Five Minute Friday: More

Gentle Reader,

I can’t tell you how much this little across-the-miles writing community means to me. Social media is a double-edged sword, to be sure, but when it’s good, it’s very good. The way God knits hearts together through the ether and the words…I am blessed.

Kate says:

Go.

“I say to you, my friends, don’t fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more.”

– Luke 12:4 (CSB)

Jesus is something else, isn’t He? Always kind, always gentle, but not one to mince words – ever. He is constantly, through the words of Scripture and through the Spirit, teaching us the correct order of things. Teaching us how to be free. Teaching us how to walk through this life yielded to His direction.

Last night, I stood in line to receive an ashen cross on my forehead. A symbol of mortality. A reminder of what the Savior did for me. For us. For all of creation. Nothing magical or mystical about it. Simple elements that washed away with a bit of water. A transient mark upon my transient flesh.

I belong to God. People, they will come and go, just as I come and go. Some relationships last longer than others, of course, but ultimately, it’s me and Him. Acknowledging this doesn’t deny the reality or importance of the Body, the corporate aspect of Kingdom life. I am not a person alone, but surrounded by and part of a great group of witnesses.

And yet, the bottom line, the realest of real things – God.

He is more than I can imagine or dream. He provides more than I could want or need. He is the true treasure, the great reward. He is the source of my life and identity. He is my King.

When I pause and really think on this, everyone else takes their proper place.

Stop.

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By the Grace of God, Never Again

Gentle Reader,

Oh yes, You shaped me first inside, then out;
    You formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
    Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
    I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
    You know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
    how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, You watched me grow from conception to birth;
    all the stages of my life were spread out before You,
The days of my life all prepared
    before I’d even lived one day.

We are born afresh in Christ, and born to do those good deeds which God planned for us to do.

If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.


– Psalm 139:13-16, Ephesians 2:10, Galatians 1:10c (MSG, Phillips, CSB)

James tells us that not many should become teachers, for teachers will be held to a higher standard. Today I wonder if that doesn’t begin here and now, with the heaviness of the Spirit’s kind conviction, when you realize that there’s a part of you that still doesn’t believe. That still doubts.

I love to teach. I can’t help but teach. Maybe that’s why I feel such soaring joy when I’m around the teenagers; they have the most bizarre questions about the Bible and I love that. I love watching them begin to learn how to grapple with the text themselves. I love passing along the hermenutical skills I learned in college because that degree was dang expensive and needs to be put to use somehow. I love their steps of faith, large and small. I love encouraging them to live boldly, to be courageous in God and who He made them to be.

Ah, teacher. Teach yourself.

Born once, on a hot summer afternoon. A body that’s never quite worked properly. Living out John 9:3 long before I understood what that meant. Born again, on another afternoon when the sun burned so brightly through the bedroom window that my crayons melted a little. Right away in love with Jesus, content to sit on the swings at recess and talk to Him.

Flesh and spirit have wandered there and back again in the intervening years.

I read the words of the Psalmist and the Apostle and my heart twists. I know that it is the Holy Hand touching the tender place. I want to run, as I often do, but this time…this time I stay. I sit with the pain. Yes, Lord. I haven’t believed. I have declared Your goodness to others but have wondered if You are good to me. I have despised myself. Not the sin that You call me to hate, but the person, the woman You made. Father, forgive me. Help my unbelief.

Wretched companions, doubt and loathing. When we hold their hands, we are unable to grasp the scarred hand of our Savior. This doesn’t mean He’s left us – praise Him for His faithful patience! – but it does mean that we can’t move forward. Can’t live as He wants us to. Can’t keep our heads up and our eyes focused on what matters.

And me, I have to do that. I have to fix my gaze on Him.

Because teaching, the thing that He has called and gifted me to do, is not a fast-track to popularity. Or at least it’s not when the message that burns inside your chest isn’t one that people want to hear.

By the grace of God, never again. No more do I wish to walk around afraid of other people. It is impossible for me to serve the Lord wholeheartedly when I’m bound up in that. No more do I wish to apologize when no apology is needed. Just as there is room for you, dear reader, there is room for me. And no more will I reach for the “delete” button, consumed by terror and moved to compromise where no compromise should exist.

No more do I wish to be anyone other than who God made me to be.

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Burn Up the Memories

Gentle Reader,

When someone’s home is destroyed by a fire or flood or some other catastrophe, we hear that they are most devastated by the loss of cherished items like photographs and other mementos of special occasions. A television can be replaced. So can clothes, shoes, books. That picture of Auntie Sylvia and Uncle Ernie on their seventieth wedding anniversary? Gone.

A unique kind of pain.

One I realize I’ve inflicted on myself.

No, my house hasn’t burned down. Four walls and a roof, still here.

But my social media, that cloudy place that brings out the best and worst in all of us, that I’ve burned to the ground more than once. Deliberately lit the match. Watched years of thoughts and memories crumble into ash. Gone are the photos of an impromptu summer dance party in my dear friend’s backyard. Lost are the silly, pain-soaked words I shared from the hospital bed. Thoughtful discussions, memes, moments of growth and sharing – vanished.

There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. So the one who fears is not complete in love.

– 1 John 4:18 (CSB)

The Beloved Apostle wrote these words to encourage Christians. We are not meant to quake in fear at the thought of meeting our Lord.

Absence of fear (boldness) derives not from a sense of self-sufficiency but from the relation of child to Father. Love and fear of punishment are incompatible. This does not imply flawless behavior on the part of the child; any claim to perfection at this level can result only in bigotry. Rather it is God’s full and free acceptance and the believer’s trust in His love that elicits a full confidence that excludes fear and uncertainty.

Asbury Bible Commentary (emphasis mine)

Love. Fear. Incompatible.

As I seek to dwell in truth this year, I see just how bound up in fear I’ve been. Perhaps a, “Well, yeah,” moment for someone who doesn’t know what it is to live without anxiety due to her misfiring brain, but because God is good and promises to complete His good work in us, there’s always a new layer waiting to be revealed, a new space in which He desires to move. And I can’t stop the tears from stinging as I realize just how deep the fear of people goes.

Fear of their anger. Of their rejection.

You see, when I walk into a room, I don’t assume that I’ll be embraced. There’s always this wall. This wariness. This wondering. The last few years have done little to move me to a new perspective. I’ll own what I need to own here; I haven’t always spoken in love, used the best words or chosen my moment wisely. And the reaction to that – lack of grace, lack of love, lack of seeking to understand…

Burn up the memories.

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see, be the good girl you’ve always had to be. Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know… (Thanks, Elsa).

It’s deeper than that, though. Because I’m human and, smart as we can be, we are profoundly stupid at times. I know that God is nothing like people. I know that He is love. I know that I am chosen, redeemed and accepted in Him.

But…

The unholy torture of the “but.”

What if God is like them? What if He isn’t that loving? What if I’ve gone too far this time?

Just goes to show how muddled our thinking can get. Fearing people, fearing God, full of doubt and shame. So, hit the “delete.” How I wish I hadn’t. Hadn’t given in to that fear. Hadn’t erased all those posts. Hadn’t been…frankly, a coward. We do that, you know. Justify acts of cowardice, frame them as self-preservation.

I have more to say, but, for now, I invite you to sit in this discomfort with me. Maybe you haven’t gone so far as to erase the online evidence of entire sections of your life. Maybe it’s something smaller than that. Something closer, that eats away at your joy. Whatever the source of your fear and doubt, I know it’s there, because, you and me, we’re the same. Different faces, different backgrounds, same drive for safety and acceptance. Where it counts, our minds spin in sync.

So park it next to me. Sigh as I do, amazed anew at both how quickly lost you can get and how much more quickly the Father comes running. Lay your head against His chest with me, allowing your hands to release their white-knuckled grip. Fear has no place here. We are loved.

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Five Minute (Monday): Confident

Gentle Reader,

Spent last week laid flat by flu. Feeling fuzzy and tired today. But I’ve missed my keyboard, and missed our conversation.

Kate says: confident.

Go.

This grace was given to me—the least of all the saints—to proclaim to the Gentiles the incalculable riches of Christ, and to shed light for all about the administration of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things. This is so that God’s multi-faceted wisdom may now be made known through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavens. This is according to His eternal purpose accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.  In Him we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him.

– Ephesians 3:8-12 (CSB)

It’s no secret that I love Paul. I know; as a woman I’m supposed to at least be suspicious of him because of things he wrote about my gender and our role in the church, but if you read those passages in context (so important), you see that he was not a misogynist. Far from it. If he viewed women as “less than,” there would be no praise for Phoebe or Junia in his letters. He wouldn’t have bothered to instruct Euodia and Syntyche to get their conflict under control. He certainly wouldn’t have submitted to learning from Priscilla.

But I’m digressing here.

I love Paul because he didn’t put on airs. He was an Apostle, commissioned by God that fateful day. He had authority to tell people what to do. Yet he calls himself “the least of the saints.” This man, who I’ve always imagined to be on the shorter side and a bit too thin because he forgot to eat regularly, a man whose face reddened easily under both the influence of holy passion and hot temper, wrote some of the most eloquent, beautiful letters in history, not to promote himself, but to spread the Gospel message.

Of course he did so because he was moved by the Holy Spirit. Let us never forget the very human personality holding the pen, though. I think Paul wrote because he knew exactly who he was. In a way that few of us do, he looked himself full in the face. The least of the saints, the chief of sinners, the man consenting to murder.

Paul was not confident in himself.

He was confident in God, Who took the least, the chief, the murderer, and saved him.

Saved him from himself.

If we’re honest with ourselves, when it’s late at night and the house is quiet, when all we’re left with is the nagging sense that this is not how it’s supposed to be – self, that’s who we need saving from.

Jesus will do that for you.

You can be confident in that.

Stop.

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