So… I saw Bad Moms, and I laughed.

In case you don’t have any clue what movie I am talking about, here is a promo shot:

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First, I’d like to admit right out of the gate I didn’t walk into this movie with naive expectations.  The trailers gave a pretty good indication that there would be some inappropriate humor.  Second, I am not planning on giving away any spoilers.  There were definitely some parts I thought the movie could have lived without, not only for the story line but even in the presentation.  Sometimes it could go too far.  Third, there were some parts of this that were REALLY unrealistic when you are talking about any group of moms.  Lastly, there were also a LOT of truths.

Overall, I laughed and I laughed hard.  At one point I laughed so hard (as I was taking a sip from my straw) that I pushed air through the straw, which caused a small tidal wave in my cup, and that resulted in my drink landing in my eyes.  Which just caused a whole other fit of laughter for myself and those sitting around me.  I laughed until I cried and my stomach hurt.  Yet, there were some moments that I nodded in solidarity.  There were moments that were uncomfortable.  And, yes… as I said before totally unnecessary.

What I want to write about (and I’m up for conversation too) is WHY a movie like this not only resonated with moms but was drawing us in like moths to a flame.

My first thought is probably the most obvious, there is an enormous amount of pressure on moms to be it all, do it all, and do so perfectly.  Whether it is the perfect birthday party, bento box lunches, or simply making it to every school and sport activity… we feel the pressure.  We notice so much of what is around us, like the mom who has the perfect hair and make up in the parent pick up line… when we were struggling to get out of the house with a bra under our pajama shirt.  We see the kids with the perfectly styled hair, accessories, and sparkling white sneakers…. and we just spent the last 40 minutes looking for eyeglasses or a belt.  Other moms dropping their kids off early, and we are 10 minutes late because we had to go back home and pick up the flute that was left behind… or because our darling child took 15 minutes to brush her teeth.

How do these moms do it?  We cast shade in their direction, but really we are asking ourselves… why can’t I do it?

I think there are a number of moms who have run the scenario through their head of just saying no.  No to the requests by the husband, kids, school, coaches, etc.  An opportunity to just walk away from the pressure and enjoy life again.  To make the choice of not being the perfect mom anymore, and instead be the bad mom.

This brings me to my second thought, as you watch the trailers you see a group of women having fun. We are not talking bunko party fundraiser fun, but the kind of fun we had as teenagers  and young single adults.  The fun we had when we didn’t care what others thought, where it was ok to be silly, and there was an expected freedom in the general knowledge we were going to make mistakes and bad choices.  It takes us back to a time when we didn’t have to be an adult, and could just let loose and be free.

With motherhood came some sort of unwritten code of conduct, that we couldn’t be silly anymore.  We began to take everything too seriously, including ourselves.  Let’s face it, books and the advice of television “experts” reinforced this.  Reminding us over and over again that it was time to grow up, put away childish things, and get our heads out of the clouds.  As we did this, many of us sent fun sailing away for good.  We stopped smiling, we stopped laughing, and we stopped being silly.

The movie Bad Moms called out to that free spirit inside of us, that desperately wanted to laugh… and laugh hard.  So, it pulls out all the stops.  The women let loose in a way we couldn’t, and we live vicariously through them.  They say the things that roll through our minds & do the things we secretly wished we could.  (Ok, maybe not all of the things they say and do, but you get the point).

I also believe this appeals to Christian women so deeply because of the bar that is set for our expected behavior.  If other moms are feeling the pressure to be perfect in their every day life, Christian moms understand the additional expectations put on the Christian mom.  To have perfect children that love Jesus, quote the bible, volunteer with the elderly, and gladly donate all their birthday money to the missions fund.  To be women who are serious about the study of the Lord, leading small groups, inviting women over to mentor and pray together, to dress in simple clothes, and be ever diligent in our choices of entertainment.  There is a pressure that all of our time should be so seriously focused on Christ, that we can’t let loose and laugh until our sides hurt.

Confession… I saw the movie on opening night.  It’s taken me almost a month to admit I saw it, because frankly… I expected to be judged for it.  I was worried about what my church friends, my readers that look to me for wisdom, the women or leaders who are reading through my blog trying to decide if I would be the right speaker for their next women’s event… what would these people think of me?

I learned something from the movie though… my eyes were opened to how long it had been since I had laughed so much and so hard.  I realized how seriously I take myself and made the decision not to.  I embraced that silliness is okay and even healthy for my kids to see.  I made the decision that I wanted to laugh more, but with those whom I am the closest to… not a theater full of strangers.  I want that girl posse who has my back, in the most biblical way possible… and who will be silly with me.  Women who know how to laugh, smile, and stop trying to be something that is impossible to attain… perfect.

All of those parts of the movie that I thought were unnecessary, they don’t have to be part of my life.  But the good stuff… I welcome it.  We are all GOOD MOMS despite our imperfections and the times we muck things up… because we are LOVING MOMS.  In the end that is what matters.  The Lord didn’t call us to a life of misery, but of fulfillment and joy as mothers… and laughter.  So much laughter.

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#Write31Days – Post 28 – If You Were God

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I was listening to the radio this morning, when the show’s host posed the question:

If you were God, given all of his knowledge and power, what would be the first thing you would do?

Scoffed at the question, too easy.

But it wasn’t easy at all.

My first thought was to end abortions, but then I thought about the homeless.

So then I thought about ridding the world of homelessness, but then I remembered there are starving children with a roof over their heads.

I kept going down the trail… and I thought about criminals, and generally mean people.  I thought about poverty and in equality.  I thought about our country and developing nations.

Ultimately the trail brought me to the the only conclusion, the one thing that would be at the root of solving all these individual problems:  You have to change PEOPLE.  Changing their hearts so that they are more compassionate, honest, trustworthy, and good.  If you can change people, you can end abortion, murder, abuse, homelessness, starvation, etc.

When I picked up my daughter and her boyfriend from school, I posed the question to them.   Both smiled at the simpleness of the question, yet both struggled to give an answer.

The truth is even if God gave me all of his powers to do ONE thing… would only put a bandaid on a larger problem.  It would be also be moot, because God already did the ONE THING needed to save the world.

He sent His son, an innocent life, to die a sinners death, atoning for the sin of those He loves and calls His own.  Those who encountered Jesus before his death, became changed people…. and that hasn’t stopped and never will.

To change people, to change the world, we need to introduce them to Jesus.

#Write31Days – Post 18 – Spiritual Strongholds

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Have you ever found yourself in a building, standing under a chandelier… and suddenly your mind is flooded with every movie you have ever seen in the past.  The chandelier falls, someone dies.  Over the course of your life, subconsciously you have made the decision to never stand under a chandelier.  So, you take a few steps the left and breathe a sigh of relief.

When you were a child, perhaps, you were splashing in the ocean.  Suddenly, a current sweeps your legs out from under you, pulling you out to sea.  A hand grabs you, pulling you to safety.  You were so traumatized by what could have happened, you no longer go into the ocean.  You don’t take your kids to the beach.  You make a conscious decision that the ocean is not safe and to be avoided.

Everyone has some sort of stronghold in their life.  These are beliefs or opinions that are strongly held and fortified in our minds to the point that reason and logic will be locked out.  These strongholds can be based in reality or in our perception of reality. They are often formed by our past experiences, the environment we were raised, and by the people whom we respect or were authorities in our lives.

I have seen plenty of movies where a chandelier falls, on accident or on purpose, and a person dies.  I have personally never known anyone this has happened to, nor have I read about it happening the paper.  Logic and reason stand that the chandelier in any given building isn’t going to just suddenly break loose and fall on me.  It really isn’t a logical fear.  However my perception of that truth can be swayed when I allow those imaginary scenarios to root themselves in fear and paranoia.

The scenario at the beach, that actually happened to me.  It is a reasonable fear, logic would stand that I would be afraid of the ocean.   This was a real life experience for me.  However, that reality also must root itself in fear in order for it to become a stronghold in my life.  I still love the beach, take my children there, and I am not afraid of the ocean.  I do, however, respect it.  I am not careless.    I have not allowed this real life circumstance to impact the logic that being swept out to sea is very rare and small percentage.

As Christians we not only are faced with strongholds in our lives, based on our past or perceptions, that affect our daily decisions.  We also have spiritual strongholds, that have embedded certain beliefs or “truths” into our minds.

For example, if you were raised in a denomination or area of the country where dancing was considered a sin, and you accepted that belief to be true.  You now have a spiritual stronghold, that is going to impact how you engage with the rest of the world.  But, the questions we must ask is:  Is it true?  Is dancing a sin?  What do the scriptures say?

In most instances of spiritual strongholds that come from our environment, how we were raised, or the influential people in our lives… if we truly want to let go of spiritual stronghold… we go to the Word.  When faced with generational or denominational “truths” it is really quite easy to open up the scriptures and do the research for ourselves.  We can see what the scriptures say about any number of subjects, and find truth.  We can study the history of the scriptures, to understand the who, what, where, when, and why of a piece of scripture and then apply that to our own beliefs and perceptions.

We may be right.  We may be wrong.  And, in the grand scheme of things, it may not matter.  Personal convictions are no less important than scriptural mandates, they are just individual verses general.

The most difficult spiritual strongholds are the ones we are self imposing on ourselves based on our past experiences and decisions.  They arise when we live in guilt, shame, and failure.   We become so engrossed with who we once were, that we disregard any of our potential to be better person or live a better life.  We feel unworthy of God’s love, which keeps us from having a true relationship with Him.  This, of course, also means that our faith and spiritual growth is going to be stunted.

And, the enemy loves to use our spiritual strongholds against us.  He knows how to spin our past in a way that makes our sin look greater, more disgusting, and deeply shameful.   Satan puffs up our sin to look so horrible that we feel it would be impossible for God to find us worthy of anything.  We allow this to discount us and discredit us from God’s love, and Kingdom work.  People tend to respond in one of three ways.

  •  They do nothing.  They attend church, read their bibles, pray.  But, they never do anything more than that.  They disqualify themselves from being able to lead a bible study group, give their testimony, or even volunteer for the simplest of things at their church.  They say “who am I, what do I have to give?”
  • They run away.  In this case, the person is so haunted by their past that they are actively running away from God in shame.  They may run to a different religion or no religion, but they are running.  They attempt to hide like Adam and Eve after biting the fruit, hiding from God in their shame.
  • They go extreme.  This person is the one who is not running from God but actually chasing after Him.  They think that God has turned his back on them, or at minimal is deeply disappointed in them.  What they attempt to do is to win back His favor, His affection, by going to the extreme as a believer.  For example, if they had a history of immodest dress and immoral behavior… they will be entirely the opposite now, to the extreme.  Her ultra mini skirts have been replaced by ankle length skirts.  Her long flowing locks may be tempered by a tight bun, her make up drawer has been emptied into the trash.  He may have traded a life of drinking and parties for weekend long, isolated, and silent meditation.

I am certain that at least some of you are looking at the last one and thinking: this is a bad thing?  Yes, and no.   If the reason you have made these changes is out of deep, personal conviction… then NO, this is not a bad thing.  You are to be obedient to the Holy Spirit’s conviction.  However, if you are making these choices to try and earn back God’s love and favor, then YES … it is a very bad thing.  Keep reading, because I will explain why.

For the better part of twenty years, I allowed a spiritual stronghold to stand in my way.  I was totally ashamed of myself and some of the decisions I had made.  I would pray to God for forgiveness, but I was unable to let go of these things.  I held onto them with a tight grip.  His Word tells us that when we ask for forgiveness are sins are washed clean.   Every time I prayed to God to forgive those sins that haunted me, I was putting them at the foot of the cross & walking away.  Yet, in a very short amount of time, I was running back to cross and snatching them back up.

I was saying to God, I believe you can forgive me for so many things… but not this.  This is too big, too dirty, and too shameful for you to forgive.  I’d begin trying to work them off.  If I read more of my Bible.  If I pray harder.  If I volunteer more.  If I alter my dress, my speech, my thoughts, my life, my everything… then I can make up for this shame.

I was sinning against God, every single time I took them back.

I was saying, God … you are not enough.

When we are sinning, we create a division between us and God.  So, no matter how many good, noble, and wonderful things I was doing… they meant absolutely nothing because I was in sin.  I was doing things for a God that I didn’t trust.  I was reading a Bible, but not believing in the promises within it’s pages.   I was praying to a God that I thought wasn’t capable enough.  I was volunteering for Kingdom work, while believing I wasn’t worthy of being in the Kingdom.

You can change your manner of dress, the way you speak, and your daily study habits. You can pray from dusk to dawn.  You can give every cent you earn, volunteer every waking hour, and take up every noble cause.   Man can look at you in wonder and awe, you can have a million gold stars on your chart.  Women can hold you in high regard, men can respect your dedication and loyalty.  However, you will never feel good enough.  You will still feel guilty.  You will keep doing more and more to win the affection of God, because your guilt tells you that you are not worthy of His sacrifice.

We must let go of these spiritual strongholds, and cling to God.  We must surrender WHOLLY…. EVERYTHING.  We leave nothing behind, we hide nothing, we don’t hold anything back from God.

I know that I am not worthy.  That is why God is gracious and merciful.

I know that I never will be worthy.  The Old Testament reveals this every time the Israelites would turn from God.  The New Testament reveals this as Paul shares that he struggles doing what he knows is right.  I see it in my own life, every time I mess up and have to confess to God.

It is in this knowledge that the beauty of God’s love unfolds.

I am not.  I never will be.  I deserve death.

I was given the gift of Life.

There is nothing I can do that will separate me from God’s love.  I can not run or hide from Him.  There is nothing I could ever do, in my flesh, that will repay God for his mercy, his blessings, or his Son’s sacrifice.  It is arrogant and prideful of me to look at God’s gift, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, and say:  Sorry God, that isn’t enough to cover MY sin.

God asks so little of us.

Love God with all of your heart and understanding. – When I love Him, I trust Him.  I know His word, and His promises.  I believe Him.  I hold nothing back from Him.  I am washed clean by HIM and HIM alone… not anything of my own doing.

Love others as you love yourself. – I forgive as I wish to be forgiven.  I love as I wish to be loved.  I help others as I wish to be helped myself. 

I believe, the very first step in letting go of those crippling spiritual strongholds begins when we acknowledge it for what it really is.

Sin.

Confess this sin, ask God to forgive you for taking back what you have put (or keep putting) at the foot of the cross.  Pray for His Word to quiet the voice of the enemy who haunts you.  When you feel the urge to pick it back up, rebuke Satan’s hold on your life.  Then remember you are not who you once were, you are a new creation.  The past has faded, it is gone.  Today, you are a child of God, adopted into his family to start a new life… a far better life than you could ever imagine.

Let my stronghold be the Lord. (Psalm 18:2)

Christian Love, I wonder…..

Recording Artist Tori Kelley was in NYC and went through a walk in Central Park.  She overheard music from under a bridge that caught her attention.  She went to check it out and came across this amazing trio.  She ended up doing an impromptu session with them, singing Hillsong’s “OCEAN”.

So moved by the trio, their talent, and their rendition of the song, she invited them to perform at her concert the next night.  Someone filmed it.  Hillsong heard about it, and posted it to their facebook page.

Honestly, I just love moments like this.  When we capture raw talent, mixed with someone who has been polished by industry.  There is beauty in that rawness.  I found tears streaming my face, as I listened.  His accent.  Her voice.  Their unique melody.  The simple strumming of her guitar.  They were in that moment, faceless … just four people praising God in secular places.

I was moved.  I went to the comment sections to share my appreciation & thoughts…. and that is when things derailed.

There are in fact two sets of comments.

The ones directly on Tori Kelley’s page where the video was originally posted.

Then the set of comments on Hillsong’s page where the video was shared.

The comments on Tori Kelley’s personal page were nothing but supportive, a secular artist took a chance to share a beautiful song, and it was loved.  Their were comments by people who knew the song already, for sure, but also a slew of people who had never heard it before.  It was so amazing to see such a positive response.  I sincerely searched for one single negative comment, and couldn’t find one.   Why did I search?

… because of the comments on Hillsong’s page… by Christians.

There was plenty of negativity there.

I’m not going to quote the comments exactly, but they could be summed up into the following paraphrases:

“I am disappointed that Hillsong would share this video, I can’t let my daughter watch it because of what Tori is wearing.”

I love Tori’s voice, but she should really dress a lot more modestly.”

“What would Tori wear if she knew Jesus was first in line to her concert?”

“Why are you wearing short shorts on stage to sing about Jesus?”

…. and those were just the nicer comments.  There were a few I just couldn’t bring myself to share here.

1 Corinthians 13

Love: The Superior Way

13 If I speak human or angelic languages
but do not have love,
I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy
and understand all mysteries
and all knowledge,
and if I have all faith
so that I can move mountains
but do not have love, I am nothing.
And if I donate all my goods to feed the poor,
and if I give my body in order to boast[a]
but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind.
Love does not envy,
is not boastful, is not conceited,
does not act improperly,
is not selfish, is not provoked,
and does not keep a record of wrongs.
Love finds no joy in unrighteousness
but rejoices in the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends.
But as for prophecies,
they will come to an end;
as for languages, they will cease;
as for knowledge, it will come to an end.
For we know in part,
and we prophesy in part.
10 But when the perfect comes,
the partial will come to an end.
11 When I was a child,
I spoke like a child,
I thought like a child,
I reasoned like a child.
When I became a man,
I put aside childish things.
12 For now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror,
but then face to face.
Now I know in part,
but then I will know fully,
as I am fully known.
13 Now these three remain:
faith, hope, and love.
But the greatest of these is love.

I’m going to be really transparent, and it’s going to be a bit uncomfortable for us all… I think.  But, I do believe that is where conversation begins.  I promise… it will all tie together in the end…..

My social media accounts are a HOT mess right now, and have been for some time.  I count myself lucky to have a diverse group of friends, with a diverse group of opinions.  I often find myself sitting in the middle… afraid to speak… because I really don’t know what to say.  I don’t feel informed enough, and I don’t feel qualified either.

My husband and I have never discounted a human being’s value or rights, based on their gender, color, or sexuality.  We have never allowed these external characteristics to cloud our view of their internal character.  I have certainly had friends over the years where we didn’t agree on every subject, and yes religious beliefs and politics included.  However that has never interfered with our ability to love one another, to care for each other in time of hurt and pain.  My children have learned this too, and their friends represent every color of the rainbow.  They see character, not color… or gender… or sexual preferences (which does begin to be an issue as your children enter teen years).   I observe their standards for friendship, and what I notice is their standards are based entirely off of character.  A friend who lies, is quickly out the door.  A friend who makes derogatory comments, doesn’t last.   A friend that causes hurt, to my child or others, is kept at a distance at minimum.

So…. my heart breaks every day as I read my social media.  Because, no matter how much we have impacted change within our children… there is a greater world out there that hasn’t changed all that much.  And then, I still  find myself stuck in the middle.  I really have no idea what it is like to be discriminated against, or to have a cultural history of deep seeded pain and torment.  I don’t understand what it feels like to be a part of socio-economic group that is still fighting for away to rise above or get out from repetitive history.  I have never considered an abortion, or fought for the right to get married.  I have never been so poor that I needed to steal or sell drugs to supplement the income my family needed.   With the exception of a time in my wilder youth, I also don’t know what it feels like for someone to naturally assume you are guilty, or up to no good, based solely on the color of my skin.  I’ve never been treated poorly by those in authority because of my skin color or my gender.

Because of this, when it comes to a lot of what I see on the news and in social media…. I still feel unqualified.  Even more so, when I watch those I call friends who ARE qualified can’t even agree.    When you are observing a situation in any part of the world, and those whom it does impact can’t seem to agree… how do we even begin to understand.  It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and suggest someone make different choices, to point toward those who perpetuate stereotypes, and think we can just simply say “STOP”.  As if it was that easy, to just stop being who you are… to just stop being a product of your environment… to just stop being everything you have ever known or recognized to be truth.

We can look at a smoker, or a heroin addict and have compassion and empathy, we understand how hard it is to stop those addictions.

But we have no compassion on cultural, society, economical, and even personal choices that have become rooted as truth for someone.  We think we can simply say “stop being who you are”, and that person can just shake it off and change over night without any further temptation or struggle.

I want to be clear that I am not attempting to debate any scriptural truths.  On certain subject, the scriptures are pretty clear.  Even when you look at it deeper, understanding the cultures and time period they were written.  We recognize that our worlds are not that much different, and biblical truths then … are biblical truths now.

What I am wanting to address though, is the behavior I have witnessed amongst those who are my brothers and sisters in Christ.  Some of the most vicious words, mocking tones, and just down right disrespect have flowed from some of their mouths recently.

But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.
Matthew 15:18

When I saw the posts about the Tori Kelley/Hillsong video posts, I threw my hands up in the air.  I was angry.  Here we have a secular artist, sharing a song about God, in a secular setting… and some Christians had nothing better to comment.  Instead it was an opportunity to tear this artist down because of her attire.

Even though Christ invited us to come as we are.  He wouldn’t have told a prostitute to go home and change first.  He wouldn’t have told the leper to clean and bandage himself up.  He wouldn’t have told a woman to go home and get her husband.  Christ reached out to those who sought after him.  He responded to the woman who slipped her hand through a crowd and touched the hem of his garment.  He took the long way on certain trips, because He had a divine appointment on the way.  In fact, the harshest words Christ had… they were not for the unbelievers, or the ones who genuinely were willing to listen.  His harshest words were for the Pharisees, Saducees… the leaders who KNEW better.  The leaders who called everyone to live by a standard that they themselves didn’t live up to.  Leaders who twisted and added to the scriptures in order to get ahead in the community, to keep their status, and to make people do what they felt was right.

As I look at those who God reaches to, I see a God who loves the unlovable.  He forgives the unforgivable.  He changes lives and hearts, from the hardest stone.  Who calls to His people to come unto Him.  To cast their burdens, to drop their yokes, to be freed from their slavery, and to simply follow.

While I may not understand what it feels like to be be discriminated against, dodging literal and figurative bullets of hatred, there is something I do know….

I do know what it feels like to be loved, immeasurably by God.  By my husband.  By my children.  By my friends, who love me even when they don’t agree with me.

I do know what it feels like to be unloved, by critics and people who didn’t bother to get to know me as a person.

I also know what it feels like to be judged, criticized, unfairly treated, spoken down to, treated as less than, put down, berated, and ostracized by OTHER CHRISTIANS.

I my entire life history, the worst treatment I have ever gotten….  the people who have made me feel the worst about myself have been those I have shared a faith with.  And, I am watching this play out daily in my social media news feed.  Regardless of the situation…. Ferguson.  Charleston. Bruce/Caitlin Jenner.  Gay Marriage.  Abortion.   Heck, even on issues as nominal as practicing yoga, homeschooling, how we dress, if we breastfeed, the number of children we have, etc….

The greatest hate and judgement that I have see has been coming from a group of people that were told LOVE GOD, LOVE OTHERS.  It wasn’t a suggestion.  It wasn’t a direction to head toward.  It wasn’t defined to a specific group of people.

We were told LOVE GOD, LOVE OTHERS.

And, what I see is an awful amount of HATE toward others.

I’m not saying to LOVE means to accept or agree with everything.  Not at all, we can still hold to the tenants of our faith, disagree with people, the government, the world… but still LOVE.

My love for you defies what clothing you wear.  My love for you defies what movies you watch or music you listen to.  My love for you defies the choices you make in your life.  My love defies any earthly explanation because my love was defined by the ONE WHO LOVED SO MUCH HE GAVE HIS LIFE ME.

When I try to live up to that kind of love, it often means putting myself and my agendas on the back burner and simply loving others… for who they are, where they are.

Instead of feeling hate toward those who are facing the ugliness of a fallen world, that give into temptation, that are walking away from God, or simply trying to fly under the radar…. I feel pain and sympathy.  It’s not a joking matter, to make internet memes about and snarky jabs.  We shouldn’t be joking about this, or standing above it in righteous indignation.  We should be weeping, we should be praying, we should be clinging to God and asking for His forgiveness.

We are called to do our best to live at peace with everyone… yet we are not living at peace when we have a hard heart toward a group of people.  We are not living at peace when we try to force our beliefs upon others.  We are not living at peace when we think we can say anything we want because we are “speaking truth in love”.

Too often the words “truth in love” have been used to soften the blow of judgement.  “I love you to much to let you go on sinning, let me tell you what to do…. “.  As if I have any clue what any person should do?  Am I without sin?  NO!  As Paul said… “Of the sinners, I am the worst”.  Which is why over and over again we are reminded in the scriptures… he is who is free of sin can cast the first stone…. take care of the plank in your own eye before you worry about your brother’s splinter.  It is why we are given and entire chapter about LOVE!

We were not told just to love, but HOW TO LOVE.

And we are failing miserably at doing so.

The job of conviction has been taken, it’s the Holy Spirit’s job.  He does a good job at it too, because I’m convicted daily at how I fail.  And, considering the fact that I fail daily… I am not even qualified for the job.  It’s not up to me to convict anyone of their sin… or to change people’s hearts.

My job is to love.

  • Love God.  In doing so, my life and person may seem different to others.  Living as an example, striving in the daily to exemplify God in a way that makes others take notice, ask questions, and do the work He has called me to do.
  • Love Others.  In doing so, I will have opportunities to share God with others.  For those who believe, those opportunities will be in sharing life together, growing with each other in His will.  For those who don’t believe, I will stand as a light in the darkness… of hypocrisy and hate.  I will share that God loves all, always has and always will.  He died for all, not some.  I will show real love, showing Jesus in my life, and I will leave the rest up to God.  And, I as I love others, so will my children and their children.  I will create a legacy of love that will extend into the future.

When I die…. and people talk about me…. what I hope they say is:

Gena, she loved God and was always striving to know Him better.  She loved people, she had compassion for others, caring more about them than her own self.  She wasn’t perfect, never pretended to be.  She asked for grace, and gave a lot. She never held a grudge, always spoke with love, and trusted God to shape her life.

This week, my eyes were really opened to how little love some “Christians” show toward each other, let alone to the public.  It’s no wonder the world views us in such a negative way.  It’s easy to blame the world, it’s easy to write it off  because the scriptures tell us we will be persecuted and hated.  So, we use that as license to just say whatever we want carelessly.   The more I read from others, the more I wonder…. is that reason? Or, have we done it to ourselves?

Have we painted a view of Christianity that is unloving of anyone who doesn’t see things exactly as we do?  We don’t need the world to divide the church, or hate the church.  We are doing a pretty good job of doing that on our own.  We have more people leaving the church in every generation.  We are dividing ourselves up into groups and camps that believe  our understanding of the scriptures is better or “more accurate” than others.  We can’t comprehend that we may be wrong, or at least partially incorrect.  We stand on “biblical truths” that most of us couldn’t even defend with the scriptures, because we haven’t taken the time to read it for ourselves.  We stand on what others interpret, their opinions, their understanding.  We look for speakers and “authorities” who agree with our interpretation in order to validate our opinions.  Yet we never test them to the scriptures or look to challenge our beliefs.

We have crippled ourselves in regard to REAL knowledge, and then we believe we have the RIGHT to stand above anyone else and dictate how anyone should live “by faith”.

This isn’t the first time this has happened either, you’d know that if you read the scripture.  Biblical history is full of instances of believers who thought their way was right, who didn’t test the scriptures for themselves, who had hearts that were hardened toward other believers who didn’t do things “their way”.

WHICH IS EXACTLY WHY JESUS CAME!   We needed Christ’s ministry as much as we needed his sacrifice.  His death paid the penalty for our sin.  His life exposed truth, exemplified how we should live, love, pray, serve, and share.  His words spoke greatly of LOVE, and when Jesus spoke hard truths… he spoke them with love.  He wept for the people.  When was the last time you wept for the world?  He had compassion for the world,  “Forgive them, they know not what they do!”  —  This wasn’t just a prayer for those who crucified Jesus… it was a prayer for everyone, past … present… future.   Jesus was falsely accused, falsely imprisoned, falsely judged, falsely executed.  He could have called down the powers of heaven, wiped away everyone who stood and spoke against him, leaving only believers and followers.  Instead, he called into the heavens for forgiveness.

Asking for the forgiveness of a sin the people couldn’t even recognize as a sin.

I can’t speak for the rest of the world.  As for me, and my house, WE will serve the Lord.  We will live a life that shows a love for God and His Word.  We will live a life that loves others, has compassion for others, and in our love and compassion we will introduce people to Jesus.

 

How Does This Scripture Apply to Me? – WRONG QUESTION

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Early in my Christian walk, I read the bible to understand what Christianity was about.  I saw it as a collection of stories & history that explained how we (gentiles) came to believe in God, who Jesus was & why the crucifixion was needed, and to understand what awaits us in the future.  In time, as I would mature in my walk, I would begin to see that this was more than just a collection of information that justified or explained my faith.  It was the true Word of God, it had an enormous amount of value.  The scriptures are filled with stories of people, just like me, who failed miserably but that God could and would redeem.  It became a book of Hope for the weary, Faith for those who love Him, and Promises of an eternal heavenly future.

Under the teaching of some very respected bible teachers, study authors, and church leaders… I began to read the scriptures differently.  I was taught to read the scriptures and ask “How does this apply to my life?”. Now, in some cases of scripture, that is a really easy question to answer.  The Proverbs are full of wisdom that can be applied to every day life.   But there would be times, when I would read a passage of scripture, that I was left scratching my head.  It just didn’t seem to apply.  I wasn’t like the person in the story, the situations I was dealing with in life were different than the point of the story.  I just couldn’t figure out how it applied to me, at all.  In those cases, I would cast it aside for the time being.  My reasoning was that it just didn’t apply at that moment.  But, I figured God revealed it to me because at one point it will.  I will recall reading it, and at that point in the future, I will know where I can return to find the wisdom and encouragement I need.

I am certain many of you who are reading this, are shaking your head in agreement.  But, what if I told you … we are totally wrong.  What if I said that is not the right question to be asking?  Hold on to your hats, if you are, because I am about to rock your socks.

I had an opportunity to attend an amazing conference that would forever change how I viewed the Bible.  I have never looked at a passage of scripture the same.  I study the Bible in an entirely different way.  It came from a group of very well known teachers, that a new question was posed.

You see, the scriptures are not about you and I.   The Bible is the collective story about God’s ultimate plan of redemption.

The Old Testament serves as a witness, or testimony, to how fallen God’s people are.  God gave us everything, perfect and in union with Him.  Man’s choice to go against God’s wills happened in the very beginning… when Eve and then Adam, took a bite of that forbidden fruit.  As the Old Testament unfolds, we illustration after illustration of a repetitive cycle of sin and redemption.

God sets rules.

Man breaks or can’t keep rules.

Man should be punished.

God ultimately saves them from themselves.

They thank God, renew promise to follow his rule.

They do for a while.

Then the cycle repeats itself… again and again…. and again.

Because man continually repeats this cycle, atonement has to be made for these sins.  The Gospels of the New Testament deliver to us a Savior, who will be the final lamb sacrificed for sins of a stiff necked people.  The New Testament continues, with the Good News spreading to new areas, the real life experiences believers faced, and leads us to the end… when Christ comes back for His church.

The Bible from start to finish, isn’t about you… or me… it is about Jesus Christ, our Savior.  The question we should be asking, first and foremost, when we study scripture is:

How does this passage reveal Jesus Christ to me?

Does it reveal the promise of his coming, his birth?

Does it parallel his life to death, on earth?

Does it reveal the need & promise of his sacrifice?

Does it reflect the call He puts on those who follow him?

Does it establish his person-hood, his divinity, his character, his love, his compassion, his mercy, his grace, his obedience… his example?

The Bible was written about Jesus Christ, for you. For you to see that you are not alone in your failures, that just like others in the scriptures you can be redeemed.  But that comes by first KNOWING HIM, and you will get to know Him best when you look for Him in God’s word, before you look for yourself.

I am not suggesting we don’t ever ask how it applies to our life, if that were the case there would be no need for the wisdom scriptures.  I am suggesting that before we can understand the wisdom & themes of scripture (as they apply to us), we have to understand the ONE whom the wisdom originates.  We have to understand how these pieces of scripture, stories and history relate reveal Jesus, first.

I understand that for a good portion of my readers, this a “DUH” moment.  Either because you already know it, or you are simply trying to figure out how you missed it.. it should be a given.  It is very easy for human beings to get so wrapped up in themselves or the situation they are seeking guidance through the scriptures for, that they forget to start with Jesus.

This past summer, I had an opportunity to do an in depth study of the book of Nehemiah.  It was conducted by a panel of biblical scholars; who worked independently on their assigned sections of Nehemiah, while making sure they stood in agreement as team under the Word of the scriptures.

On the surface, you could easily pull out some very “me centered” themes.

* It’s a story about a man who chose to make a difference in his community.

* It’s a story about a man who brings his community back together, back to God.

* It’s a historical point of time, regarding the city of Jerusalem.

* It’s a story about what we can accomplish, when we work together, for the glory of God.

On their own, none of these things are bad.  However, they do not truly reveal the point of the book of Nehemiah.  They don’t get to the heart of the story.  They don’t get to Jesus.

If you really take time to look through the scripture in Nehemiah, you will find that is parallels the ministry & purpose of Jesus.

The city is in ruin, the people are far from God.

Nehemiah leaves his comfortable position, with the king to go to the city & restore it.

While Nehemiah is present, restoration begins.

Nehemiah sets the example & standard.

Nehemiah returns to the king, leaving the people to continue on their own.

The people fail miserably in his absence.

Nehemiah must return.

When you look at the book of Nehemiah, with intention of revealing Jesus… it’s right there, plain as day.  You just have to get yourself out of the way to see it.  This is why, we must come to the scripture first, seeking to reveal Jesus.  It’s not about us, it’s about Him.  Always has been, always will be.

I challenge you to start looking for Jesus, when you study the word.  You will find him. 

In the next installment, we will address what the second question you should be asking is.

OCCASIONALLY, WE ALL GO THERE

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Occasionally, we all go there… to that place of “what if”.  We ask our selves the questions that will take us back in time.

What if I made a different choice?

What if I took a different route?

What if I said something sooner?

What if I did things differently?

What if… what if… what if….

The problem is that “what if” is one of the enemies greatest tools to make us discontent with the blessings God has given to us.  “What if” makes us question the blessing, as if it wasn’t good enough.  It implies there may have been something better.  “What if” makes us look at an illusion of what could have been, instead of appreciating what is.  “What if” makes the grass look greener, life look better.  “What if” is also a lie.

Because, it never happened.  There is no guarantee that things would have turned out anywhere CLOSE to what our “what if” imagined.

“What if” tells us what we want to hear.  That some how life would be better, we would have more things, go more places, be happier.

“What if” comes with a price.

If we allow ourselves to buy in to the “what if” and dwell in those thoughts too long, we can find ourselves moving away from our blessings and becoming discontent.  And, in some cases, we will move mountains to make that “what if” a reality.  It seldom works out that way.  That “what if” can end up costing us everything.

To fight those “what if” thoughts we have to focus on the blessings.  We have to focus on what is good, noble and right.  We have to look to God and say THANK YOU for the blessings I never saw coming!

In our thanks we find contentment, and in our contentment we find happiness, and in our happiness we praise God for seeing and knowing more than we ever could.

And, in that praise, the best thing we can do is share those blessings with others.  When we have a peace and happiness that doesn’t make sense to others, they are intrigued.  They want to understand what is so different about us.

It is then we can say, in all honesty….

Myself, my life and my decisions may not be perfect… but my God is.   I trust in Him, because His word never fails.  He gives me the peace that is beyond understanding.  He gives me a hope and a future, greater than I could have ever imagined for myself.  My God loves me.  In His love, His sacrifice… I find contentment, peace and happiness.  It’s not that I don’t face trials and obstacles, I just don’t face them alone.