No Way Out!!

Several months ago, my landlord suggested putting up a privacy fence to create a place for the girls to play and for me to relax. I agreed to buy the fence, and he agreed to put in a concrete patio inside the fence. Through a series of mishaps that began back in April, the fence finally went up last week. I loved it! There was only one small problem; they didn’t have a latch but promised they would order one as soon as possible.

I told them not to worry because I didn’t mind having the door open; in fact, it allowed me to have privacy and a beautiful view. The girls and I enjoyed imagining how the space would look when finished and couldn’t wait to see it finished. They were here yesterday when the men came to install the latch and wanted to go out and watch them. It was miserably hot and humid, so I convinced them to play inside so we wouldn’t get in the workers’s way.

I should’ve followed the girls’ lead because an hour later, as the trucks were leaving, I realized I should have paid more attention while they were working. I assumed the guys would come in and tell me they were finished or have me to sign a release as they had done when they installed the fence, but they simply left. When I got outside, I understood why they had left without letting me know.

They had drilled holes up and down the gate and post as they repositioned the gate to accommodate the single latch they brought with them. It swung out onto the sidewalk and made access very awkward. We had to walk around it to get inside the fence, and that wasn’t what I wanted at all. I loved the way it opened before, but I was determined to be positive. I’m trying to be more flexible and go with the flow, so this was a great opportunity to practice patience. The girls and I went inside the fence and closed the gate behind us. I realized I had made a big mistake when I tried to get out.

I didn’t panic because I rarely see the obvious and figured no one would install a fence with no way out. The girls were sitting in the lounge chair facing away from the gate chatting away happily, so I decided to take my time and think through the situation. It took two minutes for irritation to give patience an easy path out of that fence. The girls and I were stuck inside inside a fence with no way to open the gate from the inside! I wasn’t scared because the porch was nearby, and I knew I could get over the connecting wall if I had to. I was angry at the men for putting a single latch on the outside of a gate, and I was madder at myself for not noticing!

When I realized there was no way out, I let my frustration show. The girls noticed something was going on and asked what was wrong. I told them everything was okay, but I was going to have to climb onto the porch and open the gate from the outside so they could get out. The girls watched as I made my way onto the porch, and they had a lot of questions when I opened the gate for them. They were tickled by my awkwardness, but impressed by my agility. We all laughed and decided to go back inside 🙂

The lessons of late have been difficult ones. God knew I was feeling trapped by more than my new fence and saw a teachable moment. He used the gate to help me learn the importance of making sure there is a way out before I go barreling into something. I will remember that lesson each time I open the gate and go into my beautiful outdoor space. I do believe it will be a beautiful space filled with lots of happy times, just not right now.

Sin is like a malfunctioning gate, but God’s forgiveness offers a way to escape. Yesterday, I walked right through that gate without giving getting out a second thought. I have always had the tendency to do just that in life. God knows my heart better than I do, and He knows I frequently get myself into situations with no way out, but He also knows I know to ask Him for help. He will always let me go where I choose, and He knows that I will get locked in a bad situation if not careful. I can pretend I’m not trapped, get mad and blame others for my misfortune,  or admit I’m wrong and let His forgiveness open the way to His will. Climbing that little barrier humbled and humiliated me, but I am so very thankful it was there. Otherwise, I would have had to break down a door or scream until someone heard me. The path to the porch offered a way out. God’s amazing grace offers the same.

Like the girls watching as I went over the little wall, God is impressed when I am willing to be humbled in order to get where He wants me to be. He also finds the humor, and helps me find the humor, in the learning process. I know from teaching that a little humor goes a long way when it comes to retaining knowledge 😉

And God Changed His Mind

Jonah 3:1-5, 10 is a glimpse of the grace that results when God changes His mind. God never changes, but I love that He can and will change His mind. He can do whatever He wants to do, but; like Jonah, I find myself wanting Him to do what I want Him to do. That means sticking to the agenda and not embarrassing me with last minute changes.

Then the Lord spoke to Jonah a second time: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh, and deliver the message I have given you.”

This time Jonah obeyed the Lord’s command and went to Nineveh, a city so large that it took three days to see it all. On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds: “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!” The people of Nineveh believed God’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they declared a fast and put on burlap to show their sorrow.

When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened. (NLT)

Jonah was an important man delivering the message that Nineveh was about to be destroyed. The people heard and repented, but that didn’t make Jonah happy. In fact, he was angry when God extended grace and let them live. That may sound strange, but it is human nature to hurt when humiliated. He wanted them to get what they deserved, and he wanted to be right! God wanted them to change, so he forgave them when they did.

Forgiveness heals as nothing else, and no one knows that better than God. I don’t know what happened to Jonah. We leave him sulking over a plant while God asks where his compassion is for the 120,000 people and the animals of Nineveh who would have perished. God spared Jonah’s life and the lives of the sailors who pleaded for mercy, but time in the belly of the big fish didn’t seem to sweeten Jonah’s disposition.

Jonah is a book of incredible love, but that love doesn’t come from Jonah. I hope he found compassion, and I hope he learned to extend and accept forgiveness. I know God forgave him, but that doesn’t  mean he accepted. He may not have recognized his need for it. Like the older son in the story of the Prodigal Son, Jonah may have had a hard time seeing those who don’t deserve forgiveness and grace getting it. None of us deserve God’s grace, love, mercy, or forgiveness, but that doesn’t stop Him.

God lets me get angry, and he allows me to sulk when things don’t turn out the way I want. I can’t be too hard on Jonah because I’ve been where he is, and it isn’t a pleasant place to be. I learned years ago that seriousness is a serious sin that disguises itself in many ways. The need to be right or the need to retaliate get in the way of true forgiveness and cause my journey to be a self righteous march rather than a walk in God’s kingdom. I’m learning to let God humble me with humor when the sin of seriousness creeps into my path. As a dear friend once told me, a little levity goes a long way 🙂

 

Photo Credit: MisfitWisdom
Photo Credit: MisfitWisdom

 

Life or Death?

Choices can be confusing, so I like it when they are simplified for me. I want to choose without being overwhelmed. God’s lessons this week have been crystal clear. He offers two choices, and I can have one or the other.  I can have the life He wants for me or not. It’s completely up to me. Love and fear will not abide in the same place. Anger and peace cannot coexist. Unforgiveness and grace do not mix. Insecurity hates trust, and comparisons kill gratitude. I cannot have control and surrender at the same time. Living in the flesh prevents me from living in His Spirit. The choices are simple, but I have the tendency to hesitate and complicate things. When I stop and think, I get into trouble. When I trust and love, the right decision is much easier.

My small group is reading “She’s Got Issues” by Nicole Eunice. God is using the book to help me see clearly that my issues are, as Nicole says, “joy stealing and love sucking.” I love that phrase because it creates a vivid image of what fear, anger, unforgiveness, insecurity, comparison, and control do to my ability to love as God desires.

Letting go of control allows me to surrender.

Gratitude puts comparison in its place.

Insecurity falls away when I remember God is trustworthy.

God’s infinite grace reminds me of His forgiveness and opens the door for my own.

The peace that passes understanding comes when I let go of my death grip on anger.

Fear doesn’t stand a chance in the face of love.

Spirit reminds flesh of its temporary nature, and resurrection living becomes possible.

Life or death? God leaves the choice up to me.

Guilty, But Not Stoned

John 8 shows how Jesus dealt with a woman’s sin and a crowd’s thirst for blood. The Word of God and the actions of Christ were not, are not, and never will be like those of the world.

But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?’ They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court. Straightening up, Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.’” NASB

I was humbled by the passages God placed in my path this morning. The lessons this week have centered around courtrooms and guilty pleas from my own heart and from the media frenzy that has played out during the trial involving George Zimmerman’s killing of Trevon Martin. The verdict came late last night as I was returning home. I first noticed online and turned on the television to get more details about the terrible case that is the best example of a lose/lose situation I’ve ever seen. There was no good solution to the case, and either verdict was bound to create havoc. I don’t know what will happen as a result to the actions of both men and the decision of one jury, but I know that it has divided, is dividing, and will continue to divide the nation.

The woman in John 8 is clearly guilty, as am I, as are we all. She deserves to be stoned to death according to the law. The Pharisees know that; the people know that; the woman knows that, and Jesus knows that. She was in the very act when caught, and Jesus knew about everything she had ever done. He knows the same about me.

Jesus reminded the crowd, and still does, that everyone is guilty. If He had taken a stone and killed the woman, He would have been within the letter of the law, and He was without sin and could have thrown the stone in good conscience. If He had taken that path, the crowds would have joined the Pharisees in stoning Him to death for claiming to have no sin. The religious authorities didn’t care what loophole killed Him as long as He was out of their way. The mob just wanted to satisfy their own bloodlust.

Jesus surprised the crowd and the woman by His actions. I’m sure they went away mumbling because a mob wants blood, but they didn’t get any that day. Jesus was saving His blood for Passover. The witness of Jesus is a witness of love, forgiveness, mercy, grace, and hope. Jesus stays with the woman rather than leaving with the crowd or going in a different direction. If He had left the scene or looked at her with disappointment or disgust, she may have killed herself out of grief or run to her lover to find comfort in his arms. Jesus loved her and extended forgiveness to her. He did not condemn her because John 3:17 makes it clear that God didn’t send Him to do that.

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” NASB

The Christian witness isn’t about condemnation or judgment; it is about love, forgiveness, grace, and hope. Christ is the perfect example to follow when witnessing, and the woman in John 8 is a good example when it comes to sinning. She knew very well the humiliation and guilt that comes with sin, but she also felt the power of love and forgiveness; so do I. She heard Christ’s heart when He told her to go and sin no more. If she was changed by Christ’s precious love, she went in a new direction after her encounter with Jesus. The same is true for me.

Christ didn’t add an “or else” at the end of His request. He didn’t promise to gather the crowd and help them stone her to death if she sinned again. He knew then, knows now, and will always know the struggle sin presents for each of us. He loved the woman and saw more in her than she or the crowd were able to see. He does the same for me and bids me to do the same for others. It is what witness is all about.

I don’t know what the woman in the scriptures did after her encounter with Christ. I don’t know what will happen in the coming days as a result of the Zimmerman trial, but I do know that the world likes a reason to pick up stones. The mob screams revenge and is thirsty for blood. Jesus offers another way. 

Photo from the epic miniseries “The Bible”

Guilty, But Not Stoned

My Heart Goes Out to Connecticut

The tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut seems unreal. Like a terrible nightmare, it leaves me thinking it can’t be true. Kindergarten is a safe place. Rural Connecticut is a safe place. Suddenly, the world isn’t the same. I don’t imagine it ever will be the same; in fact, I hope we are not the same after this slap to the very heart of all we hold to be sacred and safe.

I imagine we will have answers in the coming days, but I doubt any of them will make sense to us. Sense is relative and, and I guess the young man who carried out this horrific crime saw some sense in his actions. Satan is adept at convincing those who are hurting that hurting others will help. It doesn’t, of course, but there is truth in the old saying that misery loves company. There is an epidemic of misery in this world, and it breaks my heart that innocent little ones bore the brunt of one man’s frustration and hurt.

There is no way to protect our children and grandchildren from all harm, but we can give them hope. God offers hope to a world without hope. Christ understands the pain of senseless killing; He died at the hands of those who were hurting and misguided. Death is not the final word thanks to His sacrificial love.

My heart goes out to Connecticut and to all those who will face this Christmas season without their precious little ones. I cannot begin to imagine their pain, but I know that God can and does. May He surround those hurting and remind them that evil is defeated by love and forgiveness. That level of forgiveness is not possible in the human realm, but it is possible with the help of the Holy Spirit.

God bless those in Newtown, Connecticut and may we all hold those we love a little closer tonight.

Have Mercy

Mercy is at the heart of forgiveness and grace. The dictionary definition reads “kindness or forgiveness shown especially to somebody a person has power over.” The Jesus Prayer asks for mercy. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.” The phrase “Have mercy!” is one used in a number of ways, some having nothing to do with Jesus or mercy. Mercy is something I say lightly even when praying until I stop long enough to take in what it means in regard to my relationship with God and others. Having mercy shows others the difference Christ makes in my life and is essential if I am to be the witness He desires for me to be.

God has power over me and over all in existence, yet He choses to be merciful. When I pray the Jesus prayer, I am humbled in a way that makes me want to be merciful. I have to think about those I have power over when I think of mercy. I’m not in a position that gives me power, but like everyone, there are those in my path who afford me the opportunity to show mercy. When I’m with my grand daughters, I can be merciful and show grace. When someone is waiting on me in a restaurant or a shop, I can be merciful. When I’m teaching, I can show mercy. I can also show mercy to someone who has mistreated me or been unkind to me. I have the right to retaliate, but if I chose to forgive and be kind, I take the opportunity to show mercy.

Showing mercy brings me closer to God who is the source of all mercy. When I pray the Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner,” I add the phrase “and please help me to be merciful to those in my path.” Knowing what mercy is and praying for mercy is only the beginning. I have to have mercy, or the prayer is empty and the word useless. The same goes for grace and forgiveness. As I extend grace, mercy, and forgiveness, I draw nearer to God and to those in my path. I am to learn only one thing during this brief little blink of life in the midst of my eternal journey, and that is love. I am here to learn to say to God, to myself, and to those in my path, “I love you” and show I know what that phrase means in the way I live out my life here on earth.

Love, peace, grace, forgiveness, and mercy are words easily spoken. Unfortunately, living out the concepts they represent is much more difficult than uttering the words. I pray I will live out love, peace, grace, forgiveness, and mercy in my life as Christ taught. I am human and know I will fall short of the lofty goal, but I will come a lot closer if I make it my aim to show them to others instead of simply sitting back and asking God to show them to me.

The Nearest Exit!

I always find the nearest exit when I’m in a hotel or a theater. I’m not sure why it’s so important in those places in particular, but I relax when my escape route is clear. I was reminded of that habit as I looked for the nearest exit for my heart for the second time this week. God opens and closes doors when it comes to my heart, but He also allows me to do the same. It’s a beautiful example of the freedom He gives as I walk in His kingdom. He showed me this morning that forgiveness is His escape route of choice. It is very near, but pride and fear keep me from opening it and allowing His healing to come in.

Lillyann is three and fascinated by shutting her door and locking it so Mylah cannot come into her room. I’m the same way at times when it comes to forgiveness and find myself in the same position as Lillyann did yesterday. She decided to go into mommy and daddy’s room and lock the door. I told her she could stay in there while Mylah and I played if she wanted to. In her hurry to get out, she found she couldn’t get the door open. There was a very brief moment of fear as she worked on the knob. I let her try to open it because I knew she needed to know how. It only took one more try before she got it open. She was both relieved to get out and happy that she opened it herself. I thought of her this morning as God reminded me to be careful about closing and locking doors. I can’t move on if I shut myself in or allow fear from keep me in or out of a place.

It’s necessary to move forward, and that may mean wiping the dust off my feet and not returning, but I’ve had enough locked doors and enough dust to last a lifetime. Like Lillyann, I sometimes want to shut a door and lock it, but like her, I quickly miss what’s going on without me:) God placed those in my path this week who have hurt me deeply and broken my heart. Coming face to face with them is the only way to deal effectively with the hurt, and God knows I need to do that. He also knows I need to unlock the door myself. The truth puts pretense in its place and allows the heart to let go of the need to retaliate. It’s what forgiveness is all about, and God reminded me this morning that forgiving as Christ is the nearest exit when it comes to my heart. It enables me to truly let go and be who God wants me to be.

Taking the exit God desires is never easy, but it brings me nearer to Him-right where I want to be. I got caught up in frustrations and fears yesterday, and I didn’t like what I saw or felt. When that happens, I know I’m off center and need to take the nearest exit and get right back where I belong. It doesn’t take much of a whirlwind to throw my heart off balance, but God offers an entrance to His presence if I’ll take the nearest exit find my way back to Him. He also knows it’s best for me to learn how to unlock that door myself:)