Religion or Relationship?

Christ’s love allows me to go from religion to relationship. Hebrews 8:5-13 describes how His precious love changes everything. God didn’t revise or amend His old covenant. His Son’s precious love forged a brand new one.

But now Jesus, our High Priest, has been given a ministry that is far superior to the old priesthood, for he is the one who mediates for us a far better covenant with God, based on better promises.

If the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need for a second covenant to replace it. But when God found fault with the people, he said:

“The day is coming, says the Lord,
    when I will make a new covenant
    with the people of Israel and Judah.
This covenant will not be like the one
    I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
    and led them out of the land of Egypt.
They did not remain faithful to my covenant,
    so I turned my back on them, says the Lord.
But this is the new covenant I will make
    with the people of Israel on that day, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their minds,
    and I will write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
And they will not need to teach their neighbors,
    nor will they need to teach their relatives,
    saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’
For everyone, from the least to the greatest,
    will know me already.
And I will forgive their wickedness,
    and I will never again remember their sin

When God speaks of a “new” covenant, it means he has made the first one obsolete. It is now out of date and will soon disappear. (NLT)

I’m preparing to move into a new home that is nothing like the one I’m in now. I’m going from 4000 square foot house sitting on top of a mountain to a tiny apartment downtown. I love the fact that my new home is a brand new house. New houses are wonderful, but new covenants can be uncomfortable.

Going from religion to relationship is difficult. Relationship is personal, and that means exposing my heart. God knows me, forgives me, and loves me. That makes the old way of relating obsolete. Religions cannot compete or compare with relationships, and no one understands that better than God. He prefers a loving family to a religious hierarchy. He always has, and He always will.
It’s difficult to do business with someone when you’re in love with them; that keeps love out of board rooms and office buildings. God didn’t, doesn’t, and never will run a business. He is love and sent His only Son to replace the “business” of religion with the love of relationship. Even the disciples didn’t completely get the point at first.  They wanted to know who would be in what position, but the resurrection made it crystal clear that Christ changed business as usual. Love had come down, and it was the new authority.
I wish we could all just love one another as God desires, but I know that won’t be possible as long as the world has a hold on us. God may have made a new covenant, but this world is still driven by business. I can allow myself to be driven by the world or let love do the driving. When I go with love, God opens the road and frees my heart in a way the world may not understand but does notice 🙂
Open Road

Circle Up the Wagons!

Circle Up the Wagons

I was a surprised by the image of a wagon train circling up on the prairie this morning, but I’m learning not to question God when He’s teaching a lesson. In the wild west, circling up the wagons was necessary for the safety of those traveling through dangerous territory. It is an effective strategy for keeping that which isn’t desirable from getting in and that which is precious from getting out.  It formed a tight-knit community of travelers and probably saved many lives.

In this day and age, the technique doesn’t work. In fact, it acts as a sort of bullseye for someone flying overhead. People have the tendency to clump together when threatened, and that is especially true in politics and in religion. It would be comical if it weren’t creating so much tension in our country and all around the world. It’s easy to throw a rock or fire a gun from the inside of a circle of wagons, but it’s much more difficult to love those who think differently that we do.

I get so very tired of the circled up right and left wings, and I’m sure God sighs each time a group of His children decide to circle up and make a stand. Pointing fingers instead of guns, the circles hurl insults and accusations toward one another while trying to get others into their circle. When God looks down upon the circles, I’m sure His heart breaks. He knows the best way to love is to let others be who they are. Christ didn’t circle up the wagons even though His followers were chomping at the bit for Him to do just that. “Let’s rain some fire down on them Lord!” was the fervent cry then, and it is the fervent cry now.

Having to be right and in control is at the heart of circling up in the political arena, and the same themes abound in the world of faith. I grow so weary of folks worrying about that which differentiates us. Self-differentiation is what God desires. He says clearly, “I AM.” He expects us to be who we are and to love each other not only despite our differences, but because of them. God forbid that we should all circle up one day and spew the same rhetoric.

Circling up the wagons is a great example of what fusion does to relationships. It was good for the pioneers to lock hands and stay very close when danger threatened them, but it is terrible for God’s children and shows a lack of faith in Him. Self-differentiation enables growth in our individual relationships with God and one another. When I feel the wagons circling up, I quickly look for a crack to slide through before the circle becomes a noose. I don’t mind if you are on a bandwagon or in a wagon train, just don’t expect me to be on or in it with you. Love me for who I am, not for what I believe. I have my own unique way of loving and living in this world, and I’m learning it’s best to stay away from those tight-knit circles if I want to love as God desires.

Crusade or Revival?

The Crusades were the darkest days of Christianity. There is nothing noble about forcing people to believe as you believe. There is nothing gallant about galloping around the globe in concerted effort to promote your agenda or eliminate everyone else’s. I am guilty of being mesmerized by knights in shining armor and tales of princesses being recused by them. I’ve had my share of knights and knaves on this journey, but I repent my fascination with that time period. There is nothing romantic or wonderful about it. There is no body count for how many died in those senseless holy wars, and there is no count of the tears that fell from heaven as countless men, women, and children were slaughtered in God’s name.

The difference between a crusade and a revival is that one comes from the efforts of groups on the outside and one comes from a renewal within an individual. Spring is a beautiful example of such a renewal. I can go out armed with shovels and fertilizer and force plants to either bloom or die, but that stops the process of breaking through the cold earth on their own and results in a short-lived, painful imitation of true renewal. 

Crusades  thrived on an “us/they” mentality. Revival involves a “me/God” realization. There is a world of difference between the two. God can have a crusade if He so desires, and Jesus could have performed the most amazing trick ever by pulling His hands away from those hate-filled nails on the far left and far right, bringing havoc down upon this world in a way that would have left us believing in a different sort of Savior. Maybe He would even have a shining knight’s suit of armor. We would still be quaking and doing whatever He said for us to do. He chose to die. He chose to love. He chose to forgive. He chose to extend mercy and grace. It’s what we must also choose to do. It’s much easier to wield a sword in a safe suit of armor, but God knows better than anyone that force doesn’t work when it comes to love.

Revival comes from God, and it comes one person at a time. It’s the feeling of seeing how the love of God is working in the life of another and wanting the same thing. It’s coming to the realization that it is God in that person that makes a difference and letting God come to me in the same way. I have a dear friend who loves God more than anyone I know. When I first heard him speak of God, I knew I wanted what he had. I have it now, but I learned that the process of getting it involves more than simple imitation. More people die in a revival than in a crusade because everyone who experiences revival dies. You cannot be revived if you are alive and kicking on your own terms. Surrender is necessary for revival, and that means going in a new direction. There is nothing more difficult than leaving the known and stepping into the unknown. It takes great faith and personal sacrifice, but the resulting peace truly is beyond our understanding.

Not everyone involved in those hate-filled Crusades died, but Christ’s love was trampled into the ground where the blood of those who did die flowed. Holy wars trample upon God’s heart and bring the very thing He hates the most, division. I pray we learned our lessons from those first disastrous attempts at forcing religion down the hearts of others. I look around today and see the anger and contempt that comes from mixing politics and religion, and it breaks my heart. I know it breaks God’s too. In a true revival, there is no agenda. There is only love. In a crusade, there is no love. There is only an agenda. 

Redefining Relationships

In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, time is quickly consumed. Time with God becomes a quick plea here and a quicker thank you there. I’m beginning to understand the concept of praying without ceasing, and it isn’t at all what I expected. Being in God’s presence is the goal of prayer; being present with those I love is the goal of relationship. Words become less important as that presence increases. Being present is something with which I’ve struggled my entire life. I’m only beginning to experience the peace that prolonged presence makes when it comes to my relationship with God. I’m also learning that redefining relationships is necessary as I change and grow as God desires.

I’ve always thought of prayer as a time of getting on my knees and asking God for help and thanking Him for all He does for me. When I look at that from a relationship standpoint, I’m appalled. It shows a selfish, one-sided relationship that isn’t at all what God desires. Nothing shows love more than spending time together in honest communion or sweet silence where nothing needs to be said. God desires just that in our time together. Like me with God, there have been those in my path who take and never give. I’ve wasted a lifetime of love trying to make miserable people happy. It isn’t noble at all but selfish on my part as I become a martyr and get everyone’s pity. That’s a hard truth to see and absorb, but it’s one that God has brought home to me of late as I look at and see the need to let Him redefine my relationships.

Real relationships require self-differentiation, and that means I have to become who God created me to be before I can truly connect to others. In order to do that, I must let Him cut away all that isn’t who He created me to be. As a sculptor cuts away marble to bring out the beautiful image inside, so does God cut away at me until the beloved daughter He sees inside comes to the surface. That process is a painful one because unlike marble, I wiggle and resist the sculpting! The stillness of Psalm 46:10 is required for God to do His work, and I’ve found that God will bring stillness when I ask. I am learning to pray differently, and the results are powerful. I’m finding that honestly and fervently praying that His will, not mine be done is causing true change in my heart, soul, spirit, and body. I am beginning to see the results of His chisel, and it is amazing.

The need to please is gone. The need to fix is gone. The need to pretend all is well is gone. In the process, I find that guilt is no longer a source of motivation. I no longer feel the need to be who others expect me to be. I am the beloved daughter of God  and love Him as never before. Love is the root of my obedience now, and I can live out that obedience in a way that will bring joy to me, others, and Him. I feel as if I’ve gotten off a treadmill and gotten on to a beautiful path. The journey isn’t a guilt-ridden run to nowhere; it is a walk in His kingdom that forms beautiful relationships based on honesty and love. My relationship with God is first, and it must be the model for all my relationships if the redefining He desires is to take place.

Redefining relationships is not an easy task. Some will go as they are clearly not what God desires and are toxic to me and to others. Some will dissipate because they will not survive the changes in me. Others will flourish and grow as God desires. Those are the ones I plan to nourish. There will be wonderful new relationships along the way, and I look forward to each of them. Redefining relationships requires that I look to God first and let Him redefine me. The rest will fall into place as I love and obey Him:)

Balance in a Spinning Room

Being sick has given me a new appreciation of being well. I’m spoiled when it comes to sickness as I am rarely ill. I was reminded vividly in the wee hours of the morning that it is very frightening to be alone and sick, especially when it involves the loss of balance. As the room and all in it spun around me, it was very like a bad dream. I have only had vertigo once before in my life, and I thought I was having a stroke. The same thought occurred to me this morning as I struggled to stay centered.

The center is essential to both my physical and spiritual balance. God used the vivid example to remind me how very delicate balance is. When potassium levels are low, it seems the world is coming apart. One banana eaten in tiny bites was enough to bring back my equilibrium this afternoon. If it were only so simple with my soul, spirit, and heart. Just as my heart had major adjustments this week, so have my soul and spirit. My body is getting better, and the chicken broth for supper gave me hope for a better day tomorrow. God gives me hope when I remember that obedience, like those slices of banana, bring balance to my soul and help me to forget about understanding the why by simply focusing upon the what.

A few weeks ago, Gina told Lillyann to be nice to Mylah. Lillyann immediately asked why. Gina told her, “Because I said to.” Lillyann replied with conviction, “I said what I meant and meant what I said!” Poor God deals with a billion three-year-olds every day, and I’m one of them:) Obedience has been the message this week. Many who know me would say I am very obedient, but like Lillyann, I constantly want to know why I can’t have this or why things can’t be the way I want them to be. I also hold on when I should let go. God is helping me let go and listen to Him. He is faithful to hear me, and I pray I will become more faithful to listen to and follow Him.

Balance is tricky whether it is in the head, the heart, the body, the soul, or the spirit. Finding it without God is impossible. Finding and focusing upon God brings balance back in a beautiful way. With Him, I can find focus in a spinning room and obey in a spinning world:)

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:)

Mylah High :)

When Gina came home from class yesterday, I stayed while she feed Mylah. Lillyann is sick, and I wanted to give her some special attention while Mylah nursed. Mylah is in the difficult process of weaning, so she was cut off before she was ready to stop. I love the sweet expression on her face after she nurses. I call it the Mylah high:) Her eyes are glassy, and her countenance expresses joy and peace and love all rolled into one. She has complete contentment, something for which we all search. My journey has lead me to many substitutes when it comes to finding the satisfaction my heart, body, soul, and spirt so crave. Yesterday, as Mylah and Lillyann slept on top of me, I finally found it. I learned this week that listening to and obeying God connects me to Him and His love in a way that is much better than a Mylah high:)

It’s easy to point fingers at those who do drugs because they are illegal and most folks don’t use them. It becomes a little harder to point to those with alcohol addictions and impossible to point at those who use food to get high. Workaholics are rewarded by society, and doers are dubbed saints in the church. We each have a drug of choice, but it never comes near the sweet satisfaction Mylah gets from nursing. God’s love is the only potion known to man that is better than mama’s milk. There is an unlimited supply; it’s free, and there are no harmful side effects. So why isn’t everyone running out to get some?

The problem is connecting and staying connected to the sweet source of God’s love and doing His will rather than mine or the world’s. Christ connects me to God’s love, and His Holy Spirit and Word keep me connected and help me find His will. Like everyone, I’ve tried many paths to contentment. They all left me either stuffed and miserable or drained and starving. Food is the safe drug of choice because churches not only condone gluttony, they encourage it. Fellowship around the table is essential to relationship, but the gathering often is more about filling than fellowship. The practice of having the Lord’s Supper together as a way of connecting to God and to one another has evolved into a plethora of platters filled with things that satisfy our bellies and have little to do with worship. Gluttony has become the sin of choice out of both convenience and frustration.

The world is like that platter of tempting food, and God’s will is the simple loaf and cup often left behind. His will becomes my project done on my time with with due credit and accolades expected. God’s simple will sits on the back burner.  Activities replace relationship and it comes down to I’ll do it if you feed me. I’ll get around to it after work if I’m not too tired. I’ll do what’s expected if there aren’t any shows, games, practices or better offers in the way. I’ve chosen to do and do rather than drink in God’s sweet nourishing love, draw near to HIm, and do His will. Mylah will nurse anytime, anywhere, and any way.  I pray I’ll have the same attitude when it comes to doing God’s will from now on.

Mylah needs nourishment, but she also needs to get close to mama and feel her presence. The same is true when it comes to God. He is Jehovah Jireh and will provide for all my needs, but He is also Adonai. Mylah is learning the hard lesson that she must transition to solid food and was absolutely adorable holding on to a little piece of cornbread and strutting around like a big girl yesterday. I spilled milk all over her shirt and scared her half to death when I had a bottle malfunction.  I’m sure she was wondering why I even bother with the bottle when there is a perfectly wonderful alternative available. I wonder the same thing when I think about how God is on the back burner for so many when it comes to getting high. Mylah will eventually let go of the bottle and learn that it’s really mommy’s love that makes nursing so special. She will always have that. Her name means “My Love Always”, and mommy made it up:) God’s love is always there. Listening to His sweet voice and doing that which He places in my path is meant to help me draw nearer to God’s love. Love is what I have always sought, and in finding God’s, I’ve found my source of contentment.

I feel just the way Mylah looks each time I study God’s Word, pray, do His will, or just take time to be with Him. It’s even better than a Mylah high. As I do what God places in my path, I understand exactly how Mylah feels when she nurses. When I try to placate or pacify with that which the world places in my path, I feel just like Mylah did with milk all over her and the floor. God has shown me over the past week what it feels like to be closely connected and taking in His sweet love. As I have done His will and seen the results in my own heart and in the lives of those I’ve touched, I have achieved an even better high than Mylah.

I’m not getting weaned; I’m just getting started:) I’m addicted and pray that Mylah and Lillyann also get addicted to doing God’s will because it allows the fruit of His Spirit to grow beautifully. There’s nothing like it in this world:) The alternative is a sick belly that leaves me feeling the way Lillyann did yesterday. Nothing can satisfy when the tummy is twisted in a knot, and that’s what doing the world’s will feels like.  Doing and doing just to do creates a big a pile of do do, and that isn’t pleasant for anyone. The way to tell the difference is there is bellyaching and do do in doing my will or the world’s. There is peace that’s better than a Mylah high when I’m doing God’s will.

God’s will isn’t difficult to find. Mother Teresa used to ask those who wanted to follow her and do what she did if there was no one in their home, their family, their neighborhood, or their community who needed them. She told them when there were none there, to come and see her. That was enough to humble, and I thought of her this week as God has reminded me of the many in my path who need a loving hand. Doing God’s will doesn’t bring attention or accolades, but it does bring the sweet sense of satisfaction that leaves me with glassy eyes and a state of contentment. Knowing my contentment will be complete when I come into His presence and spend eternity with God changes the journey and puts a bounce in my step as I walk in His kingdom now:)