Offense is a Fence

The lessons this week have been difficult to swallow because they dealt with offensiveness, and that always offends. Offense builds a fence that divides and keeps me from connecting as God desires. Sometimes the offense is a tall fence with razor sharp barbed wire on top, but it can also be the underground variety covered by a beautifully manicured lawn. Those offenses are the most dangerous fences because I don’t recognize the offense until I feel the shock. We love fences and put them everywhere. I need a fence around my property and my heart to keep it safe and secure, don’t I?

Paula Deen and Alec Baldwin have been involved in the lessons this week, but so have I. It’s always good to remember not to throw any rocks. Paula Deen’s actions were deemed more offensive by the media, and I imagine that has to do with the depth of the foundation of the fence when it comes to racial slurs. We can all get on that bandwagon without worry. Whatever the offense and no matter how tiny the fences we build may seem, fences keep us from connecting as God desires. They all hurt, so it’s best not to judge anyone’s offense but simply make it a habit to be mindful so as not to offend. That was the lesson God had for me last week.

My ears, eyes, and heart were battered by the noisy din of discord in the media all week, and it left me wanting to run to the mountaintop and hide! God reminded me that I added a rock to a fence myself last night, and that humbled and sobered me in a powerful way. A friend posted a church billboard addressed to the governor of my state. I’m not a fan of his, so I responded with a smile. The message was, “Gov. Perry, God here. The voice you hear in your head is not me. Take your meds.” Seemed funny at the time, but that was before I read this response to her post from a lady who suffers from mental illness, “Another stupid joke at the expense of the mentally ill. We are such an easy target. This church has its head up its insensitive ass.” Her response left me ashamed of my reaction and showed me that neither my head nor my heart was where it needed to be.

I did a lot of judging about judging last week and was feeling pretty good about myself, but God was faithful to finish me off with the painful truth about the inappropriateness of my response to what seemed to be a very harmless joke. The danger lies in that electric fence I don’t notice until I’m zapped. I deleted my smiley face and replaced it with this response, “Thank you Pamela for the reminder and the lesson I needed. Prejudice is insidious, and our society is very insensitive when it comes to mental health. Easy targets are easy to hit, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay for me to hit them :(“ Lesson learned and humility gained.

Openness and honesty is the only way to tear down or dig up a fence. God simply asks me to tear down my fences and be willing to have relationships with those who are not like me, to hear the life stories of others, and be willing to tell mine honestly with love. Honesty and  learning come with painful zaps, but the humility that results helps me understand and draw nearer to God, my truest self, and those in my path.

Fences in the yard are okay, but my heart doesn’t need one around it anymore.

Fences

Testing…Testing…1,2,3?

 

Luke 4:1-13 offers the sweet reassurance that Christ passed all the tests the world and Satan put before Him. Hear God’s Word.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days, and when they had ended, He became hungry. And the devil said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”And he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’”And he led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here; for it is written,‘He will command His angels concerning You to guard You,’and, ‘On their hands they will bear You up,
 So that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’”And Jesus answered and said to him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him until an opportune time. NASB

It’s appropriate for this week’s lessons to be about temptation with this scripture in the path. God’s tests are never easy because He knows just what I need just when I need it. The good news is that they are never too difficult for me to pass with the help of His Holy Spirit. The teachers in this world don’t encourage assistance, but God insists upon it. When I attempt to follow Him alone, I fail. When I allow the Holy Spirit to help and keep me accountable, I am able to pass the tests before me. God’s ways and the world’s ways are different indeed, and that is never more obvious than with the lessons in temptation.

Temptation is a necessary part of my spiritual growth. Without it, I am a lukewarm Christian at best and a pious hypocrite at worst. I not saying to look for temptation, but when it appears, I must face it. I have to be tested, but the passage today makes it clear that God is never to be tested. When I test Him, He reminds me of Who He is and Who I am not. Those are lessons not easily forgotten, and I have had more than my share of them. I’m learning to go to God in earnest, honest supplication when I find myself in the throes of temptation. He sees what I do not and helps me find His truth. It’s never what I expect but always what I need.

I’m humbled by God’s lessons this week and thankful for His patience and love. Temptations are great for humbling, and they bring me to God’s presence with the proper attitude by reminding me that I am not only human but also a sinner. Knowing that brought me to the place of accepting His love 48 years ago, and God reminded me of that special time this morning in worship. He bid me to remember that special moment when I first realized I needed Him and know that I need Him all the more now:)

The Foolishness of Fighting Alone

When I try to do things on my own, I end up in a terrible mess. That is never more true than when I think I can handle my sin without help. I set myself up for a fall if I think I can do what only Christ is able to do. Bravado leads to destruction, and courage kills any chance I have at righteous living if I attempt to battle Satan alone.

Ephesians 6:12 is a vivid reminder that should be memorized by those who like to do things for themselves or think they can save someone else.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” NASB

Being saved does not make me God, and that becomes painfully clear when I attempt to do what only He can do. When faced with evil, my job is to swallow my pride and cry out to God. He hears my cries and brings peace. If I start a fight I cannot finish, I am in for a bad bruising or worse.  Pride comes before my fall when it makes me think I can handle everything on my own.

Matthew 11:30 is another verse to keep in my heart.

“For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”NASB

When I allow God to be God, my burdens become light as He takes then and turns them into lessons that nudge me a little closer to Him and to those in my path. Before I can give him those burdens, I have to deal with my pride. With pride out of the way, humility has room to take root in my heart. Then, I can truly walk in God’s kingdom and not stomp all over it!

Stillness

Humility creates a stillness that stops and allows God the space and time to reveal Himself to me. Humbling comes when I see Who He is and am reminded of who I am not. The humbling God allows is very freeing. Once I get over the initial shock of those lessons which bring me to my knees, a peace comes over me that is indescribable. Like a child in awe, I am ready to be quiet, give God my attention, listen to what He has to say, and learn the lessons He has for me.

God never humiliates, but He does allow humbling when I wander away from His presence. I’m very good at taking the ball and running with it; in fact, I’m a lot like Forest Gump in that regard. I don’t know when to stop running and end up humiliated when I realize I’ve gone too far. The message yesterday was about God’s disciples being humble. It is the single greatest attribute for those serious about serving God.

The more I grasp the concept of stillness, the more aware of God I become. The more I understand the body of Christ, the more I pull away from the busyness of this world. That busyness becomes irrelevant when I experience His stillness. I’ve always been a person who had to be doing something all the time. I have come to learn that busyness keeps me from being still and comes between God and me. So often in my relationships I over do and under be. It has been at the root of my problems connecting with God and to others.

Stillness is movement that creates harmony as I allow God to direct the action. Henri Nouwen calls the sweet movement “holy leisure.” It isn’t literally being still but rather being at peace in the midst of movement designed to bring a closeness to God. I’ve always had a hard time being still, and it’s caused me great stress while making my way through life. I’ve changed as I’ve grown to understand how peace and movement are beautifully connected. I no longer feel the need to be busy or fill the empty space with my voice.

Being humble is about seeing how silly my plans are when placed next to God’s. My handiwork looks like Lillyann’s sweet little drawings I so love to watch her create. She was drawing intently the other day, and I loved it when she described her subject in the process of creating her art. When she changed directions and started asking me to guess what she was drawing, I began to panic. My best guesses were falling short! Thank goodness she only thought I was a bad guesser. I love that about kids, and God loves that about me. My intentions are wonderful, and my efforts intense when it comes to doing what I think God wants me to do.  Humbling helps me relax and let Him draw out the plans and describe them as He goes. It humbles me in a very different way when He shows me His handiwork, asks if I like it, and tells me that He made it just for me:)

Transparency Makes Me Vulnerable

The vulnerability honesty creates is humbling, but the freedom that results can only come from the humility true honesty and love make possible. It’s the kind of honesty and love God desires and opens me in ways I am only just learning to appreciate. Honesty and love have always gone together. When I love honestly, I become transparent and open to those I love. People are not always going to accept that love, and transparency isn’t for everyone. But it’s worth the risk of not being loved to find the kind of love that comes when you find someone who hears and understands your heart. The beauty of loving God is that He has always loved me and is simply waiting for me to accept that love. His love is deeper than my heart can understand on its own, but Christ bridges that gap and allows me to experience God’s love and walk in His kingdom now.

To prepare me for the level of love He desires, God first shows me the deepest part of my own heart and allows me to see what He sees. That includes all that is keeping me from loving Him and others as He desires as well as all that He created me to be. Seeing and understanding His love for me fills me with hope and grounds my heart so I am able to experience the fullness and the cleansing that creates the transparency that comes when I let go of myself and praise Him. That praise releases my spirit and allows it to flow with His.

The plate God fashions in my heart is clean and clear and ready to hold His fare and not my own. The transparent nature of love lets me, God, and others see me more clearly. It’s what being known is all about, and I must come to that place before I am able to truly know God. Knowing He is God is the point of the journey because when I know Him, I cannot help but love Him. The same is true as I come to truly know myself and others through honest communion which makes walking in His kingdom possible now. I am perfected by His love as He becomes closer than my very breath and understands me as none other.

The beauty of God is that He knows me completely and still loves me completely. The same is true of friends with whom I share honest communion and transparent love. I can relax in His presence and in theirs. Why God, the Creator, would care whether or not I love Him is the biggest mystery of this journey. I know He does, and that changes everything. Can I even begin to walk in God’s kingdom in the presence of such love. Of course I can’t, not alone. The amazing news is that I can walk in it with the help of the Holy Spirit. God’s love for me, Christ’s amazing grace, and the Spirit’s loving presence enable me to not only live and walk in God’s kingdom now, but to also love in it.

I wish I could say that I stay on the right path all the time, but I can’t. I fall victim to fear’s tight clasp far too often, and worries fuel fear’s fires and leave me consumed at times. I can say honesty that I’m getting better at recognizing that fear is fake and of my own design while God is real and causes fear to flee. In the presence of God’s love, it has no choice but to do so. Christ purchased my inheritance at a very high price, and it cannot be taken from me. I can, however, forget that I have it.

I cannot get where God desires for me to be as long as I fall victim to fear and allow my insecurity to block the path. I must remember that I’m not alone on this journey. Christ is always waiting with arms extended and ready to love honestly and help me do the same. Transparency makes me vulnerable, but it brings me near to One who transforms vulnerability into the openness that gives God free reign with my heart.