Monthly Archives: March 2014

Running from Gomer Pyle

Gomer Pyle

When I was little, I couldn’t stand to watch Gomer Pyle.  Sooner or later, in spite of his good-natured intentions, Gomer got himself in a mess.  I just couldn’t stay and watch that.  I had to flee to another room until the situation was resolved.

I’ve never been able to stomach failure and weakness.  Through the years I’ve grown a lot, but it’s still a huge monkey on my back.

So this past Sunday Ken and I were discussing grace, and why people like me need teachings on it more than people like Ken do.  And it all came down to an admission of this: Ken believes at a gut level that he has value to God, and I don’t.  I know in my head that I have self worth, and I can sometimes feel it in my heart, but it doesn’t come naturally.

Because there are times I don’t like my true self.  I don’t think people would like my true self.   If I ever just let go, what would come out?  Ambition and selfishness, someone who is inconsiderate and has to be at the center of everything.  Who would want to be around that?

But as I was thinking this, my husband told me, “When I look at you, I see so many things that are great about you.”

It’s funny, because later on Sunday we went to the movies and watched “Divergent.”  At the end, the female lead, Tris, says, “I don’t know who I am anymore.”  And her romantic partner, Four, says with certainty and love, “I know you you are.”

Divergent

It was the same thing my husband said to me.  I can’t argue with this.  My husband sees me at my best and my worst.  After being married for 33 years, he knows the real me.

So how do I open my eyes to my worth?  I found something I wrote a few years ago to describe myself:

I am someone who loves poetry, music, the majesty of God, truth, creativity, intellectual stimulation, celebrating life, and the infinite importance of each individual person. I am someone who dreams and believes that there is hope.

Once I was reminded of this, I began to feel better.  I do have things about myself that I can like.  I need to read this every day!

But it leaves one problem.  How do I not run from Gomer?  I still have that “ugly” side of myself.  How can I be real with people and not worry that they won’t like me anymore?  How do I reconcile my imperfections?

In God’s perfecting timing, Jake reminded Ken and I this weekend of the Ted talk on “The Power of Vulnerability”  by Brene’ Brown.  I listened to it again today.  I was utterly challenged.

Basically, Brown says research has shown that being vulnerable and exposing your true self actually facilitates better connections between people.   Could it be that the very thing I thought would push people away from me is the thing that will draw them closer?

For me, it’s a scary experiment to try.   I expose bits of myself in these blogs, and often think later, “Why did I do that to myself?  Everyone is going to think I’m an egotistical weirdo.  Can I just crawl somewhere and hide?”

But I have to be okay with being a weirdo.  I have to be honest about the extent of my battle with SELF.

As Brown said, I need to learn to be compassionate with myself.  I need to be authentic.  To some extent, I need to let go of who I think I should be, and embrace who I am.

“Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker . . .  Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?'”  (Isa 45:9)

I am Gomer.  I look foolish and make mistakes.  I am imperfect.  But I am also worthy of love and belonging.

 

 

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Storms of Spring

Twitter happy

According to Twitter, March is one of the happiest months of the year.  I think it’s because it’s the time when you finally begin to see signs of spring.  The daffodils bloom.  The days get longer.  You see the light at the end of the tunnel.  What a relief, you’re going to make it!

My peach tree blooming

My peach tree blooming

Here in Auburn, the March days have been so nice that it’s almost criminal.  Could it have been getting dark at 4:30 only a couple of months ago?  Now it’s in the 60’s and sunny and beautiful.  With daylight savings time, the gorgeous days go on and on.  In contrast to the dark and cold we’ve been experiencing, it seems like utopia.

And on top of all of that, Mike and Marge are coming to lead our church.  We’ll have permanent leaders!  How much better could it get?

Then, in the midst of this perfection, cracks started to appear.  People I’ve been reaching out to walked away, friendships I’ve been building collapsed.  Events didn’t turn out the way I’d planned.  I begin to worry about potential dark clouds on the horizon — things that could go wrong with the future.

No matter how good it gets, I’m still a scared little child on the inside, feeling insufficient against the howling winds of the world.

storm

That’s why it’s great that I have something more.  When I feel inadequate, Christ gives me his own righteousness, wraps me in it like a comforting cloak, giving me his entrance card into the Divine Family.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  (II Cor 5:21)

It’s so uncanny how God works.  My computer wouldn’t come up yesterday morning, so I spent extra time in prayer.  The verse above was the magical passage that came to me as I was praying.  It was just what I needed to help me deal with my inner struggles.  Then, when I went to church, what did Jake preach about, but the same thing that came to me in prayer!

Jake defined righteousness as this, “the state of him who is as he ought to be; the condition acceptable to God.”

So when Christ makes us righteous, we become what we ought to be in order to be acceptable to God.  This is a state we can never achieve on our own.  No matter how many good things we do, how many “gold stars’ we collect on our spiritual chart, we will still fall short.

But, “Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin.”  (I Cor 1:30)  Paul described it as, “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ  (Phil 3:9)

I will always be that scared child in the storm.  I fear that people will see that’s what I am, and it will be like the villagers who laughed at the emperor who had no clothes.  “She’s not that impressive!” they will say.

But just like my husband puts his coat around me when I don’t have one, Jesus covers my naked faults with his righteousness.  I don’t ever have to feel inadequate, or ashamed.

And I don’t tweet, but the way I live my life is like a tweet to those around me.  No matter what happens, good or bad, winter or spring, I can send the message, “I am happy.”

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Thank God for those who test our patience!

“. . .  work out your salvation with fear and trembling”  (Phil 2:12)

Everyone loves this verse, but what does it mean?  How do we work out our salvation?  All my life I’ve thought it was this sort of dynamic ongoing thing that happens between me and God.  But then Ken pointed out in his sermon last week that the letter to the Philippians was written to a church.  Working out salvation is done in the context of the church, not individuals.**

That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t apply to us on an individual level.  But the idea is more corporate.  And as I thought about it, it made sense.  We need one another to develop the character we need as Christians.  How are we going to develop humility without one another?  Or patience, . . . agape love . . . mercy?

And that led me to an even more mind blowing revelation.  Christian character is best developed through interactions with those who are more challenging to love.   It’s easy to be patient with someone we have a natural affinity for.  But there are people who are not as easy to practice the verse of “bearing with one another in love” on.  Learning to do so is when we really grow.

Could that mean that God doesn’t intend for the church to be this homogenous place where everyone is a strong, passionate Christian?  It takes those who are weak and struggling to teach us all how to love as God loves.  And if we’re honest, we’re all weak and struggling at some time.  Perhaps God intends for church to be a conglomeration of people who are at all kinds of places spiritually.

So then it makes sense that the next verse in Philippians is, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing.”  We can’t complain about one another, even in our hearts!  It is our job to show God’s love, patience and mercy through our relationships with one another in the church.  We must, as Philippians goes on to say. “shine like stars” to the world.

** (This idea came from “To Live is Christ” by Tom and Sheila Jones.)

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Don’t Pray for Blessings!

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To start off, I got the idea for this blog from another blog.  I read it and then went on my way.  Yet as time went on, I kept thinking of it, and it made such an impact that I wanted to communicate its main ideas.  I tried to find the blog to give it credit, but couldn’t.

Here is what the blog said:  Don’t pray for blessings.

We Christians have a habit of defining life in terms of our “blessings.”  We say our material possessions are blessings.  “God blessed me with such a nice house, car, etc.”  We say the good things that happen to us are blessings.  We name our friends and family as blessings.

And, don’t get me wrong, all of these things ARE blessings.  “Every good and perfect gift is from above.”  (James 1:17)

But labeling things as a blessing can lead to a mentality where our happiness is MEASURED by what we have, and what goes right.

If things work out, we are happy.  After all, we are blessed!  But then what do we think when things go wrong?

If we are studying the Bible with people and they decide to make Jesus Lord, we’re happy.  When we see the church assembly full of fired up people we’re happy.  But what about when people get weak, or leave?  It can be so discouraging.

Of course, if we care about people, we are going to feel emotional when they struggle.  “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.”  (I Cor 12:26)

But we we need to have a joy that transcends our “blessings.”  We need to have a deep and abiding joy that comes solely from Christ.

Instead of filling our prayer time with so many petitions, we need to pray to have MORE OF CHRIST.     Pray for God’s will to be done, and let this will be our food, as Jesus did in John 4:34.  Pray to know God’s love better, as Paul prayed in Phil 1:9 and Eph 3:17-19.

I mean, just look at the Ephesians 3 prayer: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

We get COMPLETELY FILLED with God when we understand the love of Christ.  And I think that is what leads to the next statement in Ephesians 3, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”

I think God does immeasurably more, not with life circumstances, as much as with our INNER TRANSFORMATION.  God does immeasurably more by helping us understand his love, and filling us completely.  We overflow with, as Peter put it, an inexpressible and glorious joy:

  • “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”  I Peter 1:9

God works incredibly in our hearts, giving us inner security where we were insecure, giving us confident where we were fearful.  Our weaknesses are turned into strengths. We are freed from the fruitless pursuit of trying to meet our own needs, and finally trust that He who loves us will take care of us.  A vibrant joy in our souls can keep growing and growing.

In my house, I try to always keep a bowl of fresh fruit on the table.  It symbolizes abundance to me.  As I look around, I see that I surround myself with the comfort and affirmation that I am blessed.  I see the cat curled up on the couch.  My grandmother’s quilt on the rack in the bedroom.  Pictures from vacations in the guest room.  Shells from the beach on my dresser.  Pictures of the kids on the occasional table.  Decorative pieces from loved ones on walls and shelves.

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But this mentality is only good if everything is in order.  It requires me constantly having to straighten up and clean.  Somehow my symbols of abundance aren’t as powerful when they’re surrounded by mess!

It’s just one more reminder that I cannot let my blessings dictate the level of my joy.

Okay, I know the title of this blog went a bit overboard.  There are many good “blessings” we should pray for.  There are circumstances that need to change.  People who have needs.

And we do need to be thankful.  Gratitude is POWERFUL!  I am keeping a list of things I am thankful for, and I am up to about 400 things on that list so far. It is so helpful to focus my mind on the positive instead of the negative.

But I want something more.  I want something deeper.  I am not entirely sure how to get it, but this has been my prayer —  that God will show me how to have an all sufficient joy that is based on Him, that my happiness will not be based on physical blessings, but on spiritual ones.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”  Eph 1:3

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Prayer is Like Yoga (3 Analogies)

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Hope in the Lord is like the coming of spring, the change we want usually happens gradually, not with a snap of the fingers.

This means we need to be patient.  We need to be faithful.  Just because things aren’t going as we think they should, doesn’t mean that God isn’t working.  It doesn’t mean that a great outcome isn’t on the horizon.

Being patient with others is one of my greatest challenges.  I’ve listed here some scriptures I’ve found that help!

  • You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! . . . Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? (Romans 2:1,4)
  • But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example.  (I Tim 1:16)
  • . . . he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.  (II Peter 3:9)
  • Think of our Lord’s patience as facilitating salvation.  (II P 3:15 ISV)

Prayer is like yoga — we focus on a part of ourselves that needs to be stretched.  With yoga it is the muscles.  With prayer, it is our ability to love, and have faith.

Whereas before I might acknowledge weaknesses and move on, now I see that I can address them in prayer.  I can focus on them, wrestle with them, and allow the Spirit to give me insight into ways to grow.

Grace is like our IV — constantly giving us life, constantly sustaining us. We’re not sustained by our own efforts, the execution of our intricate schemes for success.  No, at some point we realize that our righteous acts are as filthy rags, that unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.  (Is 64:6, Ps 127:1)  We realize that we are actually objects of God’s wrath, his enemies even.  (Romans 1:18, 5:10)

But here is the coolest thing:  GRACE REIGNS!!  “. . . just as sin reigned in death, so also grace will reign through righteousness.”  (Rom 5:21)   Not only does God’s kingdom increase, as I wrote recently, but we live in an age of the immeasurable positive outpouring of divine favor.  It’s grace that keeps our heart beating.  Grace provides what we need every day.  Grace answers our prayers.  Graces provides our blessings.  Grace works out our future to be more than we could ask or imagine.  Every good and perfect gift is from above.  (James 1:17)    “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”  (Rom 5:5)

Because grace reigns, we are not being treated as our sins deserve.  God doesn’t love us conditionally.  We get to be right with God and go to heaven in spite of our failings and shortcomings.  Instead of being objects of God’s wrath, we are objects of His mercy, vessels made to contain the overabundant riches of His compassion.  (Rom 9:23)

With grace running through our lives, it is like sap that will most surely lead to a bursting forth of beautiful blooms at the right time.

All of this means that growth is occurring.  It just may not be on my timetable.  My heart is stretching and maturing.  Those I am praying for are progressing on their spiritual journeys.  The foundations are being built for the changes I would like to see.

Life seems to be chaos, but God’s thread of victory is always weaving it together.  The shortcomings are not the reality.   The world fails.  We fall.  But as Richard Rohr wrote, “If you can find grace or freedom in and through that falling, you find that it moves you forward, upward, broader, deeper, better—to growth.”

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