  I enjoy facebook.  Texting is a phenomenal tool for me to stay in touch with my very busy daughter.  Exercise is critical to our health.  But too often, we spend a lot more time with one or more of these things because there is something we are yearning for and seeking for it from things made by man.

We have idols.

Why do we turn to those things that we fashion from our own hands/minds?  When I turn to food or TV or facebook or running, can any of that heal my broken heart?  My angry heart?  My alienated heart?  Can these idols bring peace?  Can these idols bring joy, love, patience, strength?

No.  And yet, we continually turn to them.

Why?  I believe the truth for many of us is that we do not believe God.  Oh we believe He exists.  We believe He is powerful; but we don’t believe He really cares for us, is really working in our lives, will really solve our problems.  It has been my experience that we believe there is something lacking in us that causes Him to not do in our lives.  We know He is real and we see how He works in others lives.  But for ourselves, we live as practical atheists.

Instead of holding fast to our confession of hope, knowing He is faithful (Hebrews 10:23) we look to other people, things, actions, programs.  We do it for “instant gratification”.  We do it because it is easy to go to these things.  We do it  for many reasons.  But may I suggest we also do it because we don’t want to ask ourselves the hard questions.  

Do I truly believe God?  Do I truly trust Him with ME?  Do I truly trust His ways?  Am I willing to trust that although the answers I am getting are not what I want that they are for my good and His glory?

Let’s be honest; the answers to these and many other personal deep questions can be scary.

So we turn to our idols.  They may not always give us the answers we want, but we understand them.  We KNOW them.  And they provide the satisfaction we long for – at least temporarily.

Then something happens and we realize we are still not satisfied and we once again go for our idol – more food.  More electronics.  More exercise.  More… you name it we go after it.  And rarely do we look at the futility of our actions.  We continue to look for a magic pill.  And we continue to ignore that we are not seeking the One who is able to satisfy us with living water, the One who has granted us ALL things that pertain to life and godliness (John 4:14, 7:38, 2 Peter 1:3, Revelation 21:6)

Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith. (Hebrews 10:22a)  Full assurance.  True heart.  Can I be honest?  I think we lack these.  That’s why we so easily turn to human things/ideas/pleasures.  We are full of fear.  We are full of doubts.  We are full of disappointments.  We like Israel believe that our lives are hidden from the Lord, that He has forgotten us, that He does not care.

The place we need to turn is to Him – trusting that our ways are NOT hidden from Him; that He has NOT forgotten us, that He DOES care.

I have been seeking reasonable, earthly means to lose the physical weight.  And there are some measures that indicate change in the direction I want.  Yet the real change that is going to make the physical changes last is my believing God.  His word is helping me break free.  Knowing He is I Am is giving me the strength, courage, and focus to really face myself, make my heart face the fears, doubts, anger, etc that have caused me to turn to the wrong source for satisfaction.  Resting in His grace is giving me the courage to fly.

The storms will come, but my heart knows to Whom I will go.