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: _________________________________.

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A point of clarification

In case  anyone wonders about my motives in posting this blog for the past 8 years, after today’s Worship Intercession group – anywhere from 15 to 30 of us from across, and I mean ACROSS,  denominations and ages –  where we sing intercession for three hours over those  who don’t know  Jesus as LORD and Lover of their souls, I earnestly want everyone to know that this is about what GOD does in my life. It’s not about my power or glory or fame, but GOD’S.

I truly am blessed by Robin Mark’s music, and this song expresses my desires in writing:

We passionately sang this today, some of us on our feet, hands lifted, in joy!Those who can’t stand worship just as passionately from their chairs! No formula, no “liturgy,” no right way or wrong way or tradition, but simply passionately prayed intercession and love.

I’ve never before been part of group of people so dedicated and committed, earnestly desiring what God desires: that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE,  comes to know the great, unsearchable love He offers us through relationship with Jesus as Redeemer, Savior, and LORD!

What a blessing to join our hearts, spirits and voices every week! Loved ones, friends, organizations, churches, states, nations, our “enemies” – Three hours of loving prayer isn’t enough, ever! Enough said. Solo Deo Gloria!

 

 

 

Gott Sei Dank

One  thing almost intrinsic in me that Daniel and I do NOT share is a fondness for German music. I’m guessing I began appreciating it, and the country, the year my family spent in the small town of Enkenbach when I was ten, my father’s company sending us over there. In my fifth grade class in the Army school my brother and I attended, we had German language instruction. I don’t honestly remember if Frau Schultz came in daily or once a week to teach us, but, perhaps incredibly, I do clearly remember a song  and a poem I learned that year. (And why, I wonder, can’t I remember how to differentiate and integrate sines and cosines, something I learned much later?)

My memory  actually was useful two weeks ago, when I was getting up to move from the lateral machine to another in the recreation center. I started  toward the supply of disinfecting wipes, but the woman approaching the lateral machine told me not to bother, as she had her wipe handy. I detected an accent in her voice and asked where she was from. When she replied German, I said , “Vielen Danke. Voraus stammen Sie?” That began a conversation – auf Englisch –  and we quickly found in common that we’d both worked at a zoo, cared about the environment, and loved God! I gave her a copy of my book that I “coincidentally” (as if there are coincidences with God!) had in the bag I’d brought with me.

Earlier this week I saw Ilse at the rec center again, walked over, said hello, and again began a conversation. That silly song I’d learned in fifth  grade came into my head, and I began singing, “Fuchs du hast die Gans gestholen, gib Sie wieder her …” and Ilse joined in the song. The song about a fox  that stole a  goose isn’t important, except to lead into the truth today that all around you are absolute gems on two legs,  treasures in the people around you.

Ilse has been a gymnast, dancer, model, actress, music instructor, composer, and zookeeper! On Friday I called her and popped over to her house  for a short visit. That’s when I discovered so much inside this amazing woman.Most importantly,though, we shared our hearts and from  our  spirits, connecting at a personal level so quickly because we both knew God had been instrumental in our meeting.

Though the precious people of Zion were like fine gold, how they are valued like clay vessels, the handiwork of a potter!  Lamentations 4:2 NAS

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of[c] faith, we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. 2 Corinthians 4: 5-14 NIV

Money and power or influence seem to be the things we value and treasure in contemporary American culture. Too often we view other people for what they can do for us, how they can help us get ahead. If I see someone on the street who’s dressed poorly,  do I automatically assume that person has no worth? Conversely, if I see someone dressed in nice clothing, and for women, with dangling earrings and fingernails and toenails painted to match her outfit, do I attribute more worth and value  to her as a person? How clearly I see the rampant narcissism in our society, see how easily I myself am prone to make value judgments based on appearances! Lord God, deliver me from such materialism!

Two weeks ago Ilse was dressed in ordinary exercise clothes, just as I was, just as everyone else in the rec center. If I hadn’t thanked her and asked her a question, I would have “robbed”myself of a great blessing in getting to know her as a unique person created in God’s  image, created with gifting and talents and kindness and a longing, as we all have, to be known,valued, and to know and value others.

What value does God place upon us?

Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.” Matthew 10: 29-31 NIV

You are treasured by God your Father in Heaven! And – perhaps amazingly to you – so is that person next to you on the bus or at school or at work or in the grocery store. Treasured not for their net worth, but treasured because they, and you, are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared to be part of your purpose before you were even a glimmer in your father’s eye, for good works, for  advancing God’s Kingdom, for sharing the Good News about  Jesus, for being a reflection of HIS love and mercy and caring and forgiveness, healing, deliverance,  and HIS grace and HIS Truth on Earth. Ephesians 2: 10 Rose’s Paraphrased Version

Sing, Daughter Zion;
    shout aloud, Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
    Daughter Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away your punishment,
    he has turned back your enemy.
The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you;
    never again will you fear any harm.
16 On that day
    they will say to Jerusalem,
“Do not fear, Zion;
    do not let your hands hang limp.
17 The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3: 14-17 NIV

Gott Sei Dank! Thank God that he opens our eyes to each other, and to the treasure He  has deposited in each one of us. YOU are a treasure, and if you take time to open a conversation, so, I’ll bet, is that person next to you! Use things, LOVE people!

A”…BUT…” to pray: God,yes, I admit  I’m shy, or afraid, or not caring enough to really notice the people around me and consider that You’ve deposited something priceless into them – not something for me to USE,  but some treasure within who they are for me to discover and value. Even the ones not dressed like me, not driving a car, not  in the same church I attend, from another country or neighborhood or ethnicity. Help me,LORD, to see others as YOU see them, and help me overcome my own _____________________________ to know that YOU value me just because I’m Yours! Holy Spirit, who do I need to notice in a new way today?” Lord, I’m listening _________________________________________

 

WWJD

princeofpeace13 Do you remember back in the ’90’s how popular this acronym was? Bracelets, necklaces, hats all carried this logo. I wondered then, and I still do, though, did we and do we really mean to ask that question of God and act on God’s answer?

Last Saturday a woman, perhaps 50-ish, sat perspiring on the bench in front of our house, along the street. She wasn’t one of the elderly people who live in this 55+ community, for whom the  bench is a welcome respite from their walks. No, she was there with a much more pressing need. A tiny dog peeped out of her large handbag as she explained that she’d listened to her daughter’s advice to “Go out, Mom!” and had ridden down to the casino with some friends. These friends stayed ALL night at  the  casino,  and when she asked if they could drive her back home around 4 a.m., they told her they wanted to stay longer. She walked around outside for a time, and got in the car when they came out. Immediately she fell asleep, assuming they’d take her back to her house. Instead she awoke around 7 a.m. in the car, parked in the driveway of one of the “friends”, about 25 miles from her house. The door to their house was locked, so she set  off on foot to walk back  home.

She thought she’d  walked about 5 miles by the time she found the bench to sit and rest on.  A total stranger, bloodshot eyes, missing teeth, straggly hair …. What WOULD Jesus do?  Advise her to get  better friends? Suggest she call a taxi to drive her 20 miles north? Suggest she call the police  and ask for help? Say, ”Gosh, that’s too bad. I’d like to help you  out, but I have work to do in the yard”?

Was my personal safety to be my first concern? Should I let a total stranger inconvenience  me? Nobody forced her to go to a casino, and good grief,  she went to a CASINO! She wasn’t family or a friend, so what did I owe her?

WDJS: What did Jesus say?

 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’  Matthew 25: 32-45 NIV

WWJD? What DID Jesus do when the bleeding woman (against the ”law” to be in public if you’re bleeding AND for a woman to touch a man)  touched his robe? (Matthew 9: 18-26) What did he do when the Canaanite woman asked him to heal her child possessed with demons? (Matthew 15:22) What did he do when blind beggar Bartimaeus cried out, shouted for Jesus to heal his  eyes? (Mark 10: 46-52) When the Samaritan woman at the well, five times married and on her sixth man, asked him to give HER  the Living Water he spoke about? (John 4: 4-26) When a  despised tax collector who’d defrauded people asked Jesus to come to his house? (Luke 19: 1-10)

It  was pretty obvious to me what I should  do, so I invited her in the house to wash her  face (show her some dignity), have some breakfast (feed her stomach) and a cup of coffee (help her stay awake) , listen to her story (express that she was indeed a human being  worth being heard), feed her little dog (just plain compassion), and drive her 20 miles north to her house. AND tell her – yes, we NEED to explain IN WORDS WHO inspires our compassion –  that it  wasn’t my goodness, but Jesus’ love for me that translated into Jesus’ love for her, that moved me to “inconvenience” myself to help her. I prayed with her before she  got out of the car, asking God to  show her HIS love and HIS presence and provision for her  that day and all week, and  to bring true Jesus-loving friends into her life. Truthfully, her physical needs were the red flag to reveal her deeper spiritual needs, to KNOW GOD is real, GOD cares for her, GOD can work though otherS to MEET HER  PHYSICAL NEEDS TO MAKE AN OPENING FOR GOD’S HOLY SPIRIT TO BEGIN TO MINISTER HEALING TO HER DEEPER SPIRIT/HEART HUNGER AND THIRST. Tearfully she smiled and walked up the gravel driveway to her rented mobile home.

And I drove back home, in awe that God had given me an opportunity to show HIS love to someone who probably wasn’t,  and hadn’t been  for a long time, feeling loved and valued.

PLEASE don’t commend me  for being “holy”! Self-righteousness stinks, and I try to run from it like the plague it is. All I did was remember Jesus, trust to see Him sitting beside her on that bench (with his WWJD bracelet on his pierced wrist) and invite Jesus to invade my morning, upset my plans, and show me out of His grace that He still loves me and likes me and values me enough to ask me to show others HIS love. I helped Carly, but JESUS  blessed me through her need.

This was the third time  in three days that God reminded me He still loves me and is here with in the ongoing spiritual warfare I’m up against. Yes, LORD GOD, YOU are on the throne in all of this, and the story ain’t over  till YOU say it’s over and get YOUR glory and victories. In the meantime, THANK you, thank, you, that YOU still speak and  love in me and through me. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:8-39

A “…BUT…” to pray: Lord, Father God, I’ll be I’ve walked unknowingly right past Jesus so many times in  my life. I know that I’m not to be a “doormat” and I do need healthy boundaries in my life, BUT GOD,  please nudge me, tell me, prompt me, SHOVE me if I need shoving to open my eyes to true needs in the world around me that are opportunities and blessings in disguise, and help me plainly and  in humility TELL WHY I’m showing kindness, so I can be an active agent of YOUR LOVE. I’m asking You today to open  my eyes and my heart as I ______________________________________________________. Thanks  that Your mercies are new every morning, today is a fresh start, and you know the motives of my heart.Enable  me to be bold when I need, to show YOUR love,maybe even to __________________________________________________________________ and always, only by YOUR power and grace.  In Jesus’ name, thank you, and Holy Spirit, I’m listening ____________________________________________________________

 

 

 

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 __________________________________________

 

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“O For a Thousand Trucks to Sing …”

This is as close as I could come to the truck image with “OUR MOST  VALUABLE RESOURCE” on the side. “SITS HERE” wasn’t on the truck I saw, but instead an arrow pointing forward.  

 

Oh how I wish I’d seen those two trucks coming in time to get out my phone and photograph them, coming one after the other on the opposite side of the freeway. I might not have noticed them a second later, but as it was, I’d literally just finished a prayer as we were driving, asking for God’s  clear guidance and reminding myself, as well as the LORD, “God,  help me to put YOU first” when I opened my eyes to see the large words “U FIRST” on the back of the transport truck passing us, followed closely by a second  transport truck painted with the large words “OUR MOST VALUABLE RESOURCE” and a red arrow pointing forward.

No, I didn’t  chalk it up to “coincidence.” My words “you first” weren’t more than a second out of my mouth when I saw the trucks. The message wasn’t lost on me: GOD Himself is my/your/our most valuable “resource,” and it’s more  than right to put Him first in my/your/our life. I look back over my life and  think about kind things people have done for me, and I look back over events that”happened” which later turned out to be obviously God’s prior “set up” hand and provision for needs I’d have even as much as ten years down the road.

True confession, more often than not I look for goodness from other people, as though they directed the path of my life. When things don’t go right, though, aren’t we ALL, and I include myself, all too prone to immediately blame God, rather  than laying responsibility at the feet of those other people? How  in the world do I fall into the flawed mindset that good things come from people, and bad things come from God? I think I know the answer. In a devotional email yesterday, the  author made the point that yes, Adam sinned,and stood accused before God, but now that Jesus has paid the price for every sin you and I ever commit,  we stand before God covered in the righteous Blood of Jesus. Satan can’t stand before God and accuse us as he accused Job, because Jesus took our sins upon himself and paid the full price, so Satan speaks accusation against us  and accusations against God into our thoughts. Oh, the crafty, subtle lies of the Father of Lies!

I have to remind myself of the Truth, and God’s Word in the Bible is Truth:

 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.  James 1:17-18 NIV

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.  What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Romans 8: 26-32 NIV

I’ve seen hurtful evil slung at me in the past eight years, more evil than I – naive girl who I was growing up into adulthood in the midst of God-honoring, kind, honest, caring  people  – ever knew existed in the world, on either side and  right in front of me. In complete honesty, I’ve cried out to God in confusion, asking why He allowed such painful, heart-ripping, gut-wrenching things to come  into my life, as though God was the author and purposer of harm. BUT this I know for sure: we live on a battlefield of the mind, with genuine evil warring against all of  the goodness that God intended and still intends to reign in, for, and through His children on Earth. At the times  I’m  feeling lowest,  thankfully I can remind myself of Joseph, thrown into a pit,  sold as a  slave, wrongfully accused of evil, thrown into prison, seemingly forgotten by God, UNTIL a confrontation with the brothers who did him intentional harm revealed a powerful purpose for God’s saving grace and goodness both for Joseph and  through him for many others:

 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.   Genesis 50: 15-20 NIV

Personally, intimately, God has spoken  so many  affirmations to me in a variety of ways in these same eight years:  waking me up to  His  words ”You’re worth fighting for” ; bringing me  word from a  woman I didn’t even know that “You are my chosen  child. Do not fear what man tries to do to you”; a slip of paper with words from an intercessor who was praying over the people who were praying with me, “I’m trying to bless you – you have to let  me”: license plates  like  the three in a row I saw in 2014 “JUSTICE” “CHRISTZ” “CHRONOS” ; the chrome words ‘Jeremiah 11” on the back of a black car in front of me last month, powerful words God gave Jeremiah about people who knowingly break His  covenant, when the only words in chrome I’d ever seen before or since on a  car were model names;  the license plate  “PS7686” leading me to these Scriptures

It is you alone who are to be feared. Who can stand before you when you are angry?
From heaven you pronounced judgment, and the land feared and was quiet—when you, God, rose up to judge, to save all the afflicted of the land. Ps 76: 7-9 NIV

You are my God; have mercy on me, Lord,
    for I call to you all day long.
Bring joy to your servant, Lord,
    for I put my trust in you.

You, Lord, are forgiving and good,
    abounding in love to all who call to you.
Hear my prayer, Lord;
    listen to my cry for mercy.
When I am in distress, I call to you,
    because you answer me.

Among the gods there is none like you, Lord;
    no deeds can compare with yours.
10 For you are great and do marvelous deeds;
    you alone are God.

11 Teach me your way, Lord,
    that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart,
    that I may fear your name.
12 I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart;
    I will glorify your name forever.
13 For great is your love toward me;
    you have delivered me from the depths,
    from the realm of the dead.

14 Arrogant foes are attacking me, O God;
    ruthless people are trying to kill me—
    they have no regard for you.
15 But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
    slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.
16 Turn to me and have mercy on me;
    show your strength in behalf of your servant;
17 Give me a sign of your goodness,
    that my enemies may see it and be put to shame,
    for you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me. Psalm 86: 2-17

 

Truth, Truth, Truth coming against all the lies, all the “but look at these nasty things  happening to you that God could have prevented” insinuating lies that I know, I know  that I know, come from the enemy of my soul, not from the Lover of my soul Jesus. The Truth is this:

A psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. 2He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. 4Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Psalm 23: 1-6
I love you, LORD, my strength. 2The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. 3I called to the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and I have been saved from my enemies…He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. 17He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. 18They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the LORD was my support. 19He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me….To the faithful you show yourself faithful, to the blameless you show yourself blameless, 26to the pure you show yourself pure, but to the devious you show yourself shrewd. 27You save the humble but bring low those whose eyes are haughty. 28You, LORD, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.  Psalm 18: 1-3, 16-19. 25-28 NIV

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep... John 10: 7-11, 14 NIV

Back to those two trucks that passed me last  week. Our most valuable resource? God Himself IS my/your/our resource and provision, God alone, God HIMSELF, God  who gave us life and who keeps us/you/me in His hands, ultimately bringing us the greatest good imaginable: eternal life with Him in Heaven where no evil,  no lying voices, no crafty insinuation  can reach us or do us harm EVER.
 “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 NIV
” 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6: 31-33 NIV
Do not rejoice against me, O my enemy; for if I have fallen, I shall arise; if I sit in darkness, the LORD is my light. Micah 7: 8 NIV
So WHO is my most valuable resource? U FIRST, GOD!  I don’t know how the painful battles I’m STILL in the middle of today will conclude, BUT I do know God’s love and goodness will never, never fail me, so I pray for God’s victory and glory, His way, His will, His time, for His good purposes. Jesus  loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so! Thus I sing  (and look for ) “O for a thousand trucks to sing my great Redeemer’s praise!”
Keep  on truckin’,  God!
A “…BUT…” to pray: God Almighty, help me to remember that, above everything else that I see, feel, or experience, YOU are ______________________________ People may “do me dirty,” BUT God, You promise to __________________________________________________ and in faith I ask You, out of Your mercy and love,  to show me a  sign of Your goodness this week, even today, and as I sing in the song,”Open my eyes, Lord, I want to see Jesus,” so help me keep my eyes open for ANY and EVERY way You choose to use to speak to me, in Jesus’name, for God’s  Glory. Holy Spirit, speak even now ____________________________

Cover it?No way!

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“ 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!

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