“But I Knew You.”

“I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Jesus, Mat 7:23, ESV).

Oh how people hate to deal with this verse because He’s talking to people who think they’re going to Heaven and are shocked to find that Jesus “never knew them.”

Over the years I’ve thought about this verse a lot because it’s one of those verses that’s really pretty scary. Jesus is talking to people who go to church, who give money and time in his name. If these people who claim to have done so much can’t get into Heaven, what hope do the rest of us have? It’s this verse that’s kept me somewhat humble over the years. I say somewhat because I struggle with arrogance and our Father has to bring me up short fairly regularly.

Recently I had another conversation about this verse with a person who’s very close to me. We’ve had words about this verse many times over the years. You see, this person “has a problem with God” (his words) because of what’s written here. He and I both know that people are being led astray daily because of bad theology and bad leadership. He’s convinced that this verse is talking about people who were led astray by these things and that being the case, God Himself is allowing these people to go to hell. How just is God if He won’t stop these leaders who are actively leading people in the wrong direction? I completely understand his frustration and up until today I didn’t really have an answer.

At least two places in the Hebrew Scriptures, Isaiah 29:3 and Hosea 8:13, our Father essentially says that His people offer sacrifices but their hearts are far from Him. In their arrogance they believe that they can go to the Temple and offer whatever sacrifices they’re offering, but then continue to offer sacrifices to other gods, be merciless and heartless, and cheat people in their business dealings. Hosea records, “…Yehovah does not accept them [sacrifices]. Now he will remember their iniquity and punish their sins…” (ESV). The prophets all record people being shocked that their sacrifices at the Temple weren’t enough to keep them out of trouble. Weren’t those supposed to be enough?

The answer is a resounding NO. Hosea 6:6 says, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (ESV). The problem with these people was their hearts; they had no love in them but they sure could recite what they’d done for Yehovah. Essentially the Father said, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”

So here’s my answer to the conversation I keep having over and over; the people Jesus is talking to are those who are trying to earn their way into Heaven. I have this image of all these people standing around on Judgment Day. Some of them are looking around at each other and saying, “Boy did we get that one wrong. Thank the Father that He’s merciful and gracious or we’d be in serious dog doo.” Others are shocked at the judgment they’ve been given and are actually arguing with the Judge: “But look at all we’ve done in your name? Didn’t we earn the right to enter in?” It’s their arrogance Jesus will reject, their lack of love for his Father and for people. They will list their deeds, but never admit their iniquity.

And a last thought on this. The words “I never knew you” really struck a chord with me today. Jesus doesn’t say, “You never knew me,” but “I never knew you.” To the one who comes before the Judge saying, “But I never knew You,” and yet is a “doer of the Law” (read all of Romans 2), to that person I believe (and see in ALL of scripture) that Jesus will say, “But I knew you.”

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Divorced from God’s Word

I’m perturbed. Why do we Christians insist on treating the Old Testament as if it’s nothing more than children’s stories? Didn’t Paul tell Timothy that “[a]ll Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16)? Guess what; the only “scripture” Paul had to refer to at that point was what we call the Old Testament, but what he and everyone else of the time referred to as, oh yeah, the scriptures!

Just for a moment, let’s leave aside the fact that Jesus quoted the Hebrew Scriptures constantly and focus solely on the “Old Testament” simply for what it says. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is incredibly powerful. When His people need Him and they call on Him while in obedience to His commands, He will knock down walls (Josh 6:20), stop the sun (Josh 10:13), open wombs (1 Sam 1:20), confuse enemies (Josh 10:10, 2 Chr 20:22), and even save them from fire (Dan 3:27) and hungry lions (Dan 6:21). We Christians like these stories, but we treat them like children’s stories instead of the awesome tales of God’s power & might that they are. We seem to stop talking about them once we get past about age 12. Why do we do this?

I have a theory: we are divorced from the word of God. Because we are taught that the Law is fulfilled and nailed to the cross, we believe that the Old Testament doesn’t have a lot of meaning for us today. It has some nice stories but that’s about it. If what God said 4000 or so years ago isn’t meaningful any more, why would the miracles mean a whole lot? But they sure can get kids’ imaginations fired up, so we tell them the stories and then at some point decide that they need more “meat” than those exciting almost-mythological stories give them. It seems that “maturity in Christ” means reading the New Testament over and over again while trying to figure out what commands we’re supposed to obey, or what it means to “love your neighbor.” Who wants to figure that one out? “If you love me you will obey my commands, but since I’ve fulfilled the Law there’s really no way for you to know what you’re supposed to be doing. Good luck figuring out what love & obedience are!”

Maybe the reason we stop talking about the miracles of the Old Testament lies in our fear that if we get too involved in them we’ll discover that the rest of the Old Testament is actually still relevant, too. We’ll discover that when Jesus said, “Not one jot or tittle of this Law will pass away until ALL is fulfilled” (emphasis mine), He actually meant that the commands He was talking about obeying are listed in the Old Testament. If we get too involved in the miracles of the Old Testament, perhaps these 2000 years of theology about the Law being abolished will wind up being challenged in our minds, and we couldn’t have that, now could we? After all, what would happen to Christmas and Easter if we started digging into those festivals that God said His people are supposed to celebrate? What would happen if we started digging into the Torah and discovered that there’s nothing new in the New Testament?

Well, you’ve just read my story. What God did for His people in the Hebrew Scriptures lit a fire in me that caused me to dig deeper into ALL of scripture. If God is the same yesterday, today and forever, and I am grafted into the olive tree, then those things in the “Old Testament” are mine, too. That revelation started me on a journey of reading the Bible in a different order and a different mindset. Go ahead, read the New Testament in light of the Old instead of the other way around and you won’t see those miracles as children’s stories for much longer. You’ll get a revelation about our Heavenly Father that will make Jesus jump for joy, the revelation He really wanted you to have, the revelation that we’ve watered down for far too long. The word of God, ALL OF IT, is alive and well and living in you, and if you let it out of the theological box you’ve been told to keep it in, it still has the power to stop the sun, knock down walls, open wombs, and confuse enemies.

Go ahead, excite Jesus. Open up His Father’s Word, the “scriptures” Paul referred to, the word Jesus wanted to share with you from the beginning. His words weren’t new, they were the Father’s from the beginning. Start with those “children’s” stories and let them set your heart on fire like they did the first time you heard them. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

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Break My Heart For What Breaks Yours

“Lord, break my heart for what breaks Yours.”

This is a line from a Hillsong United song called “Hosanna” and years ago I tearfully sang that song, making those words my prayer to our Father in Heaven. Be careful what you pray for, folks because our Father just might say yes, as He did in my case. And let me tell you, a continually breaking heart is painful.

Some people think that what breaks our Father’s heart is poverty, cruelty, abuse, maybe even sin, and all those things do break His heart, but His greatest heartbreak is the complete disconnect His followers have from the very Word, the very instruction that He gave us to follow. Oh we’re familiar enough with our favorite verses and passages as well as those that our preachers like so much, but when it comes to our understanding of what He really wants us to know, what He really wants us to do, we can only come up with the pat answers that we’ve grown accustomed to: “Love God with all your heart, mind, and soul,” “Love your neighbor as yourself,” “Do the will of God,” “Love one another.” That’s all well and good, but what does “loving God” look like? How do I love people I don’t actually like? How can I possibly know what the will of God is?

The fact is the answers are, for the most part, written out for us to find but we don’t know what we’re looking for, and that’s what breaks our Father’s heart. He gave us the instruction we need to have intimate fellowship with Him and with each other, but those instructions have been buried under mountains of theology and opinion. He’s calling out to every human being, but only a few can hear even a little bit. Talking specifically about Israel but alluding to others who want to know the Father, Isaiah said, “But this is a people plundered and looted; they are all of them trapped in holes and hidden in prisons; they have become plunder with none to rescue, spoil with none to say, ‘Restore!’” (42:22). Just like today, the instruction of God had been buried under mountains of human opinion and theology. It broke the Father’s heart then, it breaks the Father’s heart now.

Jesus spent his ministry in the restoration business and that made the Father’s heart glad. Any time His instruction is restored to those He meant it for is a time of great joy in heaven. I want to make the Father’s heart glad and follow in the footsteps of Jesus. I want to return to the Father’s instruction and return that instruction to those who want to worship the Father in spirit and in truth. It has been and will continue to be a long and difficult journey full of heartbreak, but also a peace that passes understanding. The heartbreak seems to outweigh the peace but I’m getting there. And every time my heart breaks and I know it’s breaking the same way my Father’s breaks, I am reminded of His faithfulness.

Father in Heaven, may I never become so hardened that Your heartbreak does not become my heartbreak. May I always and forever be soft, ready to see what You see and respond accordingly. And may I be one who cries, “Restore!”

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Reflected Light

Recently I was marveling at the beauty revealed by the bright light of the moon one morning when it occurred to me that what I was seeing by was actually the sun’s light reflected by the moon. I was amazed at the beauty that God could create with something that didn’t even produce its own light when I was struck by a thought; as Christians we are not to shine our own light but reflect God’s light, and when we do, He creates something beautiful out of our lives.

As I’ve thought more about this I realized that a lot of the beauty we see is really reflected light. The full moon is beautiful not because of its light but because of the light it reflects. Colors are the light waves that objects reflect back to our eyes, not colors that they produce on their own. And rainbows are the “reflection” of every color in our visible spectrum when light is refracted by water, glass or crystal.

The sun produces its own light and we can’t look directly at it. We need special equipment to reduce the glare in order to see the true nature of the sun. The light is harsh and dangerous, but the same light reflected back is beautiful and reveals the true nature of the reflecting object, like the moon or the leaf.

Over the course of the last week I’ve had many thoughts about reflected light. First I know that when we produce our own light we can be harsh and dangerous to those around us. There is nothing gentle about the light the sun produces and the same goes for us when we produce our own light. The “light” we produce tends to be self-centered and hurtful. Second, by reflecting God’s light instead of producing our own, God’s light reveals our true nature, much like the sun’s light reveals the moon’s true nature and the leaf’s true color, and when our true nature is revealed by God, the light we reflect to others is gentle. Finally, God’s light has become dangerous to humans since the fall, as He told Moses (Ex 33:20-23). He needs His people to humble themselves and put out their own “lights” so they can reflect His. When they do this, the people He created them to be will shine through and God’s light reflected in their lives will draw people towards them and by extension to God.

I want to be like the moon or the leaf; I want the bright light to reflect off of me so that what our Father created me to be can be seen, and that light which reveals the true me will gently draw others to Him, allowing them to come into His light where they, too can be fully revealed.

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Feminism

WomenFeminism is definitely a different topic for this blog but it’s one that needs more discussion. I’ve been thinking about it for over 20 years because of a book I read for a college sociology class. In a nut shell, the author put the “weaker feminine” traits on men (“menwim”) and the “stronger masculine” traits on women (“wim”). I think she was trying to prove that women are equal to men, but really all she proved was that even women find the masculine traits strong and feminine traits weak. (Yes, the author was a woman.) I took offense to that but didn’t have the vocabulary or life experience to really put a voice to the issue. Now I do.

Fast forward to the present and the critics panning Mom’s Night Out, a Christian comedy about 4 women who want what every woman wants, stay-at-home or not, a night out. One critic is aghast that one of the characters (Allison) doesn’t just “hire a nanny, get a job and get out of the house” (Taylor, 2014). I wonder if this critic has ever felt like “getting out of the office.” Her advice concerning this character would be akin to a house-wife telling her when she doesn’t want to go to work “to get married, have kids, and stay home.”

Feminism frustrates me. I’ve always felt like we are supposed to despise the aggression and assertiveness of men while at the same time replacing our nurturing/caring compulsions with those very things we are supposed to despise. We are looked down on if we stay home with our children (one critic said Allison was “dreaming small” by wanting to stay home (Kang, 2014)), and only slightly less despised if we look after other people’s children. Some of the lowest paid jobs in America are those things associated with traditionally feminine traits, such as childcare workers (motherhood) and maids (keeping house). Even nurses are less respected than doctors. Nurses nurture their patients, but that’s not something people should aspire to. Instead, women are told they should aspire to “more,” should aspire to powerful positions (again, Kang says that a “lack of profession consigns [Allison to] Eisenhower-esque irrelevance” (2014)) , not something “lowly” like those “girls’ jobs,” or, (gasp!) motherhood alone.

Feminism has not elevated women or femininity. Instead it has brought an age of women against women, women against themselves, men against themselves, and women and men against each other. Feminism tells us that we must deny our femininity and embrace masculinity while at the same time disparaging masculinity. How much more confusing can we possibly get? It’s time for women to embrace our femininity. I am not “all girl” by any stretch of the imagination, but I am a girl. At 43 I am finally willing to embrace all that entails. I like nurturing my children and my husband. I like taking care of my home. I hate cooking, but I love to write, study, teach and preach. I am quite capable of carrying my own firewood, but I like it when my “big, strong man” does it for me. I like action/adventure movies and can’t stand chick-flicks. I’m me, but I’m a girl and that’s not an insult. I’m emotional, hormonal, logical, soft, and little tough. I am everything that makes me a girl and that makes me Dawn Marie.

And I don’t want to pay someone to raise my children while I get a job to get out of the house and feel “relevant.” I just want one night out.

References:

Kang, http://www.thewrap.com/moms-night-out-review-patricia-heaton-christian-comedy/

Taylor, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/film/film-reviews/moms-night-out-is-patronizing-with-gender-roles/article18568664/

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When You Go Out to War

Joshua Battle AiDeut 20:1-4 “When you go out to war against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and an army larger than your own, you shall not be afraid of them, for the LORD your God is with you, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. And when you draw near to the battle, the priest shall come forward and speak to the people and shall say to them, ‘Hear, O Israel, today you are drawing near for battle against your enemies: let not your heart faint. Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them, for the LORD your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory.’”

Mat 28:20 “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Ever think about the spiritual battle? I’m sure you do. You know the sins you have in your life that tend to get the better of you. You know that you spend a lot of time trying to be patient, non-judgmental, loving, peaceful, yada, yada, yada. Notice how most of our time thinking about the spiritual battle is all about “me”? When was the last time you thought about the battle going on for your family, your church, your community, your country? Yeah, the big one where Satan is out there doing his level best to keep the Kingdom of Heaven from encroaching on his kingdom here on earth. How seriously do you take the battle for the country Paul says you’re a citizen of (Phil 3:20)?

I’ve become obsessed with the Kingdom of God (Heaven) over the last few years because that’s my real country. If I’m going to claim God as my King, then I need to care more about his country than anything else here on earth. The dichotomy in this is that the more I care about Heaven, the more I care about where I am on earth. But I digress. This isn’t what this post is really about. This post is about fighting the war we are always fighting until Jesus comes to restore Earth.

Most Christians are not very familiar with the Old Testament and that’s sad. That’s where all the action takes place. That’s where we learn about a huge portion of Who our God really is. So much of the Old Testament is recounts of battles that God won for His people. We get to know the Warrior God, the One Who fights for His people, the One Who is a jealous God and wants complete devotion to Him and Him alone. This is the God Who doesn’t take no guff, kicks butt, and takes names!

Think about that for a minute. Does the historical God of the Old Testament reflect what you believe about the God of the New Testament? Probably not because we’ve seriously “wussified” God. He’s a loving Father, His Son is a Lamb, and His Spirit is a gentle breeze. Okay, but what about that sword Jesus said he came to bring (Mat 10:34), and the vision John had of Jesus as a bad-ass, sword-wielding, demon-chaser who is going to bring about vengeance for the people of God? What about that revelation of God? Can you identify with Him? If you can’t, then you don’t know God because He is all of that!

Have you ever known an earthly father who wouldn’t fight for his children? I know they’re out there, but thankfully I’ve never actually known one. Trust me, the fathers I’ve known will decide that violence is completely acceptable if violence is being perpetrated on his offspring. They are loving, kind dads who become vicious when necessary. That’s the dad I want, too. I want a Dad who loves me beyond reason, dotes on me, comforts me, provides for me and wants nothing more than to give me the desires of my heart, and will turn into the world’s greatest fighter when I’m in trouble. He may love my enemies, but He’ll hurt them in order to defend me because I’m His child. Isn’t that the Dad you want?

Back to the battle theme. We miss so much of what the writers of the New Testament wanted us to know when we ignore the Old and here’s why I say that. The New Testament has numerous references to the battle going on in the spirit realm, but not a lot of examples of what it looks like for God to fight for His people. All we have is the Revelation of John concerning the end time. We have taken the immediacy of Paul’s and Peter’s words out of our understanding because the God we teach is gentle, merciful, kind, full of compassion, long suffering…the list could go on, but when was the last time you accepted for yourself the other side of God, the protective God, the “I-will-defeat-your-enemies” God? Oh yeah, that’s my Heavenly Father! He is gentle, merciful and all that, and He will defeat my enemies, spilling blood when necessary!

There is a battle going on for Earth, and we are not just God’s children, we are also the soldiers sent to fight the battle, every day and everywhere. Those aren’t just melodramatic words, the battle really does rage around us. It’s time to realize that God is the same today as He was yesterday (Old Testament) and tomorrow (Revelation). God fought then, He’ll fight in the future, and He’s fighting now! And just like the Israelites, He fights with us and through us, but only if we pick up our swords.

Not only are we children and soldiers of God, we’re His royal priesthood (1 Pet 2:9). Let’s recognize that we are about to enter the battle (if we’re awake, we’re entering it), and do what God told His priests to do. Repeat this to yourself and to those in your life because this is what the priests of God are supposed to say when the people are going into battle: “Hear, O [Church, your name, your family’s names, etc.], today you are drawing near for battle against your enemies: let not your heart faint. Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them, for the LORD your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory!” Then pick up your sword and go to battle! The Israelites still had to pick up some type of weapon and move forward. Do the same, learn from the first group of God’s chosen people, of whom we have been grafted into (Rom 11:17-24). Do battle for God, fight for His country, push back the enemy of our souls, all the while knowing that it is really God Who fights for you, your family, your church, your community, your country.

FIGHT!

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The Hammer and the Carpenter

Hammer ImageLet me tell you a story.

A master carpenter had a large toolbox full of tools that he loved to use. He knew exactly which tool he needed to produce the results he wanted at each stage of his project. But one day the tools started discussing their jobs and the hammer decided that she didn’t like pounding nails, she liked what the screwdriver did. So the next time the master carpenter took her out to drive a nail into his next masterpiece, she stopped him and said, “I don’t want to pound nails anymore, I want to drive screws, like the screwdriver.” The carpenter said, “But you’re not created for that job. That job is impossible for you.” “I believe in my heart that I can,” said the hammer, so the carpenter put the hammer down and allowed her to attempt to drive screws.

The hammer tried for a long time to do as she believed in heart what she was created to do, but she was never able to accomplish anything. Finally, in frustration and confusion she went back to the carpenter, who had missed her terribly, and asked why she couldn’t accomplish anything she set out to do. “Because you’re trying to do things you are not suited for. You were created to drive the nails that help produce the beautiful masterpieces I create.” “Okay, I give up. I accept that I can’t drive screws, so I’ll go back to driving nails. However, I must be allowed to drive the nails my way, without any help from you.” Again, the carpenter put her down and allowed her do what she believed she could do.

She had some success on her own driving the nails, but it took so long and sometimes the nails just wouldn’t go in. She didn’t understand; she was now doing what she was created to do, so why couldn’t she drive the nails like she was supposed to be able to?

She again returned to the carpenter, who had watched her struggles with great pain of his own, and asked, “I don’t understand. I’m doing what you say I was created to do, but I can’t seem to do it very well. If I’m doing what I was created to do, why can’t I do it with any power?” The carpenter explained, “You were created with precision and care to be used by a master carpenter in his grand design. When I take you out of the toolbox, I know exactly where the nail will go and how much power to apply to drive the nail. I supply the wisdom and the knowledge. In the carpenter’s hand you have all the power you need to accomplish the good works you are created to accomplish. Without my power and wisdom, your ability is weak and limited. You need the creator, and the creator needs you. Together we produce the most beautiful works of form and function. Apart from the carpenter, you can do nothing.”

The hammer thought about that. She had a handle that fit perfectly in the carpenter’s hand. She thought about all the things they had built together, the way he always knew how hard or how gently to hit those nails, the way he always knew exactly where to place the nails to accomplish the most hold. She liked the way she felt when the work was done, like she had accomplished her purpose well. She never experienced that away from the carpenter, only frustration and loss.

She looked at the Carpenter and said, “I surrender to Your will, and to the work You will accomplish through me. Use me for the purpose I was created for, providing Your wisdom and Your power. I trust You to use me, Master Carpenter. Your will be done.”

The Carpenter smiled and picked up a nail. The hammer smiled and in the perfect hands of her Master, she prepared herself for her life’s work. It was Heaven.

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Submitting to Love

I have been really struggling the last few months and that’s hard for me to say. You see, last summer I decided to run towards the fire of God. Fire removes impurities and tempers the metal that it touches, making it stronger and able to keep a better cutting edge. I had no idea the emotional pain I would experience by subjecting myself to His purifying flame. I will leave that to another time, however. Today I want to talk about a discovery I made as I was praying about something the Lord was trying to purify me from. I have been reintroduced to the concept of submission.

Throughout my time as a Christian I have understood submission as obedience and in many ways it is. But there is a missing component, submitting to love. Let me explain.

Here are two definitions of “submit” from Dictionary.com: to give over or yield to the power or authority of another; to subject to some kind of treatment or influence.

According to these definitions, submission is not just obedience, but allowing ourselves to be subject to the power or treatment of another. That’s what we do when we allow another to love us, we submit to their power and influence in our lives. I must admit, I have a very hard time submitting to love because submitting myself to another’s power in my life means they could hurt and abuse me, so out of fear of pain, I don’t allow myself to be loved.

I have this same issue with God Himself. We as Christians spend a lot of time talking about obeying God and equating it with submission to His rules and regulations. But I’ve never heard anyone talk to me about submitting to His love and so I have run from God in fear that He will abuse me with His power and authority.

Jesus said that we must come to the Father with the faith of children, and loved children have faith that their parents love them. They have been provided for, held when they are hurt or sad, celebrated when they accomplish something, lovingly disciplined when they’ve done something wrong. These children know how to submit to the love of their parents because they know how good it feels to do so. And because they can submit to the love of their parents, they can also submit to their authority.

I’ve decided that the reason we have so much trouble submitting to God’s authority is our inability to submit to His love. I know I do. Human love doesn’t always look much like caring and comfort. Our love tends to be fairly selfish; and because we talk so much about our lives being for God’s glory and giving our lives for the Kingdom and on and on, we can start viewing God as a pretty selfish tyrant who just wants to take all the credit for our hard work. We get enough of that from humans, why would we want to submit to God’s tyranny, too?

But that’s the wrong attitude. I need to submit to God’s love, letting Him comfort me for all the times I’ve been hurt by the selfishness of others. I also need to let Him comfort me for all the times I’ve been the selfish one, hurting others and therefore hurting myself. He will comfort me and heal all my wounds, as long as I go to Him for it. And when I learn to submit to His love, I will also more willingly submit to His authority.

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Afraid of God

Not long ago I confronted my fear of God. While fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, being afraid of God and His anger hinders our ability to receive that wisdom. Plus, God loves His children and is a good Father. He wants us to receive His love, something we can’t do when we’re afraid of Him.

I so want the same kind of faith that Paul had, the kind that allowed him to rejoice in God’s blessings even as a cold, hungry prisoner of Rome waiting to be executed. Paul’s faith was the kind that pleased God. I don’t have that kind of faith, though and several months ago I was in the midst of very trying circumstances, failing the “test of faith” once again. For several weeks I wouldn’t talk to God except to yell or cry at Him. Finally, after beating myself up about sinning and then pouting about my circumstances, I did something I’ve never done; I went to God, trembling and shaking, and told Him just how scared of Him I was at that moment, but that I desperately needed to know He loved me and even though my pain was of my own making, I really needed to experience His comfort.

Oh my word! I don’t recall ever feeling so much love from my Father in Heaven. Yes, He’s comforted me when I’ve been hurt, but this had an element of excitement about it. He was so happy to finally get to love on me when I was so low! I was a little shocked, and yet so delighted.

The writer of Hebrews wrote that you can’t please God without faith. I assumed that if God wasn’t pleased He must be angry, and an angry dad is frightening, especially an All Powerful One. So whenever I screwed up I would expect severe punishment and looks of disappointment from my Heavenly Father. Now I’m beginning to understand that His greatest desire when I screw up is to comfort me. The consequences will still come, but I won’t have to face them alone, which means they won’t feel quite so horrible.

I haven’t learned this perfectly and figure it’s going to take the rest of my life on this earth to fully grasp it. Thankfully, my Heavenly Father is patient beyond measure, amazing in all He does. Knowing that He desperately wants to comfort me in the midst of my sin has brought a new measure of peace and freedom to my everyday life, too. Since I’m not terrified of screwing up and making God angry, I’m not incessantly “watching my Ps and Qs” anymore. My Father, the Maker and Lord of the whole universe, is sitting on His glorious throne as my Comforter and Helper, not as my judge and executioner. How amazing is that?

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The Center of God’s Will

There’s a song by Matthew West called “The Center.” The chorus says “I wanna know how it feels to be standing in the center of Your will for me. I wanna know what surrender means. Keep me in the center of Your will for me.”

Many times in our lives the center of God’s will hurts and terrifies. Paul reports in 2 Cor 1:8b that he and his companions were sure they were going to die in Asia and it brought despair. Were they out of God’s will because their circumstances looked hopeless? NO! Paul said in v. 5 that sharing in Christ’s sufferings also means they got to share in His comfort. And in many other letters he writes that sharing in Christ’s sufferings is simply assurance of our place with Jesus and we should rejoice in it! Acts is full of stories of disciples doing just that.

Is there a way to know when our suffering is caused by our sin or caused by our devout obedience to God? Admittedly, I have no good answer for that. Perhaps God, in His infinite wisdom, can find a way for us to suffer because we fail and because we are trying to be obedient. He’s God. He knows we’re imperfect, and He uses our imperfections to further His goals, especially when we are pressing towards the prize set before us (Paul, again). So it’s not so far fetched in my mind to think He could find a way for our suffering to be that of Christ’s and of our own making.

Complicated? Yes. I’m not even sure I’m even close to being right. What I do know is, if I’m serious about wanting to be in the center of God’s will, I’d better not be looking for an easy road. In fact, I’d better be looking for one that goes up a steep hill and leads to a cross.

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