Goodness Gracious!

This has been a doozy of moving summer . . .

Exams – Graduations – Selling Our House – Leaving Our Son at College Making Our Nest Truly Empty – Managing 3 Moves in 1 Summer – Starting New Jobs – Adjusting to Living Overseas

Right now, we’re still waiting for the majority of our belongings to arrive, we’re working through getting acclimated to new stores, new places, new road rules, and for me, it’s all in a new language.

God has been Good, and I’ve witnessed His Grace extended to our family and me over this whole period.  It hasn’t been easy; we’ve all had times of fear, grieving losses, saying good-byes, and loneliness.  But, there are also feelings of excitement for all the new beginnings. 

Eventually, we’ve all had to come to a place where we have had to let go and move forward – again.  God has been faithful to provide and orchestrate so many good things.  Things having to do with timing, relationships, and working through mistakes we’ve made. 

By all means, the transition is far from over, but I think the initial jolt has passed.

As an aside and reintroduction – I wasn’t sure if I would write again.  I am fighting my natural tendency to hide and stay private.  I’ve learned that is a pretty safe thing to do – especially when in a new place.  But – I don’t think God wants me to stay hidden and safe.  As long as the Holy Spirit puts on my heart something to put on this blog, I will stay obedient.  I don’t understand how what I write matters much, but I know it’s not about what I think or imagine as long as I commit and submit the whole of it to God.

So, full disclosure, I am not a theologian.  I have not attended seminary, and what I write is based on what God is teaching me through His Holy Word, prayer, life experiences, and spiritual growth.  I can only share my perspective, and knowing that, I understand others’ perspectives may differ.  As long as you, the readers, understand and agree that we are all going through life together, learning as we go, when we have disagreements, may we do so in good faith that God is teaching us through His Holy Spirit and one another.

I know that with rebooting this blog, I want to post with greater consistency, committing to at least one post a month. I love getting feedback from you, the readers. I do review the comments before they go public, so if you don’t see your comment right away, it may be because I haven’t seen your comment yet. It may take a little time especially since I am in a drastically different time zone than anyone in the US.

When I was young, memorizing scripture was part of Sunday school, Sunbeams, and the many other organized church activities that was just a basic expectation for our family. The emphasis was to learn it in order to apply it. 

“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” Psalm 119: 11 (ESV).

The verses I memorized as a child were instrumental in how I developed my faith and guided my decisions.  As an adult, I find it exhilarating to review those simple, basic verses to see the absolute beauty and truth in them.  One of the earliest memory verses I can remember is the Fruit of the Spirit, found in Galatians. 

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law” Galatians 5: 22 – 23 (HCSB).

Two simple verses with a nice, tidy list that should be simple to memorize, right?  Yet, I still have trouble remembering all nine virtues, so I know it is good to spend some time here.

I will be writing about those virtues for the next several posts. This will be kind of like a Bible study series. I am sure there are many other Bible studies, sermons, and devotions written on the Fruit of the Spirit.  In order to maintain originality, I am choosing to not read and present someone else’s thoughts.  If I do find something that I think is valuable to add to the conversation, I will most certainly give credit and reference the author. However, as someone who grew up with these kinds of scriptures as foundational building blocks, I think it’s important to consider them again through the eyes of an adult, rather than a child.

Let’s start with Goodness.

“Taste and see that the LORD is good. How happy is the man who takes refuge in Him!” Psalm 34:8

An online definition of goodness is as follows:

  1. the state or quality of being good.
  2. moral excellence; virtue.
  3. kindly feeling; kindness; generosity.
  4. excellence of quality:goodness of workmanship.
  5. the best part of anything; essence; strength.

(https://www.dictionary.com/browse/goodness)

Since goodness and righteousness are so closely related, it can be a bit tricky to not get sidetracked to issues that are sensitive and divisive, like self-righteousness and condescending judgmental attitudes. I’ve touched on those topics in previous posts, specifically Judgmental Christians and Not That Big of Deal. I want us to consider the positive associations of goodness. 

Yet, good and righteous are so close, that there are times when I am faced with a real dilemma.  As an example, there’s a question that is often found on surveys that I find difficult to answer.  I’ve seen it in one variation or another, but essentially it asks –

‘Do you believe most people are basically good?’

I struggle with this question because on one hand, yes, I do believe most people do try to be good, make good choices, and view themselves as mostly good, myself included. However, scripture tells us that no one is good, or righteous, and that we all need salvation. 

“This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 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” Romans 3:22 – 24 (NIV).

Like the word “love”, I think “goodness” gets used in a variety of ways.  It starts to become diluted, weakened, and even twisted to mean the opposite.

Someone can be labeled a goody, two shoes, something can be called too good to be true, and even lyrics are used to show that it isn’t good to be good as in “The Good Die Young.”

And of course, the quote often used to justify bad or rebellious behavior of women – “Well-behaved women seldom make history” (1976, L. T. Ulrich).

I mean, really, who thinks of goodness as a powerful virtue?  There’s excitement in doing the wrong thing sometimes.

Paul writes about Moses, “He chose to share the oppression of God’s people instead of enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin” (NLT). Hebrews 11:25

First, I think we need to discuss moral development and our tendency to put goodness on a rating scale.  For example, children often see the world in black and white, something is either good or bad, with nothing in between.  If a young child has a bad or scary experience with a dog, then in that child’s mind, all dogs are bad.  As an even better example, we’ll use the “rule” that most children learn, that it is bad to write on walls. 

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

As we get older, and we develop more advanced cognitive abilities, we soon find our childhood beliefs challenged and we test the boundaries.

So, a child decides to write on a bathroom wall or desk.  The “rule” becomes a little grayer as we begin to rationalize our actions as not so bad, better, or worse.  That’s when we here things like, “Everyone else is doing it,” “She did it first,” “I only wrote . . .,” and so forth.  If you wrote something small where others had already written, and nobody seemed to get into trouble, then you were still pretty good.  You weren’t going against what was socially acceptable.  But, if you wrote something like a threat with curse words in a conspicuous area, where no one was supposed to write, for everyone to see, then, you were a “BAD” kid.  And bad kids were ostracized and punished.  (Or by some students, completely accepted and considered heroes, especially in middle school where rebellion is normal and developmentally appropriate, depending on the target of the threat.)

As adults, we have pieces of our childhood lessons mixed in with our ability to think abstractly and greater experience.  We are able to rationalize even more, and we can hold several different positions at the same time.  The action of the child was bad, the child is not bad, and if we know what the child is going through at home, or in the school, we are likely to blame the parents – then the parents are bad.

Okay.  Enough.  There’s a vicious circle to it.

Society says we all have our own truth.  We certainly all have our own perspectives and experiences, and those are what inform our beliefs about the world. Comparisons and experiences can create confusion causing us to doubt what we thought we KNEW to be true. Unfortunately, sometimes good things get twisted into looking bad and the other way around. I think most often, we just jump to conclusions without having a clear picture.   Especially with social media – we are still in that middle school, join the crowd or be pushed out, rejected, mentality.  It all becomes relative.

We (general population) believe the church says you have to be good to be acceptable to God, to the church, and you have to follow all the rules or you won’t go to heaven.  I’m sure there are some churches that still teach that.  Or maybe there are some churches that seem to give off the, ‘you are all guilty and worthless sinners, so do what we tell you to do’, kind of vibe.   There are many churches that don’t teach that, but if one thinks that’s what church is about, then why ever go?

By the way, I was a good girl.  Shocker, I know.  I don’t think I ever wrote any graffiti anywhere.  I wanted to be obedient, but I was also questioning the whole time.  For example, I grew up in a church denomination that said, No drinking, No dancing, and No cussing.  Real life Footloose.  However, when I learned to read, the church’s covenant was posted on the wall, and I read to see where it said drinking wasn’t allowed. It wasn’t on there.  I wondered where that rule came from.  I still didn’t drink until I was legally allowed to, except for a sip here or there.  (See – not that bad, still mostly good.)

In the Bible, there are lists of things that are good and bad.  We most often hear of the bad things, the things we aren’t supposed to do. The Ten Commandments are written in negative form – “Thou shalt not . . .” There are many things listed in the Old and New Testament as examples of sinful, wicked, or evil behaviors. For example, just a bit earlier in Galatians we read,

“The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; idolatry and sorcery; hatred, discord, jealousy, and rage; rivalries, divisions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” Galatians 5: 19 – 21 (BSB).

Furthermore, we have Jesus telling us even our thoughts are evil.

“But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these things defile a man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, and slander.” Matthew 15: 18 – 19 (BSB)

If our thoughts, even the ones that pop up uninvited, are considered bad, how can we ever display goodness? How can we be good? We know we can’t, so we justify our thoughts and actions by saying things like, “if it doesn’t hurt anyone else,” or “he/she deserved it,” or “no one knows, so it doesn’t matter.”

But God knows.  He’s the only one who does know our hearts. 

“A person may think their own ways are right, but the LORD weighs the heart” Proverbs 21:2 (NIV).

When you read the whole of Galatians, even if it’s just chapter five, you will find that Paul is comparing the natural inclinations of people without God with those who have the Spirit of God guiding them. The virtues listed are the natural good things of God. Without Him, without His grace, we will continually fall short. And He knows how much we need His Grace, even if we don’t recognize the need ourselves.

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its savior” John 3: 16 – 17 (GNT).

Sometimes we use the scaled list of good to evil to help us feel better about ourselves.  Some of us who have received God’s grace, forget how much we still need it – EVERY SINGLE DAY. This can lead us to arrogant thinking that we are just naturally good and deserve the gift of grace over others. We twist the good and precious gift of grace as if we earned it, using it against others who we think are messed up more than ourselves. 

Friends, we have all done or thought something bad, and we all need the gift of grace.  And those of us who have experienced that precious, amazing gift of grace, need to remember to share it with others.  To not hold it like a secret possession that is rare and reserved for only for a few. 

Who is excluded from God’s gift of grace? 

What about people out there who have been told that they are unworthy to receive God’s grace?  What if there are people who believe that there is no way God will ever accept them?  What about the people who believe they rejected by the church because of their tendencies, actions, and preferences? Because this is what is all really about  – acceptance and rejection.

Is God’s love for everyone except ——–?

When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners” Mark 2:17 (NLT).

God doesn’t offer grace because we are good. God offers grace because we are not good – even those of us who are considered pretty good.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, let’s be careful about how we represent the grace and love of God to those most vulnerable, the most in danger of missing out on the Amazing Grace that God freely offers. Let Him take care of working His goodness through us and in the lives of those around us.  He is patient and kind, slow to anger.

We are reminded of the importance and reality of God’s judgment, the necessity of God’s goodness and grace with the words Paul wrote to the church in the book of Romans. There was a debate regarding whether or not Greeks, or Gentiles, were acceptable to God:

“There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil, first for the Jew, then for the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does good, first for the Jew, then for the Greek. For God does not show favoritism” Romans 2: 9 -11 (NIV).

The only ones who miss God’s grace and goodness are those who reject Him with an unrepentant heart.  May we never become arrogant in our salvation, but rather, remain humble servants, cooperating with the work of the Holy Spirit through obedience. 

Just a fun little ending here. I had been working on this post for a while, but I had been struggling to figure out how to wrap it up, to know if I was supposed to restart the blog. My husband and I were visiting some beautiful places here in Germany, including a famous church that is hundreds of years old. As I’m walking around the back, I see this:

Who would think it’s a good idea to carve on a famous, historical church’s pew? Goodness Gracious! I bet there’s a great story there.

Again, it is up to our own choice, our own free will, to accept God’s grace and salvation.  We get to accept or reject Him.

Finally, I leave you with this encouragement:

“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity” 2 Peter 3:18 (NIV).

Because I believe in reading things in context, here are links to the scriptures I used to guide what I wrote:

Here’s the reference for the quote about well-behaved women. Although I haven’t read the article yet, and I suspect I will want to write about it much later, it’s important to reference and cite properly!

Ulrich LT. Vertuous Women Found: New England Ministerial Literature, 1668-1735. American Quarterly [Internet]. 1976;28 :20-40.

What Do I Believe About GRACE?

Hello again. It’s been a while. January 2019 is so welcome, isn’t it?

Although I haven’t written anything for 6 months, I have been thinking about what I would write if I could. I expected to be able to write at least one or two posts over the fall, but life threw things in the way. I just read a couple of the last blog posts (Moving Summer and I Know Better). I noticed they both had the theme of expectations even though they were written months apart. Expectations still pose a problem for me, and I am being challenged to consider my beliefs, the desires of my heart, and my actions and reactions.

Here’s an example of what I mean.

My attitude was a bit sour this past Fall.  I was angry and frustrated about not being able to set up the house properly before the semester started. I have been increasingly fearful about our plans to move overseas next summer and my ability to get a job where I don’t know anyone, fresh out of school, and with no experience. And, we had to put our big dog down due to a sudden and unexpected health issue even though he should have lived several more years.  He’s the fourth dog, all different breeds, where we’ve had to do that.  I allowed circumstances to pull me under into a sense of desperation and defeat.

It’s time to deal with that properly.

I’ve noticed there’s a trend in choosing a word for the year.  The thing I’ve been thinking about this last semester is Belief. And more specifically, what does it look like to live out what I believe?  I have been struggling with what I believe about God’s grace and love for me, right now, even when I act petulantly and faithlessly.  Perhaps you can relate.  I think God’s grace is something we think we understand, but allowing that grace to fully saturate our lives and relationships can be a sticking point.  I invite you to join me as I see what God shows me through this particular lesson.

The verse that began this theme is this:

John 6: 29 Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” (NLT)

This statement by Jesus challenges all kinds of inherent beliefs I have about my responsibilities and the way I choose to live and engage with others.  When I became a mom, I knew I had the privilege to raise and influence my children for a limited period of time.  I took my responsibility seriously, and I tried to do all the right things.  As a wife, I tried to support and honor my husband in a way that would please God and help us grow closer spiritually.  I prayed over my marriage, my children, my relationships with my parents and siblings, our many moves, my husband and his work, and even my children’s friends.  I attended and led Bible Studies, church services, volunteered at VBS and youth activities, did Bible studies at home, and tried to set a good example for what loving and believing God looks like expecting that all this love and doing good stuff would result in my family wanting to experience God in the same way.  I love doing all those things!

Here’s the thing –  my expectations haven’t been realized.  And I don’t know if they ever will. Meaning, I don’t know if my children and husband will ever want to be as devoted and engaged that same way.  So the thought occurs to me – Does their not wanting to be as involved in church mean I failed in setting a good enough example of love, forgiveness, and kindness?  I can tell you, I know where I’ve failed.  Even in all my attempts in doing things right.  I have and continue to fail again and again.

I hear God whisper, “My grace is sufficient for you.” But do I believe this?

So, when I don’t see the expected fruits of my labor, then my perseverance in doing good is weakened, and I feel worn out. I don’t have the heart to keep going. I stop praying. I stop having those amazing quiet times where God is speaking to me, encouraging me. I think about all the ways that I messed up, didn’t pray well enough, acted in doubt instead of faith, was impatient, and I take on the responsibility for what’s not right – according to my expectations.

Again, I hear God whisper, “Lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.” and “God knows the heart of a man.”  And I think, I believe this, but look . . .

I mix guilt with a little bit of truth, and I feel even more defeated. I know God loves me. I know I have received salvation and grace for later. I know I have asked for forgiveness, and that God forgives.  I know I am a child of God, but I must not be (good, faithful, obedient, fill in the blank) enough because I don’t see the fruit from my labor.  Inherent in that belief is that although I’m forgiven, grace doesn’t apply to my life at the moment, and I am still responsible for the fallout of my faithless actions.

God patiently reminds me, “Without me, you can do nothing,” and that “He is faithful, even when we are faithless.”

Do I really believe that?  Is that the truth?  Or are my failures so significant, that God can’t redeem and restore what I’ve broken?  If I believe and act as if the results of my messed up attempts at life and love can’t be fixed, then I am saying that my sin is bigger than God’s redeeming love and salvation through Jesus Christ.  Basically, I’m saying God’s grace doesn’t apply to me.  And I recognize the lie.

Guess what, making others believe and act in a certain way is not my work. God’s work is something more significant, creative, loving, and perfect than anything I could ever imagine.  And, I need to trust Him with my mistakes.  I need to trust His forgiveness is just as real and relevant in the present as it will be on judgment day. And, my work or joy in doing the churchy things I listed above are not the only ways people can show their own love of God.  How arrogant of me!

Back to scripture:

Regarding the fears  I have about getting a job next year:

Matthew 6:33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

Regarding the areas where I know I mess up:

2 Corinthians 12:9 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.

And regarding my efforts:

Ephesians 2: 8 – 10  For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance as our way of life. (Berean Study Bible)

God gives grace. His grace. Not just in the time to come, but now. And my work is to believe in Jesus Christ, the person of His Grace. If I doubt God’s grace is applicable to me as I live right now, then I undervalue that amazing and precious grace not just for myself, but for others as well. And there it is, the lie hidden in the works. I know God’s grace is bigger than all our sin. His grace is not just a one-time thing, at the point of salvation that just sits there until judgment day.

I didn’t even realize what my belief of limited grace implied until I was challenged by that one verse.

God gives grace. God gives faith.

And, I know that God has been patient and gentle with me. Why wouldn’t He be the same with everyone else?  As far as the guilt I feel for the ways I have messed up, said hurtful things, or lacked discipline and wisdom, I imagine God as a teacher, knowing the mistakes I have and will make, and allowing me to make them because He’s got it all worked out already.

My work is to believe in Jesus, the one God sent. And believing in Jesus means I need to trust God’s grace – for me, for others, and for right now. He knows it’s going to be all okay in the end.

So that’s my word for 2019

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Moving Back

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Our family is moving again – as was planned.  This will be the third time moving back to our house, to a “home base” as you might call it.   If you’ve followed my blog from the beginning, you would know I began writing this  blog when I faced major upheaval in significant areas of my life (The Rock Tumbler), and that I move frequently (See About and Let Me be your Home).  ‘Where are you from?’ is never a simple question to answer.  The short one is ‘Texas’, or the place I last lived.

Due in part to my life’s frequent relocations, building a community of friends is a challenge because it takes time to develop enough shared experiences, to build trust, and to get to know people.  I’ve learned how to get involved just enough to not be too lonely, to appreciate those people who share of themselves, and who allow me to share with them.  It’s a vulnerable state of living to always be the “new girl”.

I just want to share two quick things here that I’ve learned while living in Williamsburg, Virginia.  This small, retirement community, centered on America’s colonial history, is quite relevant in today’s modern world.

First, I’ve learned how important it is to maintain one’s health now, so that I can still kick butt when I’m 70 and older.  Just because there are a lot of older people here does not mean people aren’t engaged in athletic activities, like running, yoga, cycling, and so on.  Watching women several decades my senior working out with better strength, cardio, and endurance was inspiring.  I want to be that person when I get there.

Second, the Christian community here is thriving, and God is moving across so many lines.  I attended the Williamsburg Community Chapel (The Chapel), and the opportunities to engage across the community are phenomenal – intergenerational and racial diversity are celebrated assets.  One such opportunity is a collaboration with the Historic First Baptist Church of Williamsburg.  This church was officially established in 1776, by slaves, and is still vibrant and active in the community.  These two churches are working together for the Williamsburg community to make things better.  I had the privilege to attend and meet several members of this church last summer and was overwhelmed with the spirit of unity among their members.  I am so encouraged to witness how God is moving in these two amazing churches, and I imagine the impact this collaboration will have on their community, and throughout the Christian family.

As we leave the small town of Williamsburg and return to the crowded and fast-paced Northern Virginia area, I wonder what the next year will bring.  It’s another short-term and temporary move.  I know how easy it is to get caught up in work and worries, to not engage with others on a meaningful level. We’ve lived there several times, and each time is a new experience.  Things change so quickly, that each time is like moving to a new place.  Will old acquaintances be welcoming?  Will I need to start new?  I expect it will be a mixture of both.

Pastor Travis Simone of The Chapel wrapped up the sermon series of the Kingdom Mission by talking about what partnering with God looks like.  To my amazement, he pointed out that the mission involved partnering and leaving.  I’m leaving Williamsburg, but I’m leaving having been strengthened by the community and partnership of the many believers at The Chapel and others in the community.

I’m moving back to Northern Virginia.  We typically stay only a few years at a time, and that hinders the ability to create lasting friendships.  Each time has had a significant atmosphere and set of friends/experiences.  I wonder what God has planned for this next stay.  So, I’m moving back while still “moving forward in faith“.

I Know Better

Expectations and hope are not the same things.

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I’ve been reflecting on the differences between expectations and hopes as I wrap up my practicum internship in a counseling office, and as I consider Mother’s Day quickly approaching. Expectations can get us in big trouble. Hope can pull us through trouble.

When I started the internship at the counseling office, I expected that by the end, I would have developed enough skill and confidence to feel like I knew what I was doing in at least one area. However, as the end of the semester neared, I became impatient and concerned because I wasn’t seeing the progress I thought I was supposed to see. Instead of feeling more confident, I was feeling less capable and overwhelmed with all that I didn’t know. It turns out, according to my supervisor, that’s quite normal, and it’s a good sign. This is how good counselors are made. I decided to trust her experience, allow myself more time, and hope that I develop into that kind of counselor. I’ve had more than one professor tell me to trust the process.

The concentrated experience of the practicum learning curve gave me new insight into the learning curve of being a parent and daughter.

As a child, I was obedient, kind to others, ready to serve, and put my needs aside for the sake of others. This is what I was taught to do, and how I believed God wanted me to live. I expected that my sacrifices and kindnesses would be noticed, appreciated, and I would be more liked and favored. I would earn being loved.

That didn’t happen.

Disillusionment gave way to festering bitterness and anger that almost destroyed some of the most important relationships in my life, especially with my mom. Having an analytical nature, I formed opinions for when I was going to have the opportunity to be in control, to make my own decisions. And when the time came for me to leave home, I told my mom –

I know better.

From my 22 years of life experience, I believed I had the answers to making things work out the right way. I just needed the opportunity to prove it. My husband and I had similar ideas of what raising a family was supposed to look like. He and I did a lot of things the “right way.” We weren’t perfect, but we worked together as a team, complimenting each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We practiced demonstrating love in such a way that we expected there would never be any doubt in our children’s minds of how much we loved them. Families are like recipes, you put in the right ingredients, follow the instructions, and everything comes out like the Instagram perfect picture you expect. Right?

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Mother’s Day Breakfast

Well, now I know better.

The truth is, my parents loved my siblings and me. They still do. But when life is hard and there are things beyond our control, we don’t always feel loved. Sometimes, we get angry and reject the love of those who love us the most. We compare our lives with someone else who seems to have something better, and we feel gipped, neglected, or that we somehow missed the mark and are the ones lacking. The truth is, we live in a fallen world where even the best love we have to offer can be missed, misunderstood, or even misapplied. As a parent, I know there have been times I misapplied my love. Who among us can show perfect love?

But then there’s hope.

Instead of expectations based on my abilities, I am learning how to be patient with myself, and with others. I am learning how to extend and accept grace in ways I could never imagine before now. And to be perfectly honest, I see now that I don’t have as much control over the outcome of things as I imagined. Letting go of expectations makes more room for hope. Honest hope and faith. My children are now young adults, and guess what, I’m still on a learning curve. I thought I had it figured out back when I started, and if not then, certainly by now. See how those “I know better” expectations can trip you up?

Mother’s Day is on my mind. With my children no longer dependent on me for daily living, Mother’s Day feels different, like somehow, I’m no longer really part of the mommy club. That makes me consider how my mom must have felt as we all became adults. I regret the pain I inflicted on my mom with the words I said to her. Over two decades later, my mom and I have worked very hard to find a new way to relate and understand each other. Neither one of us gave up hope. And she’s still my mom.

God continues to teach me new things, new ways of relating to Him. I still fall into the trap of trying to earn God’s favor (love) by trying to do things the right way. We can’t earn God’s love. We already have it. My mom forgave me and never stopped loving me. My own children have my and my husband’s love no matter what. We know that, but do they? Did we make that clear enough? I hope so.

As a counselor, I recognize the trap of placing my own expectations on my clients. That doesn’t help anyone. It actually can make things much worse. Ah, but what does help is guiding them to find hope. Hope that things can get better, that the way things are now is not how it will always be.

The trials of my life caused me to doubt God’s love for me, my parents’ love for me, and my self-worth. As a young adult, I thought I could do things on my own, my way, and get it right. I thought if I read enough and gave enough, it would be enough.

I know better.

There’s a learning curve to life. Things don’t always work out how we expect. And here I am, still learning how to trust God. God is patient, and I know he sees how much more practice I need to learn how to do this parenting thing. He reminded me recently, I am His child. My husband is His child. My children are His children. He is enough.

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Hope leaves room for more possibilities!

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV)

These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold–though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. 1 Peter 1:7 (NLT)

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to futility – not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it – in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of corruption into the glorious freedom of God’s children. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now. And not only that, but we ourselves who have the Spirit as the firstfruits – we also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. Now in this hope we were saved, yet hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience. Romans 8:18 – 25 (HCS)

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. Hebrews 11:1 (NLT)

 

 

 

 

Kindness Counts

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I have been struggling to publish this last lesson in the series, “Daughters and Disciples”.  I’m not really sure why.  I have plenty of valid excuses, but not really good reasons. I decided to go ahead and post tonight due to some gentle pressing by friends and strangers who did not realize what their words and actions were stirring in my heart. 

Several new people have decided to follow this blog even though I haven’t posted in a while.  Thank you! I’m honored that you found what I’ve written to be interesting  enough that you wanted to keep reading more.

Today, a friend challenged me to be more open, to be more vulnerable.  This isn’t the venue we were discussing, but I do know I’ve added something to this lesson that makes me feel quite vulnerable.  It may have something to do with why I’ve been putting off posting it.  And another friend with whom I was sharing some of what’s been heavy on my heart encouraged me as she always does.  I am so blessed to have these two powerful encouragers in my life.  

Then tonight, I attended the small group with these lovely ladies.  Most of them are far wiser than I, but as I listened to some of what was being shared, I realized the theme of vulnerability, of being real, of being honest, was present there, too.  So here goes . . .

The final lesson in the Daughters and Disciples study – Lesson 6

Kind words

The objective here is to gain a better appreciation for how we speak to one another. We all know how difficult it is to maintain self-control over our words, but if we are more aware of the impact of what and how we communicate, we may find it a little easier and develop a habit of using our words for good rather than harm. We may also find ourselves better able to forgive others when their words cut us.

Proverbs 31:25 – 26 (NASB)  Strength and dignity are her clothing,  And she smiles at the future.  She opens her mouth in wisdom, And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.

Discussion Questions

  • What was the result of the TBH (To Be Honest) trend on Facebook from several years ago? (If you participated.) How many of you learned some neat things people thought about you, or hurtful?
  • What are some of the most encouraging things someone has told you? What was the result?
  • Define snarky. Is it really ok to speak in this way?
  • What does it mean to speak with “wisdom and faithful instruction?”
  • When might you have the opportunity to speak this way?

Our lives are filled with relationships, good and bad. These relationships alter our moods, can change the way we think or act, and effect more than just two people. The way we treat and talk to each other has a greater impact than we realize.

The level of jealousy and contempt, the competition for Abraham’s affection, the realization of promises made and misunderstood, all these things served to breed an ugly outcome. One thing that again stands out in this story is that even though it was through Sarah’s lack of faith in the promise that led to the birth of Ishmael through Hagar, God was still there for Hagar and Ishmael even though the covenant promise was meant for Sarah and Isaac. Sarah and Isaac, as well as Hagar and Ishmael, endured hardships due to a lack of faith, and both mothers and sons received blessings from God.

Questions To Consider

  • Can you imagine the little looks, the words, and the gossip whispered in each other’s tents about and by these two women?
  • Do we ever look at each other and judge whether or not we think another has received a blessing we thought we should have for ourselves?
  • Does the impact of what we say have an expiration date? Where it no longer contains any power?
  • Notice how God took care of Hagar and blessed her. What do you think that means?

Why It Matters

The words we use to communicate, how we communicate, and the actions that go with those words have far reaching effects. The book of John opens with, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God” (John 1:1). In Hebrews 4:12, the Word of God is described as being sharper than a double edged-sword. We have the love of God in us, and we are living, breathing, and speaking examples of Christ to the world. Our words matter to the ones who hear what we say, whether they are the intended audience or not. Knowing what to say and when to say it is part of being a wise woman. Our words show us the condition of our heart. Pay attention! Learning how to speak with wisdom and kindness takes practice, and all of us mess up. Thank God for His forgiveness and grace.

TBH – So, as I have mentioned previously, I wrote this lesson several years ago. And even though I know I want to be kind, I sometimes mess up in a HUGE way. Not that long after I wrote this lesson, I said something less than flattering to another mom about one of my son’s teammates. I strongly suspect that teammate’s father was listening to what I said. I did not know the father when I said it. Those unkind and critical words came from a place of my own insecurity, and I still regret the likely impact on the father. The family was going through a difficult time dealing with significant illness and eventual loss. There is no way I can take any of it back. My words likely caused more heartache for that dad instead of being an uplifting and encouraging experience when he really needed it. It also reflected poorly on my witness, my son, and altered other relationships in a negative manner. Unfortunately, that is not the only time I said something ignorantly. Another huge mistake was sent in written form with some anger and frustration expressed. I extended an apology right away, but again, I know my words did not reflect the love of Christ. Sometimes, the opportunity to ask for forgiveness is present, and sometimes, the damage remains – with or without forgiveness.

I know that I am careful most of the time. I am certainly more careful since the two examples mentioned here. It grieves me to know that as I try to walk in the light, to be a light, I may have caused others to stumble, to doubt God, to have a lesser opinion of what Christians are like. Oh, I know I won’t be perfect. It’s hard to always know what to say, when to say it, and how to say things in the right way. Basically, if what I want to say is a negative opinion that really doesn’t have a purpose other than to vent frustration, I think it’s better left unsaid. Now, I pray I may continue to choose to follow what I know to be true.

My Story

In middle school and high school, it is a rite of passage to deal with the very issue of mean-spirited comments and thoughtless gossip. I certainly dealt with it. It got so bad for me that I viewed even a compliment as a possible attack. Because of this, I didn’t trust other people for a very long time. I learned to keep people from getting close to me. How can we, who are revered for our beauty, gentleness and nurturing nature, be so mean and vindictive? How much do we internalize and believe well beyond the time and circumstances of those moments? Often, those words are echoed over and over until we believe the lies or let the root of bitterness go deep in our hearts.

It took God’s patient and persistent love to break down the walls I built around myself for protection. In trying to avoid the risk of being hurt, I realized I also created a barrier between God and me. The first time was out of rebellion, and the second time was out of fear. There is nothing more painful to me than to realize I cannot hear or feel God’s presence, especially by my own doing.

Not long ago, a few other moms and I were talking about at what point we realized we needed other women in our lives. Each of us tried living our adult lives by being self-sufficient. Eventually, we had all reached a point in our lives where we realized we needed the help of other women. Opening my heart to other women still leaves me feeling quite vulnerable (It looks like that’s still a work in progress!), but trusting God to help me navigate through the perilous waters of female friendships allows room for Him to work through those relationships – for His good purposes.

It’s not only friend relationships that get tricky. Every relationship is affected by how we speak. This includes our relationships with our siblings, our parents, and our spouses. I love my husband, and it kills me when he lets me know my words have made him feel unloved or less valued. That is not being the kind of blessing, or desperately needed helper, I want to be.

It is through my trying to speak words of love, life and kindness that I realize how much I fail. It is by these failures that I am able to learn where I need more work, and to not let the words of others cut so deeply, especially when I know they may not realize how they sound. Grace abounds.

The Big Question

  • How do you speak to the people in your life?
  • Are you speaking with words of wisdom and kind instruction on your tongue?
  • Who in your life can you practice speaking encouraging words to?
  • Here is a challenge. Either for your parents or siblings – Speak only encouraging and grateful words to them and notice the responses or changes in reactions.
  • Write down the results.

  Dig A Little Deeper

  • The Book of James
  • Proverbs 10:31 (HCSB) The mouth of the righteous produces wisdom,
but a perverse tongue will be cut out.
  • Proverbs 4: 23 (HCSB) Guard your heart above all else, 
for it is the source of life.
  • There are MANY verses throughout Proverbs about anger, gossip, kindness and the right time to speak.

Let kindness be on your tongue!

If you want to leave a comment on this page, I take the time to review any comments before they get posted.  If your comment doesn’t show up right away, I will likely respond by the next day. 

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Work!

Work only counts as work if there is movement.

That’s the simplified, paraphrased definition that applies to physical science as taught to my third grade students.

Definition+of+Work+In+Physics,+work+means+more+than+something+that+requires+physical+or+mental+effort.

Experience, time, and knowledge can change our understanding. As I read the lesson, I realized how much more there is to add, how many different ways there are to think about what work is and what it means! Purpose, Laziness, Balance, Traditional Family and Career Roles vs. Non-traditional Roles, etc. . . .  All of these I touched on in the original lesson, but each idea can be enriched so much more. 

At the time, I was about to start teaching full-time for the first time after being primarily a stay-at-home mom. When I started this blog a year ago, teaching was something I realized I wasn’t going to be able to do the way I wanted to do, and I was going through some major soul-searching. Today, I am a full-time student starting the practicum part of becoming a school counselor in an office where I am learning what counseling work looks like, feels like, but I don’t get paid for it.

Essentially, my perception of work has changed a bit in the interim. And I need to simplify tonight’s post because I still have a lot of work to do tonight!

 

Maynard Work

So, I’m going to post the original lesson with a few comments and a wrap up at the end –


Lesson 2 – Working Hard

The objective here is to understand that each of us has work we are supposed to do. We rely on God’s provision of the gifts and talents He has given us to use in order to share, to build, and to grow in faith. We should also understand, as we carry out our work, God blesses and encourages the faith of others. Whatever kind of job we may take, if we are working with the knowledge that we are using our skills and talents for the Lord, we can trust that He will “delight” in our service and obedience. We will also respect and appreciate others who are doing different jobs.

  • Proverbs 31:13-19, 27 (NIV) She selects wool and flax
 and works with eager hands. She is like the merchant ships,
 bringing her food from afar. She gets up while it is still night;
 she provides food for her family
 and portions for her female servants. She considers a field and buys it;
 out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously;
 her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable,
 and her lamp does not go out at night. In her hand she holds the distaff
 and grasps the spindle with her fingers. 27 She watches over the affairs of her household
 and does not eat the bread of idleness.

Discussion Questions

  • What are some things you have had to work hard to get – grades? – job? – sports? – something else?
  • How did your efforts benefit you? Others?
  • What motivates you to work hard?
  • Do you find it difficult to stay motivated to work hard in any areas?

Personally, I find it tiring just reading all that this proverbial woman did. I struggle a bit with being lazy at times, and working too hard at times. I have to make an effort in keeping things balanced and not give in to selfish ambition or self-centeredness.

Balance is something I lacked while teaching. I missed a lot of my daughter’s senior year of high school. I was trying so hard to do a good job at school and still be available to my family, but I essentially burned out. I stopped going to church, and my prayer life became one of panicked cries for help on a daily and hourly basis. My family was incredibly supportive, but it was too much.

  • Ephesians 2:10 (HCSB) For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.
  • Colossians 3: 17 (HCSB) And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
  • Ephesians 4:28 (HCSB) He must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.
  • Proverbs 20:13 (HCSB) Don’t love sleep, or you will become poor; open your eyes, and you’ll have enough to eat.

Questions to Consider

  • Do you ever let the efforts of your work consume you to the point of damaging relationships?
  • How do you handle it when the work required of you seems unimportant?
  • Does God only care about our work if it’s for church ministry? Why do you think so?

Why It Matters

Some people think God is only interested in our church activities. If that is what we believe, then we can behave in a way that is contrary to Christ living in us when we aren’t in a church setting, and our testimony and the fullness of Christ’s love in us is not complete. To be a disciple of Christ means we follow His way in all areas of our life. All things are under His authority, including our job, and how we do it. If we have to do work that is mundane and tedious, we can still bring glory to God by doing it with a positive and uncomplaining attitude.

My Story

As you read the following paragraphs, you will see that my concern was primarily with my purpose and my role as a woman. I don’t know that this question has really been answered with any sense of finality, and I don’t know that it ever will. I do know this; I want to be open to growing, learning, and experiencing all that God has for me. I’ve learned to enjoy being surprised and flexible.

While I was in college, I was intent on discovering my place in the world, the church, and God’s plan for me. I decided at an early age that I would become a teacher. I also wanted to stay home to take care of my family when I had kids, but I often felt like there was something more that I could do. Dissatisfaction settled in my heart. While I could see the value of the traditional roles with which I was raised, I was also curious about the restrictions and boundaries placed on women. How much did I agree with the feminist idea that women and men should be treated equally in all situations? Could I stretch what was traditional and still honor God? Did God want me to do something different? Was I limiting myself if I chose to be a wife and stay-home mom? I wanted to explore all this in a way that honored Him. I decided I should start from the beginning of the Bible and read all the way through making notes of whenever women were mentioned and what their roles were. Were they honored? Did they please God? How?

My dad is a carpenter and a preacher. Both of these are very traditional, male roles especially in the area in which I grew up. In kindergarten, they let us use saws, hammers, and nails. I was delighted since my dad didn’t let me use his tools. I loved the feel, smells, sounds, and the creativity of working with my hands and the wood. I told my dad I wanted to be a carpenter like him. He responded with a resounding, “No Way! No daughter of mine will ever work in construction.” Obviously, anything related to carpentry was not going to be supported by my parents. However, as I read through the Bible, I found a place where the Israelites were rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem. Each family was responsible for their part of the wall. One man had several daughters but no sons. Guess who helped build that section of the wall? His daughters! (Nehemiah 3:12) There were female carpenters in the Old Testament! And, they were honoring God with their work. It was notable enough to mention in the Bible. Hmmm.

Dad and me with toolbelt

My dad still wears his tool belt to work every day!  I grew up being proud of my dad’s strength.

I resolved my questions about the female role in this way. God made each of us with unique desires, skills and abilities. Whatever we do, whatever role, whatever work, and whatever relationships we encounter, we should always look to honor God. It is not beneath any woman’s intelligence or capability to stay home to raise her children and support her husband. Not is it wrong for women to use the intelligence and abilities He has given them to be successful in business, science, or even carpentry. As long as we are humble, loving and serving Him, I believe we are living inside His Will and fulfilling His purposes for us. This honors God. Finally, we are not limited to only one role throughout our lives. My time to be a stay-home mom is coming to an end, and I am about to begin teaching full-time. I may never get to become skilled at carpentry, but I have done my best to “build my home” and raise my family with the knowledge and love of God. I am satisfied with that.

There is so much to say and consider about the role of women and work. That is certainly another topic for another time. However, I can’t believe I failed to mention in this section Proverbs 14:1 –“ A wise woman builds her house . . .” It does get more attention in a later lesson.

The Big Question(s)

  • What work do you believe God has given you to do, and how has He uniquely made you for that work?
  • How are you honoring God with the way you do your work?
  • Do you believe and trust that He has prepared you for certain good things for His purposes?

Dig A Little Deeper (All HCSB)

For even more verses, check out this website: http://workmatters.org/resources/workplace_scripture/ 

The specific link inserted here no longer works; however, workmatters.org is an active program with a lot of good information for those wanting to learn how to combine faith in all areas of work. There are resources available for young people who are just starting careers, and those of us with more experience.

Finally, I just have to share that the church I attend is currently doing a series on Kingdom Wisdom, which falls right into the same theme I intended for this Bible study. After the first sermon, True Wisdom, I told Pastor Travis that he was preaching my sermon! Just last week, the Kingdom Wisdom topic was work, and I want to share the link to it here.

Kingdom Wisdom – Work

You know that song, “God is on the Move”? Every time I hear it, I am reminded of the verse that says God is at work even now (John 5:17). His movement is certainly good work!

“God is on the Move” by 7eventh Time Down

 

 

 

Holding It Together

Jesus Holds All Things Together

I am grateful for a small break in my classes to be able to write another post. Over the past several months, there have been many papers to write, tests to take, and an “Intensive” week where I was actually staying on campus in a dorm room with a roommate. Ah, just like old times!

I found myself in a true identity crisis last year when the expectations and plans for the empty nest period of my life suddenly evaporated. After taking a season to mourn my lost purpose, I started this blog to share what God has taught me, and continues to teach me, about His faithfulness, His trustworthiness, and His loving-kindness while remaining open to what God’s plan was for me. With the encouragement of my husband, I am now working on a master’s degree for school counseling. Going back to school after more than 20 years has been just a little bit intimidating.

During the months since, with each class and assignment, there have been times when I felt like I wasn’t able to do what was required in the time frame given. When moments of doubt, weakness, and insecurity take hold, it can be difficult to continue giving my best effort. Yet, I know I am not alone, and the only way to fail for certain is to give up. I can’t give up.

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Every adventure and challenge calls for perseverance. But this perseverance only comes when I believe that Jesus knows and provides what I need. And, when I’m only getting a few hours of sleep, isolated from my family and friends, dizzy from staring at the computer screen for hours on end, struggling to make a complete thought, much less an intelligent sounding one, it is easy to give in to the fear that I can’t do it. That this was all a mistake.

I remember having similar thoughts and feelings in my earlier college days. Back then, I didn’t have the level of faith and experience to fully trust God. My confidence, faith, and belief wavered, and while I got through school, I didn’t feel like I had conquered and achieved a victory.

This time is different. I remember and hold onto faith that this task is part of the plan God has for me, and I am able to get through it even when it’s hard – with an expectation of a battle won. He knows what I need, and He sustains me. He holds me together. Sometimes, it is just by the act of a simple prayer thrown up in desperation, and other times, it is in the sweetness of my husband, one of my children, or a friend encouraging me. But through all of it, I find just enough strength to press onward.

You also may be going through a difficult time where things seem to be falling apart or too difficult to manage. But, if you know Christ Jesus, you may allow yourself just enough faith to believe that the One who spoke the world into being is sovereign, and He holds all things together. His plan is bigger than what we can see right now.  He doesn’t show us the whole plan, but He will help us through today.

**I wrote the above last week, before everything happened in Virginia. It may seem our country is falling apart, but let’s remind ourselves of what is true.

John 1:1-2 Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

1 In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.

Hebrews 1:2-3

In these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son. God has appointed Him heir of all things and made the universe through Him. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of His nature, sustaining all things by His powerful word. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.

Colossians 1: 15 – 17

15 He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn over all creation

16 For everything was created by Him,
in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions
or rulers or authorities—
all things have been created through Him and for Him.

17 He is before all things,
and by Him all things hold together.

A Bookworm’s Battles

This week is the last Bible study meeting for Entrusted .

Last week was my first week of classes for my master’s program in school counseling.

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It’s a little interesting that as we are getting to the end of Entrusted, I am finding it difficult to figure out how to handle the new commitments and the old. I can’t do everything I want to – the blog, the master’s program, the next Bible study, exercise classes, not to mention the responsibilities I have to my family and home.

I’ve been in a battle this week and last.   There have been reminders of difficult experiences, relationships, and habits of mine. I’ve been overwhelmed with doubt, fear, and a general sense of maybe I am misunderstanding what I’m supposed to be doing.

Then, Beth Moore, who always has the kind of homework you need to concentrate and spend time doing, has us do a timeline from birth to present marking specific things about our walk as Christians. It was an exercise following the topic of teachers and mentors in the faith. In being reminded last week of my failings, I was surprised at what I found. By this exercise, I was able to hear God saying to me, “But you, Melissa . . .”

Painful Reminder #1: I moved and still move too much to have a constant present friend and companion other than my husband.  In my youth, I read ALL THE TIME. I often felt alone and unknown. It was my escape. Reading is my thing even now. I do have a few exceptional long-standing friendships, but we still don’t get to be physically present with each other. I miss y’all!

Painful Reminder #2: I have a real issue with time management. Everything I do takes longer than I expect. There is even the challenge of getting to the right place at the right time. There is a particular horror of bringing your daughter to the first birthday party she’s been invited to in a new town, a week late. Or how about driving your husband’s brother and family around looking for that “Apple Festival” two weeks too soon? These are the special issues that keep one from achieving success. I’m supposed to get a master’s?

Painful Reminder #3: Even though I know how to pray, I know scripture, and I know what I’m supposed to do, I really don’t know how to look at life with the expectation of victory. I get through things. I don’t necessarily win things. Grin and bear it. If it’s hard, I must be doing it wrong.

So, here’s what I learned from last week’s homework, and what I am realizing. Maybe you can relate.

First, on the timeline, most of the people who have been influential in my life are people I have never met. They are authors. Of course, I already mentioned some, Beth Moore, C. S. Lewis, Max Lucado, and others. There are many others. Being a bookworm has been a good thing for me. Reading has given me insight and knowledge that I’ve been able to apply when I didn’t have someone to talk to. What a blessing. “But you have resources to share with others because of the time you’ve spent reading. You haven’t been as alone and isolated as you thought you were.”

Second, I do have to be more mindful of time in a practical sense. Can I say, though, that it is very reassuring to know that God doesn’t show up on the wrong weekend. His plans prevail. He doesn’t get lost or overwhelmed. Even if I do mess up, it doesn’t mean I’ve messed up His plan for me. In every move, looking backward, I can see how He’s been with me, guiding me, even in churches where I was there, but not present. “But you have never been out of My reach, neither time, place, or season.”

Third, I’ve come to realize the battles are God’s way of strengthening me. I’m not supposed to go through life’s battles with a feeling of defeat or fear that I misunderstood what I’m supposed to be doing. It is through these battles that I get to see Him be victorious. In those victories, I’m learning how to fight the good fight with confidence. Battles don’t mean I’m doing something wrong, it means I’m being pushed and stretched. I’m through using the wrong form and getting hurt. I’ll take the discipline willingly if it makes me stronger. “But you have already been given victory, every gift for the plan and purpose I have for you through the power of the Holy Spirit.”

This morning, my boot camp instructor and some others were talking about pushing us to our limits. When I started the first week, I felt like I would throw up before we were even half way through. I don’t feel that way now. I’ve gotten stronger. Last week, this little bookworm felt pushed to the limit in spiritual battle. But guess what, now I feel stronger.

So for now, I may have to post only every other week instead of every week. I think I will spend the next several posts sharing with you some of the different books I’ve read with more specific details and reflections. Coming soon, a link to Amazon. This blog is part of what I’m supposed to do.

Holman Christian Standard Bible
Proclaim the message; persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching. 2 Timothy 4:2

And as we press on, here’s a great song to keep going. Steady Me by Hollyn

If You Love Me . . .

 

Last week, I included the verse, John 14:23. “Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (NIV)

Some of you may be more familiar with the verse that came a little earlier in the chapter, “If you love me, keep my commands.”  John 14:15 (NIV) This is the kind of short, easy verse some of us may have memorized in Sunday School when we were young.

I have trouble with this verse because it sounds conditional. I’ve always been under the impression God’s love is unconditional, so why the ‘if . . . then’ statement? “If you love me” has always struck me as a manipulative phrase. I would never have trusted that coming from anyone without suspecting an ulterior motive was at its core or the person didn’t trust my love for its own sake. Is God trying to manipulate me? Do I have to prove my love to Him? Doesn’t He already know my heart? This just doesn’t seem right. I already know trying to be good doesn’t work.

Remember, if we don’t study scripture in context, we won’t understand it properly. What we have here is the record of a conversation between Jesus Christ and His disciples shortly before his crucifixion. Read the following with a little more context:

15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[a] in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

Jesus is explaining to His followers that once He has died, been resurrected, and ascended to heaven, He will send His Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, to remain with them. He will not leave them alone in this world. Rather than a manipulative statement, John 14:15 is actually a cause and effect statement. If the love of Christ is in us, we will keep His commands – because we love Him. Each part of the trinity is at work for the unity of love. Keeping His commands is a direct result of the love of God alive in us. Here’s one more verse, again, just a little bit earlier:

11Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.

In this verse, Jesus says at the very least, His good work is evidence of the Father in Him. By comparison, our keeping the command to love God first, and loving others, is evidence of our knowledge and belief in Jesus Christ. Our obedience comes from the love God Himself gives us and empowers through the Holy Spirit.

There are some conditional statements by God throughout the Bible. Mostly, those have to do with promises. Even the covenant between Abraham and God was dependent on the Israelites keeping their side of the agreement.

Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” Exodus 19:5 – 6 (NIV)

Much of God’s promises depend on our being faithful or obedient. We make choices. In the Old Testament times, they had the prophets, laws, and sacrifices. Today, we still have the law, which let’s us know of our need for redemption, we have salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and we have the Holy Spirit to help guide us into truth.

God does not need to manipulate us. Manipulation occurs when someone needs to cause another to do something that serves a selfish purpose. God doesn’t need anything from us, and He certainly isn’t selfish.  Think about this:

12if we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He will also deny us; 13if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.14Remind the believers of these things, charging them before God to avoid quarreling over words; this is in no way profitable, and leads its listeners to ruin. 2 Timothy 2:13 (NLT)

Let me encourage you. I write about this because I want you to trust God’s love for you. I want you to understand the truth. The truth is God is love. Love is patient. So, God is patient. He does know you, and He wants a relationship with you. God is not dependent on any of us. He’s trustworthy. He’s also forgiving. That’s the whole point of the cross. Our obedience is derived out of our love for Him.  Living things grow.  The more our love grows, the deeper relationship we have with Him, and the stronger our desire is to obey Him.  It takes time.  Let it grow!

Blind to Love

We cannot love without trust, nor trust without love.

This is true in friendships, marriages, and our relationship with God. I may say I know God loves me, but there are times when it doesn’t seem true. His love doesn’t seem real when things are bad and prayers are unanswered. Often, this mistrust shows up in my ignoring Him, acting in ways contrary to His law, or refusing His will and grace. John 14:23 says, “Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (NIV) If I disobey, does that mean God doesn’t love me? Or, will He love me less? How do I know? To clarify things, let’s ask the primary question: Do I trust God’s love for me?

For me, the answer is – sometimes. There are times when I feel so secure in God’s love for me that I believe I can do and go anywhere, and I can feel His Spirit right there with me. Other times, I feel like I’m in the dark, hidden, and forgotten. I just can’t see it.

When I was about 12 years old, it occurred to me the only time my mom called me was to do some chore. I decided to test it. I hid in an out of the way place to see if she missed me, or to see if she only came looking for me because she wanted me to do something. After a while, she did come searching for me – because she had a chore for me. The thought stuck in my head, “See, your mom doesn’t really love you. She just wants you to work for her. That’s the only good thing your mom sees about you.” Now, I know that is a brazen lie. I knew it then, too, but I was angry and let the thought fester and grow. Requests for help after that were an echo and reinforcement of that lie. I like to help. The lie undermined our relationship for a while and stole the joy I should have felt at being kind and helpful.

Coincidentally, I believed that God showed favor on people who served in the ministry more than those who didn’t. If I really loved God, and He thought I was good enough, He would call me into church ministry. He didn’t. I came to understand God’s love for me was obligatory. Generally, as in For God so loved the world, and I was part of the general world.

Maybe you also believe lies about the love God has for us. It’s a lot like the doubt the serpent put in Eve’s mind. “Did God really say . . . . ..” (Genesis 3:1) The things that make us doubt God’s love for us and keep us from trusting Him can come from places of real pain and hardship. It can be prayers spoken year after year before seeing an answer, if at all. It can be rejection from someone who is supposed to love you; cutting you to the quick. It can be circumstances that seem impossible to overcome like health issues, financial needs, and broken relationships. Or, it can be things you’ve done you think are unforgivable. How do we know God loves us when things are so hard?

God wants a relationship with us more than good works. His level of love is not determined by whether we are good enough, our circumstances, or any of the other trials we face. Instead, trusting God’s love increases as we spend more time getting to know God and understanding His ways. This helps us get through trials with greater confidence and peace. When we trust God’s love, we can serve Him in obedience, whether it’s in church ministry, at home, or elsewhere. Trust also helps us accept His grace and run to Him when we mess up.

Don’t let yourself be blind to the love God has for you. Determine to find ways to spend time getting to know Him. His love for you often shows up in scripture, prayer time, music, acts of kindness or service through other people, and even displays in nature. If you doubt God’s love for you, allow the Holy Spirit to show you what is causing the doubt. Then wait and see. Listen. Be still. He is faithful. You may find He’s been showing you He loves you all along.

Here are some places to start.  Because God made you, He knows everything about you. He will meet you where you are if you are willing.

New Living Translation
You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. Psalm 139:16

New Living Translation
But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. Romans 5:8

English Standard Version
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

New Living Translation
May the Lord lead your hearts into a full understanding and expression of the love of God and the patient endurance that comes from Christ. 2 Thessalonians 3:5

Berean Study Bible http://biblehub.com/context/1_john/4-15.htm
15If anyone confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16And we have come to know and believe the love that God has for us. God is love; whoever abides in love abides in God, and God in him. 17In this way, love has been perfected among us, so that we may have confidence on the day of judgment; for in this world we are just like Him.  18There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. The one who fears has not been perfected in love. 19We love because He first loved us.