What? No Free Paper This Morning?

My husband and I were faithful newspaper subscribers for years.  As time marched on, however, we became disgruntled with the paper, as it didn’t supply enough international news for our taste, nor enough articles of any type that truly interested us.  As a result, we switched to The Wall Street Journal, which we happily devoured for a couple of years.   When our subscription price increased dramatically and our schedules no longer permitted us to do justice to all the items of interest in that publication, we cancelled it and planned on a newspaper-free household for the foreseeable future.   After all, I never really was wild about cleaning all the newsprint off our white kitchen table, and I could not afford to spend time on the crosswords that tempted me.

Our newspaperless state lasted about two weeks.   We suddenly found ourselves the recipients of an unsolicited weekend edition of our local paper.  Assuming it was a publicity or advertising ploy to induce us to re-subscribe, we waited for our newspaper carrier to ring the doorbell with a proposition that we reinstate ourselves as his customers.   No carrier came to the door.   Over the course of the next few months, we regularly received, first the weekend papers, then the Thursday paper, and ultimately the Wednesday paper every week.  We had never agreed to subscribe to anything, and no bill ever arrived in the mail.   We reasoned that perhaps the carrier simply was required to distribute a certain minimum number of papers each day, and we had been chosen as the lucky extra recipients.

This pattern has continued for a couple of years — until this week.   Yesterday morning, I looked out and discovered no paper on the driveway.   “Never mind,” I thought.   “Perhaps they decided to skip Wednesday for some reason.”  However, again this morning, there was no paper.  My instinctive response was to wonder what happened to “my” paper, as our carrier has a number to call if your paper is not delivered.  However, it probably would not be appropriate to call and complain that the carrier had failed to deliver a paper I never paid for….!  Then the shock at my own thinking pattern struck me.  Suddenly I realized that I had developed a sense of entitlement to something that was delivered to me at no cost.   True enough, I had not  ORDERED the paper. However, I certainly had enjoyed clipping the coupons, scanning a few interesting articles, and attempting to complete the Sudokus.  I had become accustomed to reading the paper most days of the week and actually wondered why it wasn’t there this morning. 

The parallel between this situation and my attitude toward God was undeniable.   How often does God bless me with something pleasurable or surprising, something I did not request but certainly enjoy on a routine basis?   More often than I can count.  For one, it never occurred to me to ask Him for most of the benefits I enjoy; yet He daily invents little blessings that I could never have planned for myself at the moment they drop into my life (unexpected hugs from a child, kind words from a friend I haven’t talked to in awhile, a bank of flowers beside the road, four jalapeño plants my non-capsicum-eating husband bought to plant in the garden).  More than that, how often does He bless with me something I never paid for and certainly do not deserve?   All the time.   He allowed me to be born to parents who love me; He gave me a husband I not only love, but actually LIKE; He forgives me of every sin; He knows my needs before I ask; He forgets all the mistakes I have made; He knows my desperately wicked heart and promises to change it, even though I haven’t ever and cannot do anything to deserve His mercy.  He’s the Friend that sticks closer than a brother, whether I remember to talk with Him or not.  Then, when something I have been praying about doesn’t go my way in the time frame I specify, I have the nerve to demand, “What?   No paper today?”!   THAT definitely gives me food for thought.  (See 1 John 2:12; Matthew 6:8; Isaiah 43:25; Jeremiah 17:9; Ezekiel 36:26; 2 Cor. 3:18; 2 Timothy 2:13.)

Father, THANK You for all the blessings, both small and large, both the ones I’ve requested and the ones I never dreamed of asking You for.   Thank You for the things You’ve given me that I never realized I needed or wanted.   Forgive me for developing an entitlement mentality toward YOU, as You do not owe me ANYthing — yet You chose and continue choosing to keep on giving to me anyway.   Thank You that it is Your good pleasure to give me the Kingdom!  (See Luke 12:32)

My Own Personal Gourd

Most days, I love people — all kinds of people.  I love hearing their experiences and even the opinions they have that differ from mine — MOST of the time, that is.  Unfortunately, however, when I get annoyed with people, I get REALLY annoyed and tend to withdraw.   I have noticed that there are times I wish people would be forced to recognize how truly wrong they are and bear the consequences of their misdeeds (or incorrect judgments, as the case may be!).  Although I preach compassion and mercy, I must confess that, in the secret part of my heart, buried deep, I harbor some degree of ill-will toward people who consistently refuse to admit they have done wrong.   I  have found myself even excusing my attitude by describing myself as a person who is passionate about truth and justice.  I insist that people should be willing to recognize their wickedness and straighten up before they are allowed to be released from guilt and judgment.   (Never mind that I have only RARELY had to bear the consequences of anything I have done wrong!)

When I persist in this type of judgmental, condemnatory reasoning, I find myself becoming increasingly isolationist — unwilling to engage others in meaningful conversation, unwilling to participate in my customary activities.   Even if I invite others to my private, self-righteous pity party, they don’t want to accept my invitation!  Suddenly I realize that I have put myself in a very lonely position outside the reach of the pulse of human relationships; I find that, just like Jonah, I am sitting under the shade of my own personal gourd plant.   (It gets pretty lonely under there!)

When the people of Nineveh repented, God forgave them.  However, Jonah refused to rejoice and decided to pout instead.   He wanted the Ninevites to get what they deserved, as they had sorely persecuted God’s people.   If I am honest with myself, i must confess that I am not very different from Jonah; on occasion, I have relished the thought of someone who has hurt me “getting what was coming to him.”   Instead, I should rejoice when that person repents.

God, in His mercy, allowed the gourd to shrivel up; it withered and could not longer provide the shade Jonah needed from the hot sun.   God truly is merciful to us;  He not only forgives us of our sins, but also causes everything else in which we take refuge to wither.   Our only recourse is to run into His arms.   I am so grateful for His mercy!   He ensures I can only rely on Him, for nothing else is dependable, and nothing else can comfort, heal, forgive, and protect the way He can.

Lord, show me where I have been seeking shelter in things that are not from you.   Cause those things to wither in terms of their capacity to comfort, protect, and sustain me.   Deliver me from pouting, self-absorption, self-righteousness, and judgmental attitudes toward others.   Help me to rejoice when good things happen to other people , no matter how badly I feel they have behaved.   Let your love consistently be shed abroad in my heart.  (see the book of Jonah and Romans 5:5) Forgive me for my selfishness, and help me to see people with YOUR eyes.  Help me to be merciful, just as you have been merciful to me!  (Luke 6:36)

I Don’t Want to Grow Up!

One of numerous vivid memories of my early childhood has spoken much to me of late.   When I was about two and a half years old, I remember running toward the hall closet where my mother kept a pile of shoes readily accessible.  Summertime was approaching; the weather was getting warmer, and I had a sudden impulse to get out my favorite sandals from the previous summer and put them on.  They were white leather, and I was very excited at the thought of wearing them again.  As I approached the closet to get them out of storage, my mother asked me what I was doing.   I replied with delight, “I am getting my sandals!”  To my chagrin, she responded with laughter that I couldn’t possibly wear them that summer, as my feet had grown, and the sandals would be too small for me.   Decades later, I still remember that disappointment.   What is odd, is that I do not remember whether my parents bought me new sandals or not (although they most likely did!).   I simply remember the sadness of not being able to wear the ones I had worn before, the most comfortable and prettiest white sandals in the world, the sandals I loved best. Moreover, I didn’t really understand how my feet could be too big for the sandals that had fit me perfectly. 

The process of growth continued to be a mystery to me.  (“This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.”  Mark 4:26-27)  When I was in junior high, I began  to look forward to growing up, because I had begun to grasp that privileges would accompany maturity.  Later, as a college student, I realized that simply growing older wasn’t always characterized by an increase in maturity level!  People may age physically, but maturity is not guaranteed, for, unlike the physical aging process,  gaining wisdom and maturity requires cooperation from the individual!  I also noticed that I wasn’t always terribly eager to cooperate with the maturing process myself, as some of the responsibilities associated with growing up were not so pleasant!

As a young adult who appeared younger than my actual years, I could get by with a little immaturity now and then.   However, I ultimately found that I needed to quit resisting the process and begin to cooperate with the “forward march” of time!   Whether I liked it or not, I had real-life obligations and was not a child (or even a college student — an excuse for much!) anymore.  Behaving in a manner that was NOT commensurate with my phase in life would be equivalent to cramming my toddler-sized feet into the baby’s sandals.   My immaturity would be evident to all, no matter how insistent I was on remaining in the former phase of my development or how much I had enjoyed the previous season!

As Christians, I believe we are guilty of the same kind of resistance to the maturing processes God uses to shape us into His image.   We love the season of childhood with our Daddy, where He caters to our every need and holds us tenderly by the hand.   We love learning to know Him better and experiencing His power.   We long to do great things for Jesus (kind of like playing the part of a superhero when we were children).   We imagine that we are more spiritual than we actually are; the time is then ripe for God to test and hone us.   When that process began full force in my life, I longed to return to that toddler phase and wear my spiritual little white baby sandals.   They were so pretty on my feet, and they were perfectly comfortable.   I didn’t ASK for bigger shoes — just for a little more attention, perhaps!   Nonetheless, in the Body of Christ, we ultimately must repent of wanting to wear our old clothing that no longer fits us.   We need God’s forgiveness for wanting to use His power without true maturity of character and accountability in relationship.   Trials are definitely painful, but they allow His DNA in us to replicate exponentially, as we are compelled to abandon self-indulgence if we ever hope to survive the trial!  

Father, help me to abandon the trappings of past seasons that I treasure and move on into the next phase of my journey with You!   Don’t allow me to resist the tug of Your Spirit to see You work victory in the face of fresh challenges.   Deliver me from the fear of the unknown!  You are with me!  I DO want You to transform me more and more into Your image!  Daddy, help me to strap on the new sandals You have purchased for me and take up the weapons of truth You are putting into my hand, in Jesus’ Name!

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”  2 Corinthians 3:18

” Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”  1 Corinthians 15:51-54

Sleeping Beauty

One of my favorite stories as a child was the tale of Sleeping Beauty, also known as Brier Rose.  I remember playing dress-up, and my favorite item in the dress-up box was the shoes my mother had worn at her wedding.  I loved to wear those shoes and pretend I was Brier Rose dancing with her prince, as I found the story irresistibly romantic.  I was fascinated that a prince would fight through a forest of thorns and (at least in the Disney movie version) slay a fierce, fire-breathing dragon in order to reach the sleeping princess, who was unaware of his existence.  The fact that his kiss wakened her and broke the curse over her and her household made this tale the most romantic story imaginable.  Of course, not only did the sleeping princess awaken, but her entire family and all the servants in the castle awakened as well, for everyone had fallen under the spell uttered by an offended fairy (aka witch) years before on the princess’s  christening day.   The family had lived happily until the princess, as foretold by the witch, pricked her finger on a spindle on her sixteenth birthday and fell into a deep slumber.  As she fell asleep, the entire castle succumbed to the curse, and everyone remained asleep, with the castle and grounds untended, for over a hundred years.  The spell was broken by the kiss of the prince, which apparently was the only way the spell COULD be broken.

The Church in America bears a strong resemblance to Sleeping Beauty.   She has wandered into her own fortified tower and fallen into a state of deep slumber.  She has access to abundance — abundant spiritual resources and gifts, talented and influential family members, skilled artisans and craftsmen of all kinds, and material riches.   However, she lies asleep and powerless, anesthetized and unconscious of what is transpiring in the outside world.  Lethargy and paralysis have overtaken her.  Her gifts lie dormant and largely unused, and her energy is depleted.   She desperately needs the kiss from her Prince to waken her from her stupor.  

God wants us to awaken from slumber, shake off the spells and curses that have kept us numb to His direction, and follow Him.   The kiss of His love has already been given at the Cross — perhaps, however, we need a reminder of that first kiss.  He is still wooing His Bride to respond to Him and set about His Kingdom business.  In Isaiah 52:1a, God encourages us with the words:  “Awake, awake! Put on your strength, O Zion.” The very next verse exhorts us to “Shake yourself from the dust, arise; Sit down, O Jerusalem!  Loose yourself from the bonds of your neck, O captive daughter of Zion!”  (Isaiah 52:2) In Ephesians 5:13, Paul echoes this imagery and commands us to “Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

I pray that, in His kindness and mercy, God will wake me up and not allow me to continue in my self-absorbed, anesthetized state.  I pray He will quicken me to be sensitive to His voice and to be receptive to the things He wants me to do.   I pray for a fresh infilling of His life and love to empower me for the tasks at hand.   I pray that Jesus will defeat, once and for all, the spirit of apathy and powerlessness that has dulled my senses and plundered my spiritual energy level.   Church, our Prince HAS come.   Let us not be deceived by the devices of the enemy or paralyzed by his deceptive words.   Awake, shake yourself off, and arise!   Lord, raise Your Bride from the dead, in Jesus’ Name!


At Your Convenience?

When we first got married and moved to Texas (MANY years ago!), I was shocked to discover that there were drive-through insurance companies and drive-through liquor stores, in addition to the usual drive-through doughnut shops and drive-through hamburger joints.  Clearly, that town in West Texas was on the cutting edge of the future wave of convenience marketing.   Most businesses now must consider customer convenience in their marketing and sales if they wish to survive.  As customers, we EXPECT every aspect of retail sales to cater to our convenience.  Sometimes I have even found myself complaining that some minute aspect of my purchase did not meet my specifications.  Somewhere in the course of the past thirty years, we have become a nation driven by an entitlement mentality that requires all aspects of life to proceed in accordance with our personal requirements and in compliance with our standards.

Unfortunately, this mentality has carried over to the Church.  All over America, we have become spiritual consumers who expect churches to meet our personal needs.  IF the pastor feeds us our favorite foods the way we like them best (fried, half-baked, or watered down, as the case may be), IF the worship team sings our favorite songs in the style we prefer, IF the kids’ ministry entertains our children sufficiently, and IF the lattes at the church coffee bar are up to our standard, we MIGHT grace that congregation with a membership commitment. 

Even God is not exempt from our convenient-for-me mentality.   If He does what He says in the Bible He will do and does it my way, in my timing, I will honor Him.   If He allows me to minister to Him my way, on my schedule, at my convenience, I will serve Him.  If not, I will sulk and withdraw from Him and punish Him by giving Him the silent treatment for a set period of time, until I feel like talking to Him again.

Yes, the Bible does say that God knows our needs before we ask.  It says that He has prepared good works for us to walk in, and that He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing.  He will supply all our needs according to His riches in glory.  He has given us every good and perfect gift.  He owns the cattle on a thousand hills.   It IS His good pleasure to give us the Kingdom.

However, contrary to the voices rampant in our culture, the Kingdom is NOT about ME, and the Kingdom is NOT designed for my convenience.  Consider Jesus, who inconvenienced Himself profoundly to take on the form of humanity, to be touched by the feelings of our infirmities, to reduce Himself to living a life as one of us.  Consider the fact that, to do so, He had to leave His Father’s side and all the praise and glory of heaven to dwell among sinners in a world perverted by evil.  This calling was certainly not convenient or comfortable.   He who knew no sin became sin on our behalf for our redemption.   He was willing to be tempted, tested, mocked, and tormented in order to buy us back from the clutches of the devil.   His suffering is beyond what we can conceive or process; at the last moment, He asked the Father if there might be another way, but He was willing to drink the cup set before Him, if that was His Father’s will.  

God grossly inconvenienced Himself on our behalf, for our sake.   How dare I evaluate what I will and won’t do based on convenience!  I am embarrassed and ashamed to think of how many times I have shirked Kingdom opportunities because I didn’t feel like it, or because the timing was inconvenient.  Jesus said that we would have tribulation in this world; He did not say everything would be convenient (John 16:33).  The good news is that He also says we will have peace, for He has overcome the world!   Praise God for deliverance from the lies of this world:  the lies of convenience, the lies of false comfort, the lies of entitlement, the lies of my own selfishness.   Nothing is beyond His ability to deliver!  Nothing is too difficult for Him (Jeremiah 32:17)!   “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.”  (2 Corinthians 2:14)  Father, let the fragrance of Jesus be released in me, and make me willing to be crushed for You, that Your Presence might be made known in my life!

Are We There Yet? — The Answer is “NO”

Since we never lived anywhere near any of our relatives, the extended road trip was a way of life for my family.  My sisters and I viewed such trips as a great adventure, particularly when my parents would drive through the night across I-70 (most likely to avoid paying for a hotel room).  The rhythmic thump as we crossed the breaks in the concrete lulled us to sleep in the back of the station wagon; as our parents tried valiantly to keep each other awake, we dreamed of playing canasta with our grandmother or romping with our aunt’s feisty dachshund.  Invariably, we would begin asking THE question long before our arrival at the destination was imminent:   ARE WE THERE YET?   The answer was always “no,” as the car was clearly still moving.  “How much longer?” was usually the next query.  Although our questions began with excitement, they invariably took on a tone of whining as the novelty of three or four days in the car wore off. 

Sometimes I wonder if I have begun to weary God with my incessant complaints about the road I am on.   However, I recently fell into a trap worse than merely complaining about the duration of the journey — the trap of assuming I had ARRIVED, when I definitely had NOT!  My mother warned me many times to beware of anyone who thinks he has a corner on the market, who thinks he knows everything, as that kind of self-assurance leads to self-importance and an unteachable heart.  Little did I realize, that this attitude of having “arrived” can creep into my thinking without my being aware of it.  While there’s nothing wrong with desiring to reach our spiritual goals, we must guard ourselves against assuming we have actually attained them.  As we learn and develop in our understanding of God and His ways, we often fall prey to thinking we know more than we actually do.  The danger in assuming we have arrived is that we will stop in our tracks in that area and automatically fall short of the goal God has for us!

The apostle Paul had much to say about races, roads, and destinations, as well as about our attitude en route.   In Romans 12:3, he admonishes everyone “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.”  In Philippians 2:3 (Amplified), he exhorts us to “do nothing from factional motives [through contentiousness, strife, selfishness, or for unworthy ends] or prompted by conceit and empty arrogance.  Instead, in the true spirit of humility (lowliness of mind) let each regard the others as better than and superior to himself [thinking more highly of one another than you do of yourselves].”  That means that there is not a single person on earth who canNOT teach me something.  I have something to learn from everyone, no matter how much I think I know about the Bible, about Jesus, about ministry.  Moreover, as God trains us in His Kingdom ways and the application of His Word, His purpose is NOT for me to get fat on faith.   Instead, the idea is for HIS Presence in me to increase, and for ME to decrease (see John 3:30). 

In fact, God wants me to interact with everyone on a level playing field.  He desires for me to discount even the spiritual “qualifications” and giftings that may be quite legitimate, and even hard-won, in order to focus on Him and the power of His resurrection.  “Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.  NOT THAT I HAVE ALREADY ATTAINED OR AM ALREADY PERFECTED, but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me” (Philippians 2:8-12).  God wants us to continually offer up to Him the things we think we have learned, gained, or achieved, and focus on Him, that we may gain HIM and be found in HIM — yet we must NEVER consider ourselves to have ARRIVED in this regard this side of heaven.   If I view myself as knowledgeable or experienced in an area, I immediately become inaccessible for fresh truth and life in that area.  

In Hebrews 12, 1-2, Paul exhorts us to “strip off and throw aside every encumbrance (unnecessary weight) and that sin which so readily (deftly and cleverly) clings to and entangles us, and let us run with patient endurance and steady and active persistence the appointed course of the race that is set before us, looking away [from all that will distract] to Jesus, Who is the Leader and the Source of our faith [giving the first incentive for our belief] and is also its Finisher [bringing it to maturity and perfection].  He, for the joy [of obtaining the prize] that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising and ignoring the shame, and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Amplified).  Father, I ask You to help me lay aside every weight, every self-righteous attitude, every accomplishment, everything I think I know, and empower me to run the race set before me.  Help me look to YOU and not anyone or anything else.  Help me to remain teachable; help me to NEVER consider myself as having “arrived” and thereby fall short of the goal!  Empower me to enjoy the journey!


Making a Beeline?

It seems that I have spent my life in a hurry — in our family, we joke that anything worth doing is worth doing fast!   Of course, we all know that this statement is patently untrue, but we continue to live in a perpetual rush.  You might legitimately ask, “What is the rush?  What are you hurrying for?”  I would have to say that my goal varies, depending on the project at hand, but I must confess that I am a goal-oriented person.  Although I may initially procrastinate, once I have determined to begin, I make a beeline for the goal — whether thoroughly vacuuming the house, cleaning the bathrooms, completing a translation, or preparing a dinner for thirty people.

Lest you think this quality is virtuous, let’s take a look at Psalm 119: 105:  “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”   This verse does NOT say anything about a holy spotlight on the finish line or a clear, up-front illumination of all the hills, valleys, twists, and turns in the road.  Not only has God refused to reveal to me the entire blueprint for my life,  He hasn’t even given me a complete road map for any of the short-term destinations He has set for me.   In fact, I often only sense His nudging me in a particular direction in a sort of incremental way.  He may point me down a path, but, as I prepare to buzz down it as fast as possible, He only sheds light on the part of the path that illuminates the next step or two.   As I take that next step in obedience, He reveals a little more.   He faithfully confirms His Word to my heart and continues to draw me in the direction He has set for me, but I seldom know in detail how I am going to arrive at the destination.   Occasionally, I am not even the least bit certain what the destination actually will look like.

It occurred to me recently that this seemingly cryptic plan of step-by-step guidance is extremely ingenious on God’s part.  First, it prevents me from making my beeline headlong down the path, only to stumble in the dark.  Secondly, it compels me to focus on Jesus rather than the project or goal I assume is my assigned destination.   In Hebrews 12:1b-2, Paul  exhorts us to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”  The real goal is, after all, JESUS, the author and finisher of our faith — NOT a music ministry or an orphanage or foreign missions, or even a prayer ministry.  The goal is to know HIM and His Presence and experience His resurrection power as we run this earthly race (see Philippians 3:10). 

Father, deliver me from undue haste and impatient clamor.   Help me to be content with the revelation of Your light and Presence along the path.  Help me to experience and enjoy Your resurrection power and the wonders of Your Presence with me as I step into the light You shine on my path.  Empower me, Lord, to take the next step and savor it!  Deliver me, Father, of forgetting that YOU are my prize and my destination.

Status Quo or Bust?

I have noticed that I have a tendency to dismiss things I dislike in order to avoid being continually annoyed or offended by them.   Generally, refusing to become annoyed by everything around me is probably a fairly good coping mechanism, as annoyance and frustration don’t seem to encourage a good attitude of heart.   However, God has exposed something in my heart of late:   in my willingness to ignore things that are out of compliance with His Word and His purposes, in my attempts to avoid becoming frustrated with the condition of the world around me, I somehow have come to the place of accepting that condition as the status quo and thereby deeming it unchangeable.   THAT, I recently realized, is a sin.   God wants me to remain actively engaged with His heart for people and situations; He wants me to observe those around me and connect with what they might be thinking or feeling, in order that I might pray for them.   Although they need not KNOW I am praying for them, I have a responsibility to pray for people at all times and in all places (“Pray without ceasing.”  I Thess. 5:17).   How do I pray for all those people?  I can pray by observing their needs and praying what the Holy Spirit would desire for them, according to the character of God.   For example, if someone ahead of me in line at the store is angry or disturbed, I can silently ask God to impart His perfect peace and comfort to that person.  If everyone in the post office appears upset and impatient, I can ask the Holy Spirit to meet the need of every heart and change the atmosphere of that room.   When I drive through ramshackle neighborhoods, I can ask the Lord to provide for every need in every home and open new ways for provision for each family.  I can ask Him to reveal Himself to hearts who do not know Him.  When I pass people on the street who appear to be under the influence of some substance, I can ask the Lord to deliver them and heal every hurt and pain they are trying to medicate.  When I pass anyone or anything that reflects death, torment, or destruction, God wants me to speak life, peace, and wholeness to that person or situation.

On the other hand, if I choose to continue in my emotional comfort zone and ignore the things God desires to point out to me, if I disregard things that upset or disturb me, I am actually AGREEING with the apparent status quo.  That passive agreement in my heart somehow strengthens a subtle conviction in me that God won’t change things.   If I think God won’t change things, the status quo I don’t like actually is affirmed and strengthened by my refusal to use the tool of prayer God has put in my hand.   I am asking myself:  do I want God to be able to use me as an agent for change, or do I want to drown in the status quo of hopelessness and futility around me?    In Exodus 4:2, God asked Moses what he had in his hand.   Moses had a simple rod, a shepherd’s rod, in his hand.   God used that rod as an instrument of His power to defeat all the gods of the Egyptians.  Perhaps the rod in my hand is the power of prayer, the power to speak the life and presence and will and Word of Almighty God into the world around me.  The question is:  will I choose to use that rod?

Hound Dogs and the Power of Forgiveness

Although the Elvis era came and went before I was old enough to have an opinion on the matter, one of his iconic songs has made a distinct impression on me of late.  That is the song about the hound dog — particularly the line, “You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog, cryin’ all the time.”  Although my family has always had indoor pets, I have discovered that Texans often keep outdoor pets; some folks keep their family pets chained to a post or tree in the back yard. It is not unusual for these dogs to howl when overwhelmed by loneliness or to bark when they grow weary of running in circles around the tree to which they are tethered.

Lately, God has been showing me that Christians have ample opportunity to be just like those dogs chained to a post.  I don’t think I know a single person who hasn’t been gravely wounded at some time  in his or her life.   That is something we all have in common!   The difference from one person to another is what we DO with that hurt.  If we nurse it, give it life, and make it our identity, we allow that hurt and pain to control us and direct everything we do.  Essentially, we chain ourselves to the problems and wounds of the past.

Pain and sorrow are a normal part of life, and there is a natural season for grief; it is perfectly acceptable to mourn and to allow ourselves time to recover from trauma.   However, I have noticed that forgiving people who have hurt me is a key to freedom and healing.  God has given me a choice:   I can hold an offense against the people who hurt me, or I can forgive.   If I only forgave people who said they were sorry, I would be missing the point.  Jesus died for me when I was an unrepentant sinner, before He ever made me, and before I ever knew that sin was sin (Romans 5:8).  I didn’t deserve forgiveness.  Similarly, in order to live an emotionally and spiritually healthy life, I need to release forgiveness to others, independently of whether I think they recognize how they have hurt me or whether I think they deserve it or not — in fact, forgiving others is the only way I can be free!  If I don’t continue to forgive and bless other people, I end up living life just like that hound dog chained to a tree:  limited in my movement and focused on going around in circles.

Worse yet, perhaps I don’t even recognize that I have failed to forgive — perhaps I’m not really chained to my afflictions anymore, and perhaps I’ve even forgiven to a degree.  However, I find myself bumping up against some kind of invisible fence (like the one our neighbors put in the front yard for their dogs) that causes discomfort to the degree that I venture no further in my relationships with other people.   The solution?  I hear the Father prompting me, ever so gently, to draw from Him MORE forgiveness to give away freely to those who have wounded me.

Thank You, Jesus, that I don’t have to live life as “nothin’ but a hound dog, cryin’ all the time!”  Thank You that my pain and hurt does not define me or control me or dictate who I am!  Thank You for your forgiveness, which I don’t deserve, but which You freely shower on me!  Thank You that I can choose to forgive other people and be free to live as You have called me to live.  I can agree with David when he declared: ” Blessed be the Lord, Who daily loads us with benefits, the God of our salvation!”  (Psalm 68:19)

The Purpose of Exposure

Do you ever just feel, well, EXPOSED?  No matter how well I try to keep my schedule organized, my tendencies to extremes in check, and my heart tender toward God and the people He has placed in my life, I somehow seem to accumulate an embarrassing pile of spiritual garbage! If other people don’t manage to point it out first, the Holy Spirit eventually gets around to it — and I am BUSTED!  I stand before God with my garbage bags full and no hope of getting them to the dumpster without having to acknowledge that I cannot carry it myself!

GUESS WHAT!  That acknowledgment is exactly what God wants from me!  He did not design me to bear my own sin and clean myself up.  In fact, that is an impossible feat!  He wants to remove it and carry it away for me.   However, I tend to buy in to the enemy’s way of thinking, which sounds somewhat like this:  “You know, this garbage looks very similar to the garbage you always seem to generate.  You’ve made these same mistakes many times before.  In fact, you really haven’t improved at all over the past several years, in spite of God’s influence in your life.  You might as well forget this game you are playing with turning over a new leaf and pretending you are being transformed.  Really, admit it!  You are a blight to the Kingdom.   You can’t even seem to repent properly.  You should be ashamed of yourself.   Even God won’t want to bother with you anymore.  You are incorrigible; even HE can’t fix you.”

At some point (usually after a few days of such tormenting diatribe!), I suddenly recognize the fruit of condemnation: a tendency in myself to begin withdrawing from God and avoid talking to Him, as I feel ashamed and unlovable.  Since the Bible admonishes us that we will know good and evil by its fruit (Matthew 7:16; 12:33), and God certainly does not want us to withdraw from Him (James 4:8; Jeremiah 29:13), we can be confident that our withdrawal is the fruit of condemnation, a weapon of the enemy.

Conviction, as opposed to condemnation, is a tool used by the Holy Spirit to expose sin for the purpose of bringing us to repentance and, ultimately, healing.  It is the KINDNESS of God, not severity or judgment, that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4).  In His mercy, God exposes our sins and weaknesses for the purpose of giving us the ability to recognize that we need Him.  While the enemy exposes us to bring shame and condemnation, God only exposes for the purpose of healing.  He shines His light on our garbage to point out the places He is planning to heal, the places where we feel exposed and vulnerable.  God, the lover of our soul, wants us whole.   He allows us to repent in order to draw us closer to Himself, to bring greater intimacy in our relationship with Him, not isolation or withdrawal.

The conviction of the Holy Spirit regarding the garbage He wants to remove from our lives is part of the glorious process of becoming new in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17-19).  He gladly hauls all our mistakes, failings, sins, and bad decisions away to the sea of forgetfulness (Micah 7:18-20; Hebrews 8:12)! God wants us to be reconciled with Him, to remain in intimate relationship with Him, to include Him in all our thoughts, dreams, hopes, plans, and activities.  He LOVES us!  The fruit of the Holy Spirit’s convicting spotlight on our sin is always a desire to draw closer to the One who loves us, heals us, frees us, and holds us to His heart.

Don’t allow the enemy to trap you into picking through your trash — let God remove it and make space in your heart for what He gives you in return:  a huge deposit of His acceptance, healing, peace, and joy!