Failure…

Failure is a funny word to me, because I truly believe that we rarely utterly fail at something.  Sometimes, it is simply a matter of perception.  Follow along with me for just a moment on that thought before we get into the meat of this topic.

Below is a series of photographs from a wedding, several years ago.  At the time, I owned my own confectionary.  This was not my first big event, but it was my first wedding.  The bride wanted a confection bar full of candies, sweets, and treats.  She didn’t want a traditional wedding cake at all.  We decided upon some cupcake towers and a small cake at the top, which was adorned with their wedding topper and serve for the “cake cutting” part of the reception.

What you see here is a very well executed plan, right?  Wrong.  I had a MAJOR failure.  I promised her Jolly Rancher Cotton Candy.  I woke up that morning to make the fresh cotton candy, only to find that there was just too much humidity in air.  The cotton candy, which I had made dozens of times before, was melting before I could even bag it.  So, I bought some cotton candy that was pre-made and portioned it out into the bags.

The bride was happy, there were no gaping holes in the table set up, and there was not a single bag of cotton candy left over.

I failed.  Yes, it was due to circumstances outside of my control… but I still failed to deliver what I promised.  Even if, ultimately, I was really the only one who knew about the failure.

 

The next large event I catered was for a fundraiser.  I met with the planning team and they presented an adorable center piece concept.  They brought out super cute little tiered dessert stands. The plan was to have the stand filled with cupcakes. There would be a giant cupcake “topper”.  The small cupcakes were part of the dessert for the evening.  They would have table drawings for the centerpiece (inclusive of the giant cupcake topper, plus an additional 1 dozen mini cupcakes).  In addition they wanted gift bags for the VIP sponsor tables.  I was super excited to get started.  I measured out the centerpiece they provided to determine the number of cupcakes that it would hold.  Sent them a quote.  The order was set.

When I arrived the morning of the event to set up, to my shock… the tiered center pieces had be replaced.  They made the decision to go with something nicer, which was the right decision.  However, they neglected to inform me of the change.  These new centerpieces were MUCH larger.  Almost twice the width on every tier.  I placed the topper, the dozen mini cupcakes, and it was SPARSE.  I flagged down the coordinator, explained the problem, and she made the decision we would forgo the dozen cupcakes as part of the table prize and instead use them to fill up the tiers.

The following Monday, I received an email from the main chairperson.  She wanted a partial refund because I failed to produce the dozen cupcakes per table for the prize.  She was never informed by the coordinator, and thought I had shorted their order.  I explained what happened, who authorized the decision to use them, and apologize profusely.   In her response, she was very kind and canceled the request for the refund.  However, I never received another order from her or their organization again.

In this case there was a perception that I failed.  I knew that I hadn’t, and that I met my obligations.  However, based on what she could see… the chairperson perceived that I failed to come through.

This weekend I was reading an blog piece in which the author was brutally raw about her feelings, as she declared that Jesus had failed her family that year.  I was really stumped by those words. Jesus… who is perfect, flawless, dependable, truth… failed you?  I couldn’t understand it.  It didn’t seem possible.

In all the years of unanswered prayers, I’ve never felt like Jesus let me down.  Not once.  I can’t think of a time where I looked up to the heavens and declared “Lord, you really let me down this time.  I needed you to come through.”  I was struggling with every single time her words “Jesus failed me” flew past my eyes.  Yet, I not offended … angry … or hollering out “heretic”.

Perhaps, that is because in all of those times where things didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to… I blamed myself.  I told myself that the reason my prayer wasn’t answered or the Lord didn’t show up was because I failed Him.  I feel like I fail God daily.  I never feel good enough.  I question why in the world He would want to use me in ministry.

What I realized was that how we see things was very different.  I was seeing failure in the way I described the first scenario.  In some way, I failed to deliver on my end of the bargain… even if I did my best.  Even if I made up for it in someway.  Even if no one in the world knew or cared about it.  I knew.  I failed.  My focus was there on that place where I failed, versus the ways that I succeeded.

The woman who wrote the blog piece was more akin to my second example.  She was the chairperson who had expectations on how things were going to turn out.  She brought in the right people, and through no fault of her own in that scenario, something wasn’t right.  She turned to the person she trusted to come through, and she said “you failed me”.

You see, she ascertained that failure based on the limited amount of information she had.  She didn’t know that the centerpieces were different sizes, or that it would make a difference in the end product presentation.  She didn’t know that I was never informed of the change.  She wasn’t brought into the decision making being done on the spot to accommodate the changes, nor filled in after the fact of what happened & why.

When the Lord is working out things for us, we are not always clued in to what is going on in the background.  We can’t always see the people or situations that the Lord is coordinating into just the right places, at just the right times.  In fact, sometimes we never will.  We may never see those fingerprints where God was moving mountains and mustard seeds.  So, when the end product (or process) isn’t what we expected… we may feel like God failed us.  He didn’t come through.

On the other hand, we can become so focused on all of the areas where we ARE messing up… that we think we have failed God to the point He is ignoring us.  We may think He is deliberately keeping blessing from us.  We may even think that he is disciplining us.

In the first case, we are so focused on our perception of the situational outcome that we can’t see those who kept their word and did their part.  We don’t appreciate the people who were pressed into hard decisions.  We lose the ability to give people the benefit of the doubt.  We make assumptions, assign unjust blame.  Our vision becomes clouded to the work God is doing, the blessings that are coming, the people who did care, and the hundreds of little ways God came through with something BETTER.  Jesus never fails us, we just perceive that He did because we didn’t get the outcome we desired.

Or, we become so focused on how wrong and sinful we are.  We become so inwardly focused that we beat ourselves up, disqualify ourselves, and stamp FAILURE on our foreheads.  We make vows to never try again, step away from commitments or ministry work, and wallow in how terrible we think we are.  We put up our hands to the Lord, shouting STOP… I can’t be used.  I’m a failure, not Jesus.

Christ died because we are failures at keeping God’s statutes and commands.  Throughout the Old Testament, on a repetitive cycle…   God would move, the people would celebrate, the people would forget, the people would fall & cry out, and God would rescue.  By the time of the New Testament, when Jesus enters the arena… God’s ultimate plan of redemption for his people who just can’t keep it together on their own.  In her piece, she repeated a few times that she waited for Jesus to rescue her… and He didn’t.  I would contend… HE ALREADY DID, ON CALVARY.

And, in that moment we were given victory over sin and death.  We are not failures, but perfected in Him.  By His stripes we are healed.  We need to keep our eyes on Him, not ourselves.  Trusting His word, even when we don’t understand what is happening around us… or God seems quiet or far.

Then, I read the article a 2nd time.  Something else jumped out at me, and we are going to talk about that next time.

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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:

badmoms.jpg

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.

Avert Your Eyes

MBA

Women are a funny creation, I’d love to have a one on one conversation with the Creator of the World about how women work.  I want to know how much of our way of thinking, behavior, etc is just “how we are wired” and how much is a result of the fall.  How emotional did God really want for us to be?  How complicated were we intended to be?  When woman first bit that piece of fruit, why is it that her mind became a pile of yarn balls all unraveled and going in so many directions at once?  Why did men get the capacity to compartmentalize things and function so differently with thought and deed?  We both ate of the tree of knowledge, yet our brains work so entirely differently.  Why?

It is a mystery.

Interestingly enough, what also happened after woman bit that apple… she saw herself.  She felt shame and guilt.  And, she hid from God.  Until that moment, the Lord had blinders on her eyes.  She saw Him, she saw Adam, she knew her God given task and purpose.  When she bit of the apple, those blinders fell off.   “What if” entered the world.  “What if God didn’t say ….”.  “What if I take a bite…”.  “What if I didn’t hear God correctly…”.

What if.

Throughout the scriptures there are cries out to God to be seen.  See me, search me, do not cast your face from me, see your people, hear your people, help your people…

Eve hid from God.  Eve said… do not see me.  Do not find me.  Do not cast your gaze upon me.  Do not search me.   She didn’t want to be found in her shame and her guilt.

Avert your eyes.

But the Lord looked for them, he sought them out in their shame, held them accountable, and then as He always does… he made a way out.

I’ve known so many women who want to be seen.  They want their spouses to see them, instead of take them for granted.  They want their children to see them,  and consider them worthy of praise.  They want their parent to see them and apologize for past hurts.  They want their boss to see them and recognize their efforts.  They want their church to see them and welcome their gifts.  They want world to see them and say you add value and are worthy to know.

And yet, some of these same women will hide from those who see too much.   When a spouse gets too close, and they feel vulnerable… they push him away.  When the children begin to see through her perfect mom facade, she builds up taller walls and come up with new covers to her sin.  A parent who desires to fix the past will be kept at arms reach because of fear, we do not want to be hurt again.  Women don’t want their bosses to know how much they sacrificed for the job, because they fear it shows weakness vs. strength.  A woman  who wants the church to see her gift but hides the journey to faith that brought her there.  Women who want the world to see them, but only the parts they want to be seen.

Women are complicated creations.  By our design or as a result of our choices, we seem to have the ability to complicate our lives even more than they need to be.  We say we want authenticity in our friendships, but we do not want vulnerability.  We say that we want iron sharpens iron friendships, yet we do not understand that for iron to be strengthened it’s weaknesses must be exposed.  We would rather our friends look up at us as a model of inspiration versus walk with us through our valleys.  We put on a show, get a circle of friends, build relationships… always keeping our arms stretched out so that no one can get too close.

From a distance our cracks and fractures are not as noticeable.  From a distance we can put on a show and no one can see us reading from the cue cards.  From a distance our grand actions are easily seen but our slight of hand goes unnoticed.  From a distance we look holy and righteous, masking our sin and deprivation.  From a distance we appear to have it all together, all of the right answers, the perfect family… no one can see the brokenness behind our closed doors.

Social media has made the perfect playground for superficial relationships, because we can connect with hundreds and thousands of people… posting our perfectly thought out words, edited photographs, and stories spun to make our lives look like a highlight reel of perfection.  When those people began to infiltrate our real lives, and see how we really live… that facade can only last so long.  When they get too close and begin to the see the truth, we cut them out and replace them with someone new.  Cycling our “friends” in and out of our lives to protect the image we have created for ourselves.

We tackle authenticity from a place of mentor to mentee versus a mutual relationship of accountability.  We want others to be authentic with us, so that we can use our gifts, talents, knowledge, wisdom, et’al to help them.   Yet we dare not expose the thorns in our sides, the planks in our eyes, and our sin to those whom we consider our closest friends.   When they come across them and call our attention to it, we are quick to dismiss it.  Quick to blame, and quick to create distance.  We speak truth in love, but I question how much love is really there.  We speak personal conviction as biblical mandate, standing on a soap box of righteousness that is filled with worms.  We are quick to label others sins and quantify them as more terrible than our own, so that when the time comes we can stop the friendship and feel no remorse.

Righteous indignation is easier than self retrospection.

So, we hide.  We hide from God under the guise that our sin is not as bad as others.  We tell ourselves that God is angrier about greater sins in the world, than this little thing I have done.  We hide from those who love us, because we fear that if they see us for who we really are they will leave… judge… or hold us accountable to change.  We hide from ourselves by focusing so much on how others have wronged or hurt us, that we can put our own sin on the back burner.

We want others to avert their eyes to us, while we look at them under a microscope.

Lord help us to be vulnerable with one another, to walk our roads not alone but in the company of our family of believers, let us not fear accountability, and help us to stop hiding from you.

Swept Away By the Lord & In Fellowship

sweptawayretreat

I am a big fan of Conferences and Retreats, they are places where we get to pull away from the every day and put all of our focus on Him.  There are no distractions, there are no interruptions.  They are an opportunity for total immersion into fellowship with your brethren in Christ as well as God himself.

This weekend, my home church held a women’s retreat.  We were blessed that a few other local small churches joined us for this time of fellowship and communion.

Speaker Michelle Howe pointed us toward having a “Swept Away” life in the Lord.   It is easy to be swept away by the world, the enemy… but it is a great thing to be swept away into relationship with God.  She suggested these daily actions:

  1. REJOICE (Isaiah 44:2) — the Lord has swept away our sins, therefore we have cause to sing for joy!  Rejoice in thanksgiving, prayers, song, praises, gratitude.
  2. REBUILD (Nehemiah) — when our walls are dropped, we rebuild them with HOPE that is found in the Lord and find we are restored.
  3.  RENAME (1 Cor 5:17) — we are a new creation in Christ, the new is here and the old is gone.  Our new name is Image Bearer, Christ Follower… not the labels of our oldself.

She then had the women at each table write their name at the top of a piece of paper.  Then, we were to pass them to our right.  As we received another woman’s paper, we were to allow the spirit to lead us to a word or statement about that woman… and write it down.  I’ve done this exercise before, but it has always been with a group of women that know me.  This time, with so many women at the event, many of us were seated among women we had never met or at least didn’t know very well.

After we received our paper back, we were instructed to circle 3 things… a statement that surprised us, a statement we expected, and a statement that we longed for.  What I found interesting was that the word I circled that surprised me, was the same thing I knew the Lord has been working on in me.  PATIENCE.  I don’t see myself as patient, but I have released my need to know and control the Lord.  It was interesting that someone would see that in me, a work that is coming to fruition.  The second word, was something I expected which was STUDENT.  I’m a student of the word in many ways.   But the third, the thing that I longed for someone to see in me was CHRIST.  In the past, when I’ve done this exercise… I’ve gotten a lot of great compliments.  But I’ve always longed for CHRIST LIKE to be in that list.  It’s been a “few” years since I’ve completed this exercise… and a woman wrote I was “light, like a city on a hill”.  It means my love for Christ, is no longer something that is inside of me… but a light that shines for others to see.  PRAISE GOD.

You can view Michelle’s full presentation notes here:  How to Live a Swept Away Life

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A member of our church then shared her testimony, and I’ll respect that sharing by letting her story remain her’s to tell.  But I wanted to share a few things that I took away from it personally.

  • We do not fool the believers around us.  Whether we speak up or not, believers can sense when we are struggling and will pray on our behalf.  The Lord brings our names to the attention of our intercessors in the church.  You have people praying for you, and you may not know it.
  • We swim at our own risk.  We may see the signs that the waves are dangerous, we know what lurks in the ocean.  We may dip our toes in the ocean of sin, slowly walking deeper and deeper.  There will be those of us who feel a little nibble, take heed, and return to shore.  Yet, some of us will continue to wade deeper, ignoring the bites.  We may not be paying attention to the waves coming overhead… or we are pulled into the riptide.  Taken deeper, unable to save ourselves from our circumstances.  Life may be a “swim at your own risk” event, but Jesus is the Life Guard who is always on duty.
  • Pursue the Lord in PRAYER, HIS WORD, IN RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM

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Speaker and Counselor, Amy Oliver spoke directly to my heart as she engaged us on the importance of seeking God directly in His Word, as well as a solid perspective on the Proverbs 31 woman.   Some highlights of her presentation:

  • Knowing who Jesus is, and being thankful for Jesus is not enough.  We must be in active submission to His Lordship.
  • Our prayer accepting Christ as our savior is not a stopping point, but a launching point.
  • The Word constantly and consistently calls us to RETURN TO GOD, to FOLLOW JESUS.
  • There is a difference between REGRET (being caught) and REPENT (broken and called to change).
  • His Word helps us to not only know WHO God is but to recognize the counterfeit that the world and enemy will try and sell us.
  • The fruit of our spirit is not a works based faith, but instead a natural response to act in obedience to the Lord.
  • In Christ there is REAL FREEDOM, in the enemy/the world there is an ILLUSION of freedom (but a price will be paid).
  • Good Christian things can become an IDOL in our lives if we allow them to take precedence first and foremost over our personal, devoted time to God.

A Proverbs 31 Woman is:

  • FIXED – she is rooted/grounded/secure in her role as an image bearer.
    • Women have a tendency to shift their identity as their circumstances or seasons of life shift.  If our identity is in Christ, then we need not shift but be rooted, so that no matter how things shift or change… we are still first an image bearer.
    • Women’s image or worth is not found in comparison with other women or the amount of likes a photo or story gets on social media.
    • Media tries to tell us who we SHOULD BE, God tells us WHO WE ARE.
    • The standards of the word are cheap, and they don’t last.
    • God knows our BEST, he is our MEASURE or STANDARD
  • FOCUSED – she is focused on HER mission, not the mission or calling of others.
    • Her success is not based on the success of her husband, her children, or her activities.  Her success is based on the mission the Lord has given her, thus what things we say YES to matters, why we say YES matters.
    • Requests of her time are weighed against her God given mission, she seeks the kingdom first.
    • Her life looks distinctly different from non-believers because she is mission focused.  Distinctly different, reflecting him, illustrating redemption.
  • FIERCE – she is fiercely dedicated to her task, she is not distracted or strayed.
    • She does not multi-task between her walk with God and the ways of the world, it is impossible to do so.  She is sold out for the better, kingdom calling… abandoning the world for Him.
    • She doesn’t have a guilty pleasure that is of the world, because she knows that it bears no fruit.  It does not set her apart from the world as a redeemed follower.
    • She does not repeat bad choices or behavior with a false expectation that this time it will turn out differently.  She knows the result of all sin is the same.
    • She wears the full armor of God, saturating herself in the Word.
  • FEARLESS – she is not afraid of this world, but fears the Lord.
    • Fear of the world = anxiety, depression, worry, etc.
    • Fear of the Lord = awe, reverence, worship, trust, etc.
    • Fear of the Lord casts out all other fears from the world.

When we have an encounter with God, we are changed.  There is a visible and noticeable difference.  How do we encounter God, how are we changed?

  • Know Him in His Word – evaluate the things in your life closely to know if this is something wasteful or worthy.  Anything outside of Jesus is fake, when we know Him through his word and our relationship with him, we can identify what is false and counterfeit.
  • Know Your Place in Him – Image bearer, then wife, then mother… and so on.  You are a priority to God, He gave his son for you.  Find your value and worth in knowing you are a priority to God, not based on what the world sells as valued.  Don’t try to be someone else, envious of their gifts and talents.  Instead, know what you are good at and DO IT.
  • Know How to Care for Yourself – your spiritual health is important, be intentional about your time with God, take a break away and invest in your spiritual health.  Jesus often retreated to be alone with God, to hear from Him and be away from the noise and distraction of the world.   When our spiritual health is in check we are mission focused, dedicated in prayer, deepening our relationship with Jesus.  Learn to set boundaries.  Find contentment with what the Lord has blessed you with instead of what others have that you lack.

Thoughts => Feelings => Beliefs => Words => Actions => Habits => Character => Destiny

(=> means influences, builds)

You can view Amy Oliver’s full presentation notes here:  Swept Away!

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This will be continued on Thursday with some take away notes from our breakout discussions/presentations.

Conditions, Conditions, Conditions

MBA

Something that has always rubbed me the wrong way are conditional agreements.  I’m not talking about contracts where each side is negotiating their terms.  What I am talking about are those moments when you ask someone for a favor, and they respond with “only if you will….”.   Or, even better, when someone approaches you to do a kind deed and then slips in the terms.  I just don’t like it.

I think it is because I don’t operate that way.  If you ask for a favor, I am going to say yes or no… but my answer is not going to be dependent on what you can do for me.  If I do a favor for you, it is because I want to help not because I want something out of it.

If you do me a favor, I only want you to do it if you want to.  It’s a heart issue, I suppose.  I was always taught to give without expectation of return, even if what I was giving was my time.  As an adult I learned to give money instead of loaning it.  I also learned how to value my time better so that I didn’t say yes to everything and burn myself out.  It also meant I learned how to accept no as an answer without getting upset.

I’ve also learned over the years I don’t like conditions in other aspects of relationships.  I don’t want to be your friend, if the conditions are that I must agree with everything you say and do.  I don’t want to be your friend if I have to change who I am in order for us to keep the peace.

I just hate conditions.  I also think that is the absolute beauty in God’s gift of salvation, and His love for His children.  God did give us conditions.  The Ten Commandments and The Great Commission, for example.  However, what the Old Testament Reveals to us is that as much as man tries, he is virtually incapable of following them.  He knew this, and still loved us anyway.  He knew this was an impossibility for us, and gave us His son to bear our iniquities.

This is not an excuse that allows us to continue to live in the flesh, in spite of His conditions.  It is an assurance that even though we can’t, His love doesn’t waiver.  Our salvation doesn’t balance the line of conditions, fluctuating based on our ability to walk that line.  Our salvation hung on a cross.

#Write31Days Challenge – Post 27 – God on My Mind

lists

Some days are just tough, mentally we are at our max capacity.  Our stress levels are high, our emotions are running wild, and our energy is running empty. 

Then there are the days that are just, busy.  It’s not that you are overwhelmed emotionally or even physically, but it just seems like every second of your day has been claimed by some thing or some one.

On days likes these it can be hard to put in some serious Bible Study, we either don’t have the time or the energy to put the mental energy into study.  Our prayers may be short and sweet lists, or even the sigh we exhale as we say “God help me!” as we drop our sobbing eyes into our hands.

Speaking for myself,  I know that when it comes to spiritual practices …. I have good days & bad.  There are days I can accomplish in depth study, first thing in the morning, that will carry me throughout the day.  I also have days where I am on the go, all day long, and it isn’t until those final moments I am putting my head to the pillow that I can stop and pray.

Over the years, I have learned a few tips to help keep God on my mind throughout the day.  I may not getting in 30 minutes of Bible Study or even 5 minutes of dedicated prayer time. 

  • Play worship music on the radio while in the car picking up the kids, or while bustling around the house cleaning.  Often Christian radio stations will read verses throughout the day, replay Pastor’s sermons, or interview of Bible teachers that are worth listening to as well.  Audiobooks and Podcasts are other great options.
  • Pray as you clean, over what you are cleaning.  Be thankful for indoor plumbing as you clean your toilet.  Pray over your children as you fold their laundry.  Pray for your husband’s safety while working, as you prepare to make that doctor’s appointment for him.  Volunteering at the church?  Pray on your drive for the church, the Pastor, or the ministry you are serving on.  In the Parent Pick Up line at your child’s school, pray for the school.  At the gym?  Pray for your health.  At the grocery, pray for those who are going hungry.  As you pay your mortgage online, give thanks for your home and pray for the homeless. 
  • Pray throughout your day.  Instead of sitting down in the morning going through a lengthy prayer session, instead pray throughout the day as thinks pop into your head.
  • Display scripture on walls of your house, either in picture frames or using wall decals. These can be life verses or family mission verses.  Even if you don’t have time to study your Bible that morning, you can focus your eyes on those as you move about your home.  Then can also be fun verses like the ones I have for certain rooms of the house.  In my kitchen the verse on the wall is Psalm 107:9, and in the bathroom is verse Psalm 24:4.  
  • Now this one may make you giggle a bit, however in our old house … I got really creative.   We placed a white board right across from the toilet in our guest bathroom.  Every week I would write a new piece of scripture.  We kept no magazines or newspapers in there, so the only reading material our guests had was from the Word.  We referred to it as “Coming the Throne” (I am convinced God has a sense of humor).
  • Use uninterrupted times to really speak to God.  I find that I am most vulnerable when I am totally alone, away from the noise of the house.  Some of my greatest conversations with God have taken place in the shower, or by turning off the car radio and just speaking with the Lord. 
  • Bring your Bible or Bible Study with you to waiting rooms at doctor’s offices, or even when you are lunching with a friend – particularly if you are generally a person who arrives early.
  • Turn your lunch dates with friends into something more than gossip sessions, and make that your Bible Study time.

All of that said, I would also suggest doing what you can to reduce some of the hectic activity from your life.  Lysa TerKeurst has a great book “The Best Yes” that really helps you take a hold of your life, so that you can carve out time for God, not be overwhelmed by your schedule, and learn to give your best to the things that are most important.

And finally, should you find yourself in a space where you are struggling emotionally or physically with life… please, PLEASE…. see your doctor.  There are many disorders that steal our minds, energy, drive, and make us feel like we simply CAN’T.  Have your primary care doctor rule out physical ailments, and if you need to see a Christian Counselor who can help with the mental aspects.  There is nothing wrong with seeking help or using medication to get you through, and a good Christian counselor can help you do so while leaning on the truth of God’s love.

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.