Grace

Spoken Word – When Did We Lose Our Souls?

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I sit and I intently ponderEmpty Soul

mind focused and filled with wondering

when, where, how, and why

did life become so parched and dry?

So empty of any depth or meaning

filled with loud, judgmental screaming.

Shouts of “justice” and “my rights”

verbal outbursts, tantrums, fights

all while claiming to be seeking

peace and harmony

fairness and equality

hand-shaking unity

when in actuality

The order of the day has become

division and strife.

No regard for any life

save our own – me and mine.

Don’t disagree with me this time

or I’ll unload my every thought,

feeling, and selfish opinion all over you and yours.

Hiding behind computer screens

phones and social media scenes

fingers clicking furiously

to rip apart right from the seams

anyone who dares to disagree

or have individual thoughts, unique perspective,

or a mind that thinks differently, no matter how refective.

What an offensive

concept.

The “causes” of the conflicted day:

marriage for the straight or gay,

exposed nipples for baby’s meal

or modesty.

Are leggings real

pants?

Black lives matter.

Blue lives matter.

Lions and elephants and dog lives matter.

All lives matter.

Except of course

those that haven’t left the source

of sustenance that is their mother’s womb.

They don’t matter til they’ve crossed into the room

caught by a doc

and uttering that first crying wail.

Oh hell.

Don’t even go there.

Refugees and aliens

Open the borders. Shut them again!

They’re dying, and starving, and being killed.

But they’ll come into our country and steal

our benefits, our jobs

our dignity.

Really?

Do we give it up that easily?

Fly the colored rainbow flag.

Stars and bars

No that one’s bad

Why? Because “I said” it is

since one man wore it when he did

a horrible

heinous

evil act.

In fact…

My cause is greater than your own.

My voice is louder

passion prouder and

Damn it, I. Am. Right.

Is this what we have become?

People who scream

riot and ream

anyone and everyone over the coals

who dares to oppose

our singular views?

Judgmental “truths”.

Closed-minded, open-mouthed expectations of compliance

with nothing but selfish reliance

on platforms that are so wrapped

in politics or personal agendas

that we’ve forgotten how to live?

How to love?

How to be simply

humbly

authentically human?

And allow others to be the same…

Respectfully humane.

When did our hearts become so hard?

When did we lose our souls?

We must hit our knees. Get on our face.

Crawl into the secret place

where we can quietly

silently

wide-openly

heart-rended

weepingly listen, and plead

for mercy from the One Whose bleeding

hands and feet and sword pierced side

spirit surrendered died

for every freedom and hand-crafted life

that you are targeting with strife

and hatred

and vilifying accusations

of bigotry

ignorance and…

Just.

Stop!

Can we extend our hardened wounded souls

out to the Father to be made whole?

And cry compassionate tears for those

who are hurting

lonely

abandoned

and longing

for someone to affirm that they belong.

Allow His love our hearts to pierce

and His eyes to be ours with grace so fiercely

extended to everyone bought by His death.

That bear His warm life-giving breath.

His adoration.

His absolute and undeserved grace.

Just as we do.

I earnestly

fervently

passionately pray that we can truly repent and

Recover.

our.

Souls.

image, by Cheppy Japz, found at: http://fineartamerica.com/featured/empty-soul-cheppy-japz.html
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“Love Wins” and the Confederate Flag

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Recently we spent a week away to get a break from the stress and struggles of work/life.  We had no wifi while on vacation, and perhaps that was a good thing. What I was able to see on my newsfeed – at random moments and locations during the week – made me sad and frustrated.
So much dissension. So much division. So much immaturity and selfishness.

With all of the controversy surrounding flags and gay marriage this past week It seems that, if someone disagrees with another person’s opinion/choices/convictions, then they are “hateful”, “stupid”, “prejudiced”, and to be immediately unfriended. Really?

As has been so prevalent of late, it seems that if one person flies a flag according to the heritage they’ve learned – and another sees it as a hurtful reminder of things or a symbol of division – then those two individuals cannot ever abide in the same “space” as friends, family, or comrades. The ONLY possible explanation is that one or the other is filled with hatred, bigotry, and evil.

Or if one agrees with the Supreme Court decision – and another does not – then those two individuals also cannot possibly occupy the same “space”, the same family, or the same circle of friends. One or the other of them MUST have a heart filled with spite, ugliness, and (again) hatred.

So let me make sure I’ve got this right. You cannot rightly hold a differing opinion from another person in your life. It can’t be rationally discussed. The differences can’t be reasonably heard. No agreement, compromise, or even agreement-to-disagree can be reached. Having different opinions causes such a breach in the relationship that it cannot be overcome – and the relationship is set aside because someone doesn’t think, act, believe, speak, just like you do. Is that how it is?

What a very boring, predictable, immature, and narrow-minded life that thought process dictates.
To surround oneself with only those who are a mirror image is to design a life void of creativity, challenge, and critical thinking. To only be around those who think and act as we do is to stifle any chance for growth or increasing in maturity. To demand that those you know be no different… hold no different opinion/conviction… and to characterize them with unkind and hateful labels, if they dare to think differently, is arrogant and prideful.

When you have walked every step that someone else has walked, and you have heard – and really listened to – the experiences, learnings, and cultural biases that have brought them their convictions and opinions, then, and only then, can you begin to understand whether someone’s heart is truly evil and knowingly full of hatred. I can guarantee that, the majority of the time, that is not the case.

However it’s much easier to spew venom towards someone who disagrees with us than it is to have REAL, HONEST give-and-take conversation in order to learn from one another.

Last time I checked it was entirely possible to disagree with someone’s lifestyle, choices, or thoughts and still love that person and/or treat them with respect and dignity as a God-created human being. If you find that isn’t possible, no matter which side of an issue you stand upon, perhaps a SELF-examination is needed.

Time to grow up.

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Can’t We All Just Get Along?

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11056543_10152919842641179_8700559709711379137_oAs the internet is overrun with the story of the Duggar family’s skeletons in the closet, and Caitlyn Jenner (formerly Bruce) coming out, the opinions and commentaries are on the verge of “breaking” the internet.  Opinions range from staunch defense of the Duggar Family or Jenner’s choices, to absolute outrage about the same.  There are those who attribute every perceived failure to Obama and the Democrats – or to Conservatives and Republicans (which, btw, are not one in the same).  Others cannot voice their opinion without it being done via creating an argument that blames the issue on religion and either the belief in God, or the lack thereof.  Still others seem to have lost all sense of decorum, dignity, respect for others, or even self-respect and spew their thoughts with vile words, profanity, and crass indifference to the feelings of any family members who may be hurt, or offended, by their damaging words.  Disagreeing with “popular opinion” earns the labels of “hate mongers” or “bigot”, “Intolerant” or “ignorant”.

It’s a disturbing trend.  A quick and violent shove towards mind-numbing same-ness and lack of sufferance for those who dare to be different – or at least those who dare to express their opinions that differ from the supposedly moral, or immoral, majority.

Can we put our big girl/boy britches on and grow up?!

Disagreement with an opinion, no matter how popular that opinion, does not equal “hate speech” in an intelligent and thinking society. Simply disagreeing with someone – or their lifestyle – does not indicate hatred or evil. It is entirely possible to disagree, even vehemently, yet continue to treat one another with civility, respect, dignity, and fierce love.

This, my friends, is why we were designed with a mind, will, and emotions rather than created as clones of one another all marching in the same direction and step. What would be the point and purpose?

Will we always agree? Of course not.

Should we be free to express our varying opinions? With respect, kindness, and appropriateness – absolutely.

Will we convince others to agree with our feelings? At times we may.

When someone disagrees with us, and will never agree with us, is this a sign of an evil heart or villainous motives? Come on. Really?

And this one is specifically for those who claim “Christ-follower”….
Is it our responsibility to condemn others “outside the faith”, convince them of perceived wrongs, and convict them in the courts of our minds and social media feeds? No. It is not.
It is our responsibility to point them to the heart of Christ through our own actions, words, faith, and evident love. The rest is between them and their Father, God.

Why intolerantly crying for tolerance – from either side of the opinion – when what we really want is for everyone to think, act, and be as we are or they’re wrong, Wrong, WRONG?

For the sake of intelligent thought and growing up, let’s give room for mature and civil disagreement without cutting people off, arrogantly “unfriending” those who have other opinions, calling names, and resorting to overall petty immature arguments.

Please.

PS Christ-followers: (Holding fellow Christ-followers accountable to scripture is another thing entirely. We’d better be doing that – with all love and humility – or we can’t truly love one another well)

Whose Approval Do You Seek?

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“I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” – Jesus (John 5:43-44)

Ouch! How often do we “receive glory” from one another – in the form of adulation, approval, applause, affirmation and adoration – and place that “glory”, or opinion, above the opinion that Christ holds of us?

We will receive the praise, and even criticisms, of man and take it to heart, allowing it to inflate our heads or damage our souls. However, when Christ says that He loves us, we question how that is possible. After all, we KNOW ourselves. And when Christ says that we are forgiven from our past and that He “remembers our sins no more” when we repent, we refuse to receive that forgiveness and, instead, allow our minds to be tortuously haunted by the enemy of our souls who would like nothing more than for us to be running scared and beaten by guilt and shame.
OR when His Holy Spirit reminds us of things in our lives that are keeping us from drawing near to Christ – or becoming more like Him – yet friends/family/society says “Its okay”, “Its no big deal”, or the ever-popular “Its your life/body do what feels right”, we receive the “glory” from man instead of the loving admonition from God… because it’s easier, more comfortable, and MUCH more pleasing to our ears and ego.

As long as our most valuable approval comes from men then we will never, not EVER, recognize and relax in who God created us to be. Which means that we will never, not EVER, be comfortable in our own skin or with our own unique set of gifts/talents.
What a miserable way to live… constantly changing opinions, convictions, and even appearance, to avoid being beaten around the head by the ever-wavering opinions of man.

_________________________________________________________
Regarding our pasts:
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. – Psalm 139:13-16

In other words He KNOWs us better than we know ourselves

Regarding our value to Him:
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. – 1 John 4:10

And although He KNOWs us – and everything we have ever done or said – He still sacrificed Christ for us

Regarding His love for us:
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39

He loves us and – despite things that we have said or done that may have wounded His heart or the hearts and lives of others – He never stops loving us.

Regarding His sacrifice for us:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—BY GRACE YOU HAVE BEEN SAVED…..For by grace you have been saved through faith. And THIS IS NOT YOUR OWN DOING; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. – Ephesians 2:4-9 (ESV)

No, we truly didn’t deserve His sacrifice. Yet He gave His own life for us – in our undeserving state – because of His great love. If we deserved it, or could earn it, then Christ’s sacrifice was for naught.

Regarding our “nows” and our futures:
This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! – 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT)

And when we receive His undeserved GRACE and FORGIVENESS, and commit our lives to following His will… not perfectly, but with the purpose of becoming like Him… then our past is no longer thought of by Him

_________________________________________________________

When we open our hearts and minds to understand that Christ GAVE Himself up to one of the most painful, shameful, “senseless” deaths in order that we might recognize how very much He treasures us, what sense does it make to seek the adulation… the “glory”… of man instead of the approval of God?

And why put the words/opinions of man above the words/opinions of God – Who gave all that we might rest in who HE created us to be?

In Galatians 1:10 Paul writes: “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

Go back and read Romans 8:28-29 again……..  Seriously.  Go read it…….

These 2 verses remind us that there is nothing that we can do to change how very much we are loved by Christ.
The love of man changes as quickly as the seasons and is as unstable as the winds.
The love of God never wavers.

Receive His “glory” and grace. Accept yourself how HE sees you.

Allow HIS opinion to be what governs your mind, will, emotions, actions, and speech. You may find yourself enjoying the freedom. I pray that you will. ❤

Religion IS A Crutch

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Ever heard someone lash out with the words “Religion is a crutch!”  Most of us have heard it more than once.  Many who say they have a faith in Christ get offended, or highly defensive, when they hear this popular criticism.  They tend to argue about doctrines, scriptures, and beliefs in an attempt to convince others that their religion is anything but a crutch.

Well, hold on to your pantyhose.  This Christ-follower fully agrees.  Religion IS a crutch.

Now before you throw those blasphemy stones you’ve got clenched in your raised fists, read on….

 

A crutch is defined as: “anything that serves as a temporary and often inappropriate support, supplement, or substitute; a prop”

Perfectly defines religion.  Temporary.  Unable to truly support.  A poor substitute.  Something that props you up… which, by the way, when removed will trigger a fall.

The definition of religion is “the practice of religious beliefs and/or ritual observances of faith”.  

In scripture, Christ and those who mechanically practiced religion were not fans of one another.

The religious measured others according to their index of proper acts, acceptable behaviors, respectable lifestyles, and appreciable knowledge.  If one didn’t conform to their preconceived notions of tolerable conduct, the religious would judge them as unworthy, unfaithful, even deplorable.

Christ measured others according to His Father, Whose heart knew of every decent and scandalous act ahead of their committal. Whose eyes saw every righteous and unrighteous behavior before they came to pass.  Whose ears heard every respectful and shameful word before they were spoken.  Who knew the measure of every lifestyle, deemed successful or unsuccessful by the fellow man, prior to the first breath of life.  Yet His Father continued to love them, understanding their humanity, yet knowing that He created them with incredible potential and giftings for good.

Christ demonstrated what true faith should resemble, and those who counted on religion were considered inferior and judged harshly by Him for their false teachings and man-centered standards.

Sadly this seems to have been forgotten today.  Today it seems so many still boost themselves up by bracing their lives on pompous practices and spiritually-superficial rites.

Obeying a list of “holy behaviors” will prop one up on a self-righteous and ego-aggrandizing pedestal.  The problem is that this narcissistic truss will only provide a deceiving facade of support.  With the first stumble, or deviation from the tally of rights and wrongs – like an injured man whose crutch is yanked from under him on a slippery surface –  the pseudo-holy foundation tumbles, taking the soul bound by religion with it.

Unfortunately, those who have allowed themselves to be crippled by the demanding and unrealistic checklist, tend to reach for that same list of do’s/dont’s  – making excuses for their own fallings, and holding others hostage to their deformed expectations of virtue.  They find a strange sort of comfort in their religious list.

After all, adhering to a series of hallowed intentions takes less faith and diligence than building a relationship that is truthfully spiritual and real.  The rules, regulations, and human-ordained practices of religion are a poor substitute for living with an honest and faith-filled relationship with the agape loving, grace-permeated Christ.

Religion is a crutch.  It is an inappropriate prop for the self-righteous.  Religion provides a false sense of support and stability and is a temporary aid to bolster the ego.  It is a weak, ugly, foolish crutch that Christ would snatch away in a second to prompt our reliance on Him instead of ritualistic nonsense.

Stand up. Allow Christ to strengthen you as you choose to follow Him… Listening for His voice, obeying His promptings, and walking – unaided by man-made rules of legalism – with Him.  Drop the crutch.

 

Oh… and drop your stones now also, please and thank you.

 

 

 

 

We All Are Peter

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Ever read a scripture passage that reached into your soul a grabbed hold with an iron grip as if to say “Pay attention to me! I have something for you!”?

This past week I was reading and came across a passage like this. When the women had gone to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body, they encountered a man who told them Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” – Mark 16:6-7

Go and tell His disciples…. and Peter.  In my mind this implied that Peter was being mentioned separately from the disciples possibly due to his sin of denying Christ 3x.

However, every Commentary that I read indicated otherwise.  They all agreed that Peter was not be distinguished from the disciples, but instead was Peter was being singled out to assure that he was informed along with the other disciples… to guarantee that he was included in this report of Christ’s resurrection and His promise that He would come to them again.

Peter’s name was called out to make certain that he knew he was included in the invitation to meet with Christ once again.

I can only imagine how his heart must have skipped when his name was called.  Such a mixture of excitement, anticipation, fear, and guilt.  He had, after all, sworn and uttered curses as he denied even knowing who Christ was in the midst of the God-man’s most physically/emotionally demanding… potentially damaging… days on Earth.  He had abandoned Christ. Turned his back on the Christ that he had walked with, talked with, ate with, slept beside, been taught by, and even been called by.  Peter had refused to acknowledge the One Who had – with all patience and understanding – seen the potential in Peter’s strong-will, brash personality, and impulsivity.

Peter had sworn he knew no such man called “Christ”. Three. Scandalous. Times.

And yet, Peter was being called out by the same, Christ, and acknowledged as His in the presence of all the other disciples… who, most assuredly, knew of his shameful denials.

Scripture later records that Christ appeared to the disciples when they were fishing and John recognized Who was on the shore. And rather than waiting for the rest of the disciples to row there in their boat – for that would take to long –  Peter jumped from the boat and began to swim to shore (is it any wonder with his impulsive nature?).  He wanted to be in the presence of Jesus.

Christ waited until all the disciples were together and had shared a meal.  He then called Peter’s name again. He singled him out once again in the presence of the others.  Imagine… “Peter?”

Was He going to rebuke Peter for his sinful, slap in the face, spurning?  Would he point out how Peter had denied Him and then, publicly, announce that he was no longer chosen to represent Christ?  After all, how could he?

How could Christ, in all good conscience, allow Peter to represent Him and His cause knowing that Peter had stood before many and, cursing and swearing, joined in His ridicule and refused to acknowledge his relationship with Him ?  How could the hand of God continue to anoint Peter’s life with such a blatant rejection?  So many thoughts and emotions must have been leaving footprints on Peter’s mind and heart.

“Peter”  “Yes, Lord?”

“Do you love me?”

Three times Christ asked if Peter loved Him. Scripture says that Peter was hurt because Christ asked him the third time.  Could it have been another painful reminder of Peter’s 3 rebuffs?

“Lord, You know all things.  You know that I love You”

And Christ, for the 3rd time, reaffirmed Peter’s calling to “feed My lambs”… to minister to those who are lost and hurting… to those who have no Shepherd.

“Lord, You know all things”…..

Indeed He does.

Christ knows all things.  He knows that we are human.  He knows that we make mistakes.  He knows that we even, at times, reject or spurn His place in our life with our actions and/or words.  He knows.

And yet, just like Peter, He continues to call out our name.  He continues to let us know that if our heart is still trying to find Him through the dense fog of shame that can cloud our view of Him… if we are still seeking His light in the midst of our own mental and emotional darkness… if we are willing to jump out of the boat and “swim” towards Him – not waiting for things to be just right or others to come along with us… if our response is that pain-filled, guilt-ridden, cry of “Lord, you know all things.  You KNOW that I love you”… then, in spite of our sin, He calls out our name and reminds us that we remain called, appointed, chosen, His.

 

Such marvelous Grace.

 

Me, Myself, and My Messiah Complex

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I’ve got it and I’ve got it bad.

No, it’s not split personality disorder.  Not a sad case of the blues.  I’m not madly in love with someone other than my husband… well, except for myself sometimes.

I’ve got a messiah complex.  A ridiculously inaccurate messiah complex.

It’s my responsibility to save things and fix people. Every. Single. Day.

The world can’t survive without me.  At least that seems to be what I subconsciously tell myself at times.

My students and co-workers will be lost if I take a day off.  Things at church might not go smoothly if I miss a Sunday… or a leaders meeting.  If I say no to an invitation with family it might upset things. My input is important in most any situation. My opinion valid. My perspective pretty awesome and accurate.  My way, quite often, the most reasonable and practical – the wisest way.

See?  I have placed myself on an imaginary pedestal without even realizing it.  I unconsciously believe that I am the all-knowing, troubleshooter of the totality of what is wrong in life.  The ever-wise moderator of relationships and conflicting conversations.  The oracle who sees the errors of ways.  The prophet who speaks the hard-hearing truth.

I have set myself in a high place in my own mind.  I have assumed the position of savior of the world. … again.

There have been several times, in my life, when I have climbed up to this high and lofty mental place of honor.  Times when I wouldn’t – couldn’t – say no for fear of the world stopping if I did so.  Times when I had to be ever-present for everyone or things would forever be marred and scarred (at least in my own mind).

And each time I have gotten soundly, profoundly, and squarely, knocked off that pedestal and painfully back onto my reality-recognizing butt.

My mind, my emotions, my body, or all three at once, take control and say “enough is enough” and they forcefully set me off my feet and onto my kiester, or my back.  This is where I am forced to recognize that the world will continue to spin – tasks will still be completed – life will go on – friends, family, loved ones, students, and co-workers will survive… and possibly even thrive –  all without my influence or interference.

Although I do not believe God is the author of sickness, fatigue, breakdowns, or anything that is evil, I do believe that He allows us to crash and burn at times as a natural consequence of our own ignorance or sin.  And when I have fanned both ends of the candle flame for an endless amount of time, and there is no light left in me because I have been an improper steward of the gifts/talents that He HAS given me, then He allows me to become as a scorched and melted puddle of wax.

At that point I have a choice.  Refuse to acknowledge that I am not the end-all, be-all, messiah without which the world cannot flourish – and thus grow cold and hard as His glow extinguishes and I continue to believe I, alone, can save.  Or remain pliable, willing to be reshaped and reused by submitting to the heat of His character-molding, mind-renewing fire and the blaze of His Spirit.  Allowing myself to be ignited with the His love-shaped, grace-filled Zippo – recognizing that without Him I am nothing. And even with Him, I am simply a broken vessel of light that He has chosen to carry His spark… not to pervert His standing as Messiah and Savior of the world.

Scripture admonishes that man not think more highly of himself than he ought.  Proverbs advises that pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.

Me, Myself, and my Messiah complex struggle with this at times and forget.  Ever been there?