Daddy Issues

It’s been twenty years, going on twenty-one and the struggle has been for the most part through out the full twenty-one years.  At first, we were young and – let’s be honest here – we were stupid.  We had high ideals and grand ideas and we worked nearly all twenty-four of the twenty-four hours available to a human in one day.  I had to give that up pretty quick, but hubby, no, he pressed on hour after hour, day after day, the pressure of huge bills and closing sales and the ever evil press of paperwork to be completed, driving him forward.  His sheer will forced him to learn techie things that even a high school geek like him hadn’t anticipated.  His capacity to sell drew in large customers, political customers, and his compassion drew in the needy and the oppressed.

We worked hard for our money and sometimes, especially at the beginning, we worked hard for no money.  Okay, maybe we weren’t stupid, but we were perhaps foolish.  And certainly to the world around us, we were down right crazy.

And even after twenty-one years, we press on.  Not because we are all that and a (very big) bag of chips . . . no, because we know that even though we fail, even though we can’t possibly anticipate the wending of competitors mixed with market changes and innovations galore, even though we grow exhausted and weary of the never-ending pace, we are loved by a God who has no weariness, Who watches over us without sleeping, Who cares deeply for me, for hubby, for our vendors and our customers, our children and our friends.  

That’s not to say that bad things don’t happen to us.  Have you been listening?  We’ve been in the war of the self-employed in a highly competitive market that believes with enough money we can lower our price enough so that even though we are losing money, we can drive out our competition enough to kill them off and then have all the market share – or at least a much bigger one.  We are not those people.  We are the competition they hope to drive into despair, to rip our precious customers and new sales from our worn to the bone fingers and smash us into hopelessness until we give up.

But we don’t wage this war alone.  Nor would I ever attempt it.  I don’t know how people who do attempt such a thing exist.  It’s not my world view and I confess I can’t wrap my head around that world view.  

The Creator of the Universe and beyond, Alpha and Omega (that’s beginning and end for us English speaking folk,) He CARES about ME!  Why would I ignore that?  If my earthly father owned half the world and devoted himself to my every need, would I just go, “Ah, heck, Dad, I’m good” and walk away?  I am pretty rebellious, but not that much!  God the Father gets me.  He knows who I am from the inside out and back again.  He really gets me!  I don’t know me as well as He knows me – and so sometimes I ignore His advice, because – like we established up above – I’m foolish (okay, stupid, but just let it go – its not nice to keep reminding me of it!!)   I like going my own way.  I like trying out the way that looks different, unadvisable, maybe even dangerous – though I am a bit wimpy.

I did marry a man who is NOT wimpy and danger is often his middle name, so I guess I’m not all that wimpy – I just needed a scape goat.

But I digress.  Or do I?  Because every time I make one of those “inadvisable” choices, God is there.  His plans are not thwarted by my ignorance, nor does He wait with glee to point out my failures and bad decisions.  No.  He’s the Father standing by the gate, day after day, running with joy as he catches the slightest glimpse of me returning home, head hung low, totally defeated with shame.  Or just a shrug and an “almost apology” – “I did it again, Dad, sorry.”  

There’s the image of a young child at the mall, walking along side their Dad, tiny hand in his big calloused one.  The child is jumping and bouncing and almost dancing – carefree, soaking in everything around him without a care.  Why?  Because he KNOWS Dad is holding his hand.  And if he breaks free and runs into something or someone scary, he knows he can turn around and run back and his Dad will scoop him up in his arms and make it all okay.  That’s the kind of Father/Child relationship God wants with us.  Scripture says in more than one place that He delights in us.  

So I know that while I am going through ridiculous hard times, God is not walking away in disgust, He is not throwing up His hands and saying, “I told you not to do that!” and He is not disowning me, making fun of me, or lacking in compassion for where I am at right now.  He is standing with me.  Sometimes He is standing there to help me walk through that hard thing, sometimes He is wrapping me up in His divine Comfort in my grief and sometimes He is working in and through and all around me to work Miracles for me.  I say sometimes, but the reality is more like all day, every day He is all those things and more for me.  Given what I’ve seen Him do, I’m pretty sure there are so many rescues and healings going on all around me all day, every day, that I am not even aware of – so many things happening on my behalf that I have no clue about and then I am anxious about so many petty things, while He’s weaving Love all around me.

So I am still self-employed after twenty-one years – hopefully a little less stupid than when I started out, but regardless I have learned to rest in His faithfulness and I hold up my hand to take His Big Daddy hand and I try to remember to just soak it all in and look for His miraculous care on my behalf moment by moment, day by day, year after year.  

I don’t know where you’re at – if you know Jesus, if you acknowledge there is even a God who sent Jesus, whatever . . . but I encourage you, wherever you are at, soak it all in – watch for His hand and if you see it don’t shut your eyes and keep going it alone – reach up your hand, let Him hold it and just enjoy the walk for a while.  He DOES care, not just in passing, but in a “come to earth as a helpless babe, live thirty years and let them kill you in order to save them” kind of care.  So let Him have His way.  Let Him Love you, lavish you with His guidance and provision and say, “Thank you, Daddy,” to Him as often as possible!

“Thank you, Daddy!”

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Under the Tapestry

It’s been an emotional few weeks for me.  One of those times in your life when nothing seems to go right, the world seems to be imploding.  I know that it is not.  Mostly because I’ve weathered lots of these times before.  But it never gets any more fun.  Not even a bit.  

But it does get easier.  Not – hey, let’s have a party we’re all gonna die, but who cares, kind of easier – but every difficult circumstance we navigate through and come out okay on the other end builds confidence.  Not because we are so great or have contributed so much to the solving of our problems, but because we’ve trusted God to walk through it with us and provide what we need.  NOT necessarily what we want or what we think we need, but He has always provided – and with a purpose.

I went to see the movie based on Lee Strobel’s book, “The Case for Christ” tonight.  Angle after angle he fought against the notion that there might be a God, that there could possibly be a real Savior that came to earth intending to die, so that He might rise again – that anyone could rise again – that it had to be a hoax.  Time after time, assumption after assumption, all his arguments were shot down (by scientists, psychologists, doctors, all highly credible) until he finally stared at all the evidence he had investigated and simply “gave in.”  

This combined with the reminder in this morning’s sermon about all the prophecies throughout the old testament scriptures that were entirely fulfilled in Christ – one of the reasons the Apostle Paul took such a long time off the grid after his conversion – this all, well, it gives me a perspective that is much needed in times of trouble.

What perspective is this?  That the God of the Universes, the Creator, the Maker, the Alpha and the Omego (that’s Beginning and End for y’all who don’t speak churcheese!)  the Lord God Almighty Himself put a story into existence that has unraveled without parallel for centuries upon centuries and never once had a glitch or a rewrite necessary.  Every time the Adversary thought he had God cornered, down for the count, checkmated – God had already planned for that to happen all along and it played right into multiple chess games He was unraveling all at the same time.  I say unraveling, because He doesn’t play – He doesn’t need to – He’s already won.

But the point for me is if He can do all that – and He’s been faithful in SO MUCH ALREADY in my life, then I have to believe that He has already written the other side of my current trials and He’s got a plan for it all and His plans are always good.  I’m not naive.  Sometimes very bad things happen and we have to go through them.  But He IS there in the midst of all that BAD and His good is always worth even the most terrible of pains.

It does help that I am at a place in my journey with God where my self goals are more and more God centered goals.  The verse, “He gives us the desires of our hearts,” comes to my mind often and more and more it means in my own heart that the desires of my heart are conforming slowly to the desires I should have, because they honor Him and THAT is a very, very good thing.

I realize to some this all sounds like loopy-ville talk.  (Shrugging)  I’m okay with that.  No one said that being a Christian was a rational sounding WALK.  There’s a lot of FAITH involved and that can look pretty off the charts crazy, when you don’t have the SIGHT showing you all the FAITH work going on around us.  We might appear to be downright insane.  I’m reminded of Elisha in 2 Kings 6:17, “‘And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”  They were surrounded by the enemy and the situation looked hopeless right up until the servant could see what was actually out there for the battle!

I can’t see God’s Army, I can’t feel it, or even, most of the time, see the reactions of their actions.  But eventually, if I walk with open eyes and an open heart – I really do see God at work on my behalf in my little tiny corner of this amazingly huge universe.  So I keep on walking, trusting, and acting as I move forward, as if God has got this all under control – and every time panic rears its ugly head (and it does – and often) I stamp it out with a few good Words of Scripture and a reminder to myself of all that has come before and all that God has promised and sometimes – because I am a weak human being, subject to this frail and chemically interesting body – sometimes I cry my prayers into the spray of the morning shower until the Words of Scripture come to mind and Peace, without reason or understanding, floods back into my soul and gives me the courage to face one more day.

So I ask, where are you in this journey?  Are you still asking questions?  Wondering if the evidence really does support the belief?  Are you just starting out, and you think you believe, but sometimes it’s all way too scary and you feel all alone?  Or have you been through a battle or two and you’re gaining strength and fortitude for the next battle, excited about what God can do?  Or maybe you’ve been through a LOT of battles and what was once exhilarating is simply exhaustion and you’re wondering if you can keep on keeping on.  

That is where I have been for a while now.  But I know I will keep on keeping on because while I am looking at that tapestry from the ugly underside of my life, I KNOW God is weaving the whole piece with a mind-blowing beyond the imagination FABULOUS design on the right side and when I get to see it all from His perspective, someday, beyond the limits of this temporal world, I will stare in awe at the utter beauty of it all.  

And THAT, my friends, is FAITH.  And I am glad to say that I am holding onto a thread of it in anticipation of that day when it all makes magnificent sense!  I CAN’T WAIT!!!!

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The Unforgivable is . . . ?

So just what is the unpardonable sin?  I researched the scriptures over the past two years focusing mainly on the Holy Spirit and what scripture has to say about Him.  And in doing so I found the phrase, “Taking the Lord’s name in vain.”  We throw that around all the time and someone will say it and stick their finger in your face and wag it if you swear.  But is this actually what that verse means?

Exodus 20:7 & Deuteronomy 5:11 both say, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”  (RSV)  Then there’s Matthew 12:32, “And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”  (RSV)  Before that it phrases it as “blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.”  (NIV)

So for a while now I’ve been wondering, maybe . . . that’s why no one ever talks about the Holy Spirit nowadays unless they’re Pentacostal by denomination.  (and if so, they are  brave folk, eh?)  I’m serious here.  When was the last time you heard a sermon on being filled with the Holy Spirit, how to manifest the Holy Spirit, even fruits of the Holy Spirit? 

So Jesus, God, was born as a man and walked physically on this earth, died, rose again and then ascended into heaven and when he left he sent the Holy Spirit to teach us, guide us and to mature our faith and understanding of who God is, even praying for us when we don’t know how to pray.  So He’s our go-to guy now, right?  (I’m sitting here now, listening to the crickets chirping.)  

I get that we need to know our history and that we need to embrace Jesus as our Savior for our salvation, but why, beyond that, are we not emphasizing reliance on the Holy Spirit once we have accepted Christ as Lord in our lives?   If we believe John 14:26 – “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you,” shouldn’t we be seeking to be led by this Holy Spirit?

Or, like my initial reaction to this as a child, do we hide the Holy Spirit concept away, keep it hidden in a box surrounded by theology and religion and ignore it JUST IN CASE we accidentally do the unforgivable?   And why does this reaction remind me so much of the modern day church?  It has walls, a leader, supporters, followers, but in so many, many cases NO Holy Spirit!  We have meetings, Bible studies, but no one is seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit!  I’ve even been told by some that He no longer speaks that way to His people.  

And then I am reminded of the one group of people that Jesus reacted so harshly to – the religious leaders.  Sure, a few of them came to know Him and believe, but most were actually the ones who plotted against the Messiah they should have recognized, arrested the One they should have welcomed, demonized the one they should have worshipped.  If you read the gospels, He touched people of all walks of life and ages with His presence and they believed and were changed.  But the religious leaders, the “keepers of His Word” had to have Him explain that Word to them and even then, they refused to accept Him.

If we study God’s Word, attend worship services, lead Bible Studies, and sing His praises, but we don’t actually allow the Holy Spirit to lead us, then aren’t we like the ones mentioned in the Gospels?  It would be better for us that a millstone would be tied around our necks and we were plunged into the depths of the sea!  We have the appearance of belief, but no actual Presence in our lives from the Holy One, who is to lead us, guide us and teach us in this present age.

So I return to “taking the Lord’s Name in vain.”  I grew up understanding that this meant swearing by using any name of the Lord – a commandment breaker.  But that’s not what this really means at all now, is it?  

How about this:  we “take the Lord’s Name” as our moniker – as a pastor, an elder, a deacon, a worship leader, a CHRISTIAN – and then we ignore much of what scripture has to say, allow a lack of integrity to filter in, perhaps include much of what our culture proclaims as truth and declare it to be God’s Word.  No matter how you might think this is a rare occurrence, in my nearly sixty years on this earth, sadly many, many churches are led this way.  Is it any wonder that people have lost interest in attending church?  I mean, what’s the point if you are suppose to submit yourself to those of selfish intent who badger you to lead programs and fill positions, but do little to actually care about who you are?  Who think of their paycheck and their pride above the integrity of the gospel and the main commandment Christ calls us to obey . . . love our Lord and love His people (our neighbor, no matter who that might be – not just Christians.)

When Love is not the defining characteristic of someone who claims to be a Christian, then isn’t everything they do and say of a selfish nature?  And if so, what makes them different than those around them who do not profess to belong to Christ?  If our churches are led by those who have fallen so far – perhaps were never there to begin with – or GOODNESS! – were heading in that direction until they attended seminary . . . well, then our churches are nothing more than glorified business clubs at best, bordering on cults at their worst.

Distancing ourselves from the Holy Spirit means we lack discernment, that even if we study the Bible and know all its in’s and out’s, we do not internalize the Truth contained within it and therefore do not reflect the Truth in our actions, in our thoughts, in our leadership.  Our “sheep” are to be conformed to the type of sheep we WANT to lead, not the sheep which God has led to our fold.  Sheep to be known and loved and encouraged.  Sheep who have our respect and may have much to teach us about Faith as well.

Honestly, I had begun to doubt if the modern day church could even begin to approximate what the scriptures taught about “churches” and had begun to look into home churches.  Fortunately in response to my prayers on this subject, the Lord led me to a congregation which is led by those who truly believe the Scriptures – not an impression of the Word of God, but what it actually says.  And because it is led by those who seek to be led by the Holy Spirit, exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit in their daily lives, well . . . the whole church leads in this way.  Because scripture teaches us that EACH OF US are the body of Christ, each of us makes up the church, sharing our particular gifts and no one of us is superior, or “in charge” or has more revelation than the rest of us.  

It is an amazing organism.  And a scary one for someone who likes to lead as one in control.  What scripture intends and instructs us to do is to study scripture, asking the Holy Spirit to enlighten us, to pray individually and as groups, to encourage each other with our words, our deeds and with songs and music, and to devote ourselves to the community of believers.  Not a building – though one may use such a devise – the community.  Love for one another in the community, building one another up, providing for each other – that is what draws others to Christ, because that is a dim reflection of the magnitude of love and care we receive from Him.  

So one community may look vastly different from another simply because the people the Lord has drawn together in that community have different gifts and talents, different levels of prosperity, different needs.  AND each community that truly reflects Christ is connected to all the other communities and they each support and encourage each other as they are able.  The leadership of the Holy Spirit is the key here – not the charisma of a human leader, not the knowledge of a human leader, not the rules of a human leader . . . as the pastor, the elders, the deacons, the flower committee, the youth leader, the janitor, the hospitality committee, EVERYONE is following the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who is the ONE leader who sees all, knows all, can coordinate all – without blinking for a millisecond!  

As I watch this new community of believers grow and mature and transform, serving each other, serving the community around them, serving the servers who dedicate time to influence them with their specific learning – as the Spirit leads them – I see an amazing miraculous, God honoring community that no man can claim as his own badge of honor, but all can claim to give Christ the glory as they see their own story of sanctification unfold before them, encouraged by those around them to grow more, or as C.S. Lewis in The Last Battle expresses it, “Come further up, come further in!”

It’s not a program; it’s not a system; it’s not dependent on a human person – it is a living, breathing, growing, God-breathed community of believers unlike any other.   In such a community, no one person is expected to make everything happen – no small set of people even, but the whole “church” is collectively made up of each person contributing his or her gifts, ideas, their creative life blood, following the leading of the Holy Spirit, so that the programs and services ebb and flow as the needs of that particular community ebb and flow.

I know – you’re sitting there thinking, “That’s great in theory, but it can’t ever happen in real life.”  I would have said the same a year or two ago before actually watching it in action.  While it is scary from the perspective of a pastor who sees the failure or growth of the church as a reflection on his (or her) work, as I watch this happening and effecting my life and those around me, I am amazed and blown away by the miraculous hand of God weaving in and out of our lives.  

So, I ask:  are you taking Christ’s name in vain?  Or are you letting your life be led by the power of the Holy Spirit?  The same power that raised Christ from the dead?  

Do you truly believe?  Or are you just handing out lip service and making Christ look bad?!!   ‘Cause apparently the consequences are dire indeed . . . and permanent.  Take inventory now, pray now, seek His face now while He can be found, because if you do not – you may be a “goat!”  (And unless you’re Tom Brady, that’s not a good thing!  lol)

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