God

Burning Coals

Romans 12:18-20:

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’”

I have to be honest, I’ve never liked this passage. I’ve always thought to myself, first of all, that we as believers shouldn’t be wishing God’s wrath or vengeance upon anyone, no matter their offense. We should hope, pray, and work for repentance, redemption, restoration, and reconciliation. So revenge has never been my M.O. And I’ve never really seen it as God’s, either.

The second reason why I’ve always disliked this passage is the idea of doing good to your enemy in order to “heap burning coals on his head.” That has always struck me as incredibly spiteful. And God doesn’t call us to spite our enemies. No, He calls us to love and bless them. So in my cognitive dissonance, I’ve just glossed over the verses, vowing to ask God about it one day. Well, it turns out that now I don’t have to—thank you Jon Green!

You see, Jon taught from this passage in his Sunday sermon this week, and he shed SO much light on the context of this passage for me. Specifically, he pointed out that this refers to a common-ish practice of the day, and one undertaken when an enemy was attacking. From the top of the city’s wall, soldiers would heap burning coals on the heads of their attackers in order to keep them at bay. And Jon rightly described this as a defensive action, a response from a position of strength, but one respecting appropriate boundaries. So rather than going on the offensive, or being spiteful, this heaping of coals was simply a strategy for protection. And for me, that changes everything.

So then, what about God’s wrath and His vengeance? Well, when Jon suggested that we are to leave revenge to God, I got to thinking that one reason for this is that we do not know how to properly wield vengeance. But God does. And do you know how we know that? John 8. You remember, don’t you, when a woman was brought before Jesus after being caught in adultery? And the teachers of the law wanted to stone her, but Jesus quietly called each one out in his sin, and said, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7b). “At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:9-11).

So when we turn our enemies over to God—who is righteous, just, AND merciful—we can trust that He will do the right thing. We can certainly have no such faith in ourselves. What a relief, then, to let go and give it to God—not asking Him to avenge us, but pleading with Him for mercy and forgiveness, on behalf of our enemy. Jesus Himself did no less as He hung on the cross to die for our sins. Let us live by His example, saying “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

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God & Me…and My M.O.A.S.

Luke 10:25-28

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus.
“Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

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In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the expert in the law went on to ask Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” I would argue that the more relevant question to ask would be, “How can I love my neighbor?” The answer to this question might have been different than the one Jesus gave. And I think the essence of the answer is GRACE. We receive grace, and we extend it to others. But the latter can be difficult and even impossible without the former. And what does it mean to receive grace? I believe that to do so fully requires us to be aware of our sin and the depths of our depravity. In Romans 7:18 (ESV), Paul states, “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” He further added in 1 Timothy 1:15, that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.” Of this, he argued, “The grace of our Lord overflowed to me.” Had it not done so—or had Paul not recognized the depth of his need—I question whether he would have been sufficiently equipped to offer God’s grace to other sinners.

You see, Paul knew his M.O.A.S.—his mother of all sins. He had persecuted and killed Christians in the name of God, and I think that qualifies. Like Paul before us, and so many others, each of us needs to identify our own M.O.A.S. This needs to be a sin for which you can honestly say, “Yes, Jesus needed to die for this. This sin is ‘worthy’ of His sacrifice.” We need to be able to say along with Paul that we are the worst of sinners, or at least that we are no better than the other sinners who comprise this broken human race.

In his book, Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer as saying, “Anybody who lives beneath the Cross and who has discerned in the Cross of Jesus the utter wickedness of all men and of his own heart will find there is no sin that can ever be alien to him. Anybody who has once been horrified by the dreadfulness of his own sin that nailed Jesus to the Cross will no longer be horrified by even the rankest sins of a brother.” Foster goes on to assert that this “forever delivers us from conveying any attitude of superiority. We know the deceptiveness of the human heart, and we know the grace and mercy of God’s acceptance. Once we see the awfulness of sin we know that, regardless of what others have done, we ourselves are the chief of sinners” (p. 154).

As a caveat, you do NOT need to go out and commit a M.O.A.S. in order to have one. You can most likely identify one, if you dig deeply enough into yourself, and examine all of the dimensions that comprise you. According to Dallas Willard, those dimensions include: the will, the mind, the body, the soul, and the social context. I’m excited that our church is going to be digging deeper into each of these dimensions in the coming weeks, because I think it will help us all to gain a greater level of self-awareness, in order that we may be deconstructed by and reconstructed in Christ. Oh that we would all become more like Him!

If you’d like to join in this process, or learn more about it, here’s a link to our most recent sermon:

http://www.harriscreek.org/resources/sermons/item/1830-2-2-who-am-i

 

Good Things, God Things, and GO Things

You’ve probably heard that there is a difference between “good things” and “God things.” That is, we may find ourselves very busy with sports, clubs, volunteer activities, civic duties, Bible studies, church services, and so on and so forth. But not all of these activities turn out to be God-honoring or God-glorifying, at least not for all of us. On the other hand, there are activities and commitments that do honor and glorify God, when situated within the context of our lives and our responsibilities.

But it seems to me that there is another distinction that bears mentioning—namely, there are some things that I would call GO things. For each of us, there are likely some hopes, dreams, and inclinations that we have considered. There may be some that we are deeply drawn to and feel called toward. That list looks different for each of us, and may include everything from becoming a mentor to becoming a missionary. My list has changed a bit over time, but has included things like adoption, foster to adopt, and living kidney donation.

I think that we tend to have one of two reactions to these leanings: 1) We put them on a bucket list and figure that maybe someday, we’ll have the opportunity to pursue them; or 2) We rush off to pursue them now, figuring that “if God didn’t want this for me, he wouldn’t have placed the desire in my heart.” But God may be telling us something different. You may be making someday plans when God wants you to act today. Maybe he’s trying to tell you that you’ve thought about it long enough, prayed about it long enough, put it off long enough. And he’s telling you to GO and to GO now. On the flipside, you may be anxious to get on with what you’ve determined to be God’s call on your life, and God is actually telling you something else. He may be saying, “Not now, not you, or not at all.” He may say that through Scripture, trusted sources of wise counsel, or the closed and open doors of opportunity that you come to.

Our job is to truly listen to what God is saying to us. When he says to go, GO. When he says to wait, WAIT. And when he says, “No,” accept that with all of the grace that God has given you through Christ Jesus. These responses are easier said than done, but we can find rest in the knowledge and promise that we can do and endure all things through Christ, in whom we find our strength (Philippians 4:13).

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Rebel

Colossians 3:18-22

“Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.
Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.”

Rebel Elizabeth—that is the name I had long planned to give my firstborn daughter. It had a special meaning to me, too. It meant “rebel consecrated to God.” What does that mean? Well, it means someone who doesn’t go along with the crowd or the status quo, someone who fights against injustice, who responds to hatred with love. In short, someone who lives like Jesus did when He took on flesh and dwelt among us. The name was to be a blessing spoken and prayed over this little girl.

The problem was that the name actually predated her dad, who had more delicate sensibilities regarding what the name might imply to some and how it might be misinterpreted. “But that’s not how I mean it,” I argued over and over. “My intentions and reasons are good and noble and righteous…godly even.” BUT in the end, I had to consider how the name might adversely impact some unknown percentage of people for whom “Rebel” carries a very loaded meaning. Striking it from consideration was one of the greatest acts of submission I’ve ever undertaken, and one that frankly had me kicking and screaming deep in my heart (and not really all that deep, as I was pretty vocal about it). That was in 2012, shortly before racial and ethnic tensions in our country really started to flare up. In the long run, the choice to submit was the right one…at least until something horrific happens in the town of Laredo to tarnish our daughter’s namesake.

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I think this story tells us a few things:

  1. God’s desires for us do not always match our own desires—no matter how well-intentioned ours may be. He knows things in His infinite wisdom that we couldn’t possibly foresee, and we need to trust His guidance. Sometimes that guidance comes in the form of an earthly authority figure that He has placed over us, one to whom we our called to submit.
  2. Our reasons and intentions matter far less than our decisions and actions, and their consequences. Our love for the least of these, our faith in God, and our intent to follow Jesus require ACTION on our part. And the truth is that sometimes we think (or convince ourselves) that we are acting in accordance with God’s will and direction and in the best interest of all concerned, but the outcome demonstrates that we were wrong. In those cases, God calls us to repent and to make right the wrongs we’ve caused, whether intentional or otherwise. That requires more humility than is comfortable for most of us. But it is what God requires nonetheless.
  3. God’s instructions are there for our protection and our good, and we can trust HIM. We are often hesitant to submit if we lack confidence in the authorities placed over us. But look at the list of relationships outlined in Colossians 3:18-22—wives and husbands; children and parents; slaves and masters. Surely earthly husbands, parents, and masters will fail us. But this passage does not permit us to forego submission when they let us down. Instead, we are to submit to God through our submission to others, placing our faith not in them but in HIM.

Submission is hard, but it is necessary. And even more, it is rewarding, if we allow it to be. Maybe you can think of an area in your own life wherein you’re being called to submit and surrender, perhaps one wherein you’ve been resistant to doing so. Pray over it. Ask God to help you. Ask other believers to help you. And then DO it.

Receipts

Galatians 4:4-5

But when the time was right, God sent his Son, born of a woman,
subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law,
so that he could adopt us as his very own children.”

Do you save receipts? I do, although not as religiously as I was raised to. But at some point, don’t we all purge those old receipts. Some we may keep longer than others, but none will last forever. Maybe some we’ll toss out once they’re past the store’s return policy date. Or maybe, if you have a warranty on something, you would save the receipt until the warranty runs out. Or, at the very least, when you do a deep cleaning of your house and you come across receipts that are so old there is literally no ink left on them. If that’s you, come on, it’s time to let go.

Do you know how long God keeps receipts? Try not at all. When God bought us, redeemed us, adopted us, that was it. No return policy, no 100% satisfaction guarantee, no extended warranty. He just paid for us outright, through Jesus’ blood on the cross. He ransomed us from the power of sin, death, hell, and the law, and purchased our freedom. And adopted us as his very own children.

Imagine the most expensive, the most costly, thing you’ve ever purchased. Maybe it was an entertainment system, or a car, or a house. Now imagine shredding the receipt on the spot. I think most of us would be mortified at the thought—at least I know I would. But essentially, that’s exactly what God did for you and for me. His sacrifice, his purchase, his redemption is OURS to accept, to trust, to rest in, to be transformed by, to be grateful for, and to share with others. We don’t have to deserve it or earn it, indeed we never could. But if we do accept this gift, we belong to God, and he stamps us: “ALL SALES FINAL.”
 

Run YOUR Race!

Hebrews 12:1-2

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us,
let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us,
and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus,
the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross,
despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Wow! November is getting away from us SO quickly. I’m usually much better about posting regularly, especially during Adoption Awareness Month, which is one of my favorite times of the year. This November, I have a confession to make. I get kind of envious when I see mothers with new babies, or who are expecting, or who have adopted children, or who are fostering to adopt. With my youngest having just turned four years old last week, I feel like that phase of life is just slipping away.

And the further away from it we get as a family, and the closer we get to our arbitrary self-imposed adoptive-parent age limit of 40 years old (I will be 38 in February, can you believe it?!), the less likely it seems that we will end up pursuing adoption after all. Granted, we always say we’re open to burning bush moments and clear direction from God to the contrary, but for now, it seems unlikely.

Still, I STRONGLY support adoption. I think it is one of the most amazing and miraculous things you can do, and I believe that it offers such an indescribable blessing to everyone it touches. So I may ask God, Why not us? But as I read Hebrews 12:1-2, I hear God instructing me, “Run with endurance the race that is set before YOU…” While we ultimately all run a race designed to glorify God and advance his kingdom, we do not all run the exact same race, or the exact same route.

And, at this moment, the race set before me is not one that necessarily includes adoption (as sad as it is to admit). Instead, it includes being a wife and mother within a family of FOUR. It includes mentoring young women as they transition into the next stages of their lives. It includes praying for others at the prompting of the Holy Spirit. It includes befriending the elderly, who have too often been neglected in this fast-paced world of ours. It includes teaching college students not just about subject matter, but about responsibility and character. It includes writing research papers that draw attention to important social issues of our day. And so many more things.

Your race may look very little (if at all) like mine, or like anyone else’s for that matter. But whatever it does look like, I would encourage you to embrace it and pursue it with diligence, as unto the Lord. And if YOUR race involves the joy and blessing of adoption, know that while I will feel a twinge of envy, I will also cheer you on, champion your cause, and do whatever I can to help you to run that race, and to run it well. You have my prayers and my admiration.

Run YOUR race!

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Election Day 2016!

Dear God,

Election Day! It’s finally here and I am thankful that nothing about this mess comes as a surprise to you. None of it rattles or scares you. None of it changes you. You are God, you are sovereign. You will not fall off your throne or wave a flag of defeat. You will remain the same YOU—the same GOD—you have always been.

And you, even now, are working all things together for good for those who love you and are called according to your purpose (Romans 8:28). Even now, you are using people who hate and persecute you to accomplish those very purposes—here and across the globe.

And tomorrow, you will welcome us back to you, just as you always have. “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and rich in love” (Psalm 145:8).

May your kingdom come, and your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Amen!

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Step Out in Faith

It’s not easy being a girl.

I know what you men are thinking…that this post isn’t for you. But don’t let my opening statement scare you away. This message is especially and specifically for you. But it bears sharing a bit of background, as in, it’s not easy being a girl. You’ve heard and even perpetuated the stereotypes, you’ve encountered the Bridezillas and the other crazies. To be honest, there aren’t that many areas on which I personally identify or connect with the traditional “female” experience. But there are a few—and there is one that especially stands out to me.

FAITH.

I know what you guys are thinking—women don’t have the corner on faith. And you’re right. As with any generalization, there are exceptions. But those exceptions belie the rule. Case in point: the cross. Think back, where were the disciples? Nowhere to be found. They were off hiding in the bushes somewhere. Who remained? The women. Now, I don’t know if they were 50 feet from the cross, but I can tell you how I picture the scene at Calvary. I see the Marys, all three of them, kneeling beneath the cross, worshiping Jesus in spite of what seemed a hopeless defeat. They’d been at His feet before, hanging on every word of His teaching…anointing His feet with the finest of perfumes and even their own precious tears. But this time, it was different. This time, it was He who was anointing THEM, with His own precious blood. And they believed Him and His promises. Still.

Need more proof? How about the tomb? Where were the disciples then? Running around like chickens with their heads cut off, that’s where. Why? Because they had finally met with a set of circumstances that defied their sense of reason, circumstances that they couldn’t understand or explain, or FIX. You can relate, can’t you? In a society where you’re expected to be self-sufficient, strong, successful. In a world where you’re expected to perform and provide, and to be right. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. You’re tired—exhausted. You’re weighed down with burdens that God never meant for you to carry. What He wants from you is FAITH. And I feel God telling me to tell you today, Step out in faith. Step out in faith. Don’t step out in the calculated risk that YOU can accept and manage. Don’t step out in your own resources—your wealth, your intellect, your spatial reasoning skills. Don’t step out only in what makes perfect logical sense. When you rely on these worldly “wisdoms” and competencies, you are stifling your God. You’re making Him small, weak, impotent—not in reality, but in your MIND, and your HEART.

Consider David, when he faced Goliath. Did he step out in his own strength, or experience, or prowess? No, in his own words, he stepped out “in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel” (1 Samuel 17:45). God never said to be strong and courageous in your own abilities. In Joshua 1:9, we see that God commands us to be strong and courageous, and to not be afraid or discouraged, “for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Don’t stifle the Holy Spirit inside you. Don’t put false limits on a God who is limitless. Have faith. Deepen your faith. And then STEP OUT IN FAITH!

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God, I pray that you would raise up not just one generation of faithful men, but an army. I pray that these godly men would allow themselves to trust you, and to not rely on their own strength and understanding. Instead, let them pursue you BOLDLY, recognizing that you are a BIG God, and that you have in store for them BIG, GOD-SIZED dreams and possibilities. Give them courage to rest in you, and to step out in faith for your glory and your kingdom. A thousand times, Amen. In your matchless and limitless power, let it be so today.

 

No

What do you say to a friend who has just lost her son? Not sure, I decided to ask my daughter, who is 3 going on 13. Out of the mouths of babes, right? And she actually had a lot of insight to share—though not so much in what she said, as in what she didn’t say…

Me: “I might see my friend tonight—the one whose son died. What do you think I should say to her?”
Lj: “Well, is he gonna be died forever?”
Me: “Well, he’s not here anymore, but he’s in heaven—and when she dies, she’ll get to see him again.”
Lj: “So, he is gonna be died forever.”

And to that, she had nothing to say. And she was right. I mean, if he’s going to be dead forever, then what is there to say, besides a feeble “I’m sorry”? What is there to do but remember the good times and try to move on? What is there to think about, besides the seeming injustice of it all?

BUT, when we know—as we do—that he loved Jesus and had surrendered his life to Him, that somehow changes everything. We can grieve for our loss, while we rejoice with the hosts of heaven at the arrival of one more saint. We can take comfort in knowing that he is standing in God’s presence, glory raining down all around him, as he revels in those most precious of words: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:23).

Along with our sorrow then, we embrace joy, relief, excitement, peace, hope, and faith. We may still not have the right words to say to someone who is suffering loss. But one thing we know. When we ask, from our brokenness and the vulnerability of a child, “Is he gonna be died forever?”, we know that God answers us in a voice that shakes the heavens. And the answer is a resounding, “NO!” Not only is he not going to be dead forever, he isn’t going to be dead at all. In the midst of our mourning, he is standing before the thrown, more alive than he EVER was on this side of eternity.

And we take a deep breath, and we let it out. And we find a moment’s rest in this blessed assurance: Jesus. Salvation. Heaven.

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Even the Weeds

Psalm 19:1
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork.”

You’ve heard it said, and indeed it is written, that the heavens declare God’s glory. I think many of us can get behind this statement. Even the idea of space (outer or inner) is too much for me to wrap my mind around. It is SO vast, SO beautiful, SO far beyond my comprehension. All of that suggests to me that, yes, there is a God; and that, yes, He is great and mighty and creative and mind-blowing.

But I would actually like to suggest that it isn’t just the incomprehensible heavens that declare the glory of God, but rather much more mundane aspects of His creation as well. In particular, let me submit to you that even the weeds declare the glory of God. What?! Those nasty, pesky little things that we cut and pull and poison and kill? Those? Yes. Allow me to share three examples that I believe speak to this.

Exhibit A: So, I’m walking along with my daughter, taking her to swimming lessons and watching the grass beneath our feet. And I notice, for the first time, these intricate little weeds that look like giant green snowflakes—well, giant in relation to snowflakes, at least. There were so many of them, each a bit different from the others, but each one beautiful. The next day, I found this other little brown weed poking through a crack in the sidewalk, and thought it equally pretty, and photo-worthy. Weeds…hmm.
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Exhibit B:
“Flowers.” That’s what my kids call dandelions. The bane of summer existence to most, these flowers excite and fascinate my preschoolers. If we walk past them, we have to stop so that they can pick the pretty flowers. When they are on the playground, they collect them and give them to me as a treasured gift. We put them in makeshift vases and give them water, even though they never last more than a day alive. But they have a certain beauty about them, an endowment from God, I suppose.
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Exhibit C:
Last summer, my mom discovered the salsify. She watches for them to bloom all over the neighborhood and collects them whenever they’re in season. Then she spray paints them in vibrant colors and displays them in vases all over the house. She also gives them away as gifts. To most people, these ‘plants’ are probably a nuisance, but to my mom, they are beautiful.


So then, mundane or not, nuisance or not, I have to argue that we can find God’s glory in many commonly overlooked places. Even in the weeds.