Sin much? Love much.

“You need to start praying that God will show you the depth of your sin.”

Her words hung in the air for a moment. It didn’t sting like it does when someone boldly calls you out—at least not at first. It was a conversation with a mentor, my mom, and her delivery on this kind of thing is always gentle. But gentle with conviction.

And wisdom. It is one of many conversations that I play back over and over, even years after the fact. I’ve got dozens of these little gems, life lessons, that I can trace back to coffee and a chat with my mom.

When I did feel the sting, it wasn’t because she was calling me out for being a sinner. She was telling me I was a Pharisee.

At the first of the year I began reading through the New Testament, but lately I’ve been on a quest to understand worship. Everything I read gets filtered through that lens.

Church culture has staunchly settled on 20 minutes of music selections on Sunday mornings, calling that worship. But if we even bother to attend physically, we may check out spiritually. There continues the ubiquitous dispute over what we have labeled worship style. Does those two words together sound contradictory to anyone else? No? Just me?

But, if you go looking for guidance in the bible, worship in scripture can be perplexing. Often the word appears with little detail except, “And he bowed and worshiped.” In other places the word is used when a biblical figure makes a sacrifice, as when Abraham prepares to offer Isaac and tells the company with them, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” (Genesis 22:5, ESV)

Huh. I’m not much further along than I was when I started this whole worship quest thing.

Then my morning reading brought me to this story. Jesus has dinner at the home of a Pharisee—you knew I’d get back to the Pharisee thing, right? A woman with a bad reputation found out where Jesus was, and her arrival at the feast made Simon the Pharisee indignant. She washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and her hair. She kissed His feet and poured perfume on them.

“He can’t be a prophet,” Simon thought. “If he were, he would know all about her.” I can just see Simon rolling his eyes and exchanging looks with other Pharisees at the table. In that age, in Simon’s world, the touch of such a woman—even a loving gesture on your nasty stinky feet–would be repulsive.

Never fear, folks. Jesus set the man straight. And true to form, He used a parable to illustrate His point. Rather, He used a parable so that Simon could make His point.

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Luke 7:40-43, ESV

See what He did there? He set this up for Simon to expose his own hypocrisy. From the parable, it may sound like this woman who seemingly had morals like an alley cat owed a bigger debt because of her sin. But if you read the gospels, a lot—an inordinate amount, really–of harsh words and stern warnings are reserved for the Pharisees, the supposedly less sinful.

John the Baptist kicked off the show by calling them a “brood of vipers” and talked about the coming judgment (Matthew 3:7-12). Later Jesus would soundly castigate them with words like “blind guides” and “hypocrites” because, among other reasons, they slam heaven’s door in the face of genuine seekers. And, oh yeah, the Pharisees are not actually entering the kingdom, either (Matthew 23:13-14). Then He would call them sons of the devil because—guess why?—they don’t love Jesus so there is no way that God can be their Father (John 8:42-44). Those two things—loving Christ and being God’s child—are irrevocably connected.

Here’s what it boils down to. Judgment is the same for anyone who does not respond to the invitation of the grace and forgiveness of Christ. When He separates the sheep from the goats, there are no sub-categories. There’s not a special place for those who didn’t quite make it to heaven but aren’t so bad that they should go to hell. Either you enter the kingdom or you don’t.

Furthermore, the price for the woman’s sin and the price for the Pharisees’ sin is exactly the same—it cost the Son His life. Period. He didn’t have to give an extra sacrifice because these sins are worse than those sins. There’s no special negotiation that took place for those whose behavior serve as a cautionary tale trumpeted by the self-righteous.

What is so special about this woman is her worship. One difference between her and Simon the Pharisee is she knows the depth of her sin. Another is the depth of her love. Remember, loving Jesus and being God’s child are connected.

Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet.  You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.  Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”  (Luke 7:44-48, ESV)

Worship encompasses a lot of things. There are many examples in the bible that don’t look like this one, and we won’t always engage in such an emotional display of affection for the Lord. But I still feel there is a model for worship in this story that is important. Worship should always be more than a passive deference to God. I became His child because I love Jesus. It should be evident in my worship.

If I want my worship to be a genuine act of love for Christ, I need to understand the depth of my sin. I come back to that conversation with my mom often. That sting I felt for the exposure of my hypocrisy is not at all a bad thing. It makes me thankful for a rescue I don’t deserve, and for the enormous worth of the Savior whose life paid for that rescue.

For those who are in Christ, our sins, which are many are forgiven. We should “love much.”

And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”

Revelation 5:9-10, ESV

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ADVENTures Day 8–Unimaginable Peace

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and of might,
    the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
    or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
    with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
    with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
    and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

The wolf will live with the lamb,
    the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
    and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
    their young will lie down together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
    and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.  Isaiah 11:1-10 (NIV)

This passage is so packed full of greatness–I’m not sure where to start!

I’ve only had a little bit of time to dig into the details here, but what I have learned is interesting. The end of chapter 10 is the prophecy of the destruction of Assyria, who had carried Israel into captivity. Isaiah describes Assyria’s fall as a permanent one. God Himself would fell the cedars of Lebanon, which in this case symbolically represent the Assyrian army.

See, the Lord, the Lord Almighty,
    will lop off the boughs with great power.
The lofty trees will be felled,
    the tall ones will be brought low.
He will cut down the forest thickets with an ax;
    Lebanon will fall before the Mighty One. Isaiah 10:33-34 (NIV)

What I would never have known had I not looked it up for the sake of this post, is that cedar stumps do not produce shoots. In fact, a felled cedar will die slowly. By contrast, an oak tree stump will grow “sucker” stems. David’s dynasty came crashing down, but unlike Assyrian rule, this is not the end! From David’s line comes the Messiah.

It’s also interesting that Isaiah does not specifically mention David in verse one, rather he reaches one generation back to Jesse. Why? I don’t know what the scholars have to say, but here’s my take. The stump can create a bunch of shoots–not unlike Jesse who had a gaggle of sons. If you recall the story, Jesse had not bothered to call David in from tending the flock when Samuel came to anoint the king. David was the youngest and seemed the least likely candidate for so lofty a position. Now, what about the birth of Jesus? Who would have supposed that a child born so poor was divine, a king whose reign would never end?

The passage continues to describe how the Holy Spirit would rest on the Messiah. Jesus would house the character and identity of God, not just be intermittently inspired by the Holy Spirit as the ancient prophets were. His rule, then, would bear the qualities you would expect from God. He would be wholly just and righteous, being an advocate for the oppressed and slaying the wicked.

My favorite part of the passage is what follows. Again, I haven’t done a ton of study, so I’m no expert. But one commentator described this section as a description of the church of Jesus Christ. From that perspective, the different animals represent the diversity of the body of Christ. Even more telling, the violent and the victim come together for worship, and they are completely at peace with one another. Jesus’ reign, having been initiated by grace and forgiveness at the cross, will be one of unimaginable peace. It is so unlike anything we’ve ever known that it can only be described in terms that are almost laughable. A child reaching its hand into a snake’s nest? Ridiculous!

But that’s what we’re in for, followers of Christ–peace which can only be achieved by the supernatural moving of the “Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

As I continue through these Advent readings and unravel the levels of history and prophecy, I sense God’s voice saying, “I have done great things. I AM doing great things. I will do great things.” What does that mean for you? If you are a follower of Christ, that means that you are a part of great things brought about by a great God whose love rescued you from great peril.

If you don’t know the Lord, ask yourself if you want unimaginable peace. Then place your faith in the Lord Jesus and be a member of His family.

Christmas tree 2

Friends, I pray that this Christmas, more than ever before, you will be confounded by the power and love your Savior. May we all enjoy a silent night with sweet dreams! More tomorrow.

Dear Mom of a Bullied Teen–

I hugged your son today.

With all you’ve been through, I doubt those words even make a dent. But I’ll give it a shot and hope that if I lay bare my heart, something good will come of it.

Two things make this hug kind of remarkable. My years teaching in public school taught me that hugs are a BIG FAT NO NO—never ever touch a child, we were told. Still, I gave absolutely no thought to what was appropriate. I just reacted, I guess. He should know how loved he is and I needed to express the grief I feel—and have often felt—over his situation and others. So sue me.

And then, if I believe what I’m told by those who know and love me best, I’m not a hugger in the first place. Admittedly, I withhold affection when I’m not sure it will be reciprocated. No need for worries in this case—your son is genuine. I’m sure he never turned away a hug. And that, perhaps, is what prompts this post.

I’m sure you feel we haven’t done enough. How can I explain why meanness can’t be prosecuted? How does the teacher address eyes rolling? A snicker? Students use disrespect for humor across the board—they tear down their friends. They tear down their enemies. In one situation, their words are purely for laughs and meant to be harmless. In another, it may be harassment, but it’s not always obvious. It’s hard to sort out what’s teasing and what’s torture in the middle of a lesson.

As I composed this post in my head, I tried to identify what I’m really feeling. I’m just so sad. My heart breaks for him, for you, for your family. But more than that, I feel so helpless. We’ve talked ourselves sick about bullying issues and what to do about it. I applied myself to this situation in particular. It feels completely beyond my control and like a complete personal failure all rolled into one.

apple dictionaryWhen I started teaching years ago, I held to an idealistic view of my role. Struggling students just need encouragement. My words can make a difference. I can do this. I can turn lives around. I’ll just be the best cheerleader they’ve ever seen and love those kids to a better tomorrow.

Maybe that’s just the Kool-Aid of public education talking, and a side order of 20th century psychobabble. I’m more jaded now because I rarely saw changes in those days. The student whose school life was miserable on the first day of school tended to spend the last day in pretty much the same dark hole—or worse.

Now, I know there are exceptions. I’ve read the stories—even one recently about a teacher who adopted one of her students. Teachers do make a difference. I know it’s true.

Sure, I want to be a good teacher. I want history to come alive in my classroom and for previously disengaged students to be rapt by my lectures, hanging on every word, taking long draughts of truth in my presence. That’s the goal for every good teacher, and I sincerely hope I get there. But, in my heart, that’s not the difference I hope to make.

Your son, for so many reasons, represents many children who have passed under my nose in my career—who live with persecution day in and day out. This is the difference I want to make. Real change. Broken hearts healed and guilty hearts repentant. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. All of these truths I am charged with teaching—I want to see it make a difference. Right now. Today. For your son.

As sad as I’ve been this week, I realized that a change has been made, and it isn’t a small one. Your son made the difference. For me he redefines the victim—

That kid has guts. I hadn’t thought about it that way before I met him, but a few of my students over the years were downright courageous. Every day, they came to a school that they hated, pulled themselves together, put smiles on their faces and tried for the umpteenth time to make a connection with other students.

Never once has your son shrunk back in the corner in silence for fear of being criticized. Every single day, he participates. In fact, some days I feel like I’m teaching just to him. So I thought back to others, and yes, it is a pattern I see repeated over the years. I’ve known students who could easily have found some safety crouching in the shadows, but that’s not how they chose to handle their problems. They are talented and creative and consistently made positive contributions to the group—even when the group was unappreciative.

He is warm, genuine, kind, and helpful. This is the thing that is drawing some of those former students to my mind and resurrecting this sorrow for kids I couldn’t rescue. I loved having them in my class. They were the ones who chased me down to tell me a story or just say hello. They were the ones who gave the hugs that the administration warned us about. They were the ones who were worried about me when I had a bad day—and did what they could to turn my day around. Your son lights up the room. Not one of his smiles was wasted on me. Not once.

As I’m wrapping this up, I keep asking myself, “Now what?” For the Christian educator, this should be obvious. I love my students. I love the ones who are broken and the ones who did the breaking—and the gospel is for both. I see more preaching in my future, praying more and more for the Holy Spirit to bring conviction on my school. They will never know how destructive their sin is—and the sure judgment awaiting them—if they aren’t told.

“But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment.”         Matthew 12:36 (NASB)

Then, for all the smiles and joy and life that students like your son bring to our schools, I share the same gospel. They must hear from me—relentlessly–that Christ loves them and they cannot be snatched from His hand. Maybe, with a little work, I can overcome my concerns over boundaries and punctuate the truth of His love with the occasional hug. So sue me.

May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.       Ephesians 3:19 (NLT)

Zacky schools us on being chosen–and being a good follower.

Gotta make this fast. You have NO IDEA what it’s like to sneak a little time on this computer.

First, allow me to introduce myself. I’m Zack. Or Zacky, Z-Dog, or even just plain Z. Or, there’s always my full title, Zacchaeus Our Wee Little Man. For some reason, my mom thinks that’s funny. I’ve never gotten the humor.

young Z

I had to hijack the computer for a little while because I think I can contribute to my mom’s little blog here. She’s been talking a lot lately about being chosen. No one in this house knows more about being chosen than ME! That’s the truth.

See. I was adopted. I really needed adopting, but I didn’t know it at the time. My mom—the other one, my dog momma—had a huge litter of pups in a dog pound down in Orange, Texas. I had no idea at the time that I was spending the first few weeks of my life in what they call a kill shelter! Isn’t that the most horrible thing you’ve ever heard???

If I hadn’t been chosen, they would have killed me! And I had. No. Clue. Everything was OK, as far as I could see. I didn’t know any different. My dog momma was in pretty bad shape, though. She had me and all my brothers and sisters. We were all together for a while and then she just wasn’t there anymore. I try not to think about it too much, but when I do, I just imagine that she was chosen. But I don’t really know.

Everything at the pound was handled for us pretty much. At the time, I was satisfied. We had food and a slab of concrete to sleep on. We had lots of fleas and stuff, but like I said, we didn’t know any better. So we stuck together. We played and wrestled. It’s funny that now I realize how little I had since I’ve been chosen.

A couple of my brothers were chosen early on, so I had some idea of why these people were wandering in and out. They would come in and watch us, give us a pet or scratch behind the ears. Some would even pick us up and hold us, and we’d gnaw on their fingers. We liked the attention, but we didn’t really know that we wanted to be chosen. It’s like the full meaning of being chosen was kind of blocked from our view at first.

One day my mom and dad came in. Same routine—checking all of us out, a little pat, maybe a belly rub. I kind of waited for the love ‘em and leave ‘em maneuver, but they didn’t just grab a pup and run.

It’s something I’ll never forget. They sat on our concrete slab and loved on us. But pretty soon, my family–the other pups, I mean– lost interest. They’d rather chew on each other’s toes and ears or dive in and out of the food and water dishes. I’d wander off a few steps and come back. I’m not sure why, but I wanted these people to love me.

Mom said to me not too long ago, “Sweet boy. You know why you were chosen, right? It’s because you followed.”

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For anyone who keeps his life for himself shall lose it; and anyone who loses his life for me shall find it again. What profit is there if you gain the whole world—and lose eternal life? What can be compared with the value of eternal life? Matthew 16:24-26 (TLB)

Wow. I’d kind of forgotten that part, but she’s right. If they got up and moved away, I ran right back to them. I did follow. It wasn’t clear to me at the time—but they would have chosen more if more had followed!

wee little man

The wee little man right after being chosen.

But then came the big change. I had no idea what I was in for. No more concrete slab. They had brought me home. They had prepared a place for me. There was so much more to being chosen than I’d realized! Like rules and discipline—no more chewing on anything and everything. And I couldn’t just poop and pee on their floor like I did on the concrete. That was tough. I didn’t like being taught at first. I just liked the love part. It took a long time for me to get that being taught is part of the love.

The worst part was the vet. Ack! Mom said that it wasn’t just all the nasty habits we had to get rid of—we had to lose all the lingering pests from my old life. A trip to the vet, and—I won’t go into all the details—I had medicine for all the parasites trying to make their life by ruining mine. Then my mom and dad insisted that I stay in the boundaries of the house and the yard, or the problems from that old life would be back and cause all kinds of problems.

Oh, and I almost forgot! I wasn’t the only one the Beasleys chose! Check out my sister Trudy and my brother Malachi.the kitty sibs

Mal, actually they called him Bitty, was even worse off than I was when he was chosen. He was all by himself with no cat momma and no brothers or sisters. My mom heard him crying in a parking lot and he RAN to her. Now that’s following. He knew he needed to be rescued. I was so caught up in what I thought my life had to offer that I didn’t know I was living in a death factory! Bitty knew that his life meant sure death!

Now, Trudy was in a city pound like me. She was really sick when she was chosen, but she didn’t know it yet. She had something called distemper and when she got with the Beasleys she gave it to Bitty. They had to give medicine to both cats, which my mom said was hellish. Dad tells a story about trying to force them to take their medicine, but they kept fighting him off. See, they hadn’t figured out that tough part of being loved like I mentioned earlier. Dad had to tell them over and over, “If I don’t make you take the medicine, you’ll die!” Mom and Dad took a beating from those cats to make sure they got better.

chosen girls

The “after their own kind” sibs. We look different, but we were all chosen.

Eventually Mom and Dad adopted a couple of little girls—you know, after their own kind. I love those little girls. They do a lot of the loving! I do my best to love back, too. I bark and bark if anyone gets near the house. See, I know that’s my job as part of the family. It’s my gift! I scare the feet off of everybody so they won’t hurt my girls.

That's me in the early days, taking care of my girl Eden.

That’s me in the early days, taking care of my girl Eden.

Just a few more things about being chosen before I sign off. I live day in and day out with my Master and his family. I’m more like them now than like the dogs I used to run with! I’ve changed a lot! I’ve gotten so much better about the rules, but I still have to be disciplined sometimes. That’s OK. They are so sweet and forgiving, and even though I’m an old man now, they still teach me. Do you know that I even eat from the Master’s table? It’s true! They would never give me anything that’s bad for me—like chocolate. I got seizures when I stole Kisses from the girls’ Halloween candy. But Dad gives me good stuff, even a little steak here and there.

Here’s the thing about being chosen. I don’t miss the old life. I did a little at first. Then I realized how many good things came to me that never would have if I hadn’t followed. Now I follow and I follow and I follow. Mom’s in the kitchen? Me, too. Moves to the bedroom? Yep, I’m there. See, now I know that I was rescued—and just how horrible a place I was rescued from! And because I love my Rescuer more than anything, I won’t stop following!

Long ago, even before he made the world, God chose us to be his very own through what Christ would do for us; he decided then to make us holy in his eyes, without a single fault—we who stand before him covered with his love.  His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by sending Jesus Christ to die for us. And he did this because he wanted to! Ephesians 1:4-5 (TLB)

I used to know a little about my worth. Now I’m convinced.

chipmunkHere’s a little disclaimer. I had oral surgery yesterday. My mouth is pretty sore, and I’ve got a big ol’ chipmunk cheek to prove it. Possibly—probably—I shouldn’t attempt to write given the medication that I’ve taken. But I can’t stand it. I’ve got to get this out!!!

It’s been a long time since I gave any thought to my self-worth—how I evaluate it, whether it’s too low or too high, etc. Perhaps I thought I had evolved enough emotionally that this really wasn’t an issue anymore. And then again . . .

I had to go on a junior high retreat to find out otherwise.

What I discovered on retreat was that we all need to work through this. No matter how much we mature, we are always either puffed up or torn down by external factors. I left junior high 30 years ago, so I don’t worry so much about what the cheerleaders think of me nowadays. But I’ve only replaced their evaluation of me with something else—-

I catch myself getting either a little manic or a little depressed depending on how many views I get on this blog. If I could just be funnier, deeper, or get more shares, I’d feel better.

It bothers me—deeply bothers me—if I feel like my students aren’t enjoying my class. Nothing sucks the wind out of the sails of this teacher like a classroom full of complaining students. A teacher said to me once, rather condescendingly as I recall, “I don’t think we have to entertain these kids!” Well, I don’t think I have to, but it’s a whole lot more fun for me if they’re having fun. And when they’re not having fun, I worry that I’m not good enough. If I could just be more organized, take more time to plan, be a little more creative . . .if I could just bring my ‘A game’ every single day without dropping the ball, I’d feel so much better.

As hard as I tried not to worry about keeping up with the Joneses, when we were looking at houses to buy, I could not stop myself from wondering what other people might think of my new house. Now that we’re in the house, I worry about color scheme and furniture and knickknacks. If I could just have the money and the sense of style to put together something impressive, I’d feel better.

Over the last several years, we’ve had enormous changes in our lifestyle. We don’t live and work in the same town anymore. A lot of the spare time I had to run in the evenings has been eaten up by working full-time, commuting, and motherhood. Moving to Arkansas brought other challenges for a non-athlete such as myself. It is so DAD GUM HILLY around here. I’ve battled several injuries that have sidelined me for months at a time. I’m just not able to keep up with workouts like I used to and now I’ve gained weight. I cannot begin to describe how much my weight and body image haunt me. Day in. And day out. For. Years. If I could just have the energy to get back to training, I’d lose the weight, look better, and feel better.

I began dieting in elementary school and by the time Christmas rolled around my sixth grade year, I was seeing a counselor twice a week for self-esteem issues and compulsive dieting. This battle of understanding my worth began more than 30 years ago, but I’ve not mastered it. So, in some ways, maybe I’ve never left junior high.

The speaker at the retreat, Blake Hudspeth, called on the students to recognize who defines them, who gives them their identity, who determines their worth. He used Matthew 16:13-20—Christ builds Peter’s identity when Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ.

I was listening carefully and taking notes, knowing that I would be leading a discussion over the message to a small group of girls afterward. Something nagged at me. I know all this is true. I know my worth is much higher than the amount I typically assign to myself. I can list verses about Christ’s love and how it should be the factor that determines my worth. Ugh. What’s wrong with me?

It’s not that I don’t understand my worth in God’s eyes. I’m not convinced of it. I looked around at the students—especially at the sweet girls in my charge. They will struggle and struggle to overcome the definition of worth that the world forces on them. We cheerlead and we encourage and we compliment and we exhort them to recognize how beautiful they are. Why will they not be convinced?

Becoming convinced begins with a confession. I’ve been locked in a battle with God—sort of indirectly—where my actions imply that His appraisal of my worth isn’t accurate.

I don’t value my life if I’m not

  • skinny
    • pretty,
  • smart
    • talented . . .the list goes on . . .

I depreciate my value if I can’t

  • get published
    • be everyone’s favorite teacher
  • run 30 miles a week
    • be the perfect wife and mother and NEVER DROP THE BALL

I’m insecure if I don’t get enough attention—especially regarding the things above.

So, there’s my confession. I try to talk God out of loving me, His creation. I, in fact, imply that He isn’t doing enough to help me attain all of those things and that’s why I don’t feel as good as I’d like. Forgive me, Jesus. Scrub me clean!

Now, how do I become convinced that what God says about me is true? I admit, Blake Hudspeth, I drifted off for a few minutes while you were teaching. I got lost mulling this over because I’ve been in a holding pattern over self-worth since the 3rd grade. It. Must. Stop.

Then the thought occurred to me, who are the people who can convince me that I’m smart, pretty, or talented? When I was single, if a guy I was attracted to was attracted to me, I felt good. Back in junior high, if the popular girl I so admired complimented my clothes or my hair, I felt good. When an athlete friend of mine told me that I was doing well training for my marathon, I felt good. When Todd Beasley told me he loved me, I was over the moon.

What’s the magic formula that makes these people have so much influence? It is because I value them. When the people on whom we place the most value notice us, recognize our accomplishments, love on us—we allow ourselves to be convinced. We accept the compliments and the praise and the adoration from those we most admire because we want so much for their high opinions of us to be true.

Now, why on earth are we not so convinced by God love and adoration of us? Why would I not want His high opinions of me to be true?

It is because we don’t really know the value—the exceedingly great worth—of our Savior. Not really. If we truly understood how worthy is the Lamb of God, who gave Himself up for us, then we would abandon the pursuit of earthly validation. Part of not knowing His true exceeding worth, is acknowledging the exceeding depth of our sin.

We know what He’s done for us. We know the things that He said about us during His ministry here. God’s Word is full of proclamations of His love. If we are unimpressed by God’s love, perhaps it’s because we don’t know Him all that well. Maybe if we press in and spend some time in His Word, we will more fully see how beautiful and cherished we are, and BE CONVINCED THAT IT’S TRUE BECAUSE WE WILL KNOW HIS WORTH. WE WILL KNOW THAT HE IS FAR MORE VALUABLE THAN ANYONE WHOSE VALIDATION WE SEEK ON EARTH.

God Rays

Maybe we just don’t get how awesome He is and, therefore, don’t realize that it’s a BIG DEAL to be chosen by I AM. What He did was rescue us, clean us up from all that filth, and proudly proclaim us His bride. Now, why is someone’s opinion of my house or my hair more important than the One who put Himself on a cross for me?

What is it that you want changed in order to feel more convinced of your worth? Is it a job? Your appearance? More money? Your children and their success? A man or woman in your life? A different man or woman in your life? Some dream that has gone unfulfilled?

As we grasp the worth of the Lord Jesus, we more readily cast these things down to take up the cross. He told us to follow where He leads, and the things He has for us have exceedingly more worth than what we now pursue.

God, give me eyes to see the depth of my sin and the incomprehensible worth of my Savior.

What I Can’t Handle Can Help Me

I’m on a mission, people. Now, I don’t want to offend anybody with this, but I’ve silently watched as people tout this nonsense advice all over the place–Facebook, Sunday school, what have you–and DAD GUMMIT, I’ve held it in as long as I can.

Yes. God DOES give you more than you can handle. Please–FOR THE LOVE OF GOD–stop telling people that He won’t.

But, Katie, how can that be? That’s what people always say to me when I’m going through a rough patch. My Sunday school teacher said it to me last month!  And, actually, I just posted that to a friend’s status yesterday! How could God love me AND give me more than I can handle?!

Here’s the thing. I know (that I know that I know) that God loves me. I also know for a fact that He has—even very recently, mind you—given me more than I could handle. To be more accurate, I would say that the longer that I live in a relationship with Him, the bigger the problems become. The stakes are higher, the pain deeper, the obstacles more insurmountable.

And yet, I’ve never, ever been surer of His existence. I’m more certain of His involvement, sovereignty, and activity in my life today than at any other time in my life. More than anything, I’ve never been more aware of His love for me.

And guess what? I’ve never loved Him more.

Huh. That’s interesting. I wonder, could those two things be connected? Is it possible that the fact that I suffer actually allows me to know God’s love and love God more? That sounds wrong. Love equals insulation from all of life’s bumps and bruises, right? I would certainly love God more deeply if He would just answer all my prayers in a timely manner (in exactly the way I pray them), heal everybody, and instantaneously provide for each emotional, physical, and spiritual need.

Oddly enough, and I’m just speaking from my own experience here, I never seem to notice how much God answers my prayers, or His power to heal, or His over abundant provision, unless the bottom falls out. When things are cruising along nicely and all is right in my little world, it is a struggle to remember how much I need Him. I don’t notice that He’s answering my prayers because I don’t really have much to ask.

When my husband was a seminary student, we were members of Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. On September 15, 1999, a gunman entered the church, killed seven people and injured as many more. Todd and I were not at the church building when it happened, and there certainly are many people who were more deeply affected by the horrific events of that night than we were. What I remember about the year that followed was the tremendous faith of people who were more directly affected than I was. Kevin Galey, who was the minister of counseling at the church, was hit twice and survived. His testimony is included in the book Night of Tragedy, Dawning of Light, which describes the events of that night and the period of grief and healing that followed. In the year prior to the shooting, Kevin and his wife endured what must be one of the toughest paths that God calls any believer to walk—the illness of a child. Would God give their child a serious medical issue and allow Kevin to be shot (twice) and force them to endure the painful loss of church members if He didn’t give them more than they could handle? Here’s what Kevin had to say:

Throughout the past year with our son’s condition, people kept quoting a verse to me. You know in the Bible it says, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” I’ve looked for that verse. It has been a tough year and I have looked for that verse. I didn’t find it in the New Testament. It wasn’t in the Old Testament. I said, “Well, maybe it is implied in the Hebrew or the Greek.” But it’s not implied there. I have come to believe that it is not even true. God does give you more than you can handle. It’s been more than my family could handle this year. (Night of Tragedy, Dawning of Light pp. 121-122, http://www.wedgwoodbc.org/files/NightOfTragedy_ADawningOfLight.pdf)

Kevin’s testimony is so much more than I included here. It packs a punch. Take a look. In fact, read the whole book. You will be blessed. But I’ve never forgotten what he said about that “verse” not being in the bible anywhere.  This revelation left me to digest that, not only does God give me more than I can handle, but He quite deliberately allows me to suffer. Now, that’s mind boggling.  God’s very plan is for me to live through tragedy. Why?

For the love of God.

Last year, at the beginning of 2011, I started to unravel. For several years, I had been ignoring the signs of depression. There were a number of problems that I simply did not want to surface, so I kept kicking them to the corner, hoping they’d resolve themselves.

They didn’t.

Toward the end of January, I came unglued one night. My sweet husband…I should really do something nice for him sometime. He must have wondered where to start, what to say, how to help. We had a long talk and decided that I should A.) make an appointment with a counselor and B.) finish out the school year and then quit teaching. While I initially felt relieved, I wasn’t prepared for how painful it would be to hash it all out with a view to getting better. Suddenly, it hurt. A lot. I heard a pastor say in a sermon once, “Ever notice that it didn’t hurt that much when the knife sliced your hand? The pain is so much worse when the wound starts to heal.”

Then, in the middle of all that emotional chaos, on March 31st, I had a miscarriage. Incidentally, I’ve had quite a few miscarriages. I’m not even sure how many.

And, as if that weren’t enough, eleven days later my father was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. He lived 2 ½ months more and died on June 25th.

Now…tell me again that God won’t give me more than I can handle.

With the miscarriage and diagnosis occurring so closely together, I could not escape the notion that the Lord timed it that way on purpose.  There is absolutely no way that was an accident. One terrible thing rose up out of the shadow of the other, and I was already in a lot of pain to begin with. Why?

 For the love of God.

Once upon a time, I begrudgingly allowed that God had the authority to test my faith. I thought of the test as a pass/fail thing and really resented Him for it—kind of like a student who silently loathes a teacher because the exams seem unfair.  I’ve seen lots of students like this. They “respect” the teacher because on some level they know that they are supposed to, but it’s just a show. They come to class, participate, take notes, do the assignments, and study. They hate every minute of it and who’s to blame if not the teacher? But they simply can’t appreciate the authority the teacher has to put them through their paces—to try to build their character and make them better humans. I did that with the Lord for a long time when I was having miscarriages.

For a year or two before the disastrous events of 2011, the recurring theme of my life was God’s authority. It surfaced in bible studies, it popped off the pages in devotional books, and every scripture rang with the truth that God has the authority “to will and to act according to His good purpose.” (Phil. 2:13) When I have a problem, even a very painful one, my mom always says, “This is not a surprise to God.” Of course it was no surprise to God in 2011 when one painful experience after another rolled over me. He had prepared me. From the direction of His Holy Spirit, I knew that God in his authority could put me through my paces and make me a better human. Why? What is His good purpose?

For the love of God.

Let me close by saying that this is not the path I would have chosen, but I am so thankful for what God has done with the last two years of my life. Quitting my job had the unintended result of freeing me up so that I could pray, study God’s word and journal for long periods of time while my kids were at school. Every day allowed me a new session—uninterrupted, with no distractions–of grieving and seeking before the Lord. I pressed into Him in ways that I never would have if life had been easier. He used that time to not just ease my pain but prepare me for this new chapter in my life. God may have given me more than I could handle, but He definitely took care to prepare me beforehand so that I would walk through it with Him and try to use it for His glory.

It’s the love that I have for the Lord now that I just can’t explain. I should be angry. I should resent Him for His authority, I should feel persecuted or punished, but I don’t. For a long time before all this happened, especially around the Christmas holidays, I would always pray that God would deepen my love for Him. I guess with all the Christmas hoopla, I didn’t want to lose sight of what it’s all about, and I truly wanted to feel the love that I profess. There’s something about saying goodbye to my dad that did it. It’s supposed to be so final, and yet in Christ, it’s only the beginning. He placed his faith in Jesus for salvation and is with Him today. Simultaneously, I grieve and I’m grateful—the oddest mix of emotions.  I love Jesus so much for giving us this hope.

I’m not sure how I’ll react the next time God stacks crisis on top of tragedy on top of heartache for me to deal with. Hopefully I’ll remember what is so clear to me today. I know why I suffer. For the love of God. That’s why.