Detoxing Spiritually

In doing some writing and editing for a biologist in the last two weeks, I’ve  seen serious parallels between toxins in our bodies and toxins in our heart/mind/spirit/attitudes. Toxins in the body destroy  tissue and organs and compromise our physical health, especially as they build  up over time.  Our blood deposits excess wastes and toxins in organs like the lungs, kidneys, heart, pancreas, liver, colon, or other locations. There the toxins “hide” and do their damage.

“Whole-body inflammation refers to chronic, imperceptible, low-level inflammation. Mounting evidence suggests that over time this kind of inflammation sets the foundation for many serious, age-related diseases including heart disease, cancer and neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Recent evidence indicates that whole-body inflammation may also contribute to psychological disorders, especially depression.”       drweil.com/reducing-whole-body-inflammation

Like waste sites that must be cleaned up before safe building can begin, we need to clean up our bodies before we begin building and rebuilding good physical and even mental health. I strongly suspect the same is  true  in our spirits, emotions and attitudes/thoughts: toxic thinking and believing can accumulate in our spirits and emotions over time, with results just as deadly and degenerative as inflammation and toxicity in the body. I  imagine we all  are aware  these days that what and how we think influences how we feel.

“If you have a tendency to over-react to stress, it could be due to changes in your brain brought on by negative thinking. Negative experiences are stored in the brain by the amygdala. The thalamus is responsible to sending sensory and motor signals to the rest of the body but it does not understand that negative thoughts aren’t the same as real danger.  As a result, our bodies experience real stress symptoms of rapid heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, and a state of heightened arousal.  Stress from negative thinking creates changes in the brain that may affect your likelihood of mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, schizophrenia and mood disorders. The problem is that our brains are good at learning from bad experiences but bad at learning from good experiences.” drweil.com

Rapidly triggered release of chemicals like cortisol can affect your mood for an entire  day,  and  your memory of those moods can linger and accumulate for years.

Okay, so we know industrial wastes and – yikes – even prescription medicines in our waterways, pesticides and herbicides on crops and in runoff,  recreational drugs, smoking, and alcohol put physical toxins into our bodies. What are, and what puts, spiritual toxins  into us? God’s Word is pretty clear about what  “toxins” we need to KEEP OUT of our hearts/minds/spirits, and with what we need to PUT IN to cleanse and protect ourselves from the deterioration, blinding, bondage and poisoning of “toxic thinking/feeling/acting”:

Cease from anger and forsake wrath; Do not fret; it leads only to evildoing. Psalm 37:8

In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a footholdGet rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4: 26-27, 31-32 NIV

Whoever conceals hatred with lying lips and spreads slander is a fool. Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues. Proverbs 10: 18-19 NIV

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matthew 6: 14-15

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister  (see Ephesians 4:  26-27) will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ (let’s call it name calling/reputation destroying with any words) will be in danger of the fire of hell.Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift….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. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. Matthew 5: 21-24, 27-10  NIV

Then Jesus called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand! It is not what goes into your mouth that makes you ritually unclean; rather, what comes out of it makes you unclean.” Then the disciples came to him and said, “Do you know that the Pharisees had their feelings hurt by what you said?”  “Every plant which my Father in heaven did not plant will be pulled up,” answered Jesus.  “Don’t worry about them! They are blind leaders of the blind; and when one blind man leads another, both fall into a ditch.” Peter spoke up, “Explain this saying to us.” Jesus said to them, “You are still no more intelligent than the others. Don’t you understand? Anything that goes into your mouth goes into your stomach and then on out of your body. But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these are the things that make you ritually unclean. For from your heart come the evil ideas which lead you to kill, commit adultery, and do other immoral things; to rob, lie, and slander others. These are the things that make you unclean. But to eat without washing your hands as they say you should—this doesn’t make you unclean.” Matthew 15: 10-20 NIV

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5: 43-48 NIV

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:  19-21 ESV

If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. James 4: 17 NIV

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. James 3: 14 ESV

In our physical bodies, toxins can come from within our body, too. Stress, infections, changes in the body’s population of good bacteria and even rupturing of cells also can raise toxin levels in our bodies. Fortunately, the body CAN cleanse itself of toxins. Our bodies have biochemical “cleanup workers” that know how to detoxify each of our cells . To  help our  body cleanse, we can also take  supplements and cleansing herbs, colonics,  saunas, steam baths, foot baths, exercise, deep breathing, and prayer/meditation and other stress relievers.  Here are more spiritual “toxic take outs”, coupled with what we should put into ourselves to “detox” emotionally, mentally, attitudinally, spiritually:

 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Ephesians 4: 25

You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.  Colossians 3: 7-10

Yes, none of us hasn’t stumbled or sinned in some of these ways. Not one of us can, on our own, truly “be perfect even as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” THAT’S WHY I/WE NEED  THE ATONING BLOOD AND FORGIVENESS AND POWER INSIDE US OF JESUS!  That’s why I need a Savior, why I can only trust in Christ’s Righteousness to cover me, and why I try to be quick to confess my sins/wrongs/stupidity and make amends when, yes it happens, I hurt someone,  even unintentionally (as it is with me, because I never set out to hurt anyone)

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

Yes, yes, yes,  let’s all take out the toxins that “inflame” our heart, mind, spirit and will, starting with recognition, humble honest confession, and repentance, and put in the “anti-inflammatories” that quench that destructive fire! And here are  the anti-inflammatories Doctor Jesus prescribed for us in the “BE attitudes.” Talk about a cleansing detox!

“Blessed are the poor in spiritfor theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn (my insertion,I do mourn when I recognize I’ve sinned, or when I see someone stumble in Satan-induced spiritual blindness), for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek (humble) for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousnessfor they will be filled. Blessed are the mercifulfor they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakersfor they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousnessfor theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. 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. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5: 3-16 NIV

 

Boy I needed to be reminded of this today, and I just found a note I wrote years ago quoting some of Brennan Manning’s book “Ruthless Trust, “ which I read on a trip to Asia, as I recall, going to do childcare at a missions conference . Wish I still had a copy!

“Trust, the winsome wedding of faith and hope…. Christianity is not a message which has to be believed, but an experience of faith that becomes our message.” (p.88) He cites 2 Corinthians 3: 2-3 that God’s message is written on the tablets of our hearts. “We must deduce everything we know about God from what we know about Jesus… For me and many others, Jesus IS the revelation of the only God worthy of trust,” (p. 89) “The promise of His presence and the presence of His promise.” (p. 94) “What does lie within my power is paying attention to the faithfulness of Jesus. That’s what I am asked to do: pay attention to Jesus throughout my journey, remembering his kindness.”(p. 97)

May God cover all of us His children with His powerful Hands and Love today and give us courage to honestly confess,  genuinely repent and  let Him take  out the toxins in us., put in His cleansing, and help us say that we are HIS and live like we mean it!

 

A  “…BUT…” to pray: LORD God, I freely admit I can’t live up to all the things I know I should put into my life and make my BE attitudes, and yes, I need YOU to help me see and cast out the toxic ideas, attitudes, feelings, assumptions, and flat-out dumb  actions  in me. I can’t do it on my own, BUT HOLY SPIRIT, YOU CAN do it in me as I yield mtyself to You, so I ask You now to tell me _______________________ and show me _________________________ and take it all OUT of me,  and  show me _______________________ and  tell me  ____________________ that YOU WANT TO put into me  out of Your self, Your love, Your purposes,  and Your powerful grace. In Jesus’ name, Loving  Father God, amen, and Holy Spirit, please amp up the volume so I can hear you as I’m listening __________________________________________.

 

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

WHY SETTLE FOR THE SKYLIGHT WHEN YOU’RE DESTINED FOR THE SKY?

 

img_0808Rose M. Jack200440345-001son © 1994

This is a very old message, first given 24 years ago,  to the women of Community Church of Joy. I had no idea how prophetic this would be for my own journey into a “dis-comfort zone” that has stretched my understanding and trust in the incredible love and hidden purposes of God Almighty.  I never imagined in 1994 that I would be in this place in my life, and it still feels like the “wrong fit” for someone  who often feels more like a canary than an eagle on  many days, but God has proved to me he is  with me every step of the way. My next post will be another early thought, but today I need to remind myself, and very likely someone else  out there, that God is the wind beneath the wings he  gave you and wants you to try as he lifts you up to the purpose He created you for.

 

I heard a bird chirping as I cruised through the mall early one morning on my two-mile walking circuit. It startled me, for though this mall – like most – is landscaped with Ficus and Pothos and other requisite ornamental plants to give the place a quasi-rainforest feel (minus real rainforest bugs, of course) it’s hardly the place you expect to find living creatures. Looking up, I spied a sparrow perched on a mauve concrete ledge just below the skylights illuminating the courtyard in front of a big department store. I speculated that the bird, like me, found its way in, on an early morning. The plant man or the cleaning staff or some delivery person probably had left the doors wide open and empty long enough for the sparrow, fooled by the adjacent windows’ reflections of the world outside, to sail unsuspectingly inside.

Well, I asked myself, was that such a tragedy? Wasn’t it in fact serendipity for the bird? I did a quick mental tally of what the mall provided:

1) It’s climate-controlled. That is, after all, one of the main reasons I walk there. The temperature is always a comfortable 75 in summer, 80 in winter. There’s no pelting rain or, here in the desert, dry, parching wind to deal with. It’s always in the comfort zone in the mall.

2) There aren’t any predators – another reason I myself walk there.   There are no obvious threats. Sparrows don’t need to worry about the occasional purse snatcher anyway, and I’ve never noticed anyone even paying any attention to the birds, much less trying to harm them.

3) There are trees to nest in. They may not grow very large, and there may not be many to choose from, but they’re there, limbs artfully pruned to be up out of reach, carefully tended to stay green and healthy.

4) There is a reliable water and food supply. Gardeners are there every day to water the plants. Small children, in particular, are certain to trail cookie crumbs, popcorn kernels, bits of French fry, and the occasional entire slice of pizza. The enticement to eat is designed into every mall (don’t I well know, and why is it that I always park so that I have to exit past the cinnamon roll stand as I end my walks?). A food supply – even if not real nourishment – is guaranteed.

5) There is the ever-present elevator music to provide a pleasant ambience and set up a mind-numbing alpha-wave state in the brain. I don’t know if that matters to birds, but it does to mall designers; I suspect it puts customers in a pleasantly detached mental state conducive to spending money without realizing you’re doing it. I use it as “white noise” to help me focus and filter out distractions on my walks, because I use my walking time to do my intercessory praying.

6) There are lots of skylights, double-paned and insulated, to let the sunshine in, so people and birds have a view of the clouds and sun (but not the stars because the lights are never all turned off in the mall). You can see the sky without the bother of direct sun to fade your feathers.

All in all, I reflected, the mall could be a pretty good place for a vegetarian bird. All the basics seemed to be there, with no worrisome predators. To be objective, though, on my second lap I asked myself what wasn’t in the mall. On deeper inspection, I found lacking:

1) The natural cycle of the seasons. Even in a place with moderate winters, like here in Arizona, a bird needs to know when to do what. Certain bird behaviors, notably nesting, are triggered by the change in seasons. Does it leave a bird with a false sense of eternal spring, and upset biorhythms, to live in the mall?

2) The meaningful company of other birds. There are just not that many birds in the mall. I’ve never seen a group of birds perched on a pediment. I’ve never seen a nest tucked into any of the “o’s” or “e’s” of store signs, the way you always see them outside of grocery stores. Meaningful companionship seems hard to come by in a mall. Which leads me to:

3) Limited options. In mates, in only the ubiquitous Ficus Mallius to call home, in room to fly, in diet, all options in the mall are sorely limited. What you see is all you get. If you develop a craving for a nice earthworm in the middle of the night, forget it. Organic food is out of the question. There may be two health food stores in the mall, but, for a bird, healthy food is hard to come by. Nourishment, emotional and physical, is sorely lacking for a bird in the mall.

4) Purpose. In the natural world, birds serve a purpose, whether it is controlling insects, spreading seeds, or, even in death, feeding other animals. Without natural food to search for, predators to evade, and changing seasons to guide it, how could a baby sparrow ever learn to be the bird it is supposed to be? What purpose do birds serve in the mall, other than to arouse the curiosity of people like me? They certainly aren’t filling their God-given niche, or serving their God-given purpose in life. But – here’s the real sadness – do they even know they aren’t truly in the world?

5) Sensitivity. That anesthetized state of “pleasant” induced by elevator music does have its dangers. I discovered this first-hand one morning when, immersed in my own praying, I clipped a corner on a jewelry store too close and gashed my hand, not even realizing I was bleeding until half a lap later. What it does to birds, I don’t know, but persistent “pleasant” de-sensitizes us to danger and pain.

6) An easy way out. Though a wide-open door is a fairly easy way into the mall, there is no easy way back out. A bird has to wait for, and, more importantly, recognize, another open door in order to find its way out of the mall. Someone has to leave the door wide open. Then a bird has to risk closeness to people, the very people who frighten it, to take advantage of an open door out.

7) Sky. In the mall there are none of the risks of the sky, but there is also none of the freedom of the sky, none of the possibilities that exist only within that risky freedom. Outside, the winds may buffet it, the rain may soak its feathers, it will have to spend its days searching for food and water, and someone may even eat it. But outside, a bird will have the winds to soar on, trees and eaves and letters on store signs to shelter in, and a host of its own kind to find companionship with. A skylight is a poor substitute for the real sky.

What in the world does a bird in the mall have to do with you and me? Well, as if you hadn’t noticed, the world is trying to sell us on life in “the mall,” and we are only too willing to buy into that philosophy. I don’t mean the literal mall – though more and more of us seem to spend more and more of our time there – but the attitude that life in the comfort “happy” zone should be our highest goal. This is the state of mind that equates stuff with security. Peace means nothing beyond achieving a mental state of perpetual “pleasant,” undisturbed by pain or anxiety (our own or anyone else’s).   That’s even the first definition of “comfort” in the dictionary: “A state of mental or physical ease, especially one free from pain, want, or other afflictions.”Adversity is to be avoided at all costs. “Sounds good to me,” we reflect, and ask where we go to sign up.

We long for a life with no threats, no changes unless they’re positive, no risks, no unmet needs or desires, and no surprises – unless they’re to our benefit. We want nothing to jar us from our externally and circumstantially induced reverie. But, as wistfully as I yearn for it, is such a “controlled climate” existence the same thing as a life of peace, happiness, contentment, security, and purpose? With a “climate controlled” mind-set, how do I respond when the mall door opens, something threatening or unsettling rolls in, and I realize “pleasant ambience” won’t take care of it? Do I ever consider what will happen to my “peace” when there’s a power failure in “the mall”?

Birds get into the mall by accident, but people long for and actively look for a way into the perpetual comfort zone that I’ll refer to as “the mall.” We long to wake up in an ever balmy, no-sweat life, where the only one who notices changes is the maintenance person (God’s new job description) who makes the seasonal thermostat adjustments needed to keep us in our comfort zone. As for “seasons” in our lives, we’ll stick to the changing window displays that give us fair warning of Christmas four months in advance. We’d prefer a superficial seasonal change something like changing window displays – new furniture, the latest development in plastic surgery, or a new place to vacation – to those nasty seasons of failure and frustration, thank you, and don’t even mention the wrinkles on my face or silver “snow” in my hair unless I have some guarantee that the winter of my life will be as blissful as a Bing Crosby musical!

How hard we work to maintain some sort of permanent “white noise” to help us screen out the rest of the world and focus on ourselves! In the world of “the mall,” we covet the meaningful company of others only if they’re as carefree as we are, with their messier or more demanding needs already met. I admit, though not to my credit, that I draw back before pursuing relationships that may demand too much of my time or energy. Sometimes it is honestly because I recognize my time and resources are limited, and I want to live up to the commitments I do make, but my reasons aren’t always so honorable. Sometimes I simply don’t want to be bothered. Sometimes I’m just afraid that my own deficiencies will be revealed. I pull back from people who have significantly less money and education than I do – good grief, I even pull back from relationships with people who have significantly more!

I was shocked to discover how severely my comfort zones can limit my blessings shortly after we moved to a new town. The first people we met at church were a friendly couple, Jack and Kathleen, newcomers themselves, who were starting a small group in their home. Our son had a chorus concert on the evening of the group’s first meeting, so I went to the concert while my husband represented us at the small group. When we both got home that evening, my husband said he’d had a good time. He told me nothing about Jack and Kathleen’s house, except to note that they didn’t have a swimming pool. We did have a pool, and since Jack and Kathleen had two children, my husband thought it would be nice if we’d invite them over for a cookout and a swim.

“Sure, that would be great,” I replied, excited to have new friends to share with, so Jack and Kathleen and their two children came over for hamburgers and a swim. I gave them the tour of our house and told them to make themselves at home.   We really enjoyed getting to know them better, and I could tell Kathleen and I could be good friends.

A week later we went to the second small group meeting at their house – and I was horrified. You could put our house on the first floor of their house and still have room leftover! I felt so embarrassed, thinking of how I’d given them “the tour” of our modest house when theirs was palatial by comparison. Why hadn’t my husband told me before we invited them over? Why had he let me “make a fool of myself”? Then I realized – even more horrified by my shallowness – that if he had told me they had a lot more money than we did, I never would have felt comfortable opening our home to them. The difference in our income levels and my desire not to look “poor” by comparison would have kept me from experiencing the depth of friendship we soon came to share with them as we honestly opened our lives to each other. Staying in my “comfort zone” would have walled me off from so much goodness! I have to wonder how many significant friendships I miss in every direction when I’m uncomfortable with economic and ethnic differences.

How much we miss out on when we restrict our life to “the mall”! Does such a place really exist, and what would I lose from spending my time there?   Would it be a healthy place for me to live and grow?

I’d find no meaningful interaction and relationships with others – in short, no real love. No changes in my life would mean no growth. Now before you tell me I’m sounding like your mother and “growth” is just a euphemism for “unpleasant and painful”, consider this honestly:

No growth means I’d never develop discernment, wisdom, good judgment, or faith, or compassion for others that comes when my life doesn’t go the way I want it to.

I’d find no true peace, for genuine peace doesn’t come from the absence of conflict or fear.

I’d never learn endurance, and I’d never exult in victory, for victory implies a contest and the possibility of defeat.   I’d never fulfill my purpose, with all the unlimited-in-God possibilities my life could hold.

We can learn that from the life of Jesus. Knowing the cruel ordeal he was about to face, Jesus nevertheless assured his disciples during their last meal together:

 

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

With the dread and anguish of heart and mind that must have warred within him, recognizing what must come, how could Christ possibly have peace for himself, much less peace enough to give away? Yet he did. It came from something other than his circumstances. It came from the presence of God in him in his circumstances.

The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.                                                                               Psalm 29:11

“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.”                                                                                                    Isaiah 26:3

The peace and confidence Jesus had and gives to us doesn’t depend on living within some white-noised, “there is no pain in this world” problem-free zone where we always look like we have life together. Peace and security don’t come from our circumstances. The peace of Christ that “passes all understanding,” understands and trusts in the faithfulness, goodness, mercy and power of God to give peace within our circumstances.

True security doesn’t come from how much stuff I can amass as a shield about me, or from sailing through life with no troubles, or from surrounding myself with “happiness” and only people who “make me happy”, or from projecting the image that I have my life together. Stuff can disappear overnight, as Jesus pointed out to the crowd listening to him on a mountaintop, and problems are part of the reality of life.   If our security is in our portfolio, then we have no security.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust to not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”                                                                                       Matthew 6:19-21

Besides moths, rust, and thieves, today Jesus could add to the list downsizing, layoffs, identity theft, and plunges in the stock market. But if stuff isn’t security, then what is? What, or who, won’t leave us?

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”                                                                                                                                            John 16: 33

Real security is anchored in the promise that Jesus is bigger than our problems, that it’s who we are in him that matters, and that he will never leave us.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.’”                                                                                              Psalm 91:1-2

What better security can we have than knowing that God is always present with us, the victor for us?

What else would I miss in a climate-controlled life? I’ve noticed that malls offer plenty of stores to choose from, but they tend to offer just numerous variations on the same theme, whether shoes, jewelry, books, clothing, or fast food. Despite a veritable glut of stuff, often I’m unable to find what I really want in the mall, and I have to settle instead for something that only partially satisfies my need or is approximately what I want to find.   The same is true of life in our comfort zones: it’s an approximation of joy and freedom, superficially close to the real thing, but not at all what we really need. Jesus, on the other hand, offers us what we truly need and want to long for, if we trust him enough to fly out of “the mall”:

“I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance – to the full, till it overflows. ”                                John 10:10 (Amplified Bible)

Abundance, breadth, broadness, completeness, entirety, profusion, totality, vastness, and wholeness: these are a few synonyms for fullness. That hardly sounds like the narrow “everything going my way” constraint I mistakenly think I’d like to impose on my life.   Have you ever muttered, “Lord, I didn’t ask for this,” only to recognize that you have, in fact, asked God for strength, compassion, purpose, and victory? The very word “victory” implies overcoming an obstacle, threat, or challenge. My problem is that I want victory without the battle, meaning without the challenge! But Paul’s’ words remind me that God desires more than pseudo-abundance for me:

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”                                                       Ephesians 4:1

What is the life “worthy of the calling you have received”? It is:

“. . . that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.”  Colossians 1:10-12

This is what a life worthy of the calling of Christ looks like.   How does that stress-free, planter-boxed happy artificial scenery compare? As a friend of mine bluntly phrased it, God is more interested in our character than in our comfort. After I wince, I examine that truth and realize it is a loving truth, because the character of Christ is what I really need to fill the landscape of my life with exciting, meaningful, overflowing abundance.

I do want more from life than my own ease and pleasure – or at least part of me does. Another part of me gets very nervous when I feel the draft from the door God’s just opened. Let me clarify that I’m not talking about God calling me to dig wells in Africa. No, I hide in comfort zones much closer to home. I am appalled, in fact, to recognize how narrow my comfort zone truly is and how slight a shift it takes to make me anxious. The two “malls” that most often entrap me are “What will people think of me?” and “I don’t want any interruptions in today’s schedule.” Do you regularly visit to either of these?

Not long ago God challenged me to pray for people on the spot, as soon as I learn they have a need, even if it is in public. My first thought was, “But God, what will people think of me? They’ll think I’m a nut or some kind of religious fanatic.” The breeze was unmistakably blowing, though, so I mentally committed to pray out loud, in public, the very next time someone told me they had a need.

It happened the next week in the check-out line at Wal-Mat, and you can’t get much more public than that. When I politely asked, “How are you?” the clerk told me her husband was in a nursing home, recovering from serious surgery. She deeply longed to bring him home for Christmas but was afraid she wouldn’t be able to take care of him, even for a few days. My usual response would have been, “I’ll pray for you,” but I sensed it would be a shallow blessing if that was all I offered. Instead, I nervously asked, “Would you like me to pray for you right now?” My stomach knotted when she sighed, “Oh, yes.”   “Oh, no!” was my instant gut response, but I took a deep breath, willed myself to ignore the line of shoppers behind me, and prayed out loud for the clerk and her husband right there.

The look of peace that spread across her face told me Jesus was there for her with strength and peace in that very moment – and to see that, I didn’t care what the people behind me thought. She was encouraged, and I was free and flying!

Similar things happen consistently when I “fly with” interruptions in my days. In my normal “mall” state of mind, interruptions destroy my peace along with my schedule. Recently I had my busy day neatly arranged when the phone rang. “Oh, no,” I thought – my internal red flag that my comfort zone is about to be breached. I considered just letting the phone ring, but picked it up anyway. On the line was a friend from church who had moved out-of-town, just calling to say hello. At least that’s what we both initially thought the call was about. I still don’t know how the conversation shifted, but she was struggling with a painful issue that she had no idea I had also experienced in my life. The Holy Spirit suddenly powerfully filled my living room – at least that’s how it felt as we talked and prayed together. I was stunned once again with the realization that God moves across miles and through minutes to bring healing and hope, and if I cooperate instead of nesting stubbornly in “the mall” of my own agenda, I get to be part of his powerful purposes. I confess that I still cringe initially when the phone rings or a neighbor knocks on my door, but feeling God’s hand in mine as I take part in his purpose in each encounter refreshes and renews me.

I do (I think…) want to try my “wings” to find my purpose and fulfill it fruitfully, to grow in my knowledge of God, to be strong and persevering through all the seasons and circumstances of my life, to be a thankful, joyful, patient overcomer, no matter what comes my way. That means moving outside of the skylight world to a place where challenges will come. When I face that open door out of the mall and begin to see God’s world outside my own contentment, convenience, competence and complacency, sometimes I get nervous. No, let me be honest: I get scared, because it’s not a “safe” place out there. People who reject or abuse my efforts to love them can hurt me.   I can attempt an avenue of ministry or a challenge I’ve never tried before and fail. I may stand up for Christ and be cut down by people who scorn Christianity. It may cost me. The truth is, I usually feel more like a sparrow than an eagle. But like a bird in the mall, I won’t find the room to become more than I am now, or the place that’s truly my home if I never leave my comfort zones. I won’t learn what God is capable of if I never dare beyond what I know I can achieve myself.

But does that mean I must live without comfort? Not at all, and this is where the other definitions of comfort apply: “Relief from sorrow, distress, etc.; solace, consolation. One who brings ease or consolation. Help or support;” The Counselor whom Jesus said God would send, the Holy Spirit, is our Parakletos, which is Greek for intercessor, consoler, advocate, and comforter.

So how do I break free from that skylight-deluded mindset? A bird in the mall may have to wait a long time before it recognizes an open door. My problem isn’t the open door; I usually don’t have to wait long to feel the whoosh of God opening an opportunity to move me out of my comfort zones. “Donate cans of food for the food bank? Sure! But help serve a meal in a dining room for the homeless? Now wait a minute, God! It didn’t feel as weird as I expected the day the homeless lady hugged me outside the grocery store after I bought her some food, but do you actually want me to get to know one of these people?” No, my problem isn’t in finding an opened door; my problem lies in recognizing the emptiness of a climate-controlled life, the fullness and purpose of living in God’s daily call on my life, and God’s faithfulness to me when I do “fly out the door”.

You can not only trust Jesus to hold that mall door open for you – you can trust him to be the door for you, offering you the freedom to trust in him and “fly.” He wants us living freely and fully the broad, vast, whole life he promised – not captive to the counterfeit of the mall and the skylight. Paul’s prayer for the church in Ephesus is what God surely desires for us all:

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. . . .”                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Ephesians 1:18-19

The “skylight life” is a poor imitation; genuine life is in God’s abundant, risky, exhilarating, liberating adventure for us when we’re willing to fly out into the open skies. Will you take a deep breath, look afresh through the eyes of your heart, and trust God to be faithful in the adventure to which he’s calling you? Don’t settle for the skylight when YOU are destined for the sky!

Questions for you to  ponder with the Holy Spirit:

1) What defines your “comfort zones”? What stresses, misconceptions, or deceptions tempt you to wish for or actually head for the “climate controlled” life?

2) From time to time we all do need a place of rest, but  is the absence of stress the same as the presence of peace and rest?

3) God asked Moses to move WAY beyond his comfort zone. Read Exodus 33:12-17. Where can you find real peace and rest? ( also see Matthew 11:28-30 and Psalm 116:5-7)

4) Why does God call us out of our comfort zones?

Philippians 1: 3-6

Ephesians 2:8-10 3:16-19

5) Do you need to be afraid of what’s outside “the mall” of what the world calls safety, peace and meaning?

John 16:33

Jeremiah 29: 11

Romans 8:28, 38-39

Now the  big question:

6) In what area do you hear God calling you to “fly out” of your comfort zone this day, this week, this month and fly free in his calling?

 

A  “…BUT…” to pray today:

Litany of Wings

Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me,

For my soul takes refuge in you;

And in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, Psalm 57:1

For you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy. Psalm 63:7

For it is you who deliver me from the snare of the trapper,

and from the deadly pestilence.

You will cover me with your feathers,

and under your wings I may seek refuge. Psalm 91:3-4

You make the clouds your chariot and ride upon the wings of the wind;

you make winds your messengers Psalm 104:3b

Those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength;

I will mount up with wings like an eagle,

I will run and not get tired,

I will walk and not become weary. Isaiah 40:31

Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you Psalm 116: 7

Be at peace as you fly free in his calling

 

Funk & Wagnalls+ Standard College Dictionary, Funk & Wagnalls, a Division of Reader’s Digest Books, New York: 1966, 270.

Ibid.

 

“OTHER”

Backfire!

beach stars

The check box “OTHER” has often been my answer of choice on surveys and sometimes on standardized tests when none of the choices or answers seems to fit quite rightly. When I did analogies on IQ tests in school, I could often see relationships between more than one of the answers, and I always wished those tests had a “free response” section so I could elaborate on connections I saw in multiple choices.

“For He is like ….” In writing about the passage in Malachi 2: 17-3:6, John Piper writes:

“He is a refiner’s fire, and that makes all the difference. A refiner’s fire does not destroy indiscriminately like a forest fire. A refiner’s fire does not consume completely like the fire of an incinerator. A refiner’s fire refines. It purifies. It melts down the bar of silver or gold, separates out the impurities that ruin its value, burns them up, and leaves the silver and gold intact. He is like a refiner’s fire.”

“God is like …” – I read analogies about God all through the Bible, yet still I sense the need for a check box of “OTHER” when I try to grasp all of the Being of God. Sometimes in frustration I’ve wished I could step out of the skin of my humanity with all the physical limitations of my cells, amino acids and proteins, to truly behold God in all of His Glory and Presence. So far, all I’ve experienced are flashes of God’s Presence that literally made my heart skip beats, shut my mouth to any possible conversation or exclamation, and sometimes dropped me to my face on the floor.

And all those experiences did was make me hunger and long for more of them.

Somehow I sense that I the modern-day American evangelical church we have focused so single-mindedly on God’s grace, mercy and love that we have completely overlooked His Holiness, His “OTHER”-ness.

Deity is not an easy concept to grasp. We know nothing of it in our everyday lives, in the realm of the natural, and until and unless we come into a true relationship with God through receiving his Son Jesus as Savior, the only receptors/detectors we’re equipped with are our five senses, totally inadequate for grasping the HOLY.

Some religions reduce God’s Deity to human terms by claiming God “came down” physically and was sexually intimate with Mary to conceive Jesus. How we try, in our finite understanding, to bring God down to human terms we can grapple with or, worse, elevate our status to godhood! God alone is Deity, God alone is Holy, and it is nothing less than truly supernaturally miraculous that through Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection, God sanctifies our humanity. He does not make us smaller versions of Himself. God’s Holy Spirit comes into us to make us figuratively sanctified, cleansed and honored just as the cups and utensils in the Tempe were. In effect, God’s Spirit connected with our spirit by a means undetectable to our five senses, but very much felt within us, means God chooses to reside within our hearts and spirits as He did in the Holy of Holies in the Tempe in Jerusalem.

Do I “get it”? No. Do I believe it? Yes. Not me, not by my effort or merit. “OTHER.”

God is not in every tree, but every tree is OF God’s creative power. God is not contained (limited) in me. I am an image-bearer, but the image I carry within me because of my relationship with Jesus is a partial reflection of the character and nature of God, a reflection only of someone outside of myself.

One day, quite innocently and unaware of what an answer would do within me, I asked God to give me his heart for a person I was having trouble “loving.” I cannot humanly explain what happened, but I came into contact somehow with a love deeper, more passionate, more understanding and enduring than I had ever before experienced for another human being. “OTHER” is the only way I can describe the encounter.

Since that day I often see a beauty within people that I know I missed before. This ability did not come from me, generate from some goodness within me. I can only describe it as Holy.

I long to give this experience to others, but I can’t. Only God himself can transform so profoundly. I long for others, for you, to know God’s Presence, his Holiness. Periodically I have to take myself out of the “God is my friend” mentality that is true, but isn’t wide or deep enough to accommodate Deity in my perception., and restore God in my thinking to his Holy, Divine, Majestic place as Deity and the sole right focus of my worship and obedient surrender. I am compelled to not give in to those people who demand or expect me worship them. I can love them, but I can’t worship anyone but God Almighty.

Worship is defined as reverent honor and homage paid to God or a sacred personage, or to any object regarded as sacred; adoring reverence or regard. It is both an act and, more importantly, an attitude toward.

Perhaps today it’s time in your life to try to take in, apprehend, or at least acknowledge God’s Holiness, Majesty, Splendor, worth, Divinity, OTHER-ness.

I am the LORD your God. You shall have no other gods before me. Exodus 20: 3

Which of these titles belongs to you, my fellow human being all too often ensnared by narcissistic, selfish tendencies, desires, and expectations of others?

God is an all-consuming fire, A Refiner’s Fire. A crown of beauty. A Great High Priest. A Jealous God. A Hiding Place.. A Scepter. A Strong Tower. Alpha and Omega. Creator. King of kings. Lord of lords.

Adonai-Jehovah — The Lord our Sovereign

El-Elyon — The Lord Most High

El-Olam — The Everlasting God

El-Shaddai — The God Who is Sufficient for the Needs of His People

Jehovah-Elohim — The Eternal Creator

Jehovah-Jireh — The Lord our Provider

Jehovah-Nissi — The Lord our Banner

Jehovah-Ropheka — The Lord our Healer

Jehovah-Shalom — The Lord our Peace

Jehovah-Tsidkenu — The Lord our Righteousness

Jehovah-Mekaddishkem — The Lord our Sanctifier

Jehovah-Sabaoth — The Lord of Hosts

Jehovah-Shammah — The Lord is Present

Jehovah-Rohi — The Lord our Shepherd

Jehovah-Hoseenu — The Lord our Maker

Jehovah-Eloheenu — The Lord our God

In my emphasis on God’s love and mercy, do I forget God’s Holiness?

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?

To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today. Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes…. Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Deuteronomy 10: 12-20 NIV

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Psalms 8:1

Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness. Psalms 29:2

Psalm 93:1 The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed in majesty and armed with strength; indeed, the world is established, firm and secure.

Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! Psalms 95:6

Exalt the LORD our God; worship at his footstool! Holy is he! Psalms 99:5

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4: 21-24 NIV

 

 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. Isaiah 6: 1-4 NIV

Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.

the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. Revelation 4:10-11

But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” 1 Peter 1: 15-16

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Philippians 2:12-13

Turn on your favorite worship music as you pray a “…BUT…” to God: Lord God Almighty, I bow before You and I confess and gladly say that You are __________________________________________________ BUT because I belong to you and Your Holy Spirit lives in me, I am ____________________________________________________________. I want to experience You more __________________________________________ and please, God Almighty, make me aware of __________________________________________________________________. Help me to live in greater recognition and wonder of ____________________________________________________every day and help me to see You in _________________________________________________________________. Help me to bear your image in this situation where I struggle to live as I know you want me to live __________________________________________________________ You ARE Holy and wholly OTHER, and I ___________________________________________________. I rejoice in You and Worship You! In Jesus’ name, Amen!

I Would be True

In my quiet time this morning – and boy, does God go to work on me – I see so clearly that you want and need what we all want and need; you want to feel wanted and need to be needed. Pop psychology, Oprah and Dr. Phil to the contrary, it isn’t healthy to be so independent and walled in by boundaries that we “don’t need anyone else for our happiness.” That’s simply not true. True, we need healthy boundaries to keep out harmful influences, but total independence builds walls around us that keep out the need for love God created in us, both as givers and receivers.

Yes, I am a “traditional” woman with traditional values, born into a less competitive and compulsive culture and time when relationships mattered more than accomplishment, I recognize the influence of my culture and family, and I don’t apologize for being myself. Yes, we are all influenced by the culture and the era in which we grew up and in which we live, but we don’t have to be SHAPED by those times, expectations and distortions. My worth doesn’t come from being “hip” to culture or making money or being in an influential job or looking like the models and stars on television or in magazines; my worth comes from being true to my self, the person God created me to be: alive, loving, passionate, compassionate, open, giving and forgiving. Those are God’s values, not culture’s, and those values are timeless. I choose to keep my heart free from the schemes of perversion and distortion of what’s important and lasting,  even when those come in contemporary cultural wrappings.

Contrary to what people might think, what my children remember isn’t going to exotic places for vacations or all the gadgets and technology we bought them. They remember camping out in the backyard to watch lunar eclipses, playing board games, reading bedtime stories, running through the backyard sprinklers, the sheets I hung up outside for them to paint on with watercolors, then wash off with the hose, the letters I secretly wrote them from their “imaginary friends” and put under their bedroom doors in the mornings, leaf boats we sailed down rain water in the gutters, olive and green pepper faces I made on their sandwiches (and on my husband’s, because he needed love in his lunch, too) and fun notes I put in their lunch boxes.

I hope what my friends remember are the times we laughed together, looked each other in the eyes, hugged and cried together, picnics and baking parties we had,  Christmas decorations and crafts we made together in each other’s homes, the silly day we sat in the backyard with cucumber slices on our eyes and yogurt and honey on our faces, the times we made “Joy boxes” to take to people in hospitals or going through hard times, all of the just being ourselves true to our hearts and each other.

I enjoy contemporary worship songs and even the “smoke and lights and mirrors” that seem omnipresent in worship services now, and old hymns from a hundred years before I was born still bring me to my feet and bring me to tears. I am gratified that when I teach children, I’m able to bring creativity into the mix to help them learn and have fun. I am amazed that I’ve been able to present workshops and write books that touched people’s lives in uplifting, encouraging ways. That kind of work mattered to me. The constant in everything that touched and touches  me is God’s relentless love and unchanging grace, glad presence, great power, and mercy.

I have a self to be true to, not so I shine, but so Jesus shines through me. You have a self to be true to as well and your own unique way to reflect God’s love in your corner in the world. No one else can be who you are, do what you do, say what you can say our of your heart, reach where you reach, reflect the colors of God out of the your experience, or love as you love.

Today I have to ask myself what’s more important: what I have in my house and in my bank account and on my resume, or what and who I have in my heart? What comes into my hands or what comes out of my life? I would be true …….

I would be true, for there are those who trust me;
I would be pure, for there are those who care;
I would be strong, for there is much to suffer;
I would be brave, for there is much to dare;
I would be brave, for there is much to dare.

I would be friend of all—the foe, the friendless;
I would be giving, and forget the gift;
I would be humble, for I know my weakness;
I would look up, and laugh, and love and lift.
I would look up, and laugh, and love and lift.

Words by Howard A. Walter, 1906

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach;  if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Romans 12:1-18 NIV

A “… BUT …” to move: Oh, Father, I know I let other people influence me too much, more than I let your Word and your values influence me. I listen to the voices of culture more than I listen for your voice.  I do have to live where I am, in the time I am, BUT God, help me to see who YOU created me to be, and help me to shift from ____________________________________________ to ___________________________________________________. Help me to value ___________________________________________________________________________________ and to be patient in ______________________________________________________________________.  Where do I need you to change me?_________________________________________ Help me, Father, to bless _______________________________________________ by ____________________________________________________________. Most of all, help me to KNOW how much you have invested your love and grace into me, so I can hold  my head up and know that I am _____________________________________________________. In Jesus’ name, Amen and Hooray!

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!

Grace for Greatness

Praise-God-christianity-30399917-450-227I could have pretended when the lizard ran across the trail in front of me. I was walking with a man, and I could have clutched his shoulder, turned my head into his chest and squealed, “Oh, “_______” (he shall remain nameless), a LIZARD! I’m so scared! Throw a rock at it! make it go away!” And after he did, I’d look up into his eyes, bat mine, and in a higher register than I use to speak with my female friends, I’d swooningly say, “Oh “_________,” you’re so brave and strong!” And if he took the bait … I’d be calling that man to a level lower than his true courage, integrity, and valor. Pardon me saying this, but PUKE! In spiritual terms, that translates to “abomination.”

I’ve seen it, girlfriends. I’ve listened as you did it, and even if you are truly afraid of lizards, do you think falsely building up a man’s esteem calls him to greatness? It may salve his insecurity, but Jesus wants more for him and from him than a false hero status. God wants him to live in  greatness. Guys, give that woman a second and third look and then tell her that her husband doesn’t appreciate al she is? God wants her to live in greatness.

Gentlemen, I’m addressing this to you, and ladies, to you as well.  Today is Pentecost Sunday, 50 days after Passover and the Resurrection, when God’s Spirit fell on Jesus’ disciples and followers in the Upper room. They were, we can imagine, staying there in Jerusalem not just in response to Jesus’ instructions, but also in some sense of confusion and fear, not knowing what would come next or where they would go, or how they could go on about life as usual after having walked with the Son of God, so real and present in that room with him after his resurrection, so many days and weeks absent now.

The lizard ran across the trail in front of me, and instead of shrieking – gosh it was just a small striped lizard, terrified of my big feet clumping down the trail close on its tail – I gave a very fake shriek, feigned terror (after having told him I like lizards) and then in all seriousness said, “________,” if you want to show me how courageous you really are, if you want to make this Christian girl swoon, load a “mortar round” of prayer and lob it at the Devil for me! THAT is courage! THAT is a true hero! God’s Grace to propel into greatness!

And I wasn’t  kidding.  This guy has fasted for me and prayed for me, and if I truly care about him as a friend and brother in Christ, my job is to call forth the greatness in him, the greatest greatness he can live. I can’t encourage him in sin, no matter how tempting it might be to lead him into a false sense of superhuman stature just to get his affection. Math teacher in me, I’d be degrading him to the “Lowest Common (cultural) Denominator”. Oh, gag, how insulting I would be if I even thought of encouraging a brother to sin, and how denigrating I would be if I didn’t believe in the greatness Jesus has instilled in him through the Holy Spirit to call him to courageous action, to the “Greatest UN-common Denominator” of the best, truest, and most courageous life God has for him, conforming to the likeness of Jesus as a Blood-bought child of God. “My agenda” for him means nothing’; God’s agenda for him means everything. GUCD!

I acknowledge here that I did do something for my former husband that allowed him to think the sin he was in, by his own words, “Wasn’t so bad, and if that’s the worst of (my) sins, well, God made me this way.”  Oh, vile lie of the Devil!  Did I think I was being submissive to enable him to sin without consequences or speaking to him that HE was worth more than that?   Was my compliance being an obedient wife, or was it allowing him to stay in a level far below the true courage, integrity,  honork, dignity, purity and valor God intended that man to live in and live out? I don’t take responsibility for his sin, but I am responsible for how I responded to it. Oh, if I’d had the courage to trust God enough to speak up out of loving truth and called him to righteousness in his choices.  God would’ve  taken care of me no matter what his response was, as long as my motives were for his best, for his true grace-given greatness.

As I relate to others now years later, I recognize that I cannot call forth less than the greatest from my bothers and sisters.  When I consider the price God paid for her, for him, when I think of the treasure that person is to God’s heart, how can I use, manipulate, or hold her or him to less than the most meaningful, vital, alive, on-fire life from all God’s Spirit has poured into them, to live in and live out of them?

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears,we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.”  1 John 3:1-10 NIV

I love the old hymn “How Deep the Father’s Love For Us.” Knowing the price God paid in watching His beloved suffer whipping and then the indignity and agony of the cross, how can we think God means for grace to do anything less than call us to greatness, true greatness? Ought we to do less, ought we to lower our expectations of each other and give flattery instead of encouragement to greatness? Why would I want to allow someone I love to live in anything less than the grace and greatness God gifted her or him with when she or he made Jesus Lord? If Jesus is his Lord, her Lord, then he is a son of the King of Kings, and she is a daughter of the Lord of All, grace gifted through Jesus to rise in strength, courage, compassion, valor, dignity, kindness, purity and truth to live a life and leave a legacy of greatness .

How deep the Father’s love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

My stand cost me dearly, because I couldn’t let a loved one live out less than the greatness God his Father  called him to. Others – “friends” and colleagues spoke into his life to encourage him to conform to the standards of the world and live far below the integrity God wanted him to live in and live out.  Was that true love?

Today I want, and I pray you may consider, to call the people you love in your life to the truest greatness they can live in and live out. a measure of our love is the measure of grace-gifted greatness we call forth in and from eachother.Behold what manner of love the Father has given to us, that we  should be called the sons and daughters of God.

Two songs to share with you: the first is the why and how, and the second is what we can become as we encourage each other to greatness.

How deep the Father’s love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

I will not boast in anything

No gifts, no power, no wisdom

But I will boast in Jesus Christ

His death and resurrection

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

So then, what does this measure ask of us? All I want to do is be a soul on fire for the love and purity of God and call it forth in the hearts of others! So, my sisters, my friends, my brothers, lob a grenade of prayer at the enemy in the lives of those you love today! Selah! Amen!

My “…BUt…” to move: God, I’ve settled for less than courage in my own life. I’ve even tantalized others to live in so much less than the greatness of Your grace in them to flatter them and make them like me or to “get” something from them, BUT today I purpose to,and ask you to help me to call ____________ to the best in ________________________________________ that you long for him/her!