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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Life Without Sin

All humans face similar temptations.  There are only so many of them, though they have endless possibilities.  The desire to do only for ourselves, to fulfill our own wishes over everyone else’s, to keep to ourselves and to love our stuff – these are real sins that tempt all of us.

How do we overcome these things?  They are embedded in our lives, have become the threads that hold our culture together.  Be your own boss.  Make money.  Don’t take no for an answer.  Look out for number one.  Win at everything.  Learn how to take care of yourself.  If someone makes you mad, fight them or simply cut them out of your life.  And buy, buy, buy.  We are taught by this world to take control of our lives.

It’s a delicate balance.  We follow other people to do things we shouldn’t.  We force ourselves into situations and find out later that we made a mistake.  Our sins blind us to do things we know are wrong.

These lessons go directly against what God teaches us, what Jesus taught: love God over all things, and love your neighbor as yourself. 

Jesus lived without sin, yet he was faced with all the temptations we face. 

When I think about this, I think how hard it must have been for Jesus to avoid sin, just as I avoid sinning by not buying another pair of shoes I don’t need or biting my tongue when I want to say something snide, or even staying out of situations I know are tempting for me.  Sometimes it’s easier just to give in.  Sometimes I know I am sinning and I just don’t care.  It’s not hurting anyone else. 

Did Jesus face this internal spiritual battle?  In his everyday life, did he have to make decisions to avoid temptations, or was he just that well put together that those things didn’t even cross his mind?  What went through his mind when one of his contemporaries was being a real horse’s ass?  He always knew the right response.  I can’t imagine being tempted to turn on my heel, silently judge, and then gossip later about a person who annoys me, instead taking all the right measures to either teach them to do better or love them and leave them be.  Oh, to have the mind of Jesus.  Guilt and regret would be strangers.  So would smugness and pride.

“If we love one another, God abides in us, and his love has been perfected in us” (1 John 4:12).  If Jesus was God on earth, then his love was perfect already.  He just didn’t do sin.  It seems so simple.

I do sin.  I can’t help it.  I can’t imagine life without it.  I can’t imagine always having the right words, the right feelings, the right responses in every situation.  I can’t imagine seeing all the possibilities, and then choosing the one that leads me closer to God every time without fail, the one that perfects the love that is within me.  I can’t imagine not taking two steps back for every one forward. 

The world gets in my way.  It’s bright and shiny and bawdy and tempting.  Being loving and spotless and upright and moral are tiring sometimes.  Swimming against the current is hard and I just want to close my eyes and float with it.

But – Jesus.  Jesus lived here and he saw the temptations, and he didn’t fall for them, not once.  He never said it would be easy.  He even gave us help and hope that we could draw upon his power anytime to fight against sin and temptation.  As Christians we have the challenge and duty to use it in our own lives, to show God’s perfect love and to work to perfect that love within us.  It’s a tall order, what with all the shoes and horse’s asses running around.

But God is in us.  The same God that was in Jesus, who never sinned, lives in us when we accept the gift.  We can avoid temptation.  We can avoid sin.  Not all, but some.  God’s love is bigger and shinier than the biggest, shiniest sin the world has to offer.  Jesus knew it, and he taught this to us while he was here.  All we have to do is tap into the love that abides in us.

Now that is tempting.

*******


Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.  Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.  Hebrews 4:14-16 (NIV)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Slowly Sinking In

My husband and I were arguing about something minor: the mess on the table, his misplaced wallet, what time we were leaving to go to the store.

At once, I grew weary of the argument.  We’ve had these minor back-and-forths countless times – we’ve been married for one hundred and forty years.   Okay, sometimes it sure FEELS like it.

I hurriedly said “I’m sorry” just to get it over with.  The argument ended and we moved on.   Later, I started to stew.  How did we get to this point, where I was all too ready to shoulder the blame, and he without hesitation allowed me to take it despite his part in it? How many times had I apologized in the past just to end a confrontation with not only him, but friends, family members, and my own children?   Even if I didn’t feel sorry in the first place?  

At that moment, I decided it was enough. 

I thought about how I would feel if I saw my son or daughter do the very same thing I did – apologize for something they didn’t do.  It made me mad.  I love my husband, but don’t I also love myself?

One of my favorite Bible verses is Romans 12:18 - If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  It is sort of my life motto.  I can have a flash of a temper, but it burns out quickly.  This verse reminds me that it is better to be kind and conflict-free than pick fights with those around us, a valuable lesson in marriage.  We may not be able to control how people respond to us, but our part is to live in peace with those around us, as much as we can.

I’m not always great at the peacekeeping, but I found that I was a pro at peacemaking – just accept the blame and move on.

But that tactic has repercussions if abused.  My need for peacemaking had come with a great price.  Over the years, my own worth had been chipped away by this behavior.  My self-esteem and self-confidence flagged.  If there was blame to be given, I opened my arms to accept it all.

And I started to believe that I was a terrible person.

I knew that God made me in his image, that Jesus died for me, and that all my efforts for God are used by him for good in the world.  So what was so bad about me?

First, I allowed myself to be marginalized by not only my husband and those around me, but that I saw myself, a creation of God himself, as less than.  As worthy only of blame for the mistakes that happen.  And – worse – I was teaching my children that it was someone’s role in the family – the mother, the female – to be weak and the source of all the mistakes that are made.  I was teaching them that someone had to be the scapegoat, and as long as there was a scapegoat around, no one else had to bear responsibility for their actions.

What a load of crap.  None of these are lessons that God wants me to impart.

I believe that God wants me to know that I am worthy, that I am his unique creation, that I was placed here in this very spot and at this very time to do his work, no matter how much or little.  I believe that he can do great things through me, even without me knowing it.  I believe that he will use me for the good of his Kingdom.  I believe that I have the responsibility to tell others about his gift of Jesus and what he can do for them by sharing what he has done for me.

These are the lessons that God has for me, for my children, and for theirs.




These days in our house, there is not much false blame assumption going on, though sometimes it does rear its ugly head.  Thankfully our children are wise enough to call us on it.  “Don’t take blame for that,” my daughter recently said to my husband when he apologized to me for something he didn’t do wrong. 

We both smiled; he was actually joking.  But the lesson was learned.

And I thank God for that.

*******

Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ.  This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.  So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son.  He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.  He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding. 

God has now revealed to us his mysterious plan regarding Christ, a plan to fulfill his own good pleasure.  And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth.  Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan.  Ephesians 1:4-11 (NLT)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Worry No More

I used to be more of a worrier by nature.

How are we going to pay for college?  I hope the kids are safe outside.  Oh God, he’s late again – I hope there hasn’t been an accident.  What is this mole?

I could really work myself up into a pillar of worry drilled into the ground, staring off into space while I luxuriate in all the possibilities. 

House fires.  Homelessness.  Child abductions.  Drive-by shootings.  Theft.  Rape.  Disease.  Injury.  Torture.

Oh, yeah – my mind goes there.  It’s why I avoid graphic television and movies.  All that grief and destruction is too tempting.

Because I mix worry with a healthy dose of overactive imagination and an overall sense of bleakness, I appreciate that my mother is not a worrier, and that she taught me that worrying is futile and a waste of time.  Over the years her words ring out when worrying straps me down: We can’t often change what’s already in motion, and we can do far better being adaptable than worrying about what might happen unexpectedly.  She doesn’t waste her life on worry, and neither should I.  Her example has kicked me out of a worry spiral countless times.

For this I am grateful.  Thanks, Mom.

But things still happen.  I’m not always paralyzed by worry, but it fingers its way through my thoughts when my mind starts sparking with what ifs.  What to do about the ominous feeling that grips when the kids leave the house alone, when the lights flicker during a storm, when I see the bank balance less than the sum of our bills?  It’s natural for me to think the worst – I’m not my mother, after all.

Thankfully, it subsides, flickering out almost as quickly as it comes.  Maybe it’s age and wisdom, which are attended by weariness and the tediousness of old habits.  Maybe it’s that my childhood life lessons are finally kicking in – I was always a bit slow on the uptake.

And then again, maybe it’s because I’m closer to God these days – more than I ever was – praying almost before the worry can even think about stirring my brains.

Whatever it is, the tendency to stew in morose thoughts is kicked out of the way in lieu of acknowledging them, handing them over to God as if to say, “Hey, what’s your take on this?” and letting him take over, leaving me to adapt and move on.

Or something like that.



I love how God works in our lives.  Every story that people tell in the name of God’s glory, every personal anecdote and sign from heaven is amazing and wonderful; they are proof that he exists and cares for us.

But no stories are as dear to us as our own.  For me, something as mundane as learning how to kick worry to the curb through the life lessons of my mother, leading to a life where I rely on him in everything, is as amazing as God delivering a family from the ravages of war, providing a much-needed windfall to a poverty-stricken woman, bringing long-lost siblings together again, or hearing from a loved one in our dreams.

We might not all have had a clear example to model ourselves after like I had with my mom, but I learned from her and from God that he is here for each of us to cast our worries upon.  “You, O Lord, are a shield for me, my glory and the one who lifts up my head… I awake, for the Lord sustained me.” (Psalm 3: 3, 5).

Dear Lord, thank you for catching my worries, for sustaining me, and for continuing to assure me that my life is in your loving hands.  Amen.

*******


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Bit by Bit

Generally, I have a sixth sense when it comes to sizing up people.

He's standoffish.  Probably just shy, uncomfortable in a crowd of people he doesn't know.  She's warm, genuine. A bit over the top, but true to herself.  These kids just want to hang out; those ones are looking for trouble.

I'm usually correct – this skill has served me pretty well in relationships and in life.  But I still make mistakes.  I’ve endured friendships that weren’t meant to be.  I’ve given up on people who I miss terribly, who I feel I’ve let slip through my fingers too soon.

And Jesus.  It took a long time for me to understand who he is, and I'll never really know all of who he is on this side of heaven.

Why did it take me so long to size up Jesus, to see him for who he is?  I don’t know.  But that's him, isn't it?  We aren’t meant to know him all at once.  God gives us snippets of his character when we’re ready, so our human brains can take him in, bit by bit.

I was fed the seeds of his true nature when I was a kid in Sunday School.  Truthfully, those stories became familiar but were still confusing.  How did all the animals get into the ark?  Why would God destroy this evil person and yet let those others go?  How did Jesus die, and why would he do such a thing for me, for us?

I wasn’t ready then.

After my Sunday School years, the stories faded until all that was left were the memories of having learned them, names and situations smothered by learning that all religion is myth, that our creation story is just that, that we are each responsible for our life events and their outcomes.  That God is far away, if anywhere at all.

During that particular period, those other ideas made more sense.

But life events happen, and we meet new people that we size up correctly, and they and others are used by God to teach us the truth and lead us back to the path that he laid out for each of us at the beginning of time.

This is how it happened with me.

The guy at the record store who wouldn’t stop talking about Jesus when I told him that Jesus was just another guy.

The fierce faith of my Grandmother who declared, “If I wasn’t a Christian woman!” in an outburst of frustration when my brother and I fought, bringing us to a full stop.

The high school kids who put on a production at their church that I wholly related to, bringing me to tears.

The earnest sound of a roomful of adults reciting the 23rd Psalm by memory at a funeral, something they had all been taught in childhood.

The guy I married who was unapologetic and unembarrassed by his Christian-heavy upbringing, who never judged me for my nay saying.

I’m so thankful for Jesus and what he did for all of us, but I’m especially thankful that along the path of life, the seeds of truth that were planted within me sprouted and blossomed at just the right times, when I was ready and willing to know the truth.

Over the years, I learned who Jesus is – our Savior and path to eternity.  Any sizing up I think I need to do goes through him first.  I learn this a little more each time.

Bit by bit.


*******


We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen.  We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life.  This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him.  And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life.  He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us.  We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us.  And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.  We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy.  1 John 1: 1-4 (NLT)