God Is Not In Control

shutterstock_79823446Yes, you read that right.  And as sacrilegious as it may sound, I will say it again, “God is NOT in control.”   My entire life I have been taught over and over that God is in control and that He is always working in our lives.  It is supposed to comfort us when we are hurting or scared, and strengthen us when we are weak and weary.  After all, He has made so many promises to us in His word, including Romans 8:28 that says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.”  Although that is true, along with all the other promises about how He will never leave nor forsake us, there have been many times where it seems that just isn’t true.  Sometimes our thoughts, emotions or lives feel so out of control, even when we are trying to serve God faithfully, that we start to wonder if God is REALLY in control.

As a person of faith, with a strong commitment to trying to live out that faith in my daily life, I realized something very basic in the middle of a very troublesome night.  God is NOT in control of everything.  You would think that revelation would make me feel worse, but it actually started allowing me to see things much more clearly.   I believe fully that God is omniscient (all knowing), omnipotent (all powerful) and omnipresent (everywhere at the same time).  If you are thinking, “Then, logically, everything is in His control,” you would only be partially correct.  The truth is He is in control of everything within His control. The Bible teaches us something very, very clearly:  Mankind has free will.  We have total freedom to choose.  In other words, the one thing God cannot control is me – unless I allow Him to do so.   God did not create us as puppets, but rather as intelligent creatures to which He gave an overriding ability to choose.  We can choose to believe Him or not.  We can choose to serve Him or not.  We can choose to obey His word or not.  Are there blessings and consequences that come as a result of our choices?  Most definitely.  Will God override our choices?  No.  He wants us to choose life.  He wants us to choose Him, but He will never force any of us to do anything.  For those of us who have accepted Him as Savior, He continually works in our life to bring us to a place (or keep us in a place) where He can freely bless us, but if we choose actions, behaviors or even attitudes that take us further away from Him, He will honor our choices.  Again that doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences such as the loss of peace, direction, comfort, etc., but we are FREE to choose.  He actually died so that we could have the choice to accept or reject His free gift of eternal salvation, but He also died so that we had the free choice to love, trust and serve Him or not.

I laid in bed awake for hours tonight, struggling with some intense emotional upheaval around a variety of issues and people in my life.  My mind, which is prone to an intensity that some have never experienced, had spun into a chaos that made me physically ill.  Emotions were running rampant, and soon I could not make heads or tails out of whether those emotions were mine or if I am carrying the emotions of others around me because of the empathic sensitivities I’ve always seemed to have.  I tried to sort out each worry, fear, sadness and other troubling sensations based on things I have been (or am) dealing with, but the more I tried to sort, the more chaotic things became.  It’s like trying to trace an impossible spaghetti diagram, or untangle an impossible knot.  shutterstock_57395806The truth is I’ve always struggled with times like this, nights like this.  Stresses in my life seem to pile up, which then increase my already heightened sensitivities, which then cause me to start spinning out of control.   I have written creatively about these times in the past, poems, songs and musings, trying to describe the horrific sensation of such intensity and chaos.  Even when the stresses or emotions are positive, the result ends up the same.  There is chaos that is frightening and sadness that is overwhelming.  I replay every situation, interaction and conversation, looking for clues that will help me understand what I am sensing.  Did I say or do something that made someone angry or upset?  Did I miss something that I should have seen that could have changed a situation personally or professionally?  And the more I ask myself questions, I find there are less answers.  Perhaps it is worse in the dark of the night, but it can be overwhelming even in the brightest day.

I confess I have always been a worrier, which, coupled with my upbringing, has definitely made me prone to analyzing every aspect of troubling situations.  I do so in order to ensure I have multiple paths to reaching a resolution of those situations.  Last Sunday in church, we had a sermon that focused on the ability to wait on God.  At one point, we were presented with the difference between waiting and doing.   I have never been a great “waiter” and usually start immediately looking for ways to resolve the issues in my life when they arise.  As the preacher mentioned, that kind of behavior is most often rewarded in our society.  It makes us look competent, decisive and driven.  Waiting is looked at as being lazy and uncommitted, but God tells us over and over to wait on Him.  For me, the chaos in my mind at times is so difficult to manage that I will do almost anything to restore order as quickly as possible.  I scramble for solutions, but then one troubling situation reminds me of another and another until the cycle perpetuates itself.  It happened last week during a work day, and it happened again in the wee hours of the morning today.  And as I was frantically trying to unravel the tangled knot, I could hear in the distance of my mind, “God is not the author of confusion.”   I kept fighting with the knot, chasing one strand after another, then I heard again in the distance, “God is in control.”   Somewhere inside me, I carry the truth of His word and it echoes back in times like tonight.  But as I heard in my mind what I have heard all my life – that God is in control – I realized it was not truthful in the way I had always heard it.  It is then I actually whispered out loud, “God is in control when you allow Him to be.”  Suddenly things started to become clear.  If I choose to continually try to solve things or unravel the knots on my own, God will completely allow me to do so.  He will never force me to wait, and He will never force me to act.  I am totally free to choose chaos or comfort, rest or worry, freedom or bondage.

The beautiful thing about the statement that God is in control is that we can know we rest in the hands of the One who spoke the worlds into order.  We can rest in the hands of the One who created us and loved us so much that He died to save us.  We can rest in the hands of the One who is with us always, knows exactly what we need, and has the POWER to make it happen. shutterstock_305770604 What a great assurance to know that He is in control.  But all of these benefits, and everything He promises us in His word about having peace and contentment, are contingent on whether or not we ALLOW Him to be in control.  When we just keep saying, “God is in control,” without reminding each other that He is only in control of what we allow Him to be, we are doing a great disservice to each other and to those around us.  It is true that God is not the author of confusion, and if we (if I) will surrender my messy thoughts, emotions, and actions over to Him, then He will sort it out.  I can relax, knowing He IS in control and has promised to work everything out for my good.  We all long for a sense of order and control when things are overwhelming us.  Sometimes we strive for that sense of control above all else, even if it’s false, but I have good news.  You actually do have control.  You control whether or not you will choose to allow God to take over and work things out.

So as I sit here in the dark, exhausted by the battle of the night, or as you sit wherever you are, facing the battles in your own life or mind, take heart.  As a child of God, you have access to every blessing and promise He has ever made.  You can have peace, strength and comfort even in the most stressful or discouraging moments and situations.  You can rest knowing the God who created you and knows you better than you know yourself, cares more about you than anyone else, and has the power to accomplish or change anything at any time.  You can rest because He has got your back and is working things out.  You can have it all, if you are simply willing to give it all up.  God is completely and effectively in control of everything you are willing to surrender to His care.  Neither one of us can do this alone.  I need Him to sort things out and He needs me to let Him.

Blessings!

A Flawed Yardstick

shutterstock_321656606In life, all of us tend to measure ourselves by how we compare with the other people in our lives.  Do we have as much as they have?  Do we look as good as they look?  Are we as successful as they are?  We do a lot of comparing and although it can spur us to make positive changes in our lives, it more often makes us just feel worse about our circumstances.  The truth is if we never saw or knew what someone else has or did, we’d be much happier with what WE have.  Right now I wish I could remember that truth more strongly than I do.

My husband and I have a good life.  We have a great marriage, a great (though imperfect) family, amazing friends, a wonderful church, good jobs, two awesome dogs and a home to call our own.  However, like most middle class families, we sometimes (or often) struggle to make ends meet.  We’ve been blessed to, on certain occasions, be able to save a little extra to buy something frivolous that we want or maybe even go on a short vacation.  We don’t have the luxury of taking extended time off or going on glamorous or exotic trips.  We don’t drive glamorous vehicles, but our old vehicles are paid for and they still run decently.  In another year and a half, if we stay on track, we will be debt free with the exception of our home.  I don’t think we will ever be anything but upside down on that!  Welcome to middle class America where you make just enough to get by, but never enough to get ahead.  I know we are not the only ones in this boat!

It’s easy for all of us to sometimes look at the people around us and wonder why it seems that others are blessed with the things we want.  It’s easy to question why we work ourselves to the bone and try to be decent people when there never seems to be any payoff in comparison to what we see others getting.  We see people who are mean, manipulative or even dishonest, being rewarded at every turn while we feel as though we get kicked over and over, no matter how hard we try.  As people of faith, we can even question, like in the 73rd psalm, “Why do the evil prosper?”  It seems that doing the right things, being good to others even when we don’t agree with them, or living by the “golden rule,” will do nothing but wear you out.  We’ve all been there and we’ve all thought it at one point or another.  The interesting thing is that if we didn’t ever have to see or listen to what others are getting, we would be much more content with our own situation.

shutterstock_337724702It is an interesting thing to consider that when we actually look at someone who is less fortunate than we are, we suddenly feel better about our own situation.  For example, when you pass a homeless person shivering in the night, or drive through a run-down and even dangerous area of town, it puts things in perspective.  We find ourselves suddenly grateful that we have a roof over our heads, a warm bed in which to sleep, clothes to wear and food on the table.   But you see, normally we aren’t taking time to consider those who have less than us.  We only consider and look at people who have more.  When you pay attention only on those who have more or are getting the things you want (or have even prayed for) it can be tough to swallow.  And if you believe God is in control, it can be even worse because it can sometimes lead to you feeling like God is mad at you or somehow he doesn’t see or maybe he just doesn’t care.  Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  If that’s true, then what’s the problem?

First of all, we take a lot of verses and twist them to make it sound like God is some kind of cosmic cash-cow with which we just pull the lever and get what we want.  I’ve heard a lot of people (and preachers) who often quote the last phrase of James 4:3 and say, “You have not because you ask not,” and leave it at that.  Is that a truth?  Yes, but we must continue and read the next verse that says, “You ask and do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your own lusts and pleasures.”  You see, this isn’t just “Ask God and you’ll get what you want.”  The reality is very simple if we go back to Psalm 37:4.  If you truly delight yourself in the Lord, it means you will come into agreement with His will.  You will seek Him first, and when that happens, the desires of your heart will change.  You won’t be concerned with keeping up with the neighbors, but instead will be concerned with living as Christ lived and being obedient to His principles.  Your desires will be aligned with God’s will.  You will want what He wants because you delight in Him above all else.  And when that happens, you will find the desires of your heart granted.  You will ask and receive because you are NOT asking with the wrong motives.  It isn’t rocket science, but no one wants to talk about this aspect of God’s word.

So back to this issue of feeling unfulfilled as a person of faith.  It really is all in your perspective.  It all comes back to God’s grace and mercy, and how we view it.  God’s grace and mercy are things that are freely given to us.  shutterstock_308297366Grace is getting what we don’t deserve, and mercy is NOT getting what we DO deserve.  For example, even though I’m saved, I still sin.  I don’t deserve for God to forgive me time and time again for doing or thinking the same thing, and yet he has promised to forgive us EVERY time we ask and wipe the slate clean so He can bless us.  That is grace – I don’t deserve it but He blesses me anyway.  On the flip side, I deserve to have to feel miserable and condemned because of the things I think or do, yet God promises to not only forgive us but to forget it completely and then helps us move forward and live abundantly with all kinds of blessings.  More practically speaking, it could also look something like this:

  • Grace – Maybe you don’t always do the right thing financially, but God looks for the areas in which He can still bless you. You end up with nice things, in spite of how you behave at times.
  • Mercy – Maybe you are oblivious or selfish and often make other people feel worse about themselves or their situations (even if it is unknowingly). Instead of leaving you with no friends (which is what you deserve), He allows you to continue to have relationships, and He even continues to help you grow and change.

Grace and mercy really do go hand in hand many times.  If we look close enough, we can see both of them at work in our lives in the very same situations.

We all really love grace and mercy when it applies to us.  We love when God blesses us even when we don’t deserve it.  We love that He forgives us and then helps us through the repercussions of our bad decisions or behavior.  We love that He doesn’t take away everything we have just because we rub it in other people’s faces through our insensitivity to their circumstances, or maybe even if we simply don’t appreciate it.  And when we’ve done something stupid (like my husband and I have done financially on many occasions) and should experience great loss, we let out a huge sigh of relief when God provides a way to minimize the impact.  We love grace and mercy – until it happens to someone else.  shutterstock_74446510When we look at someone who gets something  we think they did NOT deserve, it makes us angry or jealous.  We just can’t figure out why God would do that.  After all, why wouldn’t God punish them instead of allowing good things in their lives?  I must confess I have a big “justice gene” in me, and it’s hard for me to watch people do wrong (or not do right) and just keep landing on their feet.  We’ve all watched people who have made terrible decisions in their lives and still keep coming out on top.  That’s a hard thing to witness when you spend your life truly trying to do the right things and somehow keep coming out on the bottom.  It can be a very difficult thing to handle.

In Matthew 20:1-16, we are told a parable of a landowner who went out at around 6:00 a.m.  and hired men to work in his vineyard.  He made a contract with them to work until 6:00 p.m. for a full day’s wage.  At 9:00 a.m., the owner went back and found some more men to come work for him.  He told them to come and work and he’d pay them “whatever was right.”  The owner did the same thing again at noon, 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.   Remember, no one but the first set of workers had a contract.  When quitting time came at 6:00 p.m., the owner started paying everyone, beginning with those who were hired last.  The owner paid them a full day’s wage.  Remember these guys only worked for one hour!  Then he did the same with each group of men, paying each of them a full day’s wage, regardless of when they started working.  You can just see the first group of men standing there as the process was going on, thinking surely they will be paid MORE since they worked all day long and these other “lazy” men got paid full wages.  When it came time to pay the 6:00 a.m. workers, the owner paid them exactly what they had contracted for – a full day’s wage.  Was that a fair amount?  Absolutely!  Did it make them angry?  Absolutely!  When they complained about it, the owner said, “I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a day’s wage?  Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you.  Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?  Or are you envious because I am generous?”  Ouch!  It’s interesting to note that if those 6:00 a.m. workers had not paid attention to what everyone else was paid, they would have been happy with their wages and for the fairness of the owner who kept His word.  They were richer at the end of the day than when they began, but that no longer mattered.

So often we are like the 6:00 a.m. workers, especially as Christians.  We know what God has promised us, so we go about serving Him as we believe He has asked us to do.  We attend church, tithe, sing, teach, and a host of other things, and we even do them with the right motives!  We study and we try to live the way He has instructed us to live.  We strive to be generous, love others and forgive even without being asked.  We stand up for what is right, and take the high road in our personal and professional lives.  And you know what?  WE ARE BLESSED!  If we are doing what we are called to do, then we will absolutely be blessed.  God has promised, and He does not lie.  So then everything should be great, right?  Wrong!  See, God doesn’t care how late in the day someone starts serving Him; He cares about HOW they serve Him.  Someone could spend a lifetime making bad decisions but asking God to forgive him/her, and guess what?  He WILL!  When He forgives, He forgets and wipes the slate clean.  That means He is free to bless that person when he/she makes good decisions or is obedient to His will.  But we cry out “That isn’t fair!” shutterstock_294695897 We sit back and start thinking about all the effort we’ve put in, maybe even the persecution we’ve endured in life for living right, and start feeling slighted that God doesn’t give us more!  Once we get into that cycle, we become ungrateful and resentful not only of what others have, but of the fact that God now seems so unfair.  Sometimes it shakes our faith to the point that we start considering becoming selfish and living however we want, because in our minds, obviously that’s what pays off.  We feel we have a right to complain about it, just like those 6:00 a.m. workers did, and God’s answer is the same as the owner of that vineyard:  “I am not being unfair to you, friend…Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?  Or are you envious because I am generous?”  The truth is, we are envious because He is generous, and the entire problem begins when we start looking around and comparing what we have to what others have.

God is a gracious and merciful Father.  All of us count on Him keeping His word.  We count on the way He forgives and restores us, even when we don’t deserve it.  We count on the fact that He blesses us any time we serve him with the right motives, instead of punishing us for when we don’t.   We each have our own walk, and I don’t know exactly what is going on in your life, just like you don’t know exactly what is going on in mine.  You don’t know where I’ve been or the state of my relationship with God, just as I don’t know yours.  So before we get too judgmental with others (or ourselves), or become too critical of God Himself (because that is the reality of what we are doing), we need to step back and remember who He is.  God IS love, and He is continually forgiving ALL of us when we ask and blessing us far beyond what we deserve.

We need to stop determining  our opinion of God’s mercy and grace based on how we all compare to each other.   If we look at what anyone else has as a measure of His generosity, we are in danger of using a terribly flawed yardstick  to judge both those who we think are better OR worse off than ourselves.  The truth is that if we have more than others, it isn’t a sign that we are better than them or that God likes us more.  And if we have less than others, it isn’t a sign that God likes us less!  Focus on what you do have instead of what you don’t.  Consider the faithfulness of God in your life instead of being upset that He is faithful in someone else’s.

Grace and mercy – two beautiful aspects of God’s character that we twist and turn to fit the way WE think, but thankfully His ways are not our ways.  He is more loving, forgiving and generous than any one of us could ever be, and I am grateful.   If He has made specific promises, He will always keep His word (like the owner with the first group of workers).  But in those areas where His promises are what He will do, but not HOW He will do it, we must trust that He will always “do whatever is right.”  Very few people spend their entire lives in true service without sliding backwards every now and then.  Every time we sin, we lose time – work time, service time.  We are the equivalent of the “lazy” workers who didn’t put in a full day’s work.  That puts almost all of us in the category of the other workers.  When we lose time, we must trust God that He will reward us with “whatever is right.”  It is quality, not quantity for which He is searching.

shutterstock_130134731So today, I will look to Him and His faithfulness to me instead of looking at the possessions, successes or blessings of anyone else.  Will I stay in this place?  Unfortunately not, but through the beauty of God’s grace and mercy, I can return to it with a simple refocusing and the promise of His forgiveness whenever I ask…no matter how many times it takes.

Blessings!

No Way Out

shutterstock_57395806Have you ever found yourself in a position where you have no control and it feels like everything in your life is crumbling around you?  Welcome to the club, and welcome to my week.  In the story of the great Exodus in God’s word, there is a place called “Pihahiroth” where the people ended up at a dead end with no way out.  (Exodus 14:1-30) It seems that Pihahiroth has once again become all too real in my life.  Most people are familiar with the story of the God’s deliverance of the Israelites from Pharaoh by the parting of the Red Sea.  It was a truly miraculous event where the people had been told by God to follow a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, but in doing so, God led them to Pihahiroth where they found themselves with absolutely no way out.  There they stood with Pharaoh and his army closing in behind to slaughter them.  To the right and left of them was impassible terrain, and in front of them was a sea they could not cross.  They had nowhere to go and could do nothing but sit and wait.  They knew what was coming.  They knew the end was inevitable.  What they didn’t know was there was something amazing just around the corner.

Life can really get us down sometimes.  We spend our days trying to do the right thing, for the right reasons, only to find ourselves feeling as though it doesn’t matter.   For me, I’ve always tried to do what I believed God was leading me to do.  I have not always been successful in that endeavor, as my humanity has sometimes gotten in the way, but since the age of about 17, I have been “all in” with my commitment to living a life of love and service – not just to God, but to others.  I have served the professional organizations of which I have been a part, whether as a career or volunteer work.   I have tried to love and serve others, to build them up and to create bridges instead of walls.  I have sought to take the high road when others wanted to drag me into the mud or when it would have been easier for me to retaliate against injustice.  Am I a great person?  No.  Do I always do the right thing?  No.  I don’t think anyone ever really does, but that doesn’t mean your heart can’t continually be turned toward the things that are right and just.

shutterstock_110043062When times are going well, it is easy to say you are a “person of faith” but what exactly does that mean?  God’s word defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen “  (Hebrews 11:1).  Faith is NOT easy.  Faith is believing God is in control even when the circumstances around you are spinning and crumbling.  Faith is knowing that God is a “rewarder of those who earnestly seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).  Even Galatians 6:9 tells us, “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”  But it is hard not to faint when you’ve been so let down by friends or family, churches or companies.  There is scripture after scripture that mentions these elements of faith, but how do you hold onto faith when you find yourself in situations for which there is no recognizable way out?  How do you stay calm and maintain your peace and joy when everywhere you look, you see nothing but impending doom or destruction?  What do you do when you are faced with the very real circumstances of Pihahiroth?

As I pondered these and other questions, I went back to the story in Exodus.  I thought of how all these people had been slaves in Egypt and how incredible it must have felt when they were freed.  I thought of how God led them in a way that was absolutely unmistakable.  It wouldn’t have taken a brilliant person to follow a pillar of fire or a pillar of cloud.  Today we sometimes struggle with discerning which way God would have us to go or what decision He would have us to make.  We pray and ask for guidance but then we have to listen to that still, small voice within that actually confirms we are in the will of God.  It isn’t always easy.  It would be much easier if God said, “I’m going to put a pillar of fire in front of you and all you need to do is follow it because it will lead you EXACTLY where you need to be.”  Following a physical sign that magnificent would not require any interpretation or planning on your part.  Your only decision would be whether or not to follow.  There would be no question which direction it was going.  iStock_000058072678_SmallSo I think about Israel and how it would have been impossible for them to doubt they were going the right way or doing the right thing.  IT WAS RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM AND VISIBLE.  So they did exactly what God asked of them and then ended up in the worst place possible – a place in which they had no control and all hope was shattered.  I truly believe at that point that even the smartest and most faithful among the people would have begun to doubt.  I can see someone scratching his/her head and thinking, “I don’t understand. It was perfectly clear where God was leading and there was no question about what was right.  So how did we end up HERE?  I must have missed something somewhere or we wouldn’t be trapped.”  How confusing it would have been to have seen God work in such amazing ways to bring you out of slavery but then PURPOSELY lead you to a place from which you could not escape.  Did He make a mistake?  Did you make a mistake in following?   The things the Israelites must have been thinking are questions we still ask ourselves today.   Did I do the right thing for nothing?  Did I follow where God was leading only to end up in a situation from which there is no escape?   Is my situation hopeless?   I can tell you the answer to all of these questions is a resounding “NO,” because the story doesn’t end there.

God had a miraculous plan for Israel just like He has a plan for you and me.  It was an amazing plan but no one knew the outcome except Him.  All He needed for them to do was to trust and follow the obvious direction in which He was leading.  He wasn’t leading them to a boxed canyon of death; He was leading them to the place where they would finally see there was nothing He was incapable of fixing or changing.  He led them to a place where the only resolution to the hopeless situation was the magnificence, power, and love of God.  He led them to a place where when deliverance did come, there would be no doubt whatsoever that it was ALL God and not anything else.

A number of years ago I left a situation that had been very difficult for quite some time.  When I made that change, it felt much like I was leaving my own Egypt.   It had gotten to a point where I felt enslaved and then seemingly out of nowhere God brought me out of it.  Things transpired in a way that it left no doubt it was Him moving in my life.  I look back now and think it looks a lot like Israel.  God said, “I’m going to deliver you out of this situation, and I’m going to promise you some amazing things.  All you have to do is follow.”  I believed that was true and that he had great things in store.  I believed strongly in the path in which God was taking me, and have continued to believed it all these years.   I have been focused on doing what I believe God has called me to do, and to do the right things for the right reasons.  His leading has been as unmistakable as a literal pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, yet I am now standing here in my very own Pihahiroth. shutterstock_331837391It doesn’t feel good.  It feels hopeless.  I feel like that Israelite standing there thinking, “I was doing the right thing, but I must have been wrong because look where I am now.  I’ve got an ocean in front of me and an army closing in behind me.  I look to the right and left and there is nothing but impassible terrain.  I’ve got nothing, no control.  I can’t make anything happen and I’m stuck.”  A few nights ago, as I couldn’t sleep, I literally cried out to God through my tears, “There is no way out of this!  Too much has already happened and it can’t be fixed.  It is impossible!”  And as I heard myself in my despair, I remembered Pihahiroth.  It really isn’t just pretty lyrics to say “God will make a way,” or that Pihahiroth is the place of freedom.   This actually IS Pihahiroth, where God can and will provide a way.  As a matter of fact, He has already made the way.  The question is: Am I willing to follow even when He has not revealed it yet?

We’ve all had Pihahiroth experiences in our lives.  These experiences that are so painful and difficult when you are at a total loss, are the same experiences that build your faith at the deepest level.  We know what God can do because we’ve seen in our lives and the lives of those around us.  We’ve seen it in the things we’ve experienced and lived.  We should remember them but we often don’t.  We should remember the times we stood at the sea crying, “There is no way out,” only to watch the sea just open up before us.  We need to remember the path it creates is not filled with mud that we have to trudge through, but one of dry, easily walkable ground.    When God freed Israel from slavery in Egypt he then basically said, “I’m going to lead you.  Just follow me because I have great things in store for you, and I’m going to make it really simple for you to know the way.  It’s not going to be complicated.  All you have to do is follow that big pillar because I’ve got your back.  You don’t need to worry about anything as long as you follow.”  When God makes it that clear, it does no good whatsoever to sit back and say to yourself, “Maybe that wasn’t the right direction.”  Because the truth is, it wasn’t a mistake then and neither is the situation in which I find myself in today.  It was purposeful for Israel and it is purposeful for me today.

I know if my situation changes, it will be only at the hand of God.  It will be a result of prayer and letting GOD do the heavy lifting.  In my faith, I know I did not simply wander into this place by accident or mistake, and when I am finally walking through on dry ground, I will know beyond the shadow of a doubt that it could only happen because God did it.  In my humanity I am confused, hurt and discouraged.  In my humanity I want to just sit down and give up, but then I catch my breath and remember that God can fix what cannot be fixed.  He can heal what cannot be healed and change what cannot be changed.  That pillar of cloud and fire does not mislead or confuse;  It clarifies.

shutterstock_181128083So as we all live through times of difficulty that appear hopeless, remember the truth of Pihahiroth and the ultimate freedom it brings.  Wait and let God move, no matter how futile it may seem sometimes.  Then follow where He leads and do what He is calling you to do.  Do not give in to your sight, but hold to your faith for we “walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).  Do the right thing even when it hurts, but take heart in knowing nothing escapes the eyes of Heaven, and God has promised to reward those who are faithful.  There really is something amazing right around the corner.  He has promised to always make a way, even when that way seems impossible when you find yourself staring at the sea.  .

Blessings!

The Ignorant Battle Cry of Christians

shutterstock_148970525Recently, people of faith all over the world celebrated the resurrection of their Lord and Savior.  They celebrated the God who loved us all so much that He was willing to take on a human body, suffer more than anyone has ever suffered, and die the most horrible, unspeakable death for us because He loved us and wanted us to be free.   You’d think this would inspire these same people of faith to try to live more closely to the teachings of the One in which they have put their faith, but that doesn’t always happen.

Recently, I listened to a member of the clergy speak publicly with such venom and hatred for people who were different, believed differently, or God forbid, were “them old sinners.”  When it started, it was almost humorous, because it seemed almost like a caricature of what the media portrays Christians to be.  But as I continued to listen, humor turned to surprise, then to disappointment and finally to disgust.  All I wanted to do was to shout out, “You are the problem!”  Because the truth is that God loves ALL the world and every single person in it.  He loves those we would classify as “good” as well as those we would say are “bad” (eg. Hitler, Bin Laden, Manson, etc.).  It makes no difference who you are, because in God’s eyes we are all the same.  No matter what we do or engage in, or how we choose to live our lives, He loves us with everything He has.  In John 3:16, we are told that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that WHOSOEVER believes in Him, will not die, but have everlasting life.”  And then it also tells us that  “God demonstrated His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  (Romans 5:8).  He loved everyone while we were still rejecting Him.  He loves  us before we are “cleaned up.”  He loves us so much that He died for us WHILE we were rejecting Him.  That’s pretty amazing!

In today’s society, there seem to be more attacks on Christianity, but the truth is we bring much of that on ourselves.  If we weren’t so bitter and mean, maybe it would be a little different.  If we discussed our beliefs from a heart of love and lived the way Christ wants us to live, maybe so many people wouldn’t be so angry.  Make no mistake, Jesus told His followers that the world hated Him and as a result, they would also be hated at times.  (John 15:18-25).  So rest assured there will always be opposition to Christ and those who follow His teachings, but my point is that Jesus was about inclusion, not exclusion.  Jesus was about love not hate.  He never spoke with venom.  He never screamed at people.  He wasn’t about pride;  He was about humility.  He wasn’t about condemnation.  He wasn’t about prejudice of any kind.  He was about love.  shutterstock_247287523And yet I sat there listening to this clergyman shouting loudly and passionately how proud he was that he was raised knowing that abortion is sin and that “homosexuality is an “abomination!”  (Yes, that is a quote!)  He shouted about how we all need to “hold fast to the doctrines of our fathers!”  And inside, I was screaming, “NO, we don’t!!”  What we need to do is to hold fast to the truth of God’s word, not simply what our fathers or grandfathers taught us, or even what we have heard out of the mouths of pastors.  We are to hold fast, true and strong to the truth of God’s word, not man’s.  God has promised that if you seek the truth, you will find it, and you may even do so without a preacher.  I know that statement will be considered heretical to some people, but it is God who reveals the truth to you.  A preacher (or anyone else) can only share scripture and live an example before others, but if you are seeking the truth and you ask God to reveal to you what His word means, then He will.  We must study His word to gain knowledge, but the wisdom and revelation associated with it is a gift.   “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God who gives to all generously and without reproach.”  (James 1:5)

Every person’s relationship is between that person, God and no one else.  Do our spiritual relationships affect other people?  They most certainly do, and to hear such passionate ignorance delivered in such an unloving attitude – and  to hear people actually cheer out loud – was one of the most disturbing things I have ever witnessed.  God is love, and to sit there listening to someone who claims to be one of His representatives shout in ways that declared certain types of sinners were less holy than him, made me sick to my stomach.  We are ALL sinners and equally guilty and I kept thinking of the story in the Bible (Luke 18:9-14) of a very religious man that was similar.  In a nutshell, this religious, faithful, church-going man prayed out loud so everyone could hear him, “Oh thank you God that I’m not like these other people!  I thank you that I’m faithful.  I thank you that I follow you.  I thank you I’m not like these robbers, evildoers or other terrible people like this man over here!”  The other man he referred to had been standing a distance away by himself and wouldn’t even lift his head and look up toward Heaven.  He beat on his chest and cried out, “Oh God be merciful to me because I’m a sinner!”   Jesus said it was the SECOND man that was justified and honored.  It was the terrible sinner (in the eyes of the religious man) who GOD recognized and honored.   Every time I hear a Christian speaking from a place of prejudice and anger or hate, I think, “How is it possible that people can’t see why their churches are dying?”  People wonder what’s wrong and wonder what they can do or what program they can start to get people to come.  We try all kinds of things.  We keep trying to make people want to come and worship with us, and the biggest thing we are missing in all of it is love.

shutterstock_63532855Why are our churches dying?  They are dying because of US!  They are dying because we don’t love and forgive as God loves and forgives.  They are dying because of men like this who stand up and scream against one particular sin or another.   They’re quick to shout about homosexuality, abortion, drunkenness or drugs, but they don’t shout about gluttony or selfishness.  They don’t shout about the person who overeats or is a workaholic.   They don’t shout about the person that gossips, which to me is one of the most divisive and damaging sins of all.  They  only shout about the things they haven’t done as if that somehow makes them holier than those who have done them.  And then they look down on those people as if to say, “If you will come crawling over broken glass and hot coals to Christ, then you can be saved,  but you’ll never be as good as me.”  Like the mob in the Disney movie, the battle cry of many Christians is, “Kill the beast!” when our battle cry should be, “Love them to death.  Love them above all.  Prefer them above all.  Love as God loved!”

We hear all the time, “Hate the sin but love the sinner,” but God does not give us permission to hate anything or anyone.  We are supposed to forgive the sin and love the sinner.  THAT is what Christ does.   As people of faith, there are certainly things and behaviors we should not engage in, but there isn’t one perfect person on this earth.  And the moment you start thinking more highly of yourself than you ought (Romans 12:3), you will fall.   If someone is engaged in something that is wrong or harmful, then it is our duty to talk with them to help them understand God’s word and the forgiveness in it, but not out of condemnation.  We are to do it (and everything else) out of genuine love.   I can think of nothing more wonderful than a church where everyone is truly welcome.  We need places where anyone and everyone are welcome to come and learn the truth of God’s word.  We need places steeped in neither legalism nor emotionalism, but steeped in truth – truth spoken from the most loving hearts.   Apathy is not killing our churches, hate is.  Apathy is not what is causing former Christians to turn away and say they want no more of church as an organized religion.  It is hate and meanness that is causing it, because no one has experienced more Christian hatred than those sitting in the very same pews of the very same churches.

As I sat in that room recently, listening to hatred and condemnation being spewed, I saw in my mind’s eye, picket signs, megaphones and people shouting “Onward Christian soldiers marching to war!”  When what I really longed for was a very different battle cry – one that says, “Come to me.  Love your neighbor.  Love as I have loved you.  Forgive as I’ve forgiven you.”  We must remember the battle is not between people of faith and atheists.   It is not a war between good people and bad people.  It is not a war between us and “them old sinners,” because you see, WE are “them old sinners.”  It is a war between me and myself.  It is a war between who we are and who we should be.  We must stop spending so much time crucifying everyone who is different or those who may disagree with us.  shutterstock_235743286We must start tending our own garden and pulling our own weeds instead of mowing down crops we don’t think should exist.  We need to simply turn our own hearts to God instead of trying to turn someone else’s, because we CAN’T turn someone else’s heart to God.  Only GOD can do that.  All I can do is to live my life the way Christ would have me to live, and that means to love and forgive above all else.  It means to stand firm on the truth of His word and not just what my parents taught me or what preachers have said from the pulpit.  I must stand on what God himself has revealed to me through prayer and study, by verifying for myself those things that someone else has said.

There is a Christian battle cry today and it is ignorant and idiotic.  It is bitter, hurtful and mean.  It is condemning, and Jesus was never any of those things.  We need to start loving more.  We need to stop hating the sin but loving the sinner.  It is time to forgive the sin and love the sinner.  That’s what we are called to do.  That should be our true battle cry.

I pray that all of us, especially people of faith, will have our eyes and hearts opened to the truth that love builds bridges.  Love tears down walls.  Love allows people to listen and softens them so it is easier for that “still, small voice” to touch them.  I pray that we will finally stop trying to scream the truth and just simply start living it.

Blessings!

I Like Big “Buts”…

And I cannot lie.  If you’re truthful with yourself, you could probably say the same thing.   Most of us have heard things like “If ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were candy and nuts, we’d all have a merry Christmas!”  Boy, isn’t that the truth?  But where “ifs” come as a result of speculation and wishing, “buts” come from a very different place.  “Buts” come from a place of excuses and self-deception.  For example, we all like to sit around and wish and dream of things being different in our life or in our world (“IF I could just save more money, I’d be less stressed”), but we seldom do anything about it (“BUT I just love to shop.”)  The first part of that sentence is a factual statement about what you would like to do.  The second part, though also factual, is your way of rationalizing behavior that will always prevent your dream from coming true.

shutterstock_211760386“Buts” steal our joy and strength in every area:  emotionally, physically, financially and spiritually and cause us to waste our time always stuck in the world of “ifs.”  I have news for you; that doesn’t make you a “dreamer,” it simply makes you lazy.  Am I a dreamer? Absolutely!  I love to think about possibilities and ways to make the world better, but if I never take steps to actually make the world better, then I am no longer a dreamer;  I am an “iffer.”  A dreamer can stretch out into the land of possibilities and come back with amazing ways to do accomplish those things; an “iffer” simply lives in the land of possibilities with no intention of coming back and making things different.  We should never degrade the term “dreamer” by making it a costume for our “ifs.”  True dreamers seek ways to bring their dreams to life, where “ffers” simply seek dreams as a way of escaping life, and that’s where the “buts” come in.

“But” is a conjunction that is used to introduce something contrasting with what has already been mentioned.  From a spiritual standpoint, it can often be said that whatever comes after the “but” is sin.  That’s because we use it in the following mindset (fill in your own blanks):  “I know I should do _____ but ______.”  We make statements regarding things that God has put in black and white (or red and white) that He wants us to do.  How many times have you heard these types of statements come out of your (or someone else’s) mouth?

  • I know I should serve God, but I don’t have the time.
  • I know God wants me to have a relationship with Him but it takes too much energy.
  • I know I should give, but I don’t have enough money.
  • I know I should love my enemies, but they don’t deserve it.

And then there are statements around things that we feel called to do, but cannot get a direct answer written in black and white in God’s word:

  • I believe God wants me to teach, but I don’t speak well.
  • I feel called to join the choir or worship team, but I just don’t have time to practice.
  • I believe God is moving me into another line of work, but I’ll make less money.

There are so many things that we miss out on in life because of the word “but.”   As a person of faith, it is one of the most damaging words we can ever utter.   It is far more damaging than other words we use because it neutralizes us.  It neutralizes our relationship with God, and it neutralizes our witness to others.  It keeps us confined and holds us captive, and yet I have to admit far too often that I like big “buts.”

shutterstock_189351380The truth is, “buts” make me feel better about myself, or at least create the illusion for me that I feel better.  They put a nice-looking coat over the rags of disobedience, unfaithfulness or even fear.  They make me feel better about acting wrongly or making improper decisions.   “Buts” also make me feel validated about things I fear.  Instead of admitting I’m scared to step out on faith, I use the word “but.”  For me personally, I have felt called to preach, teach and minister to others since I was about 10 years old.  Being a woman, there are some (maybe even many) who would try to tell me God reserves the call of any kind of public ministry only to men.  I, however, believe it is up to God to call whoever HE chooses to the service He has actually created them to undertake.  I have believed for over 37 years that God was calling me to a greater depth of service to Him in these areas, but I might lose friends over forging ahead especially when the opportunities may be scarce to do so.  People might criticize my choices, even if I believe I am following God’s call.  Actually there is no “might” about it; people WILL criticize my choices when it doesn’t align with their opinion of what I should do or be.  So instead of leaping completely into what I feel called to do, I dabble in it.  I go through stages of full commitment until the thought of what I might lose by going further scares me.  And that’s when my stutter returns.   “But…but…but…”

We use “but” like some kind of expensive perfume that we can pour over our fears, anger, disobedience, etc. to try and make it smell better.  I say expensive, because it really does cost us so much when we use it.  The truth is if we didn’t like “buts” so much, we wouldn’t use them so often.  It just goes on and on, and then we complain that our lives are full of stress, debt, poor health or poor relationships.  If we could remove the negative use of that word from our vocabulary – if I could remove it from mine –my life would start changing, because what we say becomes reality for us.  We need to start owning our decisions, including the thought process that leads up to them!  Quit making excuses, and start putting a period after the first half of your statements.   If you say, “I believe I need to do ____,” then put a period at the end of that phrase and consider how you can accomplish what you believe you need to do.  If you don’t feel strong enough to move forward yet, then at least call it what it is after the word “but.”  Say “I believe I need to do ____, but I’m too scared” or “but I choose not to.”

shutterstock_199190972I’ll leave you with this: there is a way to redeem the word and use it to EMPOWER you!  Change your thinking.  Start using the word “but” to contrast your negative statements instead of your positive ones.

  • I’m afraid to step out on faith, but God said He would always be with me.
  • I’m worried about my finances, but He has promised to take care of me if I seek Him first.
  • Someone hurt me, but I will not let them keep me from loving others.
  • I have wasted so much of my life, but today is a new day.
  • I haven’t fulfilled my dreams yet, BUT nothing is going to stop me now!

“But,” in itself, is neutral.  It’s what we do with it that makes it positive or negative.   It’s my prayer that we can all start living the life of which we’ve always dreamed.   It’s time to let go of the past and move forward.  It’s time to get off our “buts!”

Blessings!