It Takes Two to Trust

This week I was listening to an audio book by John Maxwell when this quote about trust hit me right between the eyes! The funny thing is, this was a leadership book, not a relationship book per se, but John Maxwell is famous for discussing the important personal integrity qualities that equip us to lead, so naturally, relationships are involved. This quote caused me to contemplate for several days that there is something very dysfunctional and wrong with the way most of us process trust in our relationships. Not just intimate relationships, but also friendships, business relationships and even the trust we choose to give or take away in our hearts towards people in positions of authority that we likely have never even met face to face.

Most of the time when we think about trust, we place the majority of the responsibility of “earning” or maintaining our trust on another person, while considering ourselves the potential victim of what the other person may or may not do to us or for us. On one hand this puts us in a high and mighty sort of position when we believe we can be the judge to decide whether or not someone is “worthy” of our favor, support or continued trust. On the other hand, it also sets us up to see ourselves as a powerless victim of the outcome if things don’t go well. In other words, we are handing over a whole lot of emotional power to another person, and failing to take responsibility for much of it, if any at all.

To complicate things further, we also tend to tie in our respect with that trust so if we believe someone has lost our trust, they have most likely lost our respect as well. Since we are also somewhat skewed as a society on the topic of respect, the tendency is to observe behaviors (and/or rumors) and treat people accordingly. The problem with this is that we are not all-knowing so our system fails us when we mistreat or elevate the status or “value” of someone based upon our limited knowledge, or perceived experience of trust or reputation. Yeah, go ahead and re-read that! We don’t know the whole story, or the fine details about anyone or anything so we don’t have the ability to judge the value of a person based upon our experiences. This works both directions and we have all experienced the pain of being misjudged or even defamed by someone who simply didn’t know all of the facts. There is only one who knows all and he has placed his value upon every single human he created. Yes, even the ones who have done horrible, unthinkable things (-that’s all of us if you’re paying attention).

Most of us are familiar with 1 Corinthians 13:7 of the “love chapter” that says “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things”. I struggled with the “believes all things” portion for a long time because it just sounded so naive! We all know of situations or have experienced situations where somebody believed someone that continually lied to them and they looked like a fool, were cheated out of, cheated on, taken for granted, abused or used. What I didn’t understand was that the bible wasn’t teaching a gospel of co-dependency and that this scripture passage is not about denial or living in a pretend world. How did I come to this conclusion? I read and read and read about the life of Jesus and I took note of how he handled people who loved him, as well as those who opposed him. I noticed that his only agenda was to follow the plan he and the father had purposed for him to accomplish on the earth. He was not swayed toward any other agenda- regardless of how noble it could have been. This often caused conflict for those who wanted to influence his purpose to something else. I watched his responses and found myself completely amazed at the things Jesus did, said, and often the things he didn’t say! I noticed that Jesus often didn’t feel obligated to answer “loaded” questions that were hurled at him and he usually answered those types of questions with a question of his own. This usually exposed the motive of the person asking, and sent them away in their own shame.

If you want to know how Jesus handled the issue of trust on a very personal level, read Matthew 26. Jesus had 12 disciples walking with him for his 3 years of ministry. They were a tight group and although he had crowds of thousands following him around everywhere, these 12 men were among his inner circle. They were always together and he always seemed to know what they were thinking- so much so that he often responded out loud to things they were only thinking internally. It should have been no surprise to them when they were eating the last passover supper together and Jesus announced to them all that one of them was going to betray him. I think it’s funny that none of them asked Jesus *how* he knew. Instead they were all shocked and concerned asking “surely it isn’t me?” So Jesus further explained the severity of the betrayal and said that not only was the betrayer one of his friends seated at the table and eating with him at that moment, but that the offense would be so bad that it would be better for that man to have never been born. Judas, who was in the middle of a betrayal deal with the chief priests and elders was at the table pretending to be as surprised as the rest of them. When they all started questioning Jesus “surely it isn’t me?”, Judas chimed in with the same question, trying to appear just as sincere and genuinely concerned as the other disciples but Jesus looked right at him and said “You have said it yourself”. Can you imagine what Judas felt at that moment? He was completely exposed! He had no way out of that and Jesus didn’t have to say anything else. Jesus simply pointed out the truth that somebody there was going to betray him, and allowed the truth itself to draw out the lie and the liar. What really strikes me here is that Jesus knew Judas was betraying him the entire time, but he still allowed him in the fellowship of the group and he treated him no differently. He didn’t secretly hold a grudge, or even keep a short leash of mistrust on Judas. He allowed the full vulnerability of the offense and treated him like a friend the entire time. He did, however, fully acknowledge the betrayal without pretending he didn’t know. This part is SO important!! This is what changes the situation from being one of co-dependent, enabling, “look the other way” naive, kind of denial relationship to a fully truthful, fully aware and fully vulnerable kind of relationship.

Jesus looked at that betrayal right in the face, acknowledged it for what it was and allowed the full vulnerability of it to happen without any self-preservation type of behavior.

I also find it interesting that Jesus didn’t make himself a victim in it. Obviously we all understand that this needed to happen in order to get to the cross, but this still would have been a painful thing for Jesus because he treated Judas like a friend in his inner circle for three years. When Jesus spoke about the severity of the consequences he talked about what this betrayal would do to Judas and not how hurt he was by the betrayal. This is a perfect picture of love. Later on when Judas showed up at the garden of Gethsemane with a large crowd armed with weapons, he gave Jesus the famous kiss of betrayal, and Jesus said to him “Friend, do what you came for”. This is more powerful than we realize. Jesus was not naive, he was not silent and he was not a doormat when he looked at Judas in the face during the very act of betrayal and still called him “friend”. I really believe this is why the guilt of this betrayal was so difficult for Judas that he returned the silver he was given to betray Jesus and ended his own life the very next morning.

Love is not love without full vulnerability and love is not love without full honesty. In order to fully give and receive love, we have to do it with the full acceptance of that vulnerability. If any of our relationships are struggling it is pretty much a guarantee that there is a deficit in the area of honesty or trust, but probably both. We can’t have love on any level without honesty and trust. Trust means that I take you at your word up to the very point that you betray me with it. When that happens I do not pretend it didn’t happen and I don’t make excuses for your betrayal. I love you in the face of it and allow you the opportunity to see it and make it right without overstepping my place by trying to devalue who you are because of what you did. You are still made in the image of God and the betrayal did not change your value. This is so important because the same scenario flips around when I am the one that is the betrayer in the relationship. (Notice I did not say “if”). Next comes forgiveness, and although this is a whole different topic, we can’t complete this relationship cycle without talking about it. We don’t have the luxury of holding back our forgiveness. We extend it, even when we don’t feel it and the responsibility of the betrayal (or offense) stays with the person that did the wrong.

We have to understand that withholding honesty, trust or forgiveness will not protect us from getting hurt. It will only ensure that we have no opportunity to experience real love and intimacy because we have denied the vulnerability that makes love valid.

By now you may be wondering how to apply this to something you have been going through for a long time. Me too! I want to be careful that I don’t portray this as a quick fix, magical remedy. Some of us have been managing relationships like this for years and years, and have developed, or learned a long pattern of co-dependent behavior. This pattern is not going to suddenly turn around with one honest conversation. This is going to have to be an intentional and very vulnerable choice made over and over again to reverse a pattern we made with not only ourselves, but with others.

We are the “other person” on the other side of our relationships, and we are going to have to be honest and vulnerable with ourselves and in our relationships without exception. This can only happen if the person that is face to face with us can trust us as well, and know that we love them enough to be fully honest and fully vulnerable in our relationship with them, even in the face of betrayal.

L♡ve is

Have you noticed that there are a lot of memes out there descrbing what we expect or desire to gain out of a relationship? Even as we view these biblical attributes of love, how many of us, if we’re honest would say we immediately looked at what we could gain in a relationship with someone who would love us this way before looking inwardly?  These traits are difficult and should put us all on blast, but this is how God loves us. Let’s make this a challenge for the month of February. That instead of looking for someone to meet OUR needs that we read these attributes and strive to BE that person no matter HOW others act or respond.. The tricky part is doing it without expectations in return. The truth is, people generally don’t know how to respond to real, healthy love so don’t be surprised if people respond a little rough and question your motives. Don’t forget to pray and ask God to do this work in your heart first. We have no purity of heart on our own so if we try to do this apart from God we might succeed at being nice for a short time but we will not have a lasting and genuine heart change. Who is with me in this challenge?

What is Love?


Love is the most sought after, yet the most elusive thing of all time. Not just romantic love, but love of all kinds. We were all created to need love and our desire to fulfill that need causes us to seek it out in any way that we think will scratch the deep itch within us. We often hear people say things like “If you really loved me you would ___”, or “If you really loved me you wouldn’t ___”.  It may not be said it in those words. Some of us might be a little more subtle in our approach, but in true human form, we strive to try to pigeon-hole other flawed humans to meet our needs by setting up certain parameters or conditions for them to meet. Everyone has an ideal list of how we wish to be treated. A sacred “do & don’t” list of ideals that we internally expect others to follow in order to make us happy. We fool ourselves into the delusion that if others would just play by our rules we could finally be fulfilled and happy. If that’s not crazy enough, we recognize that we don’t want to be held to anyone else’s standards, so we excuse our own failures by saying things like “nobody’s perfect” when at the same time we are holding a double standard by actually pointing the accusing finger at each other for doing the same things-completely blind to our own ways! What a set-up for utter disappointment, and so the cycle goes…

What is love really though? If you have ever been at a wedding, most likely you have heard a reading of 1 Corinthians 13, aka, “The Love Chapter”. Because of the association with weddings we tend to think this passage is about romantic love, but really the Apostle Paul was writing to the Corinthian church about their love toward one another. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails”. This is only 4 verses of the entire chapter and that right there is enough to wreck us all! These are the attributes of love. It takes some maturity and self-honesty to read through this and examine our own hearts but it is also a very liberating thing to deal with our own heart issues and finally stop running away from them. The very first thing that jumped out at me through this passage was the pesky little line “it is not self-seeking”. Well, there goes my list of rules! That takes us right back to the beginning where we talked about the common “If you loved me you would___” and “if you loved me you wouldn’t ___” conditions. We are all guilty of trying to place expectations like these around someone’s neck like a noose. The truth is, whether we actually vocalize our expectations to someone or just inwardly resent them, holding expectations as an entrance or exit to our love is self-seeking behavior. If we are not willing to love that person freely, and assume the risk that they may not return love to us on our terms, or may not do what we want them to do, we are not actually loving them at all. We are simply making an agreement or contract with them, or holding them under emotional blackmail. This is why we come up feeling empty.  Having said that, this also does not mean that in order to love someone we have to tollerate undesirable or unacceptable behavior, nor choose to be around it. It simply means we do not let (good or bad) behavior  or conditions determine, influence or change our love. More simply put: we love (value) someone for who they are and not how they are. They can’t add more value by behaving better, nor can they lose value by behaving worse. Therefore, behavior may change some circumstances, and it may certainly bring consequences, but love does not allow us to change the value of a person based on their behavior. 

So what are we afraid of? We are afraid of emptying ourselves out and being left humiliated and empty in our vulnerable state. We’re afraid of being used up of the best of ourselves only to be unloved in return. In our fear we try to give only part of ourselves, but we hang on to the rest because the desire to try to protect ourselves is so overwhelming. Unfortunately, our attempts to protect ourselves actually cheapens the value of our sacrifice. When the sacrifice is cheap, so is the reward. This is why we are unfulfilled. It actually has nothing to do with how we are loved, and everything to do with how we are loving. Jesus himself, set the standard in his ultimate sacrifice. While the entire world rejected him, hated him, spit on him, tortured him and even his own closest disciples denied and betrayed him, Jesus took on the sin of all humanity and faced the epitome of being used up and completely “alone” when even the Father was forced to turn his face away from him because of our sin. He loved at the greatest cost with nothing in return for him. He loved us first with no expectations. Even if we never choose to love him in return (many don’t and unfortunately many never will) he will never stop loving and pursuing our hearts. We were created  with the need for God’s love. Without it, our relationships will be out of balance. We will fill our lives with things and come up empty until we truly come to know him.  The tricky  thing is most of us feel like we could do a little better in our relationship with God, but we are really good at telling ourselves we are ALL IN with our relationships with people. We are masters at deceiving ourselves. This is why it is critical that we have a daily walk with God, we need to read his word every day and ask him to show us the deceitful things hidden in our hearts. The word of God and our relationships with others is the  indicator that shows us where we are at with God. We can’t love God without loving people, but we desperately need God in order to love people. It’s funny how God made those two things so interdependent! There is just no getting around this and the most frustrating part is that other people actually reveal the selfish tendencies inside of us. This is not to say that other people will not do things that violate our trust or hurt us, but the amount of emotional turmoil we allow ourselves to entertain has everything to do with the amount of responsibility we are taking in our relationships, and how much we are blaming on others. Love recognizes pain as an indicator that we need God to change our own hearts, and in order for God to work change in us we have to be willing to surrender our will, our desires our attitude and yes, even our feelings. Our feelings will scream at the injustice of laying ourselves down unselfishly. Our feelings will always point blame the other way before accepting responsibility. Even if we feel like we are the only ones in the relationship accepting fault, or even if we feel our part is the smaller part in the equation, the moment we complain- even to ourselves, we are no longer sacrificing anything. The moment we expect something in return, it is no longer an act of love but an act of barter. When those feelings rise up and we instead ask God to help us, he can work in our hearts and do in us what we can’t do on our own. We can only take responsibility for ourselves and we have to trust that God will fulfill us when we do that. It doesn’t guarantee us that others will respond appropriately, but they stand a better chance this way, and most importantly, we become free from the empty cycle. 

I want to be very clear. I am NOT describing, nor condoning an abusive or co-dependent relationship. Love does not mean saying yes to everything or being manipulated to do things against our will. Healthy boundaries are vital in a healthy relationship so if someone you are in relationship with is trying to manipulate you, that is self-seeking behavior, and giving in to it is not loving to them or to you. Jesus is our perfect example of love and even he did not allow anyone to push their own selfish agenda. In fact, those who had a selfish motive around Jesus caught a shockingly aggressive side of him. He sharply rebuked them and made it clear that he was there only to fulfill the will of God and not man. Even the  sacrifice he made was the will of God and not man although it was fulfilled through man. 

 A beautiful thing happens when we lay our expectations down. The other person now feels the incredible freedom to choose  to love in return and because they chose it without anything  expected of them, there is now a genuine purity of their love to be enjoyed without any doubts. That is the most fulfilling kind of love there is, and is exactly what Jesus came to teach us. We love Him because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

How Can I Bring Change to a World in Need?


  • Recently God showed me two very important things about prayer. The first was that prayer is not about begging God to do something he doesn’t really want to do. When we are praying for things that align with God’s word sometimes it can feel like we are literally begging God to care. The truth is, when we invest our hearts outside of ourselves into something enough to pray more than just a one-time prayer, our own compassion grows. God fuels this process of tension and frustration to build within us so that we will continue to pray and our love and compassion for those we are praying for grows. It is not us changing the heart and mind of God toward people, but God, through our prayers changes our hearts and minds. God called us to prayer because without it we become self-absorbed and without purpose. Unfortunately, for many of us our prayers sound a bit like Christmas wish lists. I’m not saying it’s wrong to ask God for things, but if our prayer time is centered around a desire for comfort for ourselves and those we love we will be self-centered, empty and without purpose. This is a very selfish and unbiblical approach to prayer and is unfortunately, why so many have not found a real connection with God. We were called to be like Jesus, and to be like Jesus is to step out of our own world, care for whom and what God cares about and be partners and partakers in God’s work. In many cases God has already said “yes” to some of our prayers and it may already be written in his word but he needs us to get on board and get motivated. This happens when we pray because when we petition God we become infused with God’s love and God’s power. The second thing God showed me is that often times during this process God will allow enough tension, frustration, love and compassion to build in us that he can then finally use us to take action. If he had asked us to to do it before we started praying, we wouldn’t have had the heart for it. We might look at the situation and think, “how sad, someone should do something” but after we have invested our hearts into praying for it, our hearts are changed and we see things we hadn’t seen before. God then begins to give us vision and courage to do things we may feel like we don’t know how to do but because we see a need, God’s love provides a confidence in us to do what must be done. These aren’t always big, dramatic things. Compassion is given away one small act at a time. Ask God to open your eyes each day and show you people around you who need compassion in any form. Commit to step out of your own world and give encouragement to the down trodden. Or simply meet an obvious need that might be right in front of you. This is what Jesus did and what he has called us all to do.

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Distressed to Beauty

I love the look of distressed furniture and I’ve really come to enjoy the art of distressing my own pieces. But when I really think about it, what is it about taking something and intentionally making it old that we love so much? With real antiques (which few of us can afford to collect) the idea of “aged” makes us nostalgic, the story behind a piece is romantic, this makes it unique and therefore beautiful. The colors between the scarred layers make us wonder where it has been. The flaws and markings of something made by hand increases it’s value and the fact that you will not find two identical pieces makes it special. 
We are like those antique pieces and our lives tell a story marked with pain and scars that display the beauty and uniqueness of who we are. The very flaws and irregularities that we love so much and seek out as rare or special in an antique, we foolishly spend an entire lifetime shamefully hiding about ourselves. I’m not talking about character flaws that we need to address. We are accountable for how we treat people and we need to be in constant pursuit of God to work change in our hearts, but those petty flaws about ourselves that we hide, or perhaps even some deep emotional or physical wounds. When we embrace these layers as part of our story they become a beautiful display of art. We were created with unique purpose by a creative God who loves us.
This time of year can be very difficult for so many. While it is a time of family and celebration for many, it can be a very broken, painful, distressing and lonely time for others. Today I am very mindful of broken and hurting people. We have all been there at some point so if you know of someone who needs some encouragement, please share this post to let them know they are loved. If you would join me in praying for the broken this season, please comment and let me know that you are praying with me. ♡

 

There’s a Hole in My Boat

 

“You can’t blame the water for finding the hole in the boat…”

Blame is a weight of negativity that holds us captive in the boat of our circumstances. It lends complete control of our thoughts and emotional well being to the very person or thing in which we loathe. It stifles our creativity and our energy but it continues to sink our boat while we passively sit in it talking about our sinking condition. Accepting responsibility for our part in our chronic situations is the beginning of finding solutions. This isn’t to be passive or to say that we haven’t been treated unfairly or in some cases, even abused. It’s actually quite the opposite. It takes courage, character and backbone but we all carry a piece of responsibility in our own recovery process. When we are free from the weight of negativity we have the creativity to think of smarter solutions. If we take our focus off of the uncontrollable amount of water rushing into the boat, and look to the one who created us and wants to guide our steps, we will find the wisdom to address the hole in our boat.

Measure-minded

From the day we were born we were weighed, measured, analyzed and compared. Long before we ever had the opportunity to accomplish anything significant, achievable- or anything not quite so much, we were already being compared to other newborns. Doctors collect medical data to make sure babies are healthy, growing. thriving and doing all of the things that healthy babies are supposed to do and when babies are not healthy, they measure data in order to take the necessary measures to bring sick babies to the best level of health possible. When babies become toddlers we include bigger milestones to mark development and compare according to average what our toddler should be doing in order to consider his or her development to be on track. When our toddler grows into a school aged child we begin to expand our measurements of success in all sorts of ways to include academic testing, achievement awards and athletics. GPA tells students and colleges where they measure up in order to earn scholarships and this carries throughout college and continues into our careers where we continue to measure our successes and failures with data that we carefully compare with those around us in our departments, our companies, and our fields. We measure our credit scores to determine how we compare to others with our financial credibility and we measure the value of things we purchase to determine whether or not we are making good financial purchasing decisions. We can measure and compare just about anything. Data is powerful information that can be extremely helpful when it is used as a measuring tool in the appropriate areas of life. In fact, the bible has a lot to say about the importance of knowing the condition of our finances, being organized, responsible and having good business sense.  Where it becomes a problem is when we try use this system of measurement to determine where we are spiritually, or when we try to measure ourselves by comparison to others when it comes to our spiritual growth. Although spiritual maturity (or a lack of) can be seen in behaviors, there is no “average” growth chart for spiritual maturity.  It can’t be measured or compared with others because only God truly knows the real condition of the heart anyway. 

We all live on an individual basis with God, our Father.  Most everyone has heard that Jesus died for the world to bridge this relationship. It has been said so often that it sounds horribly cliché’, but if some of us who have chosen to  follow Jesus were to share our own personal story of how God relentlessly pursued our own heart, you would find our stories to be both deeply personal and entirely individual. How incredible that not one of us has the same story, circumstances or relationship with God as another. The only way I can even begin to illustrate this point is to compare it to the relationships my husband has as father to our 3 children.  My husband and I have 2 daughters whom are now responsible young adults, and a teenage son well on his way. They look like 3 different variations of our better physical features, each with their own personalities, gifts, talents and wonderful minds of their own. Naturally, there are a lot of similarities because we are a family, and though the basic house rules were the same for all of them, we learned very quickly as young parents that they were each bent a little bit differently, so our approach to parenting had to be a little bit different with each one of them too. Because of their differences, the relationships my husband has with each of them is very different. In fact, since they were all born at completely different times, their relationships even began at different times, but nobody could ever argue that they are not equally loved by their dad no matter how much longer one has been alive than another (even though they will ALL tell you that they are the favorite). 

When our kids were younger my husband had a regular tradition of taking each kid to at least one MLB game every summer. We went as a family too, but the kids really looked forward to their turn for game day because they knew it would be a special one on one day with their dad where they would be spoiled with all of his attention and focus, a big ice cream sundae and yes, baseball!  My girls also both loved sushi and to this day a sushi date night with dad is still a big deal to them. He loves taking them because it’s something they really enjoy together. My son, however, hates sushi and wants nowhere near a sushi restaurant. Both of the girls were involved in soccer, music and theater throughout high school, so while many of their interests were similar, their personalities are very different. My son, however, is a baseball player and does not ever want his dad to take him to the theater to go see a play. He is perfectly happy with the baseball games and the countless other things he does differently with his dad. God relates to us that way. He enjoys us the most when we are enjoying the things that we enjoy the most. Only it’s even deeper with God because God actually created us with our gifts so when we are doing the things that we are good at it actually brings God joy and it was intended to bring him glory. God knows how to relate to us as the creative individuals we are because he made us that way on purpose. We are all in a different place in that individual relationship because we were each created uniquely  with a purpose that only God knows and  He wants to spend our whole lives working out His remarkable plan in us. Though we were all offered the same invitation of salvation through the same sacrifice, our path is as individual as our uniqueness.  We were each given different circumstances, gifts, opportunities, hardships and situations. Even still, the word of God is true for all of us and there are no exemptions. Just like my 3 children all grew up in the same home with the same father and the same basic household rules, my daughters were never expected to give their all and have a great attitude on the baseball field. That literally was never a challenge in their lives, although they both did spend quite a bit of time sweating and giving their all on a soccer field. The similarity is only because our kids happen to have sports in common.  My son has never once had to face the challenges or the thrills of performing onstage that my girls have. They all, however, have been expected to carry themselves with honor, with respect and with integrity no matter what they have participated in.  The bible says that God is fair and just and though all of us has a different path to walk, we are not to compare ourselves to the path of another. Imagine the danger of this by just thinking about the people we are surrounded with on a daily basis.  Comparing ourselves with some could blind us with arrogance and keep us from seeing the need for change in our lives, while comparing ourselves with others could be so intimidating that we become paralyzed in our imperfection. People make terrible gauges because they are flawed with imperfection and they tend to bring out our flaws and imperfections whether they intend to or not. We were never intended to look to people, and often times what we see outwardly is not necessarily true of the heart anyway. Let Jesus be our one and only focus. He is the only one that is not out to derail you from your purpose because he is the author and creator of your purpose! Philippians 1:6  I am convinced and confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will [continue to] perfect and complete it until the day of Christ Jesus [the time of His return].

A Valuable Work In Progress

Valuable Work In ProgressThere is a very old saying (much, much older than I am) “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater”. The intent of this quote is that you don’t lose something valuable when you discard what is undesirable. Unfortunately, people can be and have been mistreated this way as well. Sometimes this happens by labeling people by their issues, behaviors or struggles, and sometimes this happens when people label themselves by assuming a particular issue, behavior or struggle IS their identity. Someone can be or can even feel “written off” by other people who disagree with them or their lifestyle. This has happened since the days of the bible and as often as people are labeled or judged, we are just as often our own worst enemies. We know ourselves better than anyone else, we are most aware of our own shortcomings and we assume those around us are as focused on them as we are. When we know that God is aware of our issues this becomes an even bigger problem because our tendency is to run from the only one who not only can help, but is so serious about saving us that he gave his life for us. Even while we mock and reject his sacrifice of love he waits for us patiently because he is loving and good. What makes us so nervous about being honest about our sin issues with God?  Most of us have a  really hard time seeing God completely. We get stuck on an attribute that we either like or dislike and focus on one small portion of him. God is a very big and extreme God. The bible describes him as both a lion and a lamb, and yet even that is just one small glimpse of a description. When I was standing on the beach in Monterey CA, I was watching the waves crash into the rocks and appreciating the soft sand on my feet. I thought about all of the people like me who love the beach for the soft warm sand, and then I was looking out at those giant waves crashing onto the rocks and thinking about how dangerous that would be if you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. I thought about being capsized at sea, and how extreme and dangerous it is out there on the open sea, yet how peaceful and beautiful that same view could be from the view of a cruise ship. I thought about how big and powerful God is… like the ocean, and yet how peaceful God is… just like the beach and the soft sand. The bible describes God’s voice like “the sound of many waters,” which could be like the sound of waves crashing if you’re visiting the beach. That is both a powerful and a peaceful sound all at once! Sometimes we as humans have a hard time grasping or even wanting to accept that God in his his full and enormous capacity is this extreme in his nature. One example of this is that God is very serious about sin and sin has to be punished. Another example is that God is full of love, grace, mercy and kindness and he forgives sin. Both of those statements are actually fully true, but cannot be separated from each other. God is very, very serious about sin because sin not only damages the people he loves, but sin has a penalty that destroys relationships and separates us from him. He knew there was no way we could live a life in relationship with him and also pay the penalty for all of our sin. Because of his mercy and grace he paid our penalty through his son Jesus to restore that relationship with him that he always intended. This doesn’t mean we continue living in sin. It means that he loved us enough to not leave us in our mess! It means that we surrender our lives over to him just as he surrendered his life over for us first as an example of love. It’s not about a list of rules, he does the work in us as we surrender. It’s love in action in the purest form. It’s a daily relationship and that’s why no two people can ever compare notes in their relationship with God. It’s a personal walk. Kind of like a personal trainer working with someone on an individual plan. He will push you, encourage you, and hold you acountable but unlike the trainer, his motivation for you is love. 

The problem is, overall, the general population concludes that we’re all pretty good people so most people don’t think they are in need of saving in the first place. Nobody wants to be told they have sin issues. We live in the “Don’t judge me” culture. After all, who are you to tell me what is right for me anyway?  Think of a time that you have accidentally touched something so filthy and disgusting that your internal radar went into overdrive. What was your reaction? I know for me personally it goes something to the effect of me throwing the offensive item as far from me as possible, as quickly as possible and depending upon how bad the violation, it may also include me washing myself with bleach repeatedly. Yes, I know this may sound a bit extreme and I do confess to be a bit of a germ-o-phobe but everyone has their limits, so for this illustration if we can all think of what those limits may be for ourselves. Whatever that filthy vile thing is that we could never bring ourselves to touch. This is what the sin in our life is like. The problem is, we don’t view it quite that way. In fact, we have gotten so cozy with our sin that we have taken up an identity with it. We have given our issues cute pet names and over-moralized ourselves. I have heard people say things like “God knows my heart” so many times as if to excuse or clear themselves of responsibility for their actions. In most cases it was used to justify manipulative behavior. The bible says “The heart is deceitful above all things And it is extremely sick; Who can understand it fully and know its secret motives?” Jeremiah 17:9.  Romans 3:23 says “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”  The best analogy I have ever heard for us trying to get to heaven on our own merit was when someone compared it to us trying to swim from the United States coast across the Pacific Ocean to try to get to the Asian coast on our own. Some of us might be able to swim for a half mile to a mile, some more conditioned athletes might cruise for a few miles before hitting sheer exhaustion, picked up by the coast guard only to find out we didn’t even make a mark on the map. Nobody is going to “almost make it”.  It’s just impossible! The biggest relief should be to know that we don’t have to work our way into heaven. This is not an excuse not to give God our very best. It simply means we were never meant to do this out of our own effort and trying to do so on our own makes us bitter, frustrated and hateful people. When we think we are not what we are expected to be we lose hope and feel trapped.

If we are not supposed to stay in our sin, but we are not supposed to work our way into heaven then how does change come? This only comes by daily relationship. Time spent with the Lord in worship (thankfulness and appreciation for who God is, prayer (conversation), and in his word (read the bible- doesn’t have to be a lot! Just something to take with you for the day.) This is what brings change. The more we read his word and the more time we spend with him the more we become like him. The good news is that he is not disgusted or surprised by our imperfect condition. He already knows us and loves us through our weaknesses and does not expect perfection.  He just expects us to grow.

God is not angry at you. He is not waiting for you to get things together before he’ll help you. He’s ready for you right now. Right in the middle of your mess. He’s never loved you more! He wants you to trust him to walk this out with him. No matter what it is, he’s seen it all. Just you and him, step by step. I promise you that it won’t make any sense to you while you’re in it, but if you’ll just trust him day by day you will see change. You will want to give up over and over and you will run into opposition but keep your focus on him and you will look back one day and see just how far he led you out of your mess and you will know it was God that did the work. He is so patient and so loving. I can tell you from my own experience that I have stumbled through this and he has never once deserted me.  One of the most encouraging verses to me is this one. Just as a father loves his children, So the Lord loves those who fear and worship Him [with awe-filled respect and deepest reverence. For He knows our [mortal] frame; He remembers that we are [merely] dust.” Psalm 103:13-14

We Were Created to Shine

wp-1453737790326.pngI was admiring the beauty of the moon one night. How bright and how beautiful it is. How it lights up the night sky and even though there is darkness all around, the moon gives off just enough light to illuminate our path and keep us from stumbling in the darkness. We are fascinated by the moon and have spent a lot of time and money exploring it but have not found any way to sustain life on it’s surface. According to Genesis 1:14-17, the moon was created with the sole purpose of providing light to “rule the earth at night”. It actually has no light or heat source of it’s own and is no match for the sun in all of it’s power, yet it simply stays aligned in place and reflects light from the sun. This is what it was created to do.

We are like the moon. We were made in the image of God to cultivate and keep the earth according to Genesis 2:15. Like the moon, we have no light of our own, but our beauty is seen when we reflect the light of the Son. When we do this we help illuminate the path in a very dark world. We have no power of our own to sustain life because we didn’t create it. The intelligence and creativity that we do have  is only what God has given us, yet even that is no match for God. We are not even the centerpiece of his creation, but merely a tiny reflection of our creator. Yet the tendency of our sinful nature causes us to elevate our value and treat ourselves like the main event. We easily forget that we were created out of dust for God’s purpose, and instead adopt the attitude that God is somehow here to serve our purposes. Of course we would never say that, but our attitudes reflect our hearts through our expectations. Our expectations often reveal a backwards application of God’s design. It’s an attitude that says “It’s my life. I can do whatever I want with it”. This is not only devastating to our lives, but it sheds some light on why the theme throughout the gospel is about taking the focus off of ourselves. This is not a self-hatred message, but taking the focus off ourselves continuously points us back to Jesus and the result is fulfillment. The paradox is that we will not find fulfillment by chasing after our own fulfillment. We can’t even follow Jesus with the goal of finding fulfillment or we miss the point entirely. Matthew 16:25 says “For whoever is bent on saving his [temporal] life [his comfort and security here] shall lose it [eternal life]; and whoever loses his life [his comfort and security here] for My sake shall find it [life everlasting].” It’s important to note that he is talking about losing our lives for him, not as a slave to anything or anyone else.

So what is it about self-focus that causes so much devastation? Like the moon, we have no light (goodness) of our own. We are in big trouble when we are left to our own devices because we will serve our selfish desires to our own destruction. Like the moon, we were created to reflect what we are aligned with. God made himself the center so that we would stay aligned with him. Not because he is egotistical, but because he is perfect. He is steady and unchanging. He does not waiver or change his direction. James 1:17 says “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” It seems pretty important that the one holding our universe into place would be steady and unmoving. In his perfection is balance and order, and where there is order there is peace, and where there is peace there is fulfillment. To our sinful nature, this feels backwards so we have to discipline ourselves to keep our focus off ourselves and onto God. We can never be perfect like God, but as long as our focus is on him we will reflect him. When that focus begins to drift, we begin to reflect the things we give ourselves over to. This causes an imbalance and fills our lives with turmoil.  The only remedy for this is to re-align ourselves with the Son and give ourselves over to him completely. When we surrender our selfish desires and let his light shine on the dark places of our hearts we can be free. When we are aligned with him and reflecting him, we are not only fulfilled, but we are fulfilling our purpose and illuminating the path in a very dark world. Galations 5:16-24 “But I say, walk habitually in the [Holy] Spirit [seek Him and be responsive to His guidance], and then you will certainly not carry out the desire of the sinful nature [which responds impulsively without regard for God and His precepts]. For the sinful nature has its desire which is opposed to the Spirit, and the [desire of the] Spirit opposes the sinful nature; for these [two, the sinful nature an d the Spirit] are in direct opposition to each other [continually in conflict], so that you [as believers] do not [always] do whatever [good things] you want to do. But if you are guided and led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the Law. Now the practices of the sinful nature are clearly evident: they are sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality (total irresponsibility, lack of self-control), idolatry, sorcery, hostility, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions [that promote heresies], envy, drunkenness, riotous behavior, and other things like these. I warn you beforehand, just as I did previously, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit [the result of His presence within us] is love [unselfish concern for others], joy, [inner] peace, patience [not the ability to wait, but how we act while waiting], kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.  And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature together with its passions and appetites.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who Are You God?

Who Are You God

If I asked a random group of people how many know God, I’m guessing the majority would say they do. After all, who hasn’t heard of God right? The same could also be said of most celebrities simply because when we say we know someone, what we really mean is we are familiar with their name, their public image, their work or what they stand for. We know who they are based upon what we have heard about them from other people, what we have read about them or maybe even by what we have studied or researched about them. They may be famous people we have never met, “friends” we are connected with on social media, coworkers, neighbors or people we do business with. Whether these are people we like or dislike, with views with which we agree or disagree, we “know” most of them on a superficial level. 

In the book of Acts, Saul (who would soon be renamed Paul and write the majority of the New Testament) was a radical Jew who was known for upholding Jewish law to the point of  arresting and even killing those he believed to be radicals against God. He truly believed he was working for God and he was feared by followers of Jesus. He obtained letters from the high priest giving him permission to arrest followers of Jesus in a town called Damascus. On his way there, he was blinded by a powerful flashing light from heaven and he fell off of his horse. A voice from heaven called out to him saying “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute and oppress me?” Paul responded “Who are you Lord”? The voice responded, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting”. How shocking that must have been for Paul who had believed he had known God his whole life. He even believed he was working for God and he was now finding out he had been working against God.

If you were to make a list of all of the people you know, how many of them could you honestly say you really know? Not the publicly known side of them, but the personal things about them that you can only come to know by spending time with them. Think of the people you are closest to. Your siblings, your best friend, your parents, kids or your significant other. What is it about these relationships that are so different from the rest? Is it because these people in your life have less flaws and always give you what you want? Is it because you have been able to maintain an almost perfect record with them, or you always see eye to eye? Did you become close because all of your life circumstances lined up so smoothly that you have never had a reason to fight? I’m guessing it’s actually quite the opposite. In fact, some of the most powerful relationships have been born out of survival or hardship situations between the most unlikely of friends. The most intimate relationships in your life are usually the ones that have challenged you the most. These are the relationships through which you have endured your toughest times. These relationships have caused you more pain, yet more satisfaction. They have probably cost you more than you could even imagine, yet you wouldn’t have it any other way because the joy and satisfaction you feel far outweighs the cost. In these relationships you are the most vulnerable, you risk the most and give sacrificially without the thought of it in return, but because you have invested so much of yourself  you love deeper. You know things about each other that very few, (if anyone else) knows. They know your strengths and your weaknesses and you know theirs. They have seen you at your best and at your worst, yet they love you for who you are. They have shared experiences with you in life that nobody else has and because of those experiences, you have a connection with them that is personal, intimate and safe. The core of this satisfaction is acceptance, and what we experience of this in our relationships on earth is just an imperfect glimpse of the relationship God has always intended for us to have with him. In fact it is what we were created for.

Jesus, our savior wants us to know him like this. He sacrificed his life and showed us that his heart is fully invested in us. He wants us to give our lives to him in return so that we can experience the kind of intimacy with him that we crave so deeply with people. Unlike any other relationship we have ever been in, he is perfect and our sinful nature doesn’t know how to understand a perfect God. If we only choose to know him on a superficial level we can’t possibly understand the sacrifice he made for us so we tend to see him based upon what we have heard from other people who don’t necessarily know him either. This often gets portrayed as an intolerable God with an impossible list of rules instead of a loving God who has invested himself wholly for us. It’s difficult to comprehend that the God who created the universe and every last detail of it is even interested in our lives, let alone that he knows and wants what is best for us. God is so vast that it’s hard for us to understand the extreme sides of him. In our limited human imperfection we try to understand him on a more human scale and completely miss. So how then do we connect with a God so big and so far beyond our understanding?

  1. God created us in his image and gave us desires that only he can fulfill so that when we truly seek him with all of our hearts we will find him. This can begin as simple as a desperate cry to say “help me God!” He knows our hearts and our motives so he is not fooled by head games or pretentious attempts to portray a true desire for him. His wants us to come to him in full honesty and full humility and acknowledge that he alone is God. When we do this he begins to show us things in every day life that are so specific and so personal that our heart understands what our mind can’t comprehend. 
  2. Everything God wants us to know about him is in his holy word. By reading his word we get to know the nature of God and he speaks to us through it by allowing it to come alive in our every day lives. This simply means that we will begin to recognize the things we have read while we are doing ordinary things in life and it will begin to make sense.
  3. He created everything in nature to reflect something about himself so that when we look around us at the wonderful things he created we will see parallels of who he is. It’s almost like finding clues everywhere so that even if we didn’t have the written word we would see him in his creation.
Romans 5:8 “But God clearly shows and proves His own love for us, by the fact that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  This alone should help you relax and know that God already knows everything about you and loves you the way you are. He created you, knows everything about you and there is nothing about you that comes as a surprise to him. Psalm 139:18 tells us that the good thoughts God has about us are more numerous than the grains of sand. He will not reject you or change His mind about you. For most relationships, that fear of rejection is the hardest part to overcome. Knowing that God loves us no matter what gives us the confidence and the assurance that it is safe to give Him our hearts. Safe doesn’t mean free of pain and suffering. It means that whatever we suffer in this life will be more than worth the suffering if we trust him to do what is best for us. God promised us that if we follow him he will never leave us or forsake us and he is absolutely true to his word. He cannot lie!
 
Phillipians 3:10 “And this, so that I may know Him [experientially, becoming more thoroughly acquainted with Him, understanding the remarkable wonders of His Person more completely] and [in that same way experience] the power of His resurrection [which overflows and is active in believers], and [that I may share] the fellowship of His sufferings, by being continually conformed [inwardly into His likeness even] to His death [dying as He did] . The death parallel in this scripture is the death Jesus died on the cross in exchange for our death to our desire to rule our own lives. We give him our life in exchange for his. Not to earn our way, but because we are forever indebted to him for his graciousness to us. We give our life to honor him and to respect the sacrifice he made on our behalf. The beautiful thing is that the more we give up our selfishness, the more we become like him. This is what we were created for and it is more fulfilling than any indulgence known to man. I want to challenge you to make a decision to follow Jesus whole-heartedly. The scariest thing on earth is to surrender control, but your life is safest in his hands. He knows your future and his plans for you are good!

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