Anxiety, Faith, grace, Hope, Love, Overwhelmed, Rest

Crazy Grace

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”  James 1:19-20

Christmas is a time to reflect on what’s important and express gratitude for the precious gift of God’s Son.  “Peace on Earth, goodwill to men…”  If this is true, why are we so angry and impatient?  Between traffic and long lines to “prickly” relatives, Christmas seems to bring out the worst in people.  Why is it that we all seem to be somewhere on the spectrum of insanity during the “most wonderful time of the year?”  Could there be a dark spiritual campaign that ramps up every Black Friday to blur the vision of the grace God bestowed on humanity by becoming a man for the sake of our eternal salvation?

Personally, I have to admit that my focus is not on the coming Messiah during Christmas, rather, the coming company or Christmas meal that needs preparing or the gifts that need buying and wrapping and sending.  Insanity is the only word for it.  We all go a little crazy during the Christmas season.  It is fitting, then, in our culture of out-of-control “doing,”  that Christmas is followed so closely by the New Year.  Around the corner it comes with optimistic newness, forgiveness, if you will, for our December sins.

Because of this, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is my favorite week of the year.  Everything stops (except for basketball which is one more reason empty nesting is awesome).  There is time to rest, reflect and look ahead to a brand new year, God willing.  Instead of angry and impatient we feel optimistic and hopeful.  This is crazy grace.  The fact is, God not only sees us through our imbalanced, imperfect celebration of His Son’s birth, but also showers us with forgiveness and hope.  His love keeps us from being consumed by our fears, insecurities, failures and, yes, insanity.

In short, Lamentations 3:23 says, “His compassions never fail.”  His compassions (plural) never (that means never, ever) fail.  The word “compassions” reflects God’s heart for us in a powerful way.  It means God has the same affection for you and me that a pregnant mother has for the baby in her womb, “as cherishing the fetus.”  Regardless of our insanity level His grace is crazier still.  We can’t out-give God and we certainly can’t out “crazy” Him.  But for the grace of God we would all perish.

“Yet this I call to mind, therefore I have hope:

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,

for His compassions never fail. 

They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”

Lamentations 3:21-23

 

Anxiety, Control, Idolatry, Insecurity, Obedience, Pride, Sanctification, Submission, Surrender, Trust, Unbelief, Uncategorized

Chokehold

“Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'”  Mark 10:21

One Sunday morning in October I saw a young girl with her dad walking toward the Children’s Museum in our small, New England town.  The legs of a stuffed Pooh Bear dangled beneath her right arm, his head peeking over the top of her chokehold.  All three crossed the street together.  The little girl’s left hand was securely tucked into her father’s right as she trotted to keep up with his pace.  My first impression was of the sweet picture this portrayed of our daily walk with Jesus; our secure, surrendered life of following Him.  My second thought concerned the Pooh Bear.   This little girl wasn’t content just holding daddy’s hand as she followed.  She needed Pooh to make her feel secure.

Of course,  I have one or two Pooh Bears under my arm of control for security too.  While I know in my mind that Jesus is enough there is a tendency to cling to other things while trying to follow Jesus.  “Pooh Bears” like savings, good health, ministry and family make me feel safe and secure.  However, anxiety rushes into my heart whenever I fear they may be slipping away.  My grip tightening with every anxious thought, I hold on to what I perceive as essential for my security by its furry little neck.  This happened a couple of weeks ago when we received a large but expected bill.  Emotionally spinning because it was outside my comfort zone of spending, my mind started flipping from asking, “What were we thinking!”  to “Why is this service so expensive!”   My Pooh Bear (savings) was in danger!

This incident was so revealing because I didn’t even know I had a chokehold in this area.  It took a few days of unpacking for God to reveal the content of my heart.  Using the key of confession (I’m sorry Lord that I don’t trust You to take care of me and believe I have to protect myself) and repentance (I choose to believe You over my feelings of insecurity, accepting Your forgiveness and choosing to walk in the truth that You will never leave me or forsake me and You have given me everything for life and Godliness) God opens the door freedom.   When I choose to look up and see that my Father has my hand and will never let me go there is an overwhelming sense of peace and security.  My  Pooh Bears, I realize, are only gifts to enjoy.  Like a carrot in the hand of a child feeding a horse they are meant to be held with an open palm lest my fingers get nipped.  His love enables the open hand.

In addition, although there are times when I am totally surrendered, walking in lock-step with God’s glorious pace, admittedly there are also times when I do insist that Jesus “follow me.”   Instead of holding other things in my grip for security I try to get hold of Jesus ’round the neck and choke out the sound of His voice, refusing to surrender to His life in me.  The result is mental chaos and feelings of isolation.  No longer walking in The Light I grope around in emotional darkness.  Insisting on my way while stumbling across the dangerous terrain of rebellion until He brings me to the end of myself.    Here, again at the altar of confession and repentance,  He restores my soul while I allow Him to wash my feet, getting me ready to follow HIM once again.

So, whether the sin revealed is idolatry or rebellion He is waiting to heal every dark place.  The key is recognizing when you are stuffed with other things or getting ahead of Him.  How can we know?  The answer is in Psalm 139:23-24:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.”

If you ask Him He will search your heart, revealing any unclean thing and, with His righteous right hand holding yours, lead you in the everlasting way. His path is straight.  We can follow Him with confidence, joy and peace, trotting all the way to Heaven with His good gifts held loosely in open hands of praise. \O/

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”  John 8:12

Anxiety, Control, Faith, Hope, Idolatry, Love, Trust, Uncategorized, Worry

Know Love

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”  1John 3:1a

When our son started another 20+ hour road trip to Florida last Friday I was worried. Will he be okay driving by himself?  Will he get enough to eat?  What will the weather be like?  As questions like these swam through my mind I came to this conclusion: Most future details we cannot “know” for certain.  Unfortunately, it is usually these little unknowables that cause me to feel vulnerable and ignite worry in my heart.   I confess my preoccupation with the surety of future details regarding our grown children.  Even though they are both doing well it is difficult not to worry about them because I desperately want to keep them from experiencing pain whether it be physical, spiritual or emotional.

Because of this I’m convinced God providentially arranged for me to study the book of First John.   It happens to contain 37 accounts of the word Know and 41 of the word Love. Apparently, it was important to John to convey that we can know and love for certain in Christ.  He wanted believers to know God, love God and love each other.  In other words, to Know Love or to experience God’s benevolent love in an intimate way at all times.  This profound revelation means that trusting God in all things, abiding in His love, keeps me from being deceived and distracted.   (Yes, worry is the result of deception.)  Just like a branch is grafted into a vine I am intimately bound to Him or in Christ.  Therefore, I can have the mind of Christ; trusting God in all circumstances.  My thinking no longer has to stem from my fears but is now filtered through God’s love for me AND for my children.

Oh, how I wish God would promise that my children would always walk in the Light and know His love!  However, the real crux of my anxiety isn’t that our children won’t walk with the Lord but that they will somehow have to suffer because of a bad decision or because of circumstances outside their (or my) control.  In essence, I hate my inability to protect them from inevitable pain. This is why the last sentence in First John sends chills down my spine. “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” 1 John 5:21.  How easily I turn from the light!  Just like a dumb sheep that wanders away from the shepherd who loves him, I too trot into the darkness of faithlessness and idolatry, putting my offspring on the throne of my heart.

Truthfully, I want all circumstances to be in my control. Fear and anxiety compel me to cry, “I want my way!”  But I KNOW perfect love drives out fear.  So what does that mean?  Am I not loved perfectly?  NO! God is love.  He cannot be imperfect.  God always loves perfectly. So why the fear?  Because I was not allowing His perfect love to control me (2 Corinthians 5:14).  I refused to walk in the light, abide in Him, nestle under His wing or stay near the Shepherd. Then, just like the lonely sheep, I was devoured by the wolf of insecurity and fear.  So, if perfect love drives out fear then willful rebellion invites it over for dinner.

Fortunately, as His rod touched my back I turned around and trotted  toward the Good Shepherd. I asked God to forgive me for not trusting Him.  With loving arms He nestled me close to His heart, assuring me of His everlasting affection.  With bended knee and a submissive will we are just the right size to be scooped up and held intimately close and know love.