This bears repeating: The Tree Swing

Ruth's Blessing

Grandma Ruth Miner,  and boy, did she  spread the love around on us!

Autumn and apple trees: caramel apples, bobbing for apples, apple pie all are practically synonymous with fall in temperate lands. But an apple tree holds a deeper meaning for me now.  Out behind the bedrooms of their tiny house,  in my Grandma Ruth’s backyard, stood a wonderfully full and tall apple tree. I can still remember the smell of green apples wafting in through the open window as I lay in the big old double bed with such a hollow in the center of the mattress  that I had to hold on to the sides of the bed to keep from rolling onto my younger sister. The best thing about the apple tree, though, was the rope swing with a board seat that hung from the thick lowest  branch. I loved to swing –  and in all honesty, I still do.  That’s why something the Holy Spirit gave me several years ago at the beginning of a long journey of loss is so precious to me.

Charity, the daughter of my dear friend Sharon, “took” us both on a “walk through the Father’s house” in a meditative inward reflection. The idea was to imagine you were in God’s house looking for Jesus. No way was I going to conjure up something from my own imagination; I wanted the Spirit to lead my thinking, or,I inwardly purposed, I would have no thoughts at all. Sharon was seeing a huge house with marble floors, gilded furniture, beautiful paintings; I imagined something like the Clampett’s mansion from the old TV show “The Beverly Hillbillies,” but the house I saw had no furniture at all, and I felt very strongly that I was looking in the wrong place. Up the stairs I wandered in my imagination, but no Jesus. Sharon was out in a beautiful rose garden, then saw a stream filled with beautiful jewels. Heaving a sigh, I decided to follow my first inclination and go out the back door, which turned out to be the faded green wooden screen door of my Grandma Miner’s house. The next thing I sensed was me sitting on the old board swing, and somebody was pushing me. Up into the branches I swung as whoever was pushing me did a run-under – something my own sons called an “Underdog,” and I flew even higher, brushing green leaves with my toes.

I went on in my imagination to sit by the edge of my Grandma’s garden with Jesus, but the imagery of the apple tree stuck with me, so tender and personal.  Two months or so later I was reading the Bible in my morning devotions, curled up  sitting sideways in my favorite wing chair. Yes, guilty as charged, there is still a core of childhood in me and a bit of tomboy lingering from the close relationship I had with my older brother Dave. But there is grown woman in me enough that my heart raced as I read a passage from Song of Songs 2:3. The beloved speaks about her lover: Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my lover among the young men. I delight to sit in his shade . . . .  I drew in an astonished breath remembering Jesus pushing me on the swing under my Grandma’s apple tree.  I know it’s debatable what sort of fruit tree the original Hebrew in that verse refers to, but to my heart, apple tree meant apple tree and the tenderness of a Savior who doesn’t discount or take lightly or dismiss as childish the things He knows touch our hearts so deeply, individually. I should say child-like rather than childish, and what could come more from the Father’s heart than something that delights his child?  At the same time, Song of Songs is a deeply passionate love story. Who loves us more passionately and fervently than Jesus?

Three years later I mentioned this experience on my Grandma Ruth’s swing in a morning devotional message at a women’s retreat.  I was amazed and humbled beyond words when one woman said during our closing circle, “I came hoping for God’s Spirit to move or speak in my life. It didn’t happen Friday night. It didn’t happen on Saturday. it didn’t happen until this morning when I heard the words “my grandmother’s swing.’” Jesus, you did it again: connected something so intimate in my life with something so personal in another’s! It isn’t just my heart you know; you know every heart in unique loving detail. Scandalous love!

My musings continued as I remembered my younger son  telling his Grandma, my mother, that he was going to take apple seeds with him to Heaven when he died so he could plant an apple tree there for her. My mother had such an intolerance to sugar that even eating the fructose in an apple would give her a migraine headache. Ethan knew she’d have no headaches in Heaven and knew how much she missed the sweet crunch of a ripe apple.

Will there be apple trees in Heaven? I don’t know. If Ethan has any say in things, there will be for Grandma. I do I know there are trees in Heaven: the tree the apostle John saw and related to us in Revelation 22:1-2:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

I know those trees – because, tomboy that I still am, I climbed a tree with Jesus that morning and realized with a sudden flash of insight just what tree we were sitting in. I realized just as quickly what tree we all stand at the foot of for our healing: the cross of Calvary. 1 Peter 2:24: He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds we are healed.

I suspect it’s no coincidence that I feel such healing love when I remember sitting on the swing under that apple tree. What kind of god from any story of mythology, from any other faith, exudes such passionately personal love as the One God made flesh in Jesus, offered up willingly out of the greatest heart that beats at the center of all creation, for all of His creation? My heart, still so broken for my human beloved, finds healing from the Lover of my Soul under the tree.

A “. . . BUT . . . ” to move:  Jesus, people disappoint me, even betray my deepest trust and confidence. I betray myself sometimes and disappoint others, BUT your love for me is so intimate, so tender, so powerful, so profound, that I fall to my knees in humbled wonder saying ______________________________________________. Take me to that secret, special place you share in my heart, and I share in yours: _________________________________.

Advertisements

God doesn’t “grade on a curve”…

Reunion 3

Grade school and high school buddies, decades later, still friends ! And yes,Thea, I’m glad ,too, the school photo is blurry!Thanks, “Mo,” for sharing it.

I still shudder when I remember the day in seventh grade when our teacher handed back math test papers, handing the papers for all the row to the first person in the row. As the boy in front of me handed the stack back, my paper now on top, he loudly proclaimed, “Ooooh, Rose got an 85!” The whole class echoed his “Ooooooh!” as though I’d done something dreadful, an unimaginable, unspeakable horror. Never mind that he didn’t announce HIS grade to the class, nor did any of my classmates; all that mattered was that I didn’t have a perfect score.

I cringed, sighed, and knew one “B” wasn’t going to impact my semester grade that much. For those of you who laugh at the nerdy characters on the television sitcom “The Big Bang Theory,” let me shed some light for you. Gifted students deal with other people’s expectations of their perfection, or near-perfection, ALL the time, and often base their sense of self-worth, validation and value on meeting the expectations of others. Does that sound like a weight you’d like to live under?

Flash forward to Calculus 102 in college and the soul-shaking day I got back another test paper, this time with a horrifying 69% on the top. My psyche rapidly started crumbling, until the professor put the grading scale on the board, and I realized I’d made an A. I breathed sigh of relief, though I still didn’t feel good that I hadn’t mastered 31% of the material. If the bulk of the class scored a failing percentage, evidently neither the textbook nor our professor had adequately explained the material. That was one day I was VERY grateful for the concept of grading on a curve, determining letter grades based on the highest achieved class score.

I suspect we’d all like to think God Almighty “grades on a curve” when it comes to standing before His judgment throne, and we’d like to think we’re good enough, love-able enough, to earn God’s love and grace on our own merit. That just tells me how insecure in ourselves and in trusting God’s lavish love for us – not based on our performance, but on how HE sees us and who HE says we are TO HIM in Christ!

After all, God does say in Hebrews 9:27  “It is appointed for men once to die, and after this the judgment.” Notice in this sentence the facts that 1) everyone dies – that’s truth; 2) we only get one “shot” at life, “ONCE to die”; 3) death is not the ultimate end, “and after this…” ; and 4) we all will face God’s judgment.

Here’s the other sobering fact: God doesn’t “grade on a curve.” God is Holy as well as loving, and we can’t ignore or deny God’s holiness.

“I am the LORD, your Holy One, The Creator of Israel, your King.” Isaiah 43: 15

Who is like You among the gods, O LORD? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in praises, working wonders? Exodus 15: 11

Who is like You among the gods, O LORD? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in praises, working wonders? Psalm 77: 13

For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name. Luke 1:49

Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, And You can not look on wickedness with favor. Habakkuk 1: 13a

“You shall not profane My holy name, but I will be sanctified among the sons of Israel; I am the LORD who sanctifies you,…” Leviticus 22: 32

But the LORD of hosts will be exalted in judgment, and the holy God will show Himself holy in righteousness. Isaiah 5:16

But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” 1 Peter 1: 15-16

Uh, you ask, isn’t God expecting too much from human beings in asking us to be holy? And what IS the standard for holiness, anyway? I certainly don’t do the evil things some people do. As a friend said to me one day regarding an issue in his life, “If that’s the worst of my sins, it’s not so bad.” In other words, isn’t it good that I’m better than a mass-murderer? Won’t God cut us some slack like my Calculus professor and grade on a curve?.

Jesus raised the grading scale on what God considers right living: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’[ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. Matthew 5: 26-29 NIV

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” James 23: 10

The eternal grading scale is actually pass-fail, but it takes 100% to pass

“From the holiness in God’s character we can understand His righteousness and justice. The man who does evil sets his will against God’s will and against the principle upon which He conducts the universe. Such a man has placed himself where he must either turn back and forsake his sin or take the inevitable consequences of resisting the purpose which God is fulfilling.” Henry T. Sell

Jesus said: For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.  And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. John 5: 21-29 NIV

“NOT FAIR!” we shout. Hey, I’ve blown it just like you have, for “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God….” (Romans 3:23) sin meaning to “miss the mark,” and “all” means me, too, so I’m NOT here judging and condemning you. I AM here to share some incredible truth with you: you aren’t made right with God because of anything you do, and no way you blow it can ever end God’s deep love for you.

It wouldn’t be fair, UNLESS God Himself made a way for us to pass, to in effect score 100%. God did exactly that in sending Jesus to draw us to God’s love and grace, to die on the Cross and rise again to eternal life, not for wrongs HE had done but for every wrong you and I have done and ever will do. He gave us, you, me  the grade Jesus earned! You aren’t made right with God because of anything you do, except for one thing – receive his free gift of salvation and righteousness through confessing your inability to be perfectly righteous and receiving God’s gift of Jesus’ 100% ability!

God made him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us (a complete offering to atone for sin), so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21

“… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,[a] through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Romans 3: 23-26 NIV

In offering himself in Jesus as the One complete 100% payment for sin who could make you perfectly 100% right with himself, the holy God completely satisfied both his holy righteousness and his relentless love for mankind! God values you SO much, sees so much beauty and worth in you that HE HIMSELF made a way for you to be completely righteous. The world had never before or ever since seen such incredibly powerful, passionate, relentless love!

For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, “I dwell on a high and holy place, And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit In order to revive the spirit of the lowly And to revive the heart of the contrite. Isaiah 57: 15

He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. “By His stripes you are healed.” 1 Peter 2:24

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1: 5-9 NIV

God doesn’t grade on a curve; thankfully God grades on Christ’s Cross! And you get an A!

 

A “…BUT…” to pray: Holy God, I know and confess that I’m a sinner, yes, a sinner, and I’ve blown it, missed your true standards, in many ways large and small, BUT what they were doesn’t matter to you. What matters to you is what I choose to do with your gift of perfect forgiveness, grace and unmerited love to me through Jesus, so I say _________________________________________________________________! And now I want to live out of that gift, live the good, upright, wise and loving choices you enable me to do through your Holy Spirit living inside of me, So Righteous Father God, I ask you to help me daily __________________________ and, as I need to, daily confess my sins and come back to knowing I’m completely forgiven when I do. In Jesus’ name, thank you! Holy Spirit, help me to listen __________________________________________

 

SaveSave

Cover it?No way!

princeofpeace13

31MbbM6HpvL._SL500_

 

“ Step up to perfection.” Really? Perfection from a bottle that will enhance my brilliance? (or at least how people “see” me)

“Hate that grey/?Wash it away!” so went the commercial for hair coloring, though I think more accurately the jingle should have said, “Hate that grey? Cover it over.”  Covering, sadly, including blame shifting and excusing, seems to be the first response of Homo sapiens when we know we’ve done something wrong. Case in point: Adam and Eve:

The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” Genesis 3:12

That  comment came after Adam and Eve ran and hid from God in the Garden. Not unlike many two- and three-year-olds I’ve taught …..so it must be that, early on,we ARE  able to recognize our sin. Hmm….did God place a center for a sense  of justice/injustice in our brains? I know every one of us is born selfish and me-first, since “me” is all we come out of the womb knowing.  today again I’mSO grateful to have been born into a grace-based family. Oy, yes, I knew  early on what  the  paint  stirring stick  was for, but honestly I can’t remember the  rebellious deeds I did  that brought the paint stirrer out, so well did my Mom continue to show me love afterward. In our  grace-based family, when I  messed up, I learned that had a price, and I learned from my errors. I learned something priceless, too.

I’ve written this before, but one of the most powerful  memories I have of my mother came when I was around eight years old. I still can picture this in my mind. The cotton swabs disappeared from the bathroom, and my mother had accused me of using them without telling her. I  hadn’t, but she  didn’t believe me, and I got  paddled for lying. That night,  however, my mother came into my bedroom, knelt down beside my bed, and said, “Rosie, I was wrong. Your brother used them, and he did just tell me. I was wrong. Will you forgive me?” Of course I did, but something powerful happened in that exchange..

My mother taught me a truth that’s become core to who I am: it’s always  right, always necessary,  to honestly admit your wrongs and ask forgiveness from the person you’ve wronged. It’s right, it’s necessary, AND it’s freeing. AND it frees two people: one from guilt and one  from bitterness. That’s a grace-based mindset. Not everyone grows up in a grace-based family, though. Many people grow up in shame-based families, and  that’s deadly to both relationships and to genuine relational faith.  Shame-based relationships cause people to cover their sins and wrongs, because shame attacks you at the level of your identity: I did something wrong, I must be a bad person, but I don’t want people to think I”m a bad person,so I need to find  someone else to blame or some way to cover/minimize/transfer what I did so I can still feel good about my self.

Hiding in the Garden. Blaming the other person. Denying it hurt anyone. Minimizing the pain I caused – all because I/you fear the consequences from a person in authority who will think poorly of me/you, stop loving me/you, see who I/you really am/are and  turn away in disgust.  That deep fear-based distrust and insecurity plants terrible consequences in other lives and in our relationship with God. Do we not know that, yes, God clearly sees our sin, BUT yes, God loves us  as we are and wants  good for us and wants to be in loving relationship with us anyway?

I’ve seen first-hand what a shame-based identity destroys. If I grew up shame-based and I offend you, now you come to represent shame in my life. Every time I look at you, I see, not forgiveness, but my shame, so I can’t be in a loving relationship with you, or I have to somehow shift the blame to you so I can still feel “good”about myself without truly admitting my wrong and “coming clean”  to you. This completely disables and short-circuits the freedom that the whole God-ordained for  wholeness process of confession, repentance, forgiveness and mercy can so powerfully bring!

I know that I know that I know that freedom,  wholeness, grace  and loving relationship are the reasons Jesus said: “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” Matthew 5: 21-14

Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy. Blessed is the man who fears always, but he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity.  Proverbs 28: 13-14 NIV

When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long…. I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I did not hide; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”; And You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah. Psalm 32:3, 5

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 NIV

I know that I know that I know that harboring grudges is deadly, both to the offense holder and to the offended person. Again, Jesus says,“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and theunrighteous. “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? “If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5: 43-48

No, you aren’t God, but copy  your Father in Heaven. Do what he does, give like  he gives to you, model your life, Rose, after your mother who showed you God’s grace both in her courage to admit her wrong and her humility and integrity to ask forgiveness from an eight-year-old when she could have ignored the truth to “maintain her  authority.” Oh,Mom, you gave me a priceless gift in teaching me  to forgive and to confess my sins and ask forgiveness!

I saw the other side of this truth when, also  at age eight, I accidentally found a Mickey Mouse wallet that I knew Mom had hidden in the yarn container, to surprise me at Christmas. Horrified that I’d spoiled a surprise, convicted that I’d done wrong, I decided to “run away,” but I’d only gotten a few hundred yards down the alley when I realized what a dumb idea that was, went back home, where I knew love and grace lived, and fessed up to my mother. Rather  than chastise me  for spoiling the surprise, my mother calmly,and even sympathetically said, “That’s okay. I know you didn’t do it on purpose,” and she gave me the wallet.

That’s what God does for us when we come to him confessing that we aren’t perfect, that we’ve sinned, that we can’t possibly in and of ourselves ”perfect”or ”lovable” (if your family of origin idea of love  is based on performance, not true love) and we receive God’s gift of atonement, his complete “not guilty”, and salvation  when we accept Jesus’ death on the Cross as the complete and total payment for our  sins.  That step is both liberating and humbling, because yes,  you do need to admit that you aren’t “good enough”in and of yourself to “merit” God’s love, but hey, isn’t that the whole point of true love anyway? “I love you just as you are, even though out of love I can’t enable you to continue doing wrong.Now let’s wipe the slate clean and start fresh.”Out of that kind of love, I WANT to do what’s right!

Back to thedifference between blame-shifting Adam versus my-sin-taking-upon-himself-innocent God in the flesh Jesus:

For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.
Romans 5:17

“O God, you know how foolish I am; my sins cannot be hidden from you.” Psalm 69:5 NLT

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1: 5-9 NIV

In replying to a person who wrote he’d committed too many sins for God to forgive and so he didn’t even care anymore, Billy Graham wrote: “No, it doesn’t shock me, but more importantly, it doesn’t shock God! God knows all about you and your rebellion; in fact, He knows you better than you know yourself. The Bible says, “Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13).

But here’s the amazing thing: Although God knows all about you and what you’ve done, He still loves you! If He didn’t love you, He never would have sent His Son into the world to give His life for you. But He did, and He yearns for you to turn to Him for the forgiveness you need so you can go to be with Him in heaven forever. The Bible’s words are true: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

You say you’re not sure you even care, but you do care or you wouldn’t have written me. That’s not the real issue, however. The real issue is that God cares deeply about you and doesn’t want you to continue wasting your life. Nor does He want you to enter eternity without hope.

Why spend another day apart from God? Instead, confess your sins and your need for God’s presence in your life today. Then trust His promise of both forgiveness and new life. You need both—and Christ stands ready to give them to you.”

Back to 1  John 1: 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

God made him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin  for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21 NIVWe love because he first loved us.

Who wouldn’t WANT that kind of unlimited, unending, passionately giving love and the identity as a loved – in spite of my weaknesses and wrongs – cherished child of God?

We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19 NIV

Charles Spurgeon wrote:

“There is no light in the planet but that which proceeds from the sun; and there is no true love for Jesus in the heart but that which comes from the Lord Jesus Himself. From this overflowing fountain of the infinite love of God, all our love to God must spring.

This truth is foundational, that we love Him for no other reason than because He first loved us. Our love for Him is the result of His love for us. When studying the works of God, anyone may respond with cold admiration, but the warmth of love can only be kindled in the heart by God’s Spirit.

What a wonder that any of us, knowing what we’re like, should ever have been brought to love Jesus at all! How marvelous that when we had rebelled against Him, He should, by a display of such amazing love, seek to draw us back. We would never have had a grain of love toward God unless it had been sown in us by the sweet seed of His love for us.”

I remember singing the song,”Because he first loved me, that’s why I love him. Because he first loved me, I care for you.”

Sin hidden in fear and shame is sin that poisons us with more fear and makes us hide from God. BUT God’s forgiveness in Jesus’ Blood covers, truly washes away, all of our sin. Hate that “grey’ area of your life? Show it to your Heavenly Father, admit it, ask forgiveness, and  it WILL be washed away  in the grace  that flows from the cross of Christ.

He gave that  priceless  treasure to me, the shed Blood of Jesus – and I’m to offer it, out of unmerited love that I can trust always, to others. That, in a nutshell, is Christian faith and discipleship.

A”…BUT…”to pray: God, loving Heavenly Father, in some ways I’ve really had the wrong idea about who YOU are, and so I’ve had the wrong idea about who I am to you and about the relationship You want to have with me, BUT I see that in truth You _____________________________________________________________________ and to You I am _____________________________________________________,so I have the courage to confess to You that I _______________________________________________ and I confidently receive your kind, gracious, everlasting love.help meto give  it away and keep it flowing so I always have plenty to live in and to give. In Jesus’ name, amen!

SaveSave

Hide and Seek

 

God of My Steps and Missteps

Hide me in THE ROCK!

In our neighborhood when I was a child, one of the favorite games of the kids on my end of the street was hide and seek. Our house was on the corner, and anywhere in the front yards of the eight houses was fair game for hiding.  The object, of course, was NOT to be found by “it.” It was much more fun hiding than seeking to most of us.

In some ways, I think we carry this game into adulthood when it comes to our flubs, mistakes, and outright sins, regarding God and even others as “it” and aggressively  hiding anything that  would reveal our true, simply flawed human, identity. God/They might look down on me and reject me  if  they knew I  ________________.  It’s as childish as that childhood game, for  certainly Almighty God knows even what we effectively conceal from other people – even what we try to conceal from ourselves!

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Hebrews 4:13 NIV

Jesus also said to them, “Does anyone bring in a lamp so he can place it under a basket or under a bed? Doesn’t he set it on a lampstand? For everything hidden is meant to be revealed, and everything concealed is meant to be brought to light. Mark 4: 21-22 NIV

“Uh-oh,” we think, “here comes God’s flyswatter …..” That thought is based in, bluntly, a lie. yes, God is holy, and yes,  sin is abominable  and separates us from a  righteous God, as  well as each other, BUT God is not waiting to gleefully lower the boom on fallen humanity.To believe that is to NOT know God, not know his heart, not know his love.

I had  in mind  to write this post today on my way home from church, and lo and behold, when I opened a letter  from Charles Stanley, he was speaking to exactly the same thought I had.  Charles Stanley writes,” Parents are appointed by the Lord to represent Him to their children. A child’s first concept of God comes from the example of his/her parents. If a father or mother is harsh and hard to please, the  child realizes that no matter how good  he/she tries to be, he/she can never measure up to his/her parents’ standards. Then when he/she learns about God, he/she  sees Him in the same way – as a disapproving authority figure whom he/she can never please…. God never intends for His children to live under a cloud of condemnation.He clearly says in Romans 8:1, ‘Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’ To be condemned means that a sentence of guilty has been pronounced and punishment is imminent. If we have received Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, then we are ‘in Christ Jesus’ and are not under God’s condemnation.”

There is a condition in that last sentence:  IF we  have received Jesus Christ as our Savior and  Lord,  THEN ….

Truth is threefold here: 1)yes, we all are naturally self-seeking, self-preserving, self-serving:

For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin,  as it is written:“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good, not even one.” Romans 3: 9-12 NIV

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53: 5-6 NIV

Well, if that’s true, then why does God care  when we  blow it? He cares because blowing it separates our heart from his, leads us to hide from him and from each other, and, truth 2)  that  denies his desire to be in intimate relationship with every one of us as our loving, HOLY Creator Father. “He who covers his sins will not prosper, BUT whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.” Proverbs  28:13 NIV

Hiding from God isn’t healthy!

“But I can’t help myself,” we assert, and that is painfully all too true. We can’t help ourselves in our human,flesh-driven nature, BUT God made a way to give us a brand-new nature, truth 3) God continually seeks us, despite our sin, not to punish us, but to  welcome us into his family, IF we don’t try to live in our sins and hide from him so we can.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5: 17 NIV

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.  If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 3:5-9 NIV

This morning in our Bible study we contrasted the Old Covenant, the law God gave to his people through Moses, with the New Covenant of the Holy Spirit. given by Jesus. The law wasn’t inherently bad; it pointed us in the  direction of right living and right relationship, but it couldn’t change our hearts. The New Covenant,  the covenant God made with us through the atoning death of Jesus, is a vitally living covenant with the power to truly change  our hearts.

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4: 12-16 NIV

Wow, is THAT a relief to me! Back to Romans 8, the verses following verse 1  are REAL FREEDOM!

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,  because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.  For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh,God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.  The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. Romans  8: 1-6 NIV

Jesus didn’t come to save the already perfect (which would have been none of us!) “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” When the tax collector Zacchaeus met Jesus, he was changed from the inside out.

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”Matthew 19: 8-10 NIV

God doesn’t seek us to condemn us; God seeks us to FIND us, and for us to FIND HIM, and in that  finding, find a new birth and freedom to live what’s  right, in right relationship with God and each other, from our heart, because God has great purposes and desires FOR us.   Quoting Ralph Wilkerson:

“’For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness’ (1 Thessalonians 4:7). God has not called us just to salvation, or to heaven, or to receive His pardon. Rather, these are benefits of our one true call — which is to be holy as He is holy.
Every believer in Jesus Christ is called to be holy — to be pure and blameless in God’s sight. So, if you have been born again, holiness must be the cry of your heart: “God, I want to be like Jesus. I truly want to walk holy before You all the days of my life.”

In this”game” I WANT TO BE FOUND BY GOD, even though and precisely because it means coming clean about my  flubs, goofs, mistakes, deceit, and outright thoughtless, selfish meanness, because I WANT to live a life that glorifies and honors God and  blesses others  to hopefully want the same for themselves.

Here goes, then, publicly, to  live out what  I’m writing: once in the past I was shopping at an outlet  store, found a dress I liked in blue,  but saw it was marked $3 more than the same dress in  orange  and pink. Did I ask the clerk about the price difference? No, I  swapped the tag and paid the lower price for the blue dress. Did I feel a great  victory in saving $3? NO, in fact I could never wear that dress without feeling a pang of conscience, and I ended up repenting  to God big-time and giving it to a non-profit that helped the poor. I blew it, and God’s grace is so great that even as I confess  this deed I’m ashamed of now, I rejoice  that  the Blood of Jesus has cleansed me  from ALL unrighteousness. God so changed my heart that after that, when I discovered the page of stickers I’d just bought was  actually two pages stuck together, I gladly hustled back into the store and gave the cashier the extra sheet.

“Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning fromthe beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.”  1 John 3:8-9

It feels WRONG, it doesn’t fit  with my God-given heart andGod’s desire for my holiness, for a Christian to willfully sin. It does feel SO much better to be and live in right relationship with God and  with others!  That means living rightly  myself, and it also means not condemning, but forgiving,  others for their  flubs,  goofs, and sometimes outright meanness. It means seeking to live like  Jesus. Charles Stanley’s letter, once  more, notes, “Based on Micah 7:19, Corrie ten Boom  once said, ‘God takes  our sins – the past, present, and future,and dumps  them in the sea and puts up a sign that says NO FISHING ALLOWED.’Once  we  have confessed our sins, we have no business digging them up  and letting guilt hang over us like an oppressive blanket.”

Sin brings conviction from God’s Holy Spirit, the mid-course  correction and redirection we need, but Satan uses it to bring condemnation and tell us we’ll never be “good enough” to merit God’s love. That lie puts the whole truth backwards! We  can’t earn God’s love, which he freely gives to us out of HIS  loving goodness, but we can and are meant to confess and lay our sin down at the Cross of Jesus and receive in that repentance a new heart and new life, the seed of God’s nature birthed in us through Jesus.

For believers in Jesus, a sense of condemnation for sins we’ve confessed and repented of (meaning thought differently about and no longer want to do) is a feeling, not a fact, and a feeling that is invalid. Repentance is FREEDOM, confession is FREEDOM, being found by God is FREEDOM because of the forgiving, cleansing, redeeming love God  pours out on us through Jesus.

The Apostle Paul had a lot to  be proud of, AND yet he had a lot  to feel ashamed of and certainly repented of. He wrote to the Christ followers in Philippi: But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. Philippians 3: 7-9 NIV

Pretend I’m someone I’m not so people will like me? Pretend I’m flawless? Hide from God? NO!

Real? Revealing myself? Sought? Found? Made someone new? Given a new heart? YES, PLEASE  GOD, FIND ME IN MY FLAWED HUMANITY! YOU LOVE ME PASSIONATELY DESPITE  ALL OF  THAT! HELP ME TO LIVE CLEAN BECAUSE OF JESUS, OPENLY AND FREELY FORGIVEN BY YOU, BEFORE YOU AND EVERYONE, FOR YOUR PLEASURE AND WILL AND GLORY!

Ah, it feels SO GOOD to be FOUND! And where DO we get to “hide” then? “Keep me as the apple of the eye; Hide me in the shadow of Your wings.” Psalm 17: 8

A”…BUT…” to pray: Father God,no more hiding. I admit  that I __________________ BUT I receive  Your forgiveness in and through  Jesus and I know you see me as clean, pure, good, beloved and wanted and cherished by you, and you say to me ________________. I choose to believe that YOU speak the truth over me, about me,  and I  run to you to be found by you,Father God! Thank you, Jesus, for making me new!

Kaleidoscope: the Broken Pieces

I never dreamed  when I wrote this for our women’s ministry retreat devotional book in 2004 that my life  would completely shatter five years later. Ironic, but maybe yet a blessing, that I’ve had to live out the truth of this message. Every broken one of you, here’s the BUT:  God says you can be and ARE whole, a beautiful picture patterned after His love and grace and redeeming power.

 

Kaleidoscope

Rose Jackson © 2004

 

“Rumble, KLUNK, rumble, KLUNK.” The shards of broken colored glass tumbled into ever-changing pattern and I drew in my breath as I excitedly turned the revolving end of the kaleidoscope tube, trusting something beautiful would fall into place as I watched. Decades melted away as I stood in a small booth in the antiques store. This red tube with pictures of swirling six-pointed patterns and the slightly frosty plastic cover over the opening was exactly like the one I cherished fifty years earlier. It was one of my favorite toys then, and I never tired of turning the tube to gaze at the shifting images. Sometimes one of such splendor would tumble into place that I held my breath and my hands steady to capture and drink in the spectacle. So much beauty from bits of glass and happenstance.

 

Odd bits and happenstance: that could be the title for my life, or so I often think. After all, what have I really accomplished so far? Room mother, den leader, Vacation Bible School teacher, wife, mom, occasional substitute teacher . . . a long list of odd bits that don’t seem to mean anything, or to fit together in any coherent way, or to serve any good purpose. Then there are the broken pieces of hopes so long delayed – or never materializing – dreams that took a detour, my own failures, a relationship scarred by a breach of trust, grief from losing my father to the slow death of Alzheimer’s, leaving everything I loved behind in a move across the country . . .  How could goodness or purpose come from all that “junk”?

 

Turning the old kaleidoscope over, I examined the pieces of glass at the end: formless, meaningless junk, and not much of it, either. But when I looked through the viewing hole as I rotated the tube, glorious patterns appeared, made from those same broken pieces. What made the difference? It was what I couldn’t see inside the tube. Inside were three long mirrors set in a triangle along the length of the tube. Light coming through that “junk” and reflected off those three mirrors that made pattern, beauty, and glory.

 

A Christian’s life is like a kaleidoscope. Yes, there are broken bits and “junk” that we don’t understand in our lives, but the light of God shining through that “junk” and reflected through the Father, Son, and Spirit brings pattern, beauty and glory from our lives.

 

  • Insignificant? Teaching Vacation Bible School all those years doesn’t seem to amount to more than countless sock puppets, making clay bricks, and pouring Kool-Aid® . . . but our older son is a missionary. The story of the boy who shared his sack lunch with Jesus to feed 5,000 people has taken on a larger, deeper meaning to me now.
  • Formless? Moving across the country and saying good-bye to family, to friends of twenty years, and to what seemed to be the beginning of a productive new career certainly seemed more painful than purposeful . . . until I connected with a ministry to women dealing with the loss and anxiety of moving. I never would have understood their grief if I hadn’t experienced it myself.
  • Meaningless? That’s what seven long years of repeated hope and disappointment in trying to conceive our second child seemed . . . until I understood that God’s plan wasn’t for just A child, but for this specific child, who wouldn’t have been conceived at any other time. My faith is growing up into trusting God for his best in everything, including a prayer whose answer I’m still waiting and believing I’ll see, now nineteen years after I first lifted it to God.

 

Three mirrors are in my life: Father, Son and Spirit. Granted I don’t hear “Rumble, KLUNK,” as God works in the pieces of my life, and often I have to just trust that beauty and form are there somewhere, but now I realize my life isn’t “happenstance.” In fact, as my life “turns” through the years, I see the same bits coming together to make new and different patterns as God brings new people and avenues of ministry into my life. I know that even the broken pieces and the bits that seem unimportant and disconnected have the potential for beauty, purpose, and glory as I choose to focus through the “viewing end” and see my life reflected through the three-in-one God. Will I one day see an image of such splendor that I catch my breath in wonder?

 

“I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”                     Ephesians 1: 18

 

 

Give God your broken pieces. Look

at your life through God’s focus,

and let his light

shining through your life create BEAUTY from the broken pieces!

 

Kaleidoscope

A “…BUT…” to pray: God, loving Father, my life is shattered. I see no reason, no pattern,  no “why” to ________________________________________________________________________________________ that’s broken _____________________________ in my life. BUT today I hand you the broken pieces, to reflect Your beauty, pattern, and indescribable love. I will trust you to create something beautiful fromtjese broken pieces, and Holy Spirit, speak to me as I listen to Your voice, to hear the truth of who I am in You still ____________________________________________________________________________ Use this,  Almighty God, for YOUR glory!

 May His love make you whole!29395-cc_wall0115_HeartGloves_1280x1024

My Father’s Sweater

Spin Me Around the StarsI’m not sure how old I was when I claimed and started wearing my Dad’s old brown cardigan sweater. I think I was around eleven, but I do know I continued to wrap myself in it till I was fifteen. I think I must have felt like I took on something of my father’s nature when I wore his sweater. It was soft with wide, flat ribs and moth holes in the sleeves – definitely not a “Mr. Rogers” sweater, but perfect to wear on chilly nights out in the garage.

That’s where you could find my Dad almost every night: at his workbench repairing something one of us had broken or building something amazing. I thought my Dad was the smartest man on the planet. None of my friends’ fathers sent Morse code messages on a radio or made science-fiction movie sound effects with a home-built Theremin. None of my friends got to watch miniature lightning shows in their garages from a Van Der Graaf Generator!

Somehow I felt secure in that sweater (and in on some great secrets) standing beside my father at his workbench, even when I had to stand on tiptoe to see what he was doing. I still associate the smell of hot solder and freshly sawn wood with Dad and can hear the sound of his table saw ripping through boards on their way to becoming furniture. He built a split-level ranch-style dollhouse for me, complete with a fireplace with hand-carved “bricks”, a chandelier that worked, and real tiny shingles on the roof. Dad went through several very 1960’s phases, too, most of which involved the overpowering (and probably brain chemistry altering) fumes of melting plastic that became bunches of grapes and the clacking, conservation of momentum and energy-demonstrating plastic spheres of a “Newton’s Cradle.”

My father let me help him plane wood, drive nails into odd bits of scrap wood, and sweep up sawdust, all while wearing his old brown sweater. When I was a sophomore in high school, Dad helped me draw out, saw, sand apply sealer to, and wrap with copper wire a walnut hardwood bangle I put on a necklace that looked, very much before its time, very much like the Nike “swoop.” I felt so proud that my father was a builder and creator who guided me to create as I stood beside him, wearing his sweater, at his workbench.

Maybe those hours spent in Dad’s sweater standing at his side account for some of my freedom and desire for intimacy with God, my Heavenly Father. Oh, if I could, I’d love to stand beside my Father God at HIS workbench and see what HE is creating!

Do you know what’s cool? My Father God lets me help with his projects. In fact, he WANTS me to get involved! Those amazingly validating times when I get to speak some word of affirmation to another person or meet someone’s need absolutely delight me, because I sense that I’m standing at my Father’s side and can almost see him smile. What amazes me, though, is what God my Father gives me to wear while I’m at his bench: not an old brown sweater, but the righteousness of Jesus! “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21

“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” Romans 3:21-22

“I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness.” Isaiah 61:10

Today I bought three pair of shoes for the church “Kicks for Kids” fall shoe drive for children in impoverished school districts. On learning I why I was buying the shoes, the clerk at the sporting goods store gave me an extra discount. Knowing my ABBA and what he likes to do in people’s lives, I asked the clerk how I could pray for her, and if she knew Jesus. ”Well, yes… but…” she replied, and then told me she’d ask prayers for her young daughter Sharon with Type 1 Diabetes. Aha! My Father God handed me a ”board” of his word and prayer to sand, and I jumped at the chance to pray for this woman, her daughter and whole family, and share how cherished, chosen and beloved this woman is and how much she means to God. I believe God intended our meeting to do more than put shoes on three children; he also wanted to put his love in the heart of someone who needs to run back to her Father and needs to know he welcomes her.

Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth…. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 2 Timothy 2: 14-15; 4:1-2 NIV

How many days, how many times, does God my Father hand me some work from his heart to help him build into the life of another person? Hmm, how many times do I completely miss seeing hammer placed in my hand, the opportunity to work beside my Father in building his Kingdom in hearts and lives?

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice

and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. Isaiah 58:6012 NIV

Then the angel who talked with me returned and woke me up, like someone awakened from sleep. He asked me, “What do you see?” I answered, “I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lamps on it, with seven channels to the lamps. Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.” I asked the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?” He answered, “Do you not know what these are?”

“No, my lord,” I replied.

So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.

“What are you, mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!’” Zechariah 4:1-7 NIV

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Mathew 5:13-14 NI

It takes my breath away sometimes when other people see my Father through me! Oh, God, let me stand beside you at your workbench as you create beauty, goodness, honor, kindness, integrity, compassion, truth, love, and living faith in the lives in this world so precious to you. Guide my hands and heart and words and prayers to help you. And wow, thank you that through faith in Jesus I get to wear a garment that looks like YOUR nature! You ARE the smartest Father in existence, and I want to be more like you. Thanks that you invite me to spend time by your side!

A “. . . But . . .” to pray: Oh, ABBA, Daddy, Father, you are incredible! All creation, all wisdom, all power, all authority, all goodness, all truth, all justice, all righteousness, all life comes from your hands that are still building, repairing, restoring, and creating today and every day. I may feel small, untalented, inarticulate, incapable, BUT standing by your side wearing YOUR righteousness, I know you’re calling me to ____________________________________________________ beside you and I know you’ll guide me as I ___________________________________________________. Tap me on the shoulder in my spirit every time you have an opportunity for me to tell someone or show someone how much you love and care for them, and give me the courage to know that, even if my words are simple, limited or halting, or not as fancy as some others might say, and even if I don’t know where in the Bible the words come from, they are still your words sent to strengthen, build up, encourage, correct in love, restore, repair, and create a place for YOUR hands to work in another life. I give you permission to destroy my excuses right now, and here they are ___________________________________________________________Help me to remember it’s YOUR work, not mine, and YOUR Spirit, not mine, truly at work in my encounters with others; you jut need me to open my mouth and open my heart so YOUR words and love can come out. I hope others see YOU in me! In Jesus’ name, amen! Holy Spirit, I‘m listening ___________________________________________________

Absolutely, Positively!

“Oops, here we go again,” I’d think as I edited and fleshed out the books I helped my friend and much admired pastor write. My job was to add background and supporting material, all the while maintaining the author’s voice. It was, after all, his book, his name on the cover, his reputation that he entrusted to me, and I took my responsibility seriously. He was and is a visionary, painting, as one of our editors at the publishing house observed, “in broad brush strokes,” often splashing the canvas of his compelling ideas with the words everywhere,everyone, no one, always, never. I took my “blender brush” to soften, tone and blend his concepts, transforming those words to many, some, sometimes, usually.

In real life as in writing, it’s generally true: you can’t apply a blanket statement to people. You and I live in an age of increasing moral relativism, which only makes this generality seem all the more universally applicable. After all, we’re adults, not preschoolers who see the world in black and white. We know better; experience has matured us. BUT . . .

I raised two precocious sons and worked with young children in classrooms and churches, so I’m accustomed to dealing with “Why” generators and “I do it myself” machines. My second son, 11 years younger than his brother, grew up in a climate of continually trying to fit into adult conversations and activities. Argument was the fencing foil he wielded (effectively, I might add) to insert himself as an equal into the family. If I said the sun was yellow, he’d reply, “No, it’s more golden orange.” Aaugh! Did we have to verbally dissect even the names on finger paint containers?

I asked him one memorable day when he was four why he needed to argue so much, and he thoughtfully replied, “Well, if I do long enough, one of these day’s I’ll be right.” Touché!

Eric at 4 in mask and fins hallmark

Right, wrong. Black, white. We are adults and know better; experience has matured us. There is always room for divergent opinion because everyone has his or her own ideas. After all, Chinese people use red to paint the sun….BUT…. Just as I wrote for my friend under obligation to “speak” in his voice in his book bearing his name and his reputation, so we all “write” our lives under an Author – the Author and Creator of the Universe – to bear his name and his reputation.  According to the one who engineered life and the cosmos, me and you and everybody else, yes, absolutely, positively, he has some absolutes, some brush strokes broad enough to include us all.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23 NIV

Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins. Ecclesiastes 7: 20 NIV

“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Romans 3:11-12

Oh come on, God! Don’t the good things I do count for anything? I‘m not THAT bad, am I? Isn’t there some kind of cosmic tally sheet I can rack up my comparative score on? Don’t tell me I have to measure up to Jesus! You know I’m better than ______   Just like preschoolers, we don’t like to be told who we are or how we should paint our lives, or how truly – let’s use a word we don’t hear often, but it fits – reprehensible our sin is, even in the “best” of us. “Why, God?” “I’ll do it MY way! My way is just as good as his/hers/yours.” “I’m not a sinner; I’m more of a good person who occasionally …”

Absolutely, positively, God redirects us to the consequences of “I’ll do it my way” – For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23

Absolutely, positively God counters our protests and culturally logical arguments through convicted surrender to truth via a flawed human being named Isaiah, a man of self-confessed unclean lips, equally tempted to moral relativism as we all are, and amazingly, God counters our arguments with truth for a very POSITIVE reason: LOVE.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to her/his own way; AND the LORD has laid ON HIM (the Savior Jesus/Yeshua) the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:6 NIV

and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Romans 3:24 NIV

I viewed a TV nature program recently and saw the story of a seal with a runny nose. Vets suspected a brain tumor, but found the problem was an equally deadly infection in the seal’s canine teeth. Left untreated, without removing the hardened infected tissue in the seal’s nose and the abscessed teeth, the seal would have died with nothing visibly wrong beyond nasal drip. We can be, and usually are, oblivious to the abscess of sin endangering our own lives. Rather than making us LESS than we are, admitting our complete and utter helplessness to will ourselves or act ourselves into any resemblance of true goodness puts us in the perfect place to be cleaned out, cleaned up, made perfectly righteous BY the only Righteous One who ever walked the planet, Jesus/Yeshua/Isa/whatever His name is in your language. Yay and thank God for this positive absolute! Absolutely, positively we are relentlessly loved!

Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father BUT through Me. John 14: 5-6 NIV

By this will of God, we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all. Hebrews 10:10 NIV

 But if we [really] are living and walking in the Light, as He [Himself] is in the Light, we have [true, unbroken] fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses (removes) us from all sin and guilt [keeps us cleansed from sin in all its forms and manifestations]. If we say we have no sin [refusing to admit that we are sinners], we delude and lead ourselves astray, and the Truth [which the Gospel presents] is not in us [does not dwell in our hearts]. If we [freely] admit that we have sinned and confess our sins, He is faithful and just (true to His own nature and promises) and will forgive our sins [dismiss our lawlessness] and [continuously] cleanse us from all unrighteousness[everything not in conformity to His will in purpose, thought, and action]. 1 John 1:7-9 AMP

Again, the former successive line of priests] was made up of many, because they were each prevented by death from continuing [perpetually in office]; But He (Jesus) holds His priesthood unchangeably, because He lives on forever. Therefore He is able also to save to the uttermost (completely, perfectly, finally, and for all time and eternity) those who come to God through Him, since He is always living to make petition to God and intercede with Him and intervene for them. Hebrews 7: 23-25 AMP

Now mature adults, both of my sons looked aghast at themselves in their early years in family photos and asked me, “Mom, why did you let me go out in public dressed like that?” My answer was, “Because you wanted to. You insisted on wearing purple shorts and over-the-knee tube socks pulled up as high as you could get them. You thought you looked cool, and I let you have your way.” Wardrobe relativism at its zenith!

Oh, God, my Father in Heaven, don’t let me go ”out in public” dressed in popular culture’s compromises like engaging in sexual intimacy before marriage, adultery during marriage, doctoring accounts, keeping so tight a hold on money that I can’t even see the needs of the poor, divorcing my spouse just because “I’m not happy, and my happiness matters above all,” peppering my conversation with profanity, “if it feels good, do it,”   “everybody has to find their own way to self-actualization/spirituality.” I can’t, I choose not to dilute or adulterate the colors of the life God wants to paint in and for me with muddy values and a stubborn “I do it myself! The sun is purple! If I argue with God’s Word long enough, eventually I’ll be right!” attitude.

The primary absolutely positive, positive absolute God will not change is salvation by faith through Jesus, no matter how I’d like to argue the point, and frankly, looking back over my life seeing some of the ways I “dressed” myself apart from Jesus, I don’t want to argue! I’m bound by God’s love and friendship, and more than that, his Lordship, to “dress myself,” to speak and love, live and write out the story of my life in the voice of the Author and Finisher of me, who does speak in absolutes for my positive good:

When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:20-24 NIV

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. Hebrews 12:1-2 NAS

Imagine that – YOU are the “joy set before him,” absolutely, positively, finger paint and tube socks and all. Rejoice in the only one who COULD do that and DID do that for you, simply because he loves you.

I hope you enjoy this positive song about the absolute Way, Truth and Life, “No, Not One”

If you’d like to kick up your heels and dance along to your own copy of this song, you can find it on my friend Greg Picard’s album “Boundless Love” sold on Amazon. You can also read his blog on  current culture and Christianity at

http://upstreamatbittercreek.blogspot.com

A “…BUT…” to pray: God, you are my Father, and Jesus, you are the author of my faith, the author of my very life. I know I’m tempted to water down the depth of the sin in my life when ______________________________________________ and it’s probably because I fear _______________________________________________________________. Help me to stop arguing with you, God, about ______________________________________________________ knowing that you want me living by your word so my life can be _____________________________________________________ and I can __________________________________________________ to experience the fullness of life you want me to find through Jesus. I’ll do it your way, Father, for all the love you have for me. In Jesus’ name, amen!Absolutely, Positively!