Tit for Tat??

Tit for tat is an abbreviation for this for that and can be summed up by saying I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine. It can also mean I’ll get you if you get me, but it’s most often used to describe getting what I want by giving you what you want.

Christ was not a tit for tat sort of guy. He didn’t give so He could get because He knew that cycle is an unending one that leaves everyone feeling empty. God sent Jesus because He loved us. Love never involves tit for tat and doesn’t keep an account of who’s ahead in the giving department. Love only sees love. God is love, so it follows that He only sees love. Obligation and obedience are often found together, but they do not belong together. The toxic relationship they form spreads venom faster than the bite of a viper. Christ feels the effect it has upon His body, and it breaks His heart.

Jesus gives His take on giving in Luke 6:37-38.

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven. Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.” (NLT)

His words may sound like tit for tat, but they go far deeper than giving to get. They involve a change of heart. They are not about giving out of guilt, fear, obligation, or a desire to get. They are about giving based upon love. Love doesn’t judge; it doesn’t condemn; it forgives and gives. When I learn that beautiful truth, I give with a new heart and receive far more than I ever imagined possible.

I suppose it is human nature to want a fair return on investments or to get tit for tat when it comes to money and time spent. Jesus offered a new way of living and giving that opens hearts and fills them with peace. Peace isn’t about even trades or great portfolios. Peace is sweet contentment that fills a heart beautifully poured out in love.

Earlier in Luke 6:32-36 Jesus reminds us that God’s way of loving and giving is not like ours.

“If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return. Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.” (NLT)

Thinking of the way God loves and gives makes me look at the way I love and give. If I am to nudge nearer and be more like Christ, I must let love be at the heart of all my giving. It is the heart of Christ’s message, and it must be the heart of mine.

Giving Change a Chance

Change is a difficult challenge, and it’s my choice whether or not to embrace the changes that come into my path. The change necessary to manifest God’s will won’t be accomplished until I give God the chance to change me. Security, my need to control, and pride keep change from occurring in my life. Surrendering to the Holy Spirit starts a transformation that only God can accomplish through His Holy Spirit.

Security is linked to safety, and I cling to that which I know in a desperate attempt to remain safe. The irony is that my tendency to stick with the known threatens the very safety I am trying to protect. I remain content with the way things are and have always been. I convince others, and sometimes myself, that I know what I’m doing so I can avoid having to deal with changes that bring discomfort or uncertainty.

If I am to give God the chance to change me, I must be willing to step out of my comfort zone. Rearrangement, not change, occurs if I attempt to change on my own. Stepping into the unknown puts me in a prayerful state of mind and requires faith that God is who He says He is. That’s exactly where I need to be, but exactly where I don’t want to be. Like the Israelites, I complain and ask God why things cannot stay as they are.

God asks me to have faith and let go of my need to control. Admitting I need God is the first step. When I finally let go, God shows me how pleasant it is to have someone who knows the way lead me where I need to go. I would never step off a plane in a foreign country, signal for a taxi, and then tell the driver to move over, but I am guilty of doing just that when it comes to allowing God to have control.

Several years ago, I was in San Francisco on a business trip. It was during Chinese New Year, so my colleagues and I decided to go to China Town. I was separated from my group by a group of revelers dressed in a large red dragon costume. They were setting off firecrackers in front of each store to bring good luck to the store owners in the coming year. I began to panic as the fireworks got closer and my colleagues got further away. I was lost in a sea of foreign faces and filled with fear.

When faced with danger, I look for help. When in a ditch, I become very open to suggestions. The challenge of change is having the same attitude without the danger or the ditch. Successful people know the importance of change and are willing to take the risk involved. Like a child in the backseat, I bombard God with questions. When will I get there? How much longer? Where am I? I’m hungry! Can I have a drink? My father responded to those questions with the threat of pulling of the road. God’s patient love lets me wait until I am ready for the changes He has in mind for me. He pulls over for a very different reason.

God could easily take control, but that goes against the nature of His love. He loves me too much to force. Pride keeps me from giving God the chance to change me, but love bids me to relax and let Him has His way with me. When I listen to love, I am able to relax into obedience and allow change to bring the change God desires.

Psalm 51:10 is a plea from David that touches my heart in a special way. God cannot create a clean heart or renew a right spirit in me if I am not open to change.

Psalm51-10

Carrying the Wrong Cross

I was brought up believing that carrying my cross was accepting the ailments and heartbreaks in life and drudging forward. I shake my head and sigh when I think of the time between my old and new testaments. Jesus carried His cross, and I must carry mine. He loved and trusted God with all His heart, mind, soul, and strength. Crosses are about obedience and trust, and no one understands that better than Jesus.

A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.

“But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’

“Or what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down with his counselors to discuss whether his army of 10,000 could defeat the 20,000 soldiers marching against him? And if he can’t, he will send a delegation to discuss terms of peace while the enemy is still far away. So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own.

“Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? Flavorless salt is good neither for the soil nor for the manure pile. It is thrown away. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!” (Luke 14:25-35 NLT)

Christ didn’t have to take up His cross and carry it. He chose to. He didn’t have to die. He chose to. Obedience is up to me; it’s my cross. I used to think I had to save others. Again, I’m shaking my head in disbelief. Trying to carry Christ’s cross instead of my own left me depleted and discouraged. Carrying the wrong cross is a common problem among Christ’s followers, and it leads to frustration and violence.

An older gentleman told me last week that Christians were going to have to start fighting. I reminded him that the Crusades didn’t go well. He insisted that we had to do something about muslims in our country. He is a good man at heart, so I was surprised by his words. I was disappointed that he thought I would appreciate his ideas of violence toward muslims. When we try to take up Christ’s cross, frustration leads to anger and violence.

I don’t want to be a flavorless follower, and I don’t want to join an angry mob. Jesus was not on either end of that spectrum. His love was at the center of His cross, and His love must be at the center of mine. It is up to me to obey God, but I cannot do that on my own. Christ’s precious love keeps my heart and my walk centered and focused upon God’s love. I didn’t hear that love in the conversation last week, but I hear it in His words.

The cost of carrying my cross is giving up my need to carry Christ’s cross and obeying when I’m not sure where He is leading me. Discipleship is never easy, but it isn’t as hard as carrying Christ’s cross for Him. He already carried His cross, so I only need to worry about carrying mine, and He will help me with that.

Help

 


Authentic Authority

Evil spirits haunting a man in the synagogue knew Jesus and asked why He was interfering with them. That made those in attendance stop and stare in disbelief. Jesus had performed  miracles before, but a conversation with evil spirits? When He told the spirits to be quiet and come out of the man, the crowd heard something they hadn’t heard before. They heard a man speaking with authority and wanted to know where He got that authority.

Jesus and his companions went to the town of Capernaum. When the Sabbath day came, he went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, for he taught with real authority—quite unlike the teachers of religious law.

Suddenly, a man in the synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit began shouting, “Why are you interfering with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

Jesus cut him short. “Be quiet! Come out of the man,” he ordered. At that, the evil spirit screamed, threw the man into a convulsion, and then came out of him.

Amazement gripped the audience, and they began to discuss what had happened. “What sort of new teaching is this?” they asked excitedly. “It has such authority! Even evil spirits obey his orders!” The news about Jesus spread quickly throughout the entire region of Galilee. (Mark 1:21-28 NLT)

The crowds were used to being read to, lectured, and told how they should behave. They were not accustomed to hearing someone speak with God’s authority. Jesus exerted that authority to the evil spirits, and they obeyed Him because they had no choice. God gives me a choice because He wants my obedience to be out of love.

Religious leaders resented Jesus. They were, and wanted to remain, the authority when it came to God and His Word. Who did this rabbi think He was? To the Pharisees, authority meant control. To Christ, authority meant freedom. The evil sprits were forced to obey Christ’s commands, and He could make all of us obey in the same way, but He wants obedience born in freedom and carried out in love. That’s the way He obeyed, and it made a beautiful difference in the world.

Photo Credit:maxresdefault
Photo Credit:maxresdefault

Fear and Wisdom

Psalm 111 is a powerful reminder that the study of God’s Word is a delight. It not only brings me closer to God, but also fosters an attitude of gratitude and praise. New lessons are learned and old ones are affirmed. I can study alone, but, like eating, studying is much better when done with others.

Praise the Lord!

I will thank the Lord with all my heart
    as I meet with his godly people.
How amazing are the deeds of the Lord!
    All who delight in him should ponder them.
Everything he does reveals his glory and majesty.
    His righteousness never fails.
He causes us to remember his wonderful works.
    How gracious and merciful is our Lord!
He gives food to those who fear him;
    he always remembers his covenant.
He has shown his great power to his people
    by giving them the lands of other nations.
All he does is just and good,
    and all his commandments are trustworthy.
They are forever true,
    to be obeyed faithfully and with integrity.
He has paid a full ransom for his people.
    He has guaranteed his covenant with them forever.
    What a holy, awe-inspiring name he has!
Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom.
    All who obey his commandments will grow in wisdom.

Praise him forever! (NLT)

Paul Gerhardt’s hymn ” I Come With Thanks Most Grateful” is a beautiful paraphrase of Psalm 111. I love the English translation of last verse:

Fear of the Lord produces 

The first and only base for

Wisdom that educes

God’s praise, God’s shining face.

How quick and bright the soul

Who knows this way inspiring

And travels it untiring,

God’s praise its end and goal.

I haven’t spent time studying Psalm 111, but I found myself wanting to reach deeply into it yesterday. The connection between fear and wisdom intrigues me. I had an unhealthy fear of God for most of my life and even thought of Him as someone who would strike me down if I disobeyed Him. I realize how ridiculous that is now, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who had the wrong kind of fear instilled in them at an early age.

Fear of the Lord is awe, respect, reverence, and wonder. That’s the opposite of the paralyzing terror I once associated with God. Awe makes me want to know more, to dig deeper, and to grow in wisdom. Terror makes me want to run for cover. Wonder is the beginning of wisdom. Terror is the beginning of ignorance. As a teacher, I appreciate this psalm. Instilling a desire to learn is the goal of all good teachers. Threatening students and instilling fear is what the worst do.

Psalm 111 begins and ends praising God. The same should be true of my study of His Word. The more I read and study the Bible, the more clearly I understand what Gerhardt is saying in his beautiful hymn. He’s right! God’s praise is the end and the goal of wisdom.

Paul Gerhardt
Paul Gerhardt

Rest in Peace

Change is never easy, but pliability brings peace to the process. When mama died five years ago, my heart was a pile of shattered clay that I tried, in vain, to put back together. Mama’s death was an expected one, but that didn’t make it any easier. We longed for her pain to end and even questioned her lingering for so long. My heart hung on to her even though I knew she longed to be with her beloved Lord. Part of the problem was that I wanted to go with her. Mama and I shared a special bond that began at my birth and continued after her death. I still feel her loving presence, and I’ve learned to rest in it.

Lillyann was born the day before mama’s last birthday. Mama thought she was born on her birthday because that’s when she saw the first pictures of her. She also believed she was named after her mother Lillie Belle. We all let her believe both. Three months after Lillyann entered the world, mama left it. She never saw her sweet great-grandbaby in person, but she loved her all the same. Mama loved with her whole heart, and that caused her a great deal of grief. She told me over and over that other people weren’t like us and that would break my heart one day. I carried her fear of being hurt into all of my relationships. As a result, I connected to those who could not, would not, or did not love me the way my heart needed to be loved. Over the past five years, love has entered into my life in new and beautiful ways that have allowed my heart to rest in love. I know I am loved and see myself as God’s beloved daughter.

The powerful lessons this week have been about trusting God to change the desires of my heart and then resting in His love. I’ve never been one to rest or trust, so it has been a challenging week. I’ve prayed fervently for God to make the desires of His heart the desires of my own, but I realized this week that I have to trust and rest before that can happen.  I’m not sure when or how it happened this week, but my heart rested into a pliable peace that was very much like the feeling you get when you notice a terrible headache is gone.  I knew in October that resting and relaxing were going to be an important part of the learning this winter, but I wasn’t sure how God would get me to do either. I was thinking hibernation, but that isn’t at all what God had in mind.

Resting in peace is associated with death. I prayed fervently for mama to find such rest when she left this world. One rarely finds peace in this world; but just as we can walk in God’s Kingdom now, we can also rest in His peace before dying. It never occurred to me that rest was related to obedience until a friend reminded me that relaxing into obedience is part of the journey toward holiness. I learned this week that I can rest in obedience, rest in hope, rest in peace, rest in grace, and rest in love. In fact, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I can rest in all things. Once I allowed my heart to rest, I felt the pliable peace of Philippians 4:7, and it changed everything.

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (NASB)

Christmas is the season of peace on earth, and there is still nothing that brings peace into our hearts like the pure unconditional love of a child. God knew that when He devised His plan for peace on earth. His Son’s precious love captivates our hearts as we remember His birth. May the pure love of Immanuel bring pliable peace to all our hearts this season.

Make a Joyful Choice

Psalm 100 is one of my favorite psalms. I memorized the KJV as a child and love the phrase “joyful noise” in verse one. Eugene Peterson’s “Bring a gift of laughter, sing yourselves into his presence” in The Message is also a very vivid image. Whatever you call it, there is no sound that delights a parent more than joyful noise coming from their children. God reminded me this week that joyful choices also bless a parent’s heart. Hear David’s beautiful song.

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.

Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.

Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations. (KJV)

There is great wisdom and comfort in this beautiful psalm. I can sing myself into God’s presence. He made me. His home is my home. He is beautiful, all-generous, and I can count on Him forever. His truth is passed from one generation to the next for eternity. That encourages me to be thankful and make joyful choices which will allow me to become who God wants me to be.

Choices come with every step and determine the direction of my heart. Joyful choices are not about happiness or fulfillment; they are about becoming who God created me to be. Our parents play a big role in our decision making process, and Pastor John told me his father was always asking, “Chi e chi fa?” He describes the phrase and what it came to mean in his message on Genesis 12:1-4 (“Fully Arrive or Fully Thrive” March 16, 2014)

“Among the values my father cultivated in his three sons was a reflective nature prompted by a light-hearted question posed in Sicilian, ‘Chi é chi fa?’ which we understood to mean, ‘What are you doing?’ Or, ‘What’s going on?’ Or perhaps, ‘Who are you that you are doing this?’ Rather than becoming cliché in our family, over the years this question moved us beyond, ‘What are you doing?’ as in right now, today, to, ‘What are you doing with your life?’ ‘What are you making of yourself?’ ‘Where are you going in life?’ ‘Who are you going to be?’” 

The simple Sicilian phrase and a picture of Salvatore in John’s office were part of the lessons God had for me last week. In the picture, Salvatore is on the floor beside his granddaughter Jennifer with his chin in his hands. There’s a playful grin on his face and a sparkle in his eye. I imagine God has the same look as He asks me who I’m going to be. Daddy had a few questions of his own, but they reflected a much different tone. I constantly heard, “What in the hell are you doing?” or “Why in the hell did you do that?” Foy’s face was usually twisted with anger as he vented his frustration with my choices. Salvatore was more subtle than Foy, but both parents shared a sincere desire to know what their children were doing, where they were going in life, and who they would become. God has the same desire.

All fathers want their children to make good decisions. They know good choices make all the difference in life. Mothers know the same. As parents, we want to fix bad choices or make the way easy for our children, but we know that never works. Children must make their own choices and live with the consequences of those decisions. God knows bad choices teach tough lessons, but that doesn’t make it any easier for Him to watch our suffering. Daddy did his best to keep me from making stupid decisions because he knew they would hurt me. His intentions were good; he simply wanted the best for me.

The lessons last week were difficult ones, but I’m a little closer to the me God wants me to be. If I took a wrong turn on a road trip, I wouldn’t sit and complain for hours or beat myself up for making a bad choice. I would turn around and get on the right path as soon as possible. Moving forward sometimes means turning around. God will always be patient as He continues to ask, “Who are you going to be?” or “Where are you going in life?” I know He smiles broadly when He hears, “Whoever you want me to be and wherever you want me to go!” Joyful choices are the ones that show I want the same thing God wants for me. What God wants is so much more than anything I could ever imagine on my own. The journey is what matters. As Pastor John says, “It’s better to thrive in obedience than to think we’ve arrived on our own efforts.” I agree!!

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