The rain falls

You’ve heard it, right?

“The rain falls on the just and the unjust.”

We quote it quite often to imply that bad things happen to good people, but do we possibly have it backward? Rain could mean blessings, after all it takes rain to grow a crop and to provide a break from the drought. In fact, with the exception of the flood, rain is not depicted as a bad thing. So what of this verse? Well, let’s start by reading it in context.

“In this way you show that you are children of your Father in heaven. He makes his sun rise on people whether they are good or evil. He lets rain fall on them whether they are just or unjust.” (Matthew 5:45)

Why is Jesus having this conversation? What is He teaching? He’s teaching about love. More importantly, He is talking about loving your enemies. See, we are an “either/or”,” this or that” society and culture. But Jesus was in an “either/and” as well as a “this and this” culture. Many times in order to emphasize something it was said a multitude of times, three times would be the ultimate number of repetitions. In this moment with the disciples Jesus is in the process of telling them and retelling them that God provides blessing (the sun rising) and blessing (the rain fall) on the just and the unjust. That’s important!

This same conversation is recorded in Luke, and He words it a little differently (and since He’s a doctor, maybe a little more intellectually.)

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.”

Ahhh. The and with the and. “He is kind (the sun shines, the rain falls) to the ungrateful and the wicked.” Wait. Matthew puts the “unjust” in there, but Luke says overwhelmingly, “the wicked.” We know it is the same conversation, the same teaching.. So why the different verbiage? Maybe it has more to do with the writer than the Speaker.

Who is Matthew? A formerly, notoriously unjust man, a tax collector. He is there as Jesus is sharing this story about loving your enemies (of which he knows he was one) and as He speaks, Matthew is experiencing blessing! Not only was God kind to him, He had chosen him as a follower and cohort and put him in charge of the money! Okay. That’s like the the alcoholic being keeper of the wine for the Lord’s supper. That is a responsibility not just of trust but of proof of redemption! Matthew is hearing this through the ears of a formally publicly condemned sinner, and in his interpretation Jesus might as well be pointing at him, “See? I bless and hang out with those you’ve condemned.” Luke on the other hand didn’t have that lens, he heard Jesus say that God is kind to those we might consider wicked, enemies of our souls. Both men share the same message of Jesus to love those who do evil just as God does, but in their interpretations based on their personal experience, we hear how that message affects each one! But, the message is the same, “God who loves and is kind to those who hate him, asks the same of you.”

I can’t help but think of Christians and our wrestle with the LBGTQ community. So many call them on sin saying they are sinners, stopping short of calling them wicked (or some out and out doing so), but if that’s the case, God is kind to them. He chooses to bless them and give them good things, regardless. So “Love your enemy” looks more like be kind to your enemy and bless your enemy… And enemies look like those we don’t agree with who commit actions that we think are evil or against God’s plan. Ahhh. And, they are entitled to the sun and the rain just as the Godly are, without prejudice or bias or judgement. That looks different, that feels different, that steps on the toes of the righteously political. But, that’s what loving our neighbor looks like – Doing for others not because they deserve it or because they are worthy, but because we recognize we aren’t, and, as much as it may pain us to speak it, God desires to see them blessed.

Crazy, this God Who loves us – ALL of us! And the rain falls equally across the landscape of humanity.

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Father and Son

I have always loved the story of Abraham and Isaac. The story of willingness and sacrifice and reprieve and provision, captivate me. After all, isn’t that ultimately the journey of every faithwalker? But this week God challenged me to reread it, in His narration, with His thoughts, through His eyes and, most of all, in regard to His heart for His beloved.

Abraham was ready, I felt sure of it. Patiently, he had waited for Me to send Isaac, and daily I watched his love for his son and pride over him grow. I delighted to see that My friend was pleased, but much rode on the faith of My beloved Abraham, a faith that I had to test for its surety and steadfastness.

He was out observing My creation, strolling among his people, eyes always trained upon his boy. He marveled aloud to Me as he watched Isaac pull back the bow how very grateful he was over the gift of his son. It was in that moment of thankfulness I chose to make My request, in the glow of his joy.

“Abraham!” I called.

Immediately he answered, “Yes, Lord! I am here.” The look on his face was eager to speak, eager to obey, age had not changed his youthful expectation, but I had the highest price to ask of him.

“It’s time,” I commanded. He seemed confused so I continued, “Take your only son, Isaac, now and go to Moriah…” I waited to finish as his smile hesitated, “…and take him and offer him…”

Abraham’s eyes took on a look of disbelief even as his soul screamed out to My heart not to finish the thought, but his obedient heart waited for Me to finish.

“Offer his as a burnt offering on the mountain of My choosing.”

His head fell, his grown man lips quivered, but his resolve was not shaken. He trusted Me. I felt it and I read it from his heart even if his lips could not utter it.

I watched the next morning, early, as he loaded up his donkey and assembled his entourage, Isaac, the most prized possession by his side as he led the way. Each day was a litany of praise to Me, stories of my goodness and faithfulness shared with each footstep closer to the unspeakable. Isaac never seemed to question Abraham’s frequent affections and head rubs. Abraham was making the most of the three days, three days I ordained for them to say goodbye. I’m a loving God, I could have chosen any mountain, but that one had significance to this sacrifice and to My own, and I wanted this for them.

When they made it there I observed intently as Abraham settled his servants and gave them directions and a time frame in which he would return. I watched as he swallowed hard while Isaac said his goodbyes. Then, I watched as Abraham placed the bundle of wood upon Isaac’s shoulders. As he did so, I felt the scars in My own back ache.

“This is necessary,” I whispered into the ear of My beloved, but all he felt and heard was the whistle of the wind.

In his own hands, Abraham carried the fire source and the knife. His grip on its handle was weak almost begging the slightest force to rip it from his hands, but his obedience carried it nonetheless. Isaac wondered often as he observed the elements of sacrifice that a significant piece was missing – the offering. He questioned his father, but he could not bear to tell his son and so I heard him say with spoken words, “God Himself will provide.” He had no idea the revelation of those words. I could feel the cries from Abraham’s bosom asking if there was any other way? And, My own voice echoed through the ages in his acceptance, “Nevertheless, let Your will be done.” Years evaporated and generations passed away as I beheld Abraham telling Isaac to be still as he bound his only son. I watched Isaac struggle and question, begging for understanding. Abraham was silent but in his heart he called out to Me declaring My name for all generations and with each name a work of goodness that preceded it. He, like his son, was begging Me to hear his cries, and I, too, remained silent. Would he recall My favor thus far? The promises I had made? The nature of My faithfulness?

I observed the Accuser reminding him of his failures, of his sins, planting doubts of My character and My affections for him. But, I encouraged Abraham to recall My love, My grace, My kindness despite what wrongs he had committed. As the Accuser started in again, I held up My hand to silence him. I tired of his lies, his attempts to discredit Me and to discourage those I love. Besides, something greater had My complete attention, Abraham reached for the knife.

All eyes in heaven stood in observance of this moment. I had issued a command, and only I could choose to undo it. A tear escaped My eternal eyes as I watched my beloved hold the knife high. Faith that once trembled from his lips now held firm in his love for Me. My heart was full! Abraham was declaring his love for Me! I had asked him to do the unthinkable, and still he chose My will over his own. Time stood still as I observed this gift. – the love he showed Me as he held a knife to his son – his beloved as he was Mine.

“Abraham!”

He didn’t drop the knife, “Yes, Lord?” Determination shook his frame.

“Stop! His arm slowly dropped its position, confusion, quickly replaced with relief, washed over him.

“Don’t touch that boy!” All of heaven was rejoicing in his love for Me! “You have shown you honor and respect Me! You were willing to sacrifice, without holding back, your son, your heir.”

I had situated the ram – spotless and pure – a most fitting offering – in the bushes beside their makeshift altar. I caught My breath as Abraham quickly unbound Isaac, clutching him to his chest and thanking Me for My provision. Together, they situated the sacrifice on the pile of wood. I touched the engravings in My hands, the scars that symbolized the name of every soul willing to be saved, and I smiled.

“ No, my friend, my beloved. I would never ask you to give up anything that I haven’t already sacrificed for you.”

Heads bowed, knees bent, I listened as father and son praised My name for their provision, but what I had truly provided was more than a ram but the Lamb of God – for with the sacrifice of MY son, I would fulfill My promise to Abraham, for I AM Jehovah Jireh. I AM the Lord who provides.

Embrace Grace

Grace.

It’s hard for us to fathom… Something for nothing? There is always a catch. We look for the catch – surely I must do something to gain this great reward? So we involve ourselves with works, to be better, to be acceptable, to be worthy of a gift we are completely unworthy to receive. Then faith becomes about what we do rather than who we are, and relationship becomes about us pleasing God rather than being pleased by Him. We somehow forsake the gift in an attempt to earn what is freely given. We are quick to point out the hypocrites and Pharisees without seeing we often play their roles.

I will never forget the time I was so distraught and discouraged because someone that I loved and I had invested in heart and soul returned to a life of sin and depravity. I beat my chest and yelled for God to tell me why? Why was I working so hard to make a difference, why was all that time and energy just thrown away in a fit of passion and recklessness? I didn’t dishonor Him with my frustration, but I felt surely He must be just as frustrated as I felt! Then I heard these words, “You are not called to be the Holy Spirit.”

I stopped. I sat. I pondered. I meditated on that thought.

That’s what I expected. I expected that my good works and words would transform her life and when they didn’t, I felt I had failed. The Truth rushed into my heart like a whisper of correction, “You can’t change them. You can’t save them. Point them to My perfect grace and let Me wrestle with them through their salvation.”

Wow.

The truth was I had seen her as a project, and when I saw successes I marked her off my to do list and went on to the next project. I think we are guilty of thinking God does the same, and we would be wrong. People aren’t projects, they are souls that are in a process of salvation… And what happens on that journey isn’t about instant purification but enduring sanctification. It’s about the battles, the scars, and the long suffering patience of a Savior.

Faith is a journey defined by grace. None of us can ever earn what we have been given. Too often we picture God and think like the days of Moses, “I cannot look upon you and live.” This is not the God that Jesus introduced to us, a God intolerant of imperfection, but instead He sat in the midst of them telling them stories of forgiveness and grace. Not only that, it’s not the God that I truthfully see through His Word.

I see a God more like Job. Have you read the first chapter of that book? I have too, a few times and yet last night for the first time Daddy God highlighted a verse I hadn’t seen before:

When these celebrations ended—sometimes after several days—Job would purify his children. He would get up early in the morning and offer a burnt offering for each of them. For Job said to himself, “Perhaps my children have sinned and have cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular practice. (Job 1:5 NLT)

That’s the heart of a Father that loves beyond failure. The difference is, unlike Job, God knows what we have done and how we have failed, and He didn’t have to make sacrifice a daily practice – Jesus met that requirement once and for all.

Let’s not gloss over the investment in that burnt offering. Job’s kids were partiers, they had feasts and drunken social gatherings on their father’s dime. We might picture Job as taking an animal to the temple leaving it there and going about his merry way… He had 7 kids so, okay, he deposited a flock at the priests door and left. No. One by one Job would take each animal to the threshold of the temple and lay his hand upon its head to symbolize transference and then he would kill this perfect specimen to be offered up to the priests as atonement. He did this 7 times with 7 animals 7 days a week. That’s the devotion of a father who cares, who desires to see his children safe, and is willing to pay a great cost to see them free from sin.

That’s such a beautiful picture of our Father’s love. Job’s kids aren’t recorded as requesting this… They aren’t depicted as even knowing anything about it. They didn’t earn the honor of sacrifice, but because Job loved them so much, he paid the price, over and over and over again – the patient concern of a loving Father.

Grace.

We can’t explain it. We can’t earn it. We can’t fathom love so deep, so unconditional, so sacrificial, and when we try and work to make it ours we neglect the beauty of the gift.

If He loved us so much and extended enduring grace to us, a flawed and desperate people, how can we expect perfection of others? Better yet. Why do we expect perfection of ourselves? Faith is a journey defined by grace. Embrace that.

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Forgive me, God, I’m depressed.

ImageI hate it. I really do. I am a positive and hopeful person most of the time, but then like a thief in the night it sneaks up on me, stealing whatever positive thoughts and hopeful expectations my heart had settled on but not fully embraced.

 I feel guilty. How could one so loved and so forgiven and so obviously favored feel so down? I can so easily speak to another about the Truths of God to help pull them out of their pits of self-abasement, but when I am lapping from the pool of self-pity, I simply forget there is Living Water dammed up inside. Do I forget? Or do I choose not to drink thinking in some twisted way this is my punishment for past sins and aggressions?

 That’s when the lies begin to surface and hover around my heart like a million bees stinging the vulnerable places. Every angry word spoken to me, every accusation made, every failure and misunderstanding find their voice and threaten to undo every Truth I have hidden there. It becomes too much, too loud, and I start to shut down, undone by the venom, needing an antidote but feeling too unworthy to drink from His cup.

 And in those moments, I am so homesick for His compassion and mercy I am literally ill. What is wrong with me? I tell myself, “You better pull yourself together! There are people depending on you! If you become so depressed and overwhelmed and you know the Truth and study it daily, what hope does that offer others that don’t have that foundation?” And I curl up, letting my Saviour cover me with His love and strengthen my frame while I weep over my failures yet again.

“The Lord has compassion on us for He remembers that we are but dust.” (Psalm 103:14-15)

I don’t have to look far to find other ancestors in the faith that had the same struggle. The Psalms read like the diary of a manic depressive; David was no stranger to depression. He went from the heights of favor and provision and praise to the depths of despair and anxiety and fearing for his life. And yet, he was still regarded as “A man after God’s own heart.” I once heard that wasn’t because he always said the right thing before God but that he spoke all that was on his heart – whether it was highest praise or confession of unthinkable sin. Nothing was hidden from God. In that, I suppose I am not so different from King David.

Those around me get frustrated with my emotions. My tears, not hidden, make others uncomfortable. The usual gleam in my eye is replaced with a glassy stare and those closest to me recognize it. “As Jesus is so are you. Jesus is not depressed, and neither are you.” I understand the meaning behind that, but the logic is unsound. No. Jesus is not depressed. Not now. But He had moments of such raw and overwhelming emotion that He was undone. Granted, I’m not in the Garden of Gethsemane about to take on the fullness of God’s wrath for the salvation of the world, but there are moments when ministry takes me to my knees and I cannot bear up under the weight any longer.

“Cast your cares upon Him for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

 And how do you do that exactly? The word for “cast” there is literally “throw, as if casting a net, far and wide,” and far too often I merely hand my cares over like I’m afraid they will be dismissed or worse, rejected. You see how the thoughts then are cyclical?

 But in those desperate moments, very much like the one that I am in today, this verse becomes my beckoning:

 “So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.” (Hebrews 12:12-13)

 With that declaration, my focus changes. The “self” cesspool that I was drowning in now is revealed for what it is, the destructive, defeat of an enemy that longs to see me stopped and silenced! And I declare with shaking voice, “You will not win!

 And this childlike warrior finds her weapon, takes her position, and resumes the fight. It is long and it is hard and sometimes I need a moment to run home and cry, to pull the covers over my head and beg for tomorrow to hurry faster, but my Daddy reminds me, “A failure is one that refuses to get back up. You, My child, are more than a conqueror!” Like my forefather David, I take aim at the giant before me, the impeding darkness of depression, knowing my God is greater than even my emotions.

Enormous Stakes

Enormous stakes.

That’s what we are facing. Anyone who is in youth ministry realizes this, and too often it seems the pendulum is swinging the wrong way. Those that will are trying to help, to direct, to mentor, to lead, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to feel as if your efforts have staying power.

I have two educated guesses as to why this is happening:

One – There are very few committed Christians setting an example as disciples.
What do I mean? Well, when is the last time you picked up your Bible to learn not because you had to or were doing a Bible study but because you long to learn more about God, His will, His nature, and His way? If that answer is recently, like, yesterday… You are in the minority. When was the last time you woke up and spent dedicated time in prayer, seeking the Father’s heart, weeping for the lost, and asking to be used? Again, it is not the rule for modern day Christians. And if you are the parent or leader in a household and you only do these things when trouble comes, those around you see that, and they will follow suit. Disciples of Christ desire to learn, it isn’t the dreaded “law” at work, or the confines of “religion.” It is learning to know to become. Nothing works oriented, or legalistic about that… But it does require effort.

Two – There are very few authentic faith walkers.
Jesus asked “when I come back will I find faith?” It was important to Him that we keep hope alive! Instead, too often, we turn to logic and science to manifest truth. Thats not faith, thats probability. Jesus was desperate to see faith in action. So when we say with our mouths those things we have read or heard about God but haven’t established it in our hearts with how we live our lives, we send a conflicting message to this younger generation. They are watching us.

Recently I got a message from a young girl who is trying desperately to follow God’s will for her life. But, her home life is a stumbling block. Why? Because her good, God loving, church working parents on Sunday are cruel and demanding and verbally abusive Monday thru Saturday. This confuses her… And it should.

Another girl mentioned to me that she didn’t see any problem with watching movies that were not age appropriate. Why? Because her parents watched R rated movies all the time and they said it didn’t affect them so why should it affect her? Ugh. This infuriates me. Maybe you think I’m wrong or prudish or judgmental, but I can guarantee those movies are affecting that family, it just may be too soon to tell.

Now, I’m not an overbearing parent, restricting anything and everything that doesn’t blatantly stand for Jesus. We have to let our kids make decisions, and we need to show them how to choose. But, our role as parents isn’t to enable them to be codependent, our job is to prepare them for life outside of the nest, and this requires allowing them some mistakes in order to learn. That being said, we can’t lead them into bad decisions by choosing to gratify our pleasures at the cost of their innocence.

Parenting, leading, mentoring is not easy! I do all three! But it is imperative that we not be selfish about it! And it is necessary that we set an example of commitment and true faith.

This generation is under fire like never before. The odds are not in their favor, and they feel this intrinsically. They are the least prepared, most coddled, selfish, rebellious, and pleasure seeking generation, and we have done that to them. They are also the most passionate, educated and globally connected generation we have ever seen and stand to be a lasting legacy of faith to awaken the Body of Christ, but we must invest in them!

I heard someone say that they saw in our future a generation of believers that would have the fire of the Holy Spirit so strong and so deep that it wouldn’t waver or burn out. How does this happen? With us. It begins with us instilling in them unquenchable love and faith that rebelliously stands up to the powers that threaten to snuff it out and say, “You can kill the body but you cannot take my soul!”

Enormous stakes. Life and death lies in the balance, and we’ve barely glimpsed the iceberg.

* Tim Elmore has done a great job of making inroads to change the tide. Read more for yourself @ http://www.SaveTheirFutureNow.com

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Lessons Maddie has taught me

Twelve years ago yesterday, I held the most precious, wide eyed, soft skinned little baby my eyes had ever beheld! The next day, after the labor pains and still exhausted, my lessons began. The hard knocks of parenting were leveled at me. I got my first taste of judgement and learned the hard truth that I will mess up, and I won’t do everything just right. I learned that parenting is hard work and requires diligence and attentiveness. I realized that it hurts you when they are hurting and how much of a failure one mistake will make you feel and that emotions can rise and fall hourly with the mood or well-being of your child.

I also learned that what I knew of “love” was insignificant in comparison to what I felt for my sweet sleeping daughter in my arms. I learned that for someone that had grown up feeling used for her body, my child using me was entirely different. I realized that her dependence on me was necessary and that no matter what I felt or what I wanted, she had to come first. I learned the value of uninterrupted sleep.

I’m still learning.. And messing up.

And, in my failures I am becoming a better parent. I’m learning that it’s best to just say no than to say yes and regret your answer and have to go back and set higher standards. (A lesson one can only learn through the struggle of mistake.) I’m learning that they grow up way too fast, that the phrase, “you’ll blink and she will be grown,” isn’t an old wives tale but a literal blink in time. I’m learning not to rush the moments, not to hurry their independence, and to take every moment to pour into their hearts the love that only a parent can have for their child.

I’m learning the importance of faith and the wisdom that it brings. I’m seeing through her childlike faith that relationship with God is a journey and doesn’t just happen over night or because I desire it. I’ve had to learn that just because I am tired or sick or impatient doesn’t give me a right to take it out on my kids… and that God will correct us if we mistreat them. I’m learning that it is less what she hears about Christ and more about what she sees in me, a Christ Lover. I’m realizing that as much as I long to see her fall in love with her Savior, I can’t force it. And I’m sadly seeing that as much as I would like to prevent any fear or doubt or pain from breaking her heart, it’s that struggle that will make her stronger.

I’m still learning… And I’m only 12 years into a forever life as her mom and 10 years in as the mom of her sister.

It’s not easy …But, my Teacher hasn’t let any of us out of His sight.

Choosing Discipline

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t the smartest thing to do – cycle almost 5 miles in the heat of the day, especially after suffering with side pain, heartburn, and indigestion for over a week. But, at some point I decided that I had to do something for myself, for my health, for my mental well being, and I was tired of giving in to excuses.

I admit my timing could have been better, and it was by the grace of Jesus that I made it all the way back home without A. Passing out, B. Vomiting, C. Cramping up from pain, or D. Passing out while vomiting from cramping up with pain. Literally, in my head because I was afraid if I opened my mouth B. would happen, I begged, “Jesus, get me home. Just get me home.”

I practically tumbled off the bike, groped for the door, clutched my aching body and collapsed in my chair. I needed water, but I was afraid if I moved I would black out and land on our precious dog… For which, I would never forgive myself!

After a few deep breaths and some intense prayers of thankfulness, I thought, “I can’t possibly do that again.”
Then I heard a voice I immediately dismissed, “But you have to.”
Ugh.
So I bartered, “Well, I need to work my way up to that… I didn’t get sick until about the 3rd mile, I’ll just shave down the time.
“Until it’s no time?” Challenged the voice.
Sighh.
The Voice knew me well, and the more it spoke, the better I knew IT. “It’s discipline, Les.”
Oh and now there was no doubt. “Daddy, I think I bit off more than I could feasibly chew. Besides, I’m not sure how well the bike will hold up. It’s only gonna get hotter.”
Excuses.
His response, “I know.”
I stammered back in my heart, “But… But…”
Silence.
What could I say? Another excuse, another one million and ten reasons why I made a commitment and wasn’t going to see it through. I dropped my head in defeat. “I’m gonna fail.”
Then, I felt Him smile. I imagined Him pulling me close and letting me rest my tears on His big, broad shoulders, “It’s not about whether you succeed or fail… It’s that you try again.”
I pouted, “But what if I don’t?”
And the answer came back so tenderly, “Then you let yourself down.”
My lips trembled and my hands went to cover my face in shame.
“Did you hear me, daughter?”
I nodded, “I’ll let you down.”
I swear I heard Him laugh. “Me!? I said you! You will let yourself down! You set this goal for yourself! I want to see you press on and accomplish it because I don’t want you to blame yourself a million days later for failing!”
I stopped, “But you said this was about discipline?”
He pulled me tighter, “It is. Don’t you think, if I wanted to, I could set a passion so deep in your heart for this that to miss even one day would be heartbreaking and unthinkable?”
I really hadn’t thought of that, but nothing with Him was impossible. “Could you?”
Again, I felt Him laugh, “I can. But what satisfaction and accomplishment would you feel?” (Oh this Guy and His riddles.) 🙂 “It boils down to choices, Love. You choose for yourself life or death, blessings or curses.”

And, I got it.

I choose what I do next, and as I challenge myself to move beyond my fears of what is comfortable or what seems possible, my faith grows and my confidence grows and as they grow so does the power He has placed in me! It might seem like no big deal, cycling almost 5 miles, but compared to yesterday my heart is a little stronger, my muscles a little tighter, and my spirit a little lighter. And that is one day… And as for my excuses… They may surface again… And a few days I may succumb, but I will choose to try again. After all, I don’t want to let myself down, and my Daddy has already called my number.

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