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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Little Orphan Annie

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The other day at the movies, we saw a preview for the new Annie. I’m going to have to see more than that one trailer to judge whether or not I’m going to see it. You see, “Annie” holds a special place in my heart. The roles played by Carol Burnett, Albert Finney, Bernadette Peters and Tim Curry, in my mind, can’t be replaced with a newer, fresher face. It was my go to movie as a kid. I would watch it over and over, and imagine that I, too, was the fortunate child that was adopted by Daddy Warbucks.

I smiled as the awkward and seemingly uncaring man became a slightly more awkward deeply caring father. The unlikely and outwardly appearing ragamuffin Annie got the gift of a lifetime simply by being bold and confident, and by convincing Grace, Warbuck’s personal assistant, that she was the orphan perfect to spend a week with the billionaire.

Got to love a kid with pluck!

It is the gift of a lifetime! A reserved theatre all to herself, an indoor swimming pool, and all the amenities any kid would give anything to enjoy! But, something in Annie had never given up on her family, her dream of a mom and dad that loved her and longed for her so regardless of the gift, she chose instead to use his resources to find what she had forever dreamed of… And his love was great and despite his own affections, Warbucks set out to give her what her little heart desired.

Enter the enemy.

When Rooster and his voluptuous lover saw what money could be had if they could convince the world they were the long lost parents of the orphan, the plot thickened and love was tested. So, desperate to believe that she could be a part of the family she had dreamed of, she fell for the lie and embraced the deceiver, saying goodbye to the man who desperately loved her, loved her enough to let her go.

Almost immediately she sees the mistake. It was a lie. She was tricked, and her dream life looked like her greatest nightmare. As strong and independent as she was, there was no escaping without help. And, the same man who moved heaven and earth to give her what she wanted, moved them again to see her saved! And she at last realized, that she had a family, that her dreams could never have captured her reality, and finally she was loved and felt like she belonged.

Our life in Christ isn’t much different. Too often we are adopted children of the Living God living like scrappy orphans. Whether it is because we have been independent so long we don’t know what it is to have support or a Father watching our back, or if it’s that deep down inside we can’t believe that we were chosen, the deceiver uses these insecurities against us to hold us back from our family and to keep us from our Father’s arms. But, just like in the movie, that’s where Grace steps in. But, unlike the movie, Grace doesn’t have to convince the Father, He sent Jesus to adopt us all. We fail to realize is that He moved heaven and earth to save us once, and daily He moves them to bring us closer to Him. Only, unlike Warbucks, He didn’t have to learn to love us, we didn’t soften Him or have to earn that love (though we live like it), instead He loved us first, had His eyes set on us (not a boy, or a more fitting guest as in Annie’s case) and knew from the beginning of time that all time would be spent gathering His kids and bringing them home. He has given us more than a locket, engraved with His name. He has engraved our names on the palm of His hands! Each one of us, no one neglected or singled out, everyone that desires has the right to be a child of God!

So come on, orphan Annie’s, let’s start living like children of the Best Dad ever! 🙂

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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Alleyway Jesus – Greg Milwee writes about “dirty” redemption

I just finished reading a book, “Alleyway Preacher,” by Greg Milwee, and it impressed me. Not that I am any expert, but I do read a lot of books and have written a couple of my own. With that, I know that there is an interesting balance that Christian writers are forced to make – the balance of cliché and preachy with relevance and believability. For writers that are especially compelled to share a message of grace and hope wrapped up in the love of Jesus in such a way to draw in those that need it most, this is a formidable task.

 I first “met” Greg Milwee online. He knew I had written a couple of books and wanted some information on how I did it and how he might do the same. To be honest, I get that question a lot, and I don’t feel qualified to answer those questions, but I could tell by the way Greg asked that it wasn’t about being famous or getting rich (which writing will NOT do for you), but it was about getting a message out and sharing a story. As he was desperate to get it in the hands of others, I encouraged him to go the self-published route, but I can see, now that we have the book published and I see it’s beauty and potential, he was definitely in a league with good writers and given some time and a good agent would have been able to get a book deal with an established publishing house. And, I don’t say that lightly… but for the raw talent he possesses.

 However, this is a book review, so here is what I thought:

 “Alleyway Preacher” is a great look at what life guided by the Holy Spirit looks like, and how that obedience has the power to transform lives around you. The characters are well presented, and in their development, you find yourself wanting to know more. They are believable. The way that they interact and react, their thoughts and their emotions, are very realistic. It revolves around a church, but the building itself is just a rotating door, the church as it acts and serves is exemplified in the people. As I read it, I was challenged in some areas and affirmed in other areas. One of the strongest lessons I received is the very life lesson that God is schooling me in now – when we submit to the Holy Spirit and respond to what He asks of us, it will very likely be misunderstood by those around us, those in the church and those in the world. But, as the book shows, if God leads you to do something He will protect you through it. Ministry isn’t pretty. Real ministry is often something others might consider lowly or unlovely, untouchable service… real ministry is being the hands and feet of Jesus, and more often than not, it takes place in the alleyway rather than from the pulpit.

 One thing that we aren’t very comfortable with in the Westernized church is the idea of sacrifice and discomfort. We want to include God in our lives, but we don’t want to live our lives for Him. Milwee does a good job of showing how that affects those around us. It is only through true submission and surrender of our own selfish desires that we can build His Kingdom here. He shares the gospel and a message of hope and love not just with imagination rather as one who has seen the power of being the Body of Christ.

 I intentionally didn’t tell you much about the events of the book. I want you to read it. I want it to inspire you to do more and live more sacrificially. I want you to be encouraged, those of you who already do, to know that you will indeed reap heavenly rewards for the good works that you are doing. And to those that need to see hope and believe in God’s ability to take the messed up lives that we offer him and turn them into hope and healing for those that need His love, I want you to know that it can be found through Him and living out His purpose in trust and sacrifice.

 

You can download the book here:

http://kindle.amazon.com/work/the-alleyway-preacher-greg-millwee/B00DJ3SP2K/1483921131

And you can find Greg Milwee on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/gmillwee

Love deeper

I spent a few days on a tall hill, a mountain in Arkansas, appropriately named Mt. Moriah. It’s the third year in a row that my dearest sisters in Christ and mentors and I have made the trek, and each time we have been blessed with life-changing lessons. This year was no different. Some of us met discipline, and some of us expected discipline but received grace.

It was in the midst of a rain storm on the top of the hill when grace met me. I was desperate. I was there to lay my life on the altar of sacrifice, to see His face and to walk away dead but alive. I sat in the middle of the circle, begging Him to rid me of myself, to show me my sins, and to scold me for my failures. Only He was silent. If I could put the moment into words, we had a staring contest. Both of us looking at this altar and neither of us moving, only waiting for the other to. Finally I made a spiritual rush, took my place, laid out on a table, arms spread wide, fully submitted, waiting for lightening. It didn’t come. If God would “tsk” at us, this was that moment, and in my heart I heard three words, “It is finished.”

I sat up and listened.

“I love you, Leslie. You don’t have to get it to receive it. You don’t have to understand it, but you have to accept it.” I imagined Him looking me in the eyes as the lesson continued, “You spend so much time apologizing for your failures, and pointing out your flaws to Me when you don’t really get that I don’t see you through those things. You wait for my wrath, the same bitter cup of wrath and judgment that my Son drank in for you. He drained that cup. It’s empty. My justice was satisfied.”

I swallowed these Truths, and listened for more.

I am love. And, I love. Everyone. It’s hard for you to fathom, but I have just as much love for you as I do the most despicable ofcreation. I love the murders, the pedaphiles, the adulterers, the thieves, and I long for them to know this!”

I considered that as I recalled the scripture verse in Ephesians: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

How wide: You can’t escape it. We try. We cling to a million different things in the hopes that they will meet our needs, but they don’t and as far as we run, we find ourselves surrounded by His love.

How long: There is no breaking point. God doesn’t say, “I love you to this point and then you are on your own.” Our strings break, our patience thins, but His love goes on and on and on.

How high: You can’t attain it. There is not a bit of good that you can do that earns His love. It’s like building a tower, no matter how high you go, no matter how many materials you possess, you aren’t going to reach the end of it.

How deep: I think this is where we lose sight of His character most. We forget that His love can reach beyond any pit we find ourselves in. We think He can’t possibly want anything to do with us when we are struggling, tempted, or publically condemned. Or, more likely, we think He won’t redeem the greatest sin, the deepest obsession, the darkest evil. We doubt His love for the least of these. We gloss over passages that mention that Jesus spent His time with the “worst of sinners.” In our heads, we imagine tax-collectors and prostitutes, but it’s also highly likely they were murders and thieves, pedaphiles and molesters. I imagine with one look into His eyes, they were undone. His love was penetrable. He didn’t have to speak their sin, they knew who and what they were. He didn’t have to point them out because they were already pariahs. And still, His love reached deeper than that.

It’s hard for us to imagine. We stand in pride and say “Look at me. I am worthy before God because… “ and we rattle off a list of accomplishments, and God says, “So? I mean really, thanks for that, but if you didn’t do it for love, I’d rather you not do it at all.”

Love. There is a reason why it’s the greatest commandment and the greatest gift. When we set our selves free to love, we are free to live – without condemnation, without guilt, and without shame. When we spend more time thinking about what we can do for others instead of what we’d like them to do for us, then we really get the kind of love He is talking about. When you can look with the same endearing smile at the man that smells of urine and has no teeth as you can at the sweetest most innocent child, then I think we might be feeling it. When you can speak as encouragingly to the single mom stripper as you can to the stay at home mom, then you might be expressing His love.

I challenge you. Love deeper. Because, whether we get it or not, love is what it is all about. Nothing else we do matters, if we aren’t first, His love.

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The Journey begins…

I’ve been home a full 3 days from my trip to Guatemala, and I’m still struggling with what to say, what to share, what to reveal about my journey. Tonight I have decided that I have to start somewhere, begin to share the story, open up my heart to what I am only beginning to make sense of…so bear with me.

The moment that I saw the lights of Guatemala City appear out the airplane window, my soul thrilled. There was this feeling pulling on my heart like an excited child dragging my attention to something important. I couldn’t process the feeling immediately, and then I heard it, the voice of God echoing in my spirit with that same emotion of excitement, “I can’t wait for you to meet my children!” I almost cried as the lights grew closer and closer and I began to make out the mountains and the terrain. I closed my eyes and prayed this prayer, “God, show yourself to me. Show me your might and your wonder. Show me how wild and free you are! Break out of this box that I’ve placed you in, and be the wild and powerful God I know you to be!”

There is this misperception that ministry teams come to bring God to the lost…the truth is that God’s people are all over the globe. We don’t know them so we aren’t sure they exist, but they do, everywhere, whether we know them or not. God’s presence isn’t ushered in by one source, nor is it limited by anything. Governments can’t stop Him. Laws can’t rule Him out. He doesn’t require us to represent Him. He is, and we are invited into the journey for what He can teach us and do through us, not for what we can do for Him. I knew the moment I heard His Voice my trip wasn’t about me bringing Him to a lost nation, but Him showing me more of Who He is and what He has done and what He longs to do. This set the tone for the whole trip, the journey where He had invited me. It was about so much more than the abandoned, misused, and rejected girls in a home in Guatemala- it was about His Kingdom, His desires, and my expectations.

I’m going to take the next several days to attempt to communicate what I heard from Father God while I was away, and my prayer is that as you read this, you will understand more of Who He is that allows us to call Him Daddy and, as Paul also prayed “that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” That is where Life becomes more than existing and is filled to the greatest measure of Love and Grace and POWER that can transform a starved and dying world.

My Affection

“Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.”
Luke 14:25-26

Man. Jesus threw some doozies out there, and this one is no less controversial.

I’ve been reading “Not a fan.” by Kyle Idleman in the midst of flights and weddings and conquering Disney World in two days and supervising a ten year old daughter that knew better but still decided to bite into a neon glow bracelet and is now convinced her liver is radioactive and refereeing the latest sibling smack down before blood is drawn. I admit. It wasn’t easy with so much brain energy and physical fortitude required, but in the midst of all that chaos, this verse stood out.

Can I just say, that being a woman called into ministry is one of the hardest things in the world? Really. It’s right up there with the lion tamer and the “how sharp are these shark teeth” tester guys. (I mean, if there were such a job.) I could write a book on this impossible balance. It’s not easy. It’s hard. (I felt the redundancy there was necessary to prove my point.)

I love Jesus. Not a question. I love my family. Absolute fact. I will confess that if Jesus were in the flesh on this earth today, I would never leave His side. I would have never gotten married, had kids, or possibly gotten a bath…I would NEVER leave His side. Creepy? Maybe. But true. He is my first Love. I steal away with Him on picnics, talk to Him all day long, run every thought, plan, scenario by Him because I don’t want to ever feel disconnected from His plan, His purpose, His will for my life…which is most probably why I wasn’t meant to live when He walked on earth – the whole harvest and laborers ratio; plus, my kids are pretty darn cool and I have no doubt will eventually leave a distinguished mark upon this earth.

So why did that verse in Luke hit me so hard?

Because it’s not “cool” to love Jesus that much, to admit that you would choose Him over anything and everything in your life, given the choice. (Which just in case you are moments away from calling the men in white coats to haul me in let me state: I do not believe that Jesus asks us to make this choice, to choose Him and hate our kids or spouse or mom or dad or siblings. He simply asks us to choose Him. He provided those relationships and He did so with all such players in mind…but He asks that we love Him so much that in comparison our love for them doesn’t compare. Make sense?)

I will never forget the look of absolute disbelief my friend gave me when I admitted, “Losing my husband would be difficult, but it wouldn’t devastate me.” Now, in my defense, when I said this I was totally thinking about the significance and the absoluteness of the word “Devastate” – to ruin or destroy; I wasn’t thinking in an emotional sense of overwhelming grief. But, I was being completely honest, because (and this is where you might look at me weird and think I’ve flipped my switch) nothing and no one in this world holds enough significance in my life to destroy me. Depress me, upset me, hurt me, grieve me, or break my heart? Yes. But not destroy me. There is something about looking death in the face and meeting God’s love and grace that makes you realize that nothing is worth that again. Nothing.

Jesus is my Affection. Everything and everyone comes second to Him. We are told this is how it is supposed to be, what being a true disciple of Christ is, what relationship is all about…and yet, even the church criticizes those of us that think this way. (Unless you’re a priest or a nun, then you get a reprieve…well, kind of, because then they just think you are a closet pedophile or lesbian looking for cover in a habit or collar.)

“There is something wrong with you.” I’ve heard that before.

“Are you sure that you aren’t having an emotional affair with Jesus?” And my response was, “Is that even possible!?”

“You have some sort of misguided affection for your Saviour.” Because it seems to me that saying, “I would die for you” and then backing that up with actions seems just the right amount of affection for One that saved you…but maybe that is just me.

“You’re a woman…there should be a certain level of restraint even in your intimacy with Christ.” Wow. So the woman that admitted to me that she has so much difficulty with physical intimacy because of past abuse and misuse that she asks the Holy Spirit to love her husband through her and often lays naked before God in order to feel the purity of that state instead of the guilt and shame of before would probably be burned at the stake, and yet, I understand her. I understand that pain and that desperate need from a God that created her and has a compassion for her that never fails.

I’m a woman. A woman that loves Jesus. That gave my life up for Him. That has been spending my breath to give His back. Not because there is something wrong with me, or because I’m misguided or without restraint. But because He healed that which was wrong, He led me when I was completely off track, and He has taught me that His perfect Love casts out all fear…including the fear of losing someone that is most precious to me, or the insecurities of the looks that I get from others, the bitter gossip of those that don’t understand, and the lack of appreciation from those that haven’t experienced the intimacy that Christ’s Love affords.

I never want to be accused of choosing ministry (ie: work) over my spouse, my children, my family, and as a woman, a mother and a wife, the pressure of that is even stricter than on a man in ministry; however, I will always put my relationship with Christ first over any other role that I fill. Not to be separate but to be significant and inspirational, and if others can’t understand that, then they haven’t experienced the freedom that having Him first brings. Christ’s love affects me. And my affections are first for Him. Isn’t that what being a committed follower of Christ requires? According to Jesus, the red letter Voice, it is.