When my son was home for Christmas break, I watched a couple of his action/adventure movies and had to keep asking, “Is that guy on the good side or the bad side?” My son’s answer was often, “It’s complicated. Just keep watching.”
Usually everything got sorted out at the end of the movie but not always.
It’s the same on TV. Many lead characters on shows I love are seriously flawed. Like House, with his nasty disposition and pesky drug addiction. Or Gibbs, on NCIS, who is so wounded by losing his first wife that he’s gone through three others trying to replace her. Or Don Eppes on Numb3rs who is so out of touch with himself he can’t commit to any woman, so he’s restless and searching despite his other accomplishments.
Or the show about the group of men and women who are elected to serve the people but are always discovered to be harboring corrupt personal agendas or hiding immoral lives behind false fronts. No wait, that’s the Evening news and those are political leaders. My bad.
Anyway. The good news about this cultural development is that it is closer to the Biblical model of presenting the story of people’s lives than say, Marcus Welby or Father Knows Best. God always included the faults and flaws of his followers alongside their acts of faith and heroism in Scripture.
For example, we know that Father Israel tricked his brother out of his birthright. We know that Noah had a bit too much of the fruit of the vine one night after the boat landed. We know that Sampson was often ruled by little Sampson. We know Peter panicked when Jesus needed him most. And we know that King David resorted to murder to cover up a spring fling with an alluring neighbor lady.
60 Minutes would have had a field day.
But then, Morley Safer has nothing on God. God is the original investigative reporter.
So, as I said. The good news about this modern development is that it is akin to how God presents the stories of people’s lives; the bad news is the way many of us are reacting to these flawed characters.
Modern man enjoys stories about flawed heroes and ambiguous outcomes because we recognize the deep flaws in our own characters and so we want to see ourselves portrayed sympathetically. We’re moving away from story endings where the “good guy” wins and the “bad guy” gets his due because we’re not so sure which one we are and we’d like to think there’s a little wiggle room for the villain in the end.
It’s our cultural way of saying we recognize that we are all capable of doing wrong – or choosing wrong- or actually being wrong-hearted but rather than hope for change or salvation – we’re going to embrace our dark side, find a way to appreciate it and decide we wouldn’t be ourselves without it. We run to Darth Vader and call him “Papa” rather than go through the effort of resisting and overcoming the virus we inherited from the poisonous fruit of our ancestors.
There is another way.
God tells the stories of flawed heroes in the Bible to illustrate two truths.
The first is that “no one is righteous, no not one.” When our first parents fell from grace, we all felt the bruise on our souls. The best of us cannot save ourselves.
The second truth is that there IS salvation to be had. We aren’t supposed to embrace our dark side, we’re supposed to bring it to Christ and receive His cure. The heroes of the Bible became heroes through the power of the same spirit that is available to us now!
Our culture has truly developed a dangerous “sympathy for the devil” and it runs like a scarlet cord through the stories that we watch and that we tell. Christians shouldn’t be running from this, however, we should be diving in to engage the culture with our own stories.
“Yes!” We should cry out. We are all flawed, even our good guys need to be saved. But here are stories of faulted men and women who found a different way than the ying/yang of cherishing their faulted selves. Here are the stories of those who discovered that Jesus embraced them with their flaws, saved them despite their dark sides but then empowered them to change.
God is calling all His story tellers to hit the road with their stories. Now is the time to be telling them in all their glorious detail. Add to the culture your own tales of faulted heroes and heroines with fatal flaws who found a Way, a perfect Hero who paid the price for us all and made the ending of the final story anything but ambiguous.
In an age when the culture is steeped in the lie that humanity’s best chance is to acknowledge our dark sides and embrace them, the cry of the revolutionary storyteller is “THERE IS HOPE IN THE DARKNESS. THERE IS HOPE!”
So, I spent yesterday reading through Moses’ interactions with God from Exodus through Deuteronomy (I did a lot of skimming). Moses spent time meeting with God “face-to-face”, the Bible says, “as a man speaks with his friend.” Wow. I mean, seriously, wow.
And what I love about the relationship between Moses and God is how real it all gets. You can’t read through the book of Numbers and miss what a whining, complaining, grumbling bunch of people Moses was leading through the wilderness (and before you think I’m picking on them, my husband and I can’t drive thirty minutes without a quarrel so I’m pretty certain they’re representative of the entire human race on a forty-year wander with only McManna burgers and McManna fries to eat.)
So, there are moments when God tells Moses to stand back while He destroys all the people (Exodus 32:10). He assures Moses He can create a whole new people using just Moses’ DNA. (Moses intercedes for the people and then marches down the mountain to have a word with his wayward flock.)
And then there are moments when Moses loses it like in Numbers 11 when he says to God “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their forefathers? Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me ‘Give us meat to eat!’ I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now – if I have found favor in your eyes – and do not let me face my own ruin.”
“Kill me now. I’ve had it with these people.” This is the prayer of a holy man who speaks with God face-to-face.
I’ve prayed that prayer.
After four decades of following Jesus, I’m trying to go deeper. I’ve seen some amazing things following God – like miracles, answers to prayer, minds changed and lives transformed. I’ve also known bitter disappointment, long silences from heaven, prayers that fell back to earth like shot gunned quail and lingering questions about giant issues like hell and bigger issues like how I’m supposed to spend my days.
What I sense about going deeper with God is this idea of being real with Him in prayer.
When I was baptized, they played the hymn “Just as I am”, a hymn that says I come to God through Jesus Christ, with nothing to my own credit. I come just as I am and am received because of Jesus.
But, somewhere along the way, I started trying to clean up my own act before I appeared before Him in prayer. I started masking my real feelings and questions with flattering phrases and religious words I thought would provide the formula to getting the answers I wanted. My prayers often bordered on idolatry as I struggled to break the “Open Sesame” code that would pry open God’s fists that seemed to be clenched around my desired blessing.
I’m discovering that “Just as I am” still applies. Even after knowing Him for four decades. Even after reading the Bible cover to cover again and again. Even after a degree in Biblical Studies. Even after all I know and all I’ve done, I still appear before Him with nothing to my own credit. I come “just as I am” in the name of Jesus.
Sometimes, “just as I am” means lost. Sometimes it means confused. Sometimes it means happy and content. Other times it means angry, doubting or “just kill me now, I’ve had it with these people.” It’s freeing to come “just as I am”, to stop hiding from God and working so hard to get something from Him.
I want to want God first. Usually, I come to Him wanting something else but I want to aim higher now. I want to want God first. So, I’m learning from Moses because he was real with God. He spoke with God face-to-face, as one would speak with a friend.
I suspect the reason for this is that when Moses met with God, he knew in that meeting that God was the real Promised Land.
There was a time when my family did not belong to the local YMCA. My water bug daughter longed to have access to the pool there and frequently remarked that she would do anything to be allowed to swim every day.
Then, we joined the Y and we were granted access to the much longed for pool and Hannah did, indeed, swim at every chance she got. In fact, she was such a devoted swimmer there were predictions that before long she would be a lifeguard, a swim instructor, or Director of the Y.
That was five years ago. We’re still members of the Y but I think it’s been three years since Hannah has so much as gotten her toe wet in their pool.
This Sunday, we sang one of my favorite praise songs “Take Me in to the Holy of Holies, take me in by the blood of the Lamb, Take me in to the Holy of Holies, Take the coal, cleanse my lips, Here I am.”
When God instructed the Ancient Israelites to build the Tabernacle and (later the temple), the Holy of Holies or Most Holy Place was the most inner room and access to it was severely restricted. This perfect cube, separated from the rest of the place of worship by a heavy veil was the room where God dwelled when He was among His people. The veil represented the barrier that existed between a Holy God and sinful humans.
No one was allowed access to the Holy of Holies except the High Priest and then, only on one day a year – the day of atonement – after much ritual cleansing and bringing with him the blood that he would offer on behalf of his own sin’s and the sins of his people.
As a Gentile woman – of non-Jewish heritage – I would never have gotten anywhere close to this type of access to God. If you use a reverse zoom lens in history and begin at the Holy of Holies and then zoom out – I’m at the cooking tent with the barbarian tribe way off to the left trying to carve a god out of a tree limb left over from the evening’s campfire.
His coming divided time and at the moment He died, the veil that prevented access to the Most Holy Place was rent in two.
And a twenty-first century Gentile woman was accepted into the holy priesthood and granted access to the Most High God in the place where He resides.
“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body …let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.” (Hebrews 10:19-22)
As I sang Sunday, I asked myself how often I take advantage of this ultimate privilege. I don’t mean how often do I talk about meeting with God, write about meeting with God, read about meeting with God or think about meeting with God. I mean, how often do I actually spend time in His presence?
I have been granted absolute access to God, to His most inner sanctum, to the place of transformation, direction, healing, petition and face-to-face worship. With this kind of access, you’d think people would ask me, as the Jews asked Moses, to veil my face to shield them from the reflected glow of God’s Shekinah glory. You’d think.
So, as I was singing, I realized there is something more aggravating, more frustrating, more insulting, indeed sadder and more haunting than the words “Access Denied” –
Most people don’t know that about me because I’m also a procrastinator so I don’t get around to following through on quitting but I quit on things all the time.
I’ve quit on my marriage. My husband of twenty-one years knows how many times I’ve given up.
I’ve quit on homeschooling. Over the past twenty years, my kids have heard me many times mention that the following week they would be registered for public school.
I quit on karate about twelve times a week before I earned my black belt. Most people don’t know about that because I was usually mumbling about giving up as I was face down on a mat or in a muddy football field.
I quit on writing at least once a week but no one notices.
That’s why I find the verses in the Bible about perseverance to be the most annoying. Perseverance, what a boring virtue! A clue to the irritating nature of perseverance is that it’s generally mentioned in tandem with its twin sister – patience and it’s developed by enduring suffering. Really, need I say more?
James writes about perseverance in chapter 5: 7-11: “Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”
OK, how irritating is that? Farmers, Job, prophets, suffering, waiting – all boring, all hard to do. Where’s the gratification? Where’s the glory? Where’s my best life now?
Galatians 6:9 is another frustrating passage: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Again, with the farming, the waiting, the not giving up. There’s nothing exciting about watching things grow. Try it some time. Planting is fun, harvest is a Mardi Gras but the actual growing – this is not the gripping stuff of bestselling novels or summer big screen blockbusters!
Knights of the Round Table were often known for their virtues. Sir Lancelot, the brave. Sir Dinadan, the bold. Sir Bedivere, the True. No one is lining up to be known as Sir George, the Perseverant.
So, how does a quitter with an aversion to long-suffering stay married twenty-one years, homeschool for the long run, earn a black belt, or continue to show up at the keyboard every day? Daily meetings with God at the well that never runs dry.
He listens to my complaints. He endures my irritation and my impatience. He nods when I offer my resignation. Then, He speaks. I listen. He pours Himself into my empty cup – Living Water for my thirsty soul.
OK, I decide. I’ll give it one more day – but I’ll probably quit tomorrow.
God smiles. He knows all about perseverance. Believe me, He’s the Master.
Do you know what I mean? Other people seem to dress with ease. They have the right apparel for summer at the first bud of a tree and they seamlessly slip into cardigans as the first orange leaf falls to the ground.
Their clothes match. They fit properly. These are people who must wear stain remover as body lotion and look like they splurged on the “dashboard steam press” option for their car. Don’t even get me started on their shoes.
I’m not an adventurous dresser and have no desire to call attention to myself but it’s probably unnatural for one’s closet to have only three color selections – navy blue, khaki and black – unless one has taken holy orders. It’s bad enough living fashion impaired but now my daughter has taken to watching this show on The Learning Channel called “What Not to Wear” so I have a whole new fear that my friends are secretly filming me from behind and planning an intervention complete with a 360 mirror.
Did you know that “What Not to Wear” was inspired by the Apostle Paul and originally aired in Colossae – an ancient commercial center on the Mediterranean Sea in what is now Turkey? Paul was way ahead of his time.
In the third chapter of his letter to the Colossians, Paul spells out “the rules” for the well-dressed Christian. Step one with Paul is the same one Stacey and Clinton have for their victims – I mean, volunteers. Get rid of the clothes that are not appropriate.
Paul says to rid ourselves of things like anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, and lies. Also, always out of season for believers are sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed and idolatry. These are some of Paul’s “fashion don’ts” for those who say they follow Christ. They can’t be recycled, redeemed or stuffed into the back of our closets. The only answer is to rid ourselves of them completely.
What IS in fashion for the Christ-follower every season? Paul says “as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other, and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Yes, that’s right, love is the new black.
I think it’s amusing that the producers of “What Not to Wear” also stole another idea from the Bible. They award their participants all the money they need to buy a new wardrobe.
Many of us wear what is out of fashion because it’s cheap and easy to acquire. Quality clothing is usually so high-priced as to be out of our reach. So it is with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness and love.
Oh, sometimes we find knock-offs. On our own, we manufacture cheap facsimiles or stumble onto copies that fall off a truck and that may fool some of the public some of the time but, well, you know.
The good news is that God is also willing to foot the bill for our new duds. He knew we would never afford proper attire on our own so He paid for it all for us. Through Him, we can afford Designer fashions for the soul.
Why so many of us insist on still wearing rags, I’ll never know.
There are people who talk about God like they have His cell phone number. You try to hear Him but all you’re picking up is the white noise of the universe. Maybe the problem is your receiver.
It’s hard to imagine with all the announcing that happened prior to the switch from analog to digital broadcasting but there are people in America who flick on their televisions and no longer receive any shows. Their sets work perfectly fine, they know how to turn them on and they’re plugged in but there is nothing on the screen but snow.
The signal is out there. It’s available. It’s in the air all around them but it cannot be translated without a proper receiver – a digital antennae or a conversion box.
Conversion. That’s the first thing any of us needs in order to receive God’s daily broadcast. John 1:12 says “Yet to all who received him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” So, first, check your soul’s receptor set-up. Are you willing to receive Jesus? When you do, it’s like plugging in to the proper antenna – suddenly the scrambled signal looks like something you can understand.
But suppose you have plugged in. You’ve received Christ into your heart but you still don’t feel in touch. There is another secret and I learned it from Randy Moss.
Before I started watching football – only the Patriot’s, mind you – I thought of receiving as a passive activity. Randy Moss changed all that.
Randy Moss is the receiver for the Pat’s and, believe me, he’s anything but passive. For every offensive play, Tom Brady is in charge. Tom Brady gets the ball and Tom Brady is in charge of throwing the ball but once it’s thrown, it needs a receiver to catch it and run it into the end zone. Otherwise, you’ve got a dead ball and Brady may just as well have stayed on the bench.
To receive those passes with the amazing regularity Moss does requires training, hours of grueling practice and focus and attention on Brady. Randy Moss works with Tom off the field. During the game, Moss dodges blockers, keeps his eye on Tom and maneuvers to become available to receive the pass. Randy has to filter out all diversions and focus on a single goal – placing himself in the most strategic position to receive.
As a believer, this is your task, as well. God wants to communicate with you just as badly as Tom Brady wants to get that ball out of his hands and into Randy Moss’s. Just like Randy, you must train, study God’s moves and patterns, throw off all diversions and blockers and position yourself to receive.
Start with studying how God has communicated with others so you can learn His patterns. The Bible is full of stories about great receivers. Then, practice by catching the messages about which God is direct and clear in scripture – run a few of those down the field. Love God with all your heart, your mind and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. Do to others what you would have them do to you. Don’t be hearers of the word only but doers also.
Hearing from God is not a complicated thing but it requires a conversion of your receptor and some strategic moves on your part.
It’s a thing of beauty when that football flies out of Tom Brady’s hand, arcs down the field and lands like a dream in Randy Moss’s waiting hands. But nothing compares to the brilliance of the voice of God sailing through time and space as it arcs down through the cosmos and finds its mark in your open and waiting heart.
I was born at the start of said decade that issued in this age where Americans celebrate their aversion to being judged.
Now, it’s one thing to eschew unfair judgments. It’s quite another thing to throw off the idea of being judged by any standard at all.
Just take a look at our media. Judges don’t get a fair rap in TV dramas, sitcoms or in movies. It seems that all of our fictional legal judges are corrupt, overworked, bumbling, prejudiced, ridiculously out of touch or easily swayed by theatrics. Maybe it all began with Laugh-In (Remember “Here comes the judge, here comes the judge, sock it to me, baby, ‘cuz here comes the judge.”?)
Even in our real life judicial system, we are skeptical that we will receive fair judgments’, believing real judges to be swayed by their own politics, personal agendas or special interests.
It seems we’re only comfortable with judges when we’ve been given the power to override their verdicts. That’s why American Idol is so popular. There, judgments don’t depend on one person’s opinion but an entire panel and even then, they aren’t final. We have veto power.
Psalm 19:9 says, “The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.” We have trouble trusting that.
Our varying images of God as judge are actually represented well on the panel of American Idol. Some of us believe God is like Simon Cowell – scowling, harsh, unforgiving, direct and dour – disregarding completely our sensitivities and judging us solely on our last performance.
Some of us think God is like Paula Abdul in His judgments, preferring to believe He sees past our missteps to the heart of our performance, reveling in the aura of our intentions and our beautiful, colorful soulful artist behind a couple of places that were off but who cares, we stayed true to who were are and that deserves a standing O!
Others see God as the ultra-cool dog, Randy Jackson who will come to judgment day with “OK, OK, check it out, your life was pitchy in places, man and there were some big moments that didn’t work for me but aaaahhh, forget about it, come over here and give me some love, dude, you’re all right, it’s all good.”
And perhaps a few see God as Kara DioGuardi, sort of a mysterious newcomer who acts like He has the right to judge but what exactly has He done to earn that right? Who is He really and why should I care what He thinks? This is a view of God I see more and more these days and it’s frightening.
Just as frightening as the idea that judgment should be abandoned all together or that the “crowd” should have veto power over the judge.
One thing is clear from Scripture and that is that we will ALL face judgment. The Bible says that judgment will start with the family of God but will extend to all creation.
What is your image of God as judge and where did you get that image? A parent? A religious figure? TV? Movies? An American courtroom? Donald Trump’s boardroom on The Apprentice? American Idol? You should think about this.
God wants to be known. He has revealed Himself to us through His Word and through His Son. It’s worth your time to get to know Him and the standards by which He will judge. 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” I John 4:13-18 says,
“We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
Judgment will come for us all. There is One True Judge. There is a standard. BUT, He has provided the way for all of us to meet that standard.
Check it out, dog. It’s all good.
Saturday night, I watched a quiet movie called Last Chance Harvey. Harvey is a man facing late-life career failure as he attends the wedding of his only daughter who has asked her step-father to walk her down the aisle. In the airport, he meets Kate, mid-life, single, damaged by her own father’s abandonment and facing remorse about an abortion in her college years and what she could have done with her life. The theme of the movie is dealing with regret and deciding what we do with our lives NOW.
It turned out to be an apt movie to have watched the night before Mother’s Day.
Holidays with my extended family are never as simple as holidays appear in the imaginary world of advertising. There’s always some drama that plays out spurred on by current stresses and fueled by past regrets.
Mother’s Day was no different except that after years of prayer and persistent witnessing, there were more players on the sane team – the team that accepts that while we all have sinned, we’ve all failed, we’ve all done damage – our only hope is to move forward in Christ. Upon reflection, this is actually a huge difference that should be underscored. The kingdom advances in my family and I see the hand of God at His transforming work.
But not everyone has yielded to the power of God so there continue to be dramas as the dragon of the past breathes fire on the present.
Attending a breakfast service at my church, I watched other mothers’ dramas play out. There was a single mom, exhausted from working her second job – a third-shift on week-ends – whose teen-agers barely acknowledged her special day. There were several waiting moms, saving empty seats and anxiously eyeing the door, hoping that their adult children would come to church on this day – all the gift they really desired.
Scattered throughout were women whose moms had failed them – abandoned families or closed their eyes to abuse or coped with their own sad lives through drink or drugs – struggling to be different for their own children, vowing to end the cycle. And there were the mothers whose children have died and who no longer stare at the door with any expectation at all. This is the holiday reality for many.
It’s not just Mother’s Day – really any holiday carries with it a natural opportunity for reflection and the possibility of drowning in regret. The older I get, the more I understand how regret can weigh on a soul. When we’re young, we think there is always time to make right what we have screwed up. The older we get, the more we realize this isn’t true. Hollywood’s answer in Last Chance Harvey was romantic love. The real answer is the forgiving power of God.
The truth is, we all sink our own lifeboats and then, in an effort to stay afloat, we drag under those around us who themselves are just trying to tread water and not drown in the dark waters of their own mistakes. Regrets float like seaweed in the salty waves and wrap themselves around our hopes, tangling us up in our past so we cannot imagine a future on dry land.
But rescue teams search the treacherous waters offering hope to those dragged under by the weight of regret. These teams are comprised of those who have been rescued themselves from the same waters and found safety and refuge in Christ. They have flung their regrets overboard back into the raging waters knowing that while they cannot change their pasts, their futures belong to God.
God takes our pasts and recreates them, transforms them, uses them as compost for the flowering of our futures with Him. Jesus read from the following passage to proclaim the advent of His ministry:
“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.” Isaiah 61: 1-4
May God grant us mothers the grace and strength to rebuild the ancient ruins of our family histories and restore lives long devastated, to renew the ruined relationships with Christ devastated for generations. May we trust Him to have the last word on all our regrets.
The only real regret should come from refusing to climb into the lifeboat and remaining adrift hopelessly seeking the shore on our own. Jesus truly is our Last Chance.
Hollywood is loaded is with romantic ideas and many of us have taken our cue from Tinsel town as to what qualifies. It is usually a flashy ordeal with diamonds, dance numbers and beautiful people decked out in ball gowns and tuxedos. Hallmark commercials, cheap novels and jewelry stores also provide us with modern notions of how we should be romanced. Expensive gifts and hired musicians, flowers, and fireplaces, fancy foods and fantastic footwork are generally on the menu for proper courtship and romance.
As our twenty-first anniversary approaches my husband is up to his usual grumbling that I am not a normal woman with the usual idea of romance so it’s so much harder for him to figure out how to woo and wow me.
On the one hand, it’s not that hard. On the other hand, it takes everything he has.
I don’t want him to spend money on jewelry or chocolate; in fact, I’d prefer he not spend any money at all. What I truly desire is his attention, a walk in the woods, a book read together and discussed or a simple meal sharing memories of what we’ve meant to one another over the years. After all these years, he knows I’d rather camp than cruise. But, it’s much deeper than that.
For me, it’s the relationship that creates the romance. Romance that works for me begins when we say “good morning” and builds as we work through the daily challenges of parenting, paying bills and serving the Lord together. It’s the together part that makes the romance happen for me. If we haven’t been together in overcoming the obstacles of the day, it’s impossible to impress me with a bouquet and bottle of wine at dinner.
God is a romantic. You can tell by His extravagance and the lengths to which He goes to get our attention.
As I sat today stewing over my prayer time and my devotions, angry and frustrated that certain situations have not worked out to my desiring or over ways the Lord has tarried in answering other issues, I was determined to fret and scowl. As I read His Word, however, He whispered to me again about the depth of His love and reminded me of His unchanging character.
As I prayed, I looked out through the doors of my deck at the muted greens of the spring forest against the gray sky of a rainy day and marveled at His handiwork and the gift of this view. The greens and browns of the freshly budded woods were interrupted with occasional flashes of blue or red or yellow as the birds came to light on the feeders ever so briefly and then returned to nests hidden in the crooks of trees. Their varied songs warbled, cooed and whistled to me as the singers grew bold through the camouflage of their platforms.
Ever so slowly, the romance of creation quieted my heart and spoke to my soul of a deeper relationship, wooing me to see beyond the transient troubles of the day to the great heart of God.
The God of Creation wishes me to spend time in His presence. He wants my attention, my attendance, my full focus. He crossed the greatest of divides and gave His only Son to bring me safely into His fold. Because He created me, He knows the secrets of my own soul better than I.
Just as Hollywood has many plastic notions of romance, so the world has many misconceptions about a relationship with God and often these ideas pollute my own thinking. He is not a genie in a bottle. He is not the great wish-granter in the sky. He is not about making my life easier or taking my orders for my best life now.
He is all about a deeper story, a greater adventure, an eternal romance that began before I was born and will continue on into a place where there will be no more false notions, no Hollywood hoaxes, no cheap imitations of grace. And He wants me beside Him on this adventure.
On the one hand, it’s not that hard. On the other hand, it takes everything I have.
The romance of God calls to me and I will follow into the deep, deep heart of the greatest story ever told.
“See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land. The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance. Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me.” Song of Songs 2:11-13
I live in a house where many of the shelves go up to the ceiling. The rest of my family is tall and they put things away in places that don’t seem that high to them but they really are. I feel like I’m always reaching. It’s tiring to always be reaching.
I feel like that in life, too.
I remember when my kids were younger and my son asked me what I wanted most for Mother’s Day. I told him I would like anything he made for me but that wasn’t really what I wanted most. The real desire of my heart was to hear that day that I had done and been enough.
Does anyone else ever feel like that?
My family doesn’t put this pressure on me but I put it on myself. There are many days when I don’t feel like I can do enough in all the areas of life that require my attention. Did I teach my children enough? Have I loved my husband enough? Is my house clean enough? Have I worked hard enough at my part-time job? Have I written enough? Have I exercised enough? Eaten enough of the right foods? Been vigilant enough with my teens? Spent enough time with my parents and friends? Reached out enough to neighbors? Am I informed enough? Am I healthy enough? Have I loved enough?
It gets worse on Sundays.
I’ve heard a sermon nearly every Sunday for 48 years. That’s approximately 2496 sermons plus all the ones I heard at convocations in Christian college. You know those stamps they put on your hand or arm at theme parks to allow you to come and go? If my body bore a stamp for every sermon I heard, I would be covered with things like this. Pray more. Read the Bible more. Witness more. Submit more. Worship More. Give more. Reach out more. Reach out further away. Teach your kids. Teach others. Love your husband. Love your neighbor. Love your enemy. Love the person in the next pew. Serve more. Resist Satan more. Be more active at church. Be more active in the community. Be more active in the world. Trust more. Have more faith. Confess more. Forgive more. Be more joyful. Be more repentant. Study more. Share more. See more. Be more.
This idea that I am never enough, that I must constantly do more, give more, be more – this doesn’t come from God. Much of it comes from living in a consumerist society where MORE is the message of the media and the motto of every company. It also comes from within my own sinful, fearful heart that places me at the center of my world and somehow believes that everything and everyone depends on me. It comes from others around me who have, themselves, fallen prey to this haunting drumbeat rhythm of “never enough, do more, do more, never enough, do more, do more.” When we do it to ourselves, we are likely to pass it on like a virus to those around us. And it comes from the evil one who wants to undermine the work of God within us.
Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28 (NIV). The Psalmist says, “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat, for He grants sleep to those He loves.” Psalm 127:2 And God saw fit to insist that we labor only six days a week and spend one day “resting from our labors”. I believe it was His way of saying, “Enough. You’ve done enough for one week. You’re only human and it doesn’t all depend on you, it all depends on Me. Spend a day remembering who I am.”
We are to work and to do what the Lord puts before us on a daily basis but I don’t believe He means for us to strive or fret or to labor under the constant accusation that we are never enough. And, weekly, we are to rest from our labors – not just physically, but mentally as well.
Give someone in your life a gift this week and tell them “You have done enough, today.” “You have loved me enough.” “You have been wife/husband/child/friend/mother/father/worker enough for me.”
Give yourself a rest this Sunday and really take a rest. Go to Jesus and say, “Enough. I’m done striving. I’m done beating myself up. You run the world, not me. I choose to rest in you today. Quiet my mind and free me from the pressure of ‘more’.”
When you worship God this week, worship Him with the words “You are enough for me.”
And if you’re tired of always reaching, remember it was God who reached out for us. Jesus is the arm of the Lord who is revealed to us and who knew our reach would be too short so He reached out to bridge the gap. Rest in those arms this week. Rest and know that He is enough.