Scratch That.

Sometimes it’s ok to be a quitter.

That is really hard for me to write. I am one who prides myself on seeing things through, plowing through the hard stuff and checking the box when I’m finished.

But I quit my Algebra class.

I was doing fine, had a high B average and learned a ton about Algebra. (Which had nothing to do with Apologetics, the whole reason I even googled classes to start with.)

I spent the first half of the summer working hundreds of problems, staying up late at night and feeling like life was slipping by as my kids played at the pool and I sat out on the fun.

Is that really what God was calling me to do?

But I had started and, darn it, I was going to see this through. I would show my kids what it looked like to do hard things and remove the potential stumbling block of not having an actual “degree” as I pursued God’s call to write and teach. My friends would admire my tenacity. I’d make my man proud. (See a pattern? An ugly one?)

Then a dear friend came over and loved me enough to challenge me.

She, a math whiz (an accountant!), took one look at my Algebra book. “What does this have to do with Apologetics?”

I explained it was the only general studies course I lacked. I told how I wanted to pursue a degree to remove the stumbling block.

“You do realize there will always be a stumbling block of some kind, right?”

Well, yes, I guess so.

“Is it possible that there is another way to get the training you need without placing such a burden on your time?”

Maybe…well, actually I know there is. It’s just not as “glamorous.” (Ouch, the pride monster has bitten.)

Long story short…I quit the class. I prayed for direction. Then I waited.

Within a couple of weeks I was presented another opportunity…a two-year program that will train me and educate me for ministry. Instead of ten-to-twelve hours of study per week, it will require four. I can do that. I will attend actual live classes once a week, the best part being that it will be alongside friends and leaders from my church. I will not be sitting in front of a computer, alone. I will be interacting and immersed in theology and apologetics and community and I could not be more excited.

God worked out all the details very quickly. He is nodding as I move forward, showing me that yes, this is it. This is the right path. He is preparing me for the second half of my life while allowing me to still enjoy long afternoons with my youngest children who only have six years left of homeschool. Six. That time will be gone in the blink of an eye.

Trust me, I know. I’m about to send my firstborn to college in two short weeks.

I tell you all of this because I am learning, through my own stumbling and false starts, that God sometimes places a passion in our hearts and allows us to explore the options. Then, in love, He redirects us gently. He refines our path, shutting and opening doors, allowing storms and frustration to steer us until we are sailing smooth with the moonlight reflecting off the calm waters as we dock on the other side of our calling. I’m getting in the boat. I’m ready. And I am looking forward to getting out on the other side to use what He is going to teach me to lead women and girls to Jesus Christ through writing, teaching and community.

He has the plan in place. What a humbling realization that He would use me.

I’m yours, Lord. Let’s do this.

Endings and beginnings.

I took my dog for a walk this morning, noting the silver slug trails scribbled across the sidewalk. The light of dawn made them shimmer and become almost beautiful. For the first time in several weeks, I felt inspired to sit down and write.

The flowers in the South are in full bloom, knockout roses scenting the air and daisies standing tall behind the monkey grass edging the flower beds. My potted plants struggle to survive due to my occasional neglect and I find myself flooding them in order to rescue them from the wilt. I have great dreams of gardening in the Spring when the weather is cool which quickly wither in the oppressive heat of Summer.

I haven’t written a thing since my retreat in May. It was three glorious days of driving through incredible scenery along the Ocoee River and through the Blue Ridge Mountains. I finished my novel (yay!) and wrote whatever crossed my brain in the moment. Pages upon pages were laid down-my way of figuring things out, straightening what had become crooked, and reconnecting with God in the quiet of a sheep farm in Georgia. It was heaven on earth. Then, I came home and hit a creative wall. Oh, I’ve started a few posts, scrolled mindlessly through social media and shared a few memes and photos, but nothing of substance has been produced due to various circumstances.

First, I started back to school and I’ll just tell you, College Algebra is hard. I’m a writer, not a math brain, so it is stretching and challenging me in a myriad of ways. Not all of them constructive. I have sighed, cried, and sought every way I can imagine to get out of taking this class, but the fact is it is a basic requirement of a bachelor’s degree and it is the only general studies course I didn’t take back in the early nineties. It’s been a long, long time but it has to be done. Thank God for my brilliant husband who remembers all of this stuff! He has saved my academic life!

Second, Summer has been busier than I would like. Last year I felt like we spent endless, luxurious days by the pool, reading and splashing and meeting neighbors. This year has been filled with appointments, camps, preparing my oldest to transition to college, a trip to the beach…and math! All of these things are good and necessary but I find myself just wanting to be home, curled up on the sofa with a good book. (But, I really need to catch up on laundry.)

Third, we had to say goodbye to our beautiful, majestic, tender-hearted German Shepherd. What we thought was an ear infection turned out to be advanced cancer. We didn’t have time to wrap our heads or hearts around it but we had to put him down. I can’t describe the heartache of holding that huge head, looking into his soulful eyes and telling him what a good boy he was as he succumbed to the anesthesia. We all were there, weeping, as my husband read a prayer over our dog and we let him go. Grief has hit in waves and our yard feels so empty without his 120 pound presence. He was a big boy with an even bigger heart and we hurt.

Fourth and finally, in our grief we couldn’t be satisfied with one little dog who was lonely and lost without her best friend. We watched Hollie mope around and lose all of her mojo and we knew we needed to bring joy into our family quickly. Yes, we got a puppy(!) and that has been good and right therapy. She is a Cavachon-a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel/Bichon Frise mix. Like someone told me who had recently lost a beloved dog, if I have to be sad, at least I can be sad with a puppy. We named her Clara June and she is a sweet, soft bundle of snuggles who is healing our hearts and teaching our Hollie about playfulness and the fun of pouncing on a toy once again. Hollie isn’t sold on her just yet, but she is making baby steps that direction. Hollie gives a killer side-eye, though. Her shih-Tzu expression is consistently sour mixed with a healthy dose of annoyed at this new little sister who is full of puppy energy. We have laughed a lot this past week and I am grateful for that. Puppy breath is good therapy.

So, here I am. I still intend to write about my retreat back in May. I have incredible pictures to share and stories of how God met me there but today I just wanted to stop by and say hi. I wanted to share a bit of real life that has been happening and just check in with you as July dawns and we in the South hunker down to endure the summer heat. I hope you are able to enjoy some long mornings. I, for one, have to get up early to enjoy my devotionals outdoors or else I end up being driven inside by the humidity and bugs!

God is faithful. He is near. He is moving in the good and the hard and I’m grateful to be reminded of that. I have felt more dependent on him in recent days, even in the midst of massive struggles to form coherent prayers at times. But He reminds me to cast all of my cares upon Him for He loves me.

I think we could all stand to be reminded of that, don’t you?

Happy 4th of July (if you are in the United States)! As we celebrate the country in which God has ordained us to live, may we be good stewards of the freedom we enjoy and use it for the glory of God and the advancement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Retreating

It’s been a dream of mine for while, now, to get away to somewhere remote and just write.

No noises.

No distractions.

Just for a couple of days.

Because of the sweet generosity of my husband, who gifted me this very thing last Christmas, my bags are packed as I type.

As soon as I water my flowers and load up the car I will be hitting the road for my destination…an 1880’s cabin on a sheep farm in Georgia!

I am so ready and, to be honest, a little nervous. I’m a solid extrovert so this extreme removal from society and social media is going to challenge me! I pray the quiet of the farm will seep into my mind, allowing God more room and opportunity to speak.

I will be writing as much as I can hammer out, while cleaning up the novel I recently finished and preparing to send it off to an editor. I will also take lots of photos, documenting this unusual experience to mark it as a stone of remembrance, for I do believe the Lord is going to move over the next two days!

Oh, and remember that little thing called College that I started last week? In order to get away like this I have been doing algebra like a crazy woman.

Algebra.

It’s been almost thirty years since I was in high school and, y’all, college algebra is NO JOKE. (Thank the LORD for my amazing husband who remembers all of it! He has happily sat with me and talked me through negative fractional exponents and seventh root variables, preventing my mind from, very literally, melting) I asked him, the other night, why this is so hard for me (I may or may not have been on the verge of tears) and he said, in his calm, matter-of-fact tone, “Because you are a writer.” And then I was ok.

I don’t have to be good at everything. I just have to pass algebra so I can move on to the classes that spark my passion. I just have to pass.

All that to tell you, I will NOT be taking algebra with me to the farm!

So, with that I’m off to water the flowers and hit the road! If you think about it, I would be so honored if you would pray for me as I travel and leave my babes. They always get a little said when mama leaves, as do I.

Until I return, happy Memorial Day! And thank you to our men and women who gave all for our freedom. There is no greater love.

Stopping to Smell the Roses

It’s an intense season. I’ve been immersed in all things “end of school” and barely have time to breathe, much less write.

My firstborn graduates from high school in less than two weeks, which does not seem possible since he just started Kindergarten five minutes ago. But, alas, it’s true and we are about to launch a child into this world. Scary, exciting, emotional…I’m feeling all the variety of feels right now! (I’m ok. Really.)

My self-imposed therapy has varied…reading, writing when I have time, and long walks through our beautiful, Spring-cloaked neighborhood. The sun has browned my shoulders a bit and my feet are readjusting to the feel of flip-flops. Finches grace the new bird feeder out back and the roses are blooming. Creation declares His glory and it is outdoors I go when I need to be refueled. A long walk or run, podcast or music in my earbuds and a prayer on my lips as I commune with my Father is truly the best medicine.

So, this week is different. I have a post I’m working on that I’ll share soon but I feel the need to just enjoy the beauty of Spring today. I haven’t edited these photos at all, just posting them straight from my iPhone.

No filter needed.

Just unfiltered worship to our God who created the beautiful seasons.

Enjoy:)

My wake up each morning. Best alarm clock in the world.

The first rose of the season. Made my kitchen smell lovely:)

My daughter and Danny sitting with me as the day warms.

Horses in the pasture grace our front yard and, after a year and a half, I still want to pinch myself when I realize I get to see this every day. So thankful.

Self-imposed Misery

You may not consider this a “joyful” post, but bear with me. I believe what I have to say is important for us to understand.

Over the past few weeks I have been working my way through the Bible with the intent of reading it cover to cover by the end of summer. Yesterday I finished the book of Judges and thought, ‘Whew, I’m glad that is over.’

I told my husband it read like a horror movie at times, just one miserable story after another. A vicious cycle of sin, consequences, crying out to God, his mercy, then the people forgetting and starting the whole thing over again. Sometimes I read a story, certain that I was misunderstanding it…that surely God would not expect them to do that.

Take, for instance, Jephthah in the eleventh chapter of Judges. He thought it would be a good idea to “make a deal” with God in order to ensure victory against the Ammonites.

And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.”

Judges 11:30-31

Note that this was instigated, not by God, but by Jephthah.

So Jephthah wins the battle and Israel conquers the Ammonites. All is well and good until his only child, his daughter, comes out of the house with her tambourine. Dancing.

I’m sure his heart exploded in terror as he realized the vow he had made. He had expected to sacrifice an animal.

Not his child.

It is hard for us to fathom following through on a vow such as this as Jephthah did, especialy through our Western filter. But in that time, and in that culture, such things were commonplace among the Pagan religions and idolotrous worship practices and it appears Jepthah had allowed his theology to be influenced by his surroundings.

Sound familiar?

Note, again, that God expecting Jephthah to follow through is not mentioned. Jephthah dug this hole. Jephthah made this bed. He had even trained his daughter, as well, to the point where she apparently did not question his decision. She grieved that she would die unmarried, but accepted that she would be sacrified.

What in the world?

How is this possible?

But look at our world, friends. Every day, children march into battle toward certain death because they have been taught from infancy that to die for their god is honorable and will be met with great reward. It happens in Africa and the Middle East and it happens here, in America.

Children are sacrificed and sent into war, as collateral in trafficking and abuse, and through abortion. Sometimes they are aware of what they are being asked to do but have been brainwashed into accepting it. Often, though, they have no idea why they are facing abuse or death at the hands of those who should be protecting them. The place where they should be the most safe…among their families, in the home or in the womb…is where their lives come to a tragic end.

Jephthah made a vow, one that God did not ask of him and, I believe, one on which God did not expect him to follow through. His misery was self-imposed because he had added to the rules God had already put in place.

Jesus plus nothing equals everything. That is as true now as it was back then. Every time God’s people decide to add to their status and “holiness” by keeping extra rules or striving beyond their neighbors to win the heart of God they fall…and fall hard.

The reason for this is simple. As children of God, those who have accepted His Son as our savior, we already have His heart. We are holy, chosen, and dearly loved. He goes before us and fights for us because we are His and He has promised to do so. We do not have to bargain with Him and would be wise not to try because we will only heap misery upon ourselves by doing so.

I believe God had already planned to give Israel the victory over the Ammonites. It was part of the story He had written before Jephthah was even born, the saga of the unbreakable covenant made with Abraham when God stopped him from doing the very thing Jephthah thought he now had to do. In making the vow, Jephthah put his own hand on the wheel, seeking a modicum of control over the outcome.

The result was disaster.

A daughter, dead at the hands of her father.

This was but one tragic end to a story wrought with terrible decisions for years leading up to this point and that would continue for millenia.

We rebel, we suffer, we fall.

We cry out for mercy and our God gives it knowing full well we will forget and repeat the sin-cycle all over again.

But we must understand that only Jesus can stop the cycle. Only the Lamb that was slain can conquer death which relentlessly hunts us down. And only the Risen Lord can deliver us from our self-made graves into life everlasting.

Praise God. Praise God for His patience because, y’all, we have got to drive Him nuts.

Do we ever learn?

For the sake of the next generation, I pray so.

But I’m not holding my breath.

 

The Ninth Hour

“Mama, what does ‘the ninth hour’ mean?”

My daughter is good at throwing random questions at me, out of nowhere, when I am driving.

“You mean when Jesus died?” She nodded. So, I explained how he hung on the cross for three hours, from the sixth hour to the ninth hour (which is three in the afternoon). How he suffered, having already endured countless hours of torture, being beaten beyond recognition (Isaiah 53:5). I described the cat of nine tails, the whip with stones embedded in the tips so the flesh tore away as the whip gripped and pulled back. Agony. Blood.

So much blood.

The water that poured from his heart when he was pierced, because he had been in agony.

We talked about the sacrifices in the temple, how for centuries all the world looked forward, hoping and praying for the Messiah as they sacrificed one spotless, perfect animal after another. How the blood must have run in rivers from the temple. How the sacrifices had to be made every single year because and animal cannot forever satisfy the holy requirements of justice.

Behold, the Lamb.

And I looked at my daughter, this one who is peeling yet another layer back on her childhood faith. She wrestles and asks the hard questions and I do my best to answer, all the while praying to create wonder in her heart for this Savior who has literally crossed oceans and continents to accomplish his perfect will in her life. She loves him, has since she was seven years old, since the day she wept and said, “He wouldn’t get down off that cross,” surrendering her little heart to him even before she understood the ramifications of her decision.

She just knew Jesus loved her and had refused to quit. He did what he had to do for her and she loved him back because of it.

And isn’t that the crux of it all?

He intentionally made faith simple. We are the ones who make it hard, who think adding anything to the finished work of Christ could possibly be a good idea.

I looked at my daughter, tears filling my eyes, and spoke through the lump in my throat..

“When you realize what he went through, doesn’t it change everything about how you see Easter?” She was quiet for a long moment, then nodded again, turning over the mental images of her suffering savior in her mind.

Easter is about so much more than bunnies and eggs. It’s about a real God who really came down and took on flesh, and really did the unthinkable: dying for a crooked and lost people…whom He happened to adore.

He loves us, friends. He loves us, not because we are good…

but because HE is good.

Good Friday is good, because his death meant we live, no longer burdened by the weight of sin.

Easter is bright and joyful because He conquered death and rose from the grave…ensuring you and I will also rise again and live with him forever!

It doesn’t make sense. We had done nothing to deserve his love, much less his suffering on our behalf. Yet suffer, he did, beyond anything we can imagine. Even while we were lost and running from him in rebellion.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:6-8

What better time than today to give your life to Jesus? Can you imagine a more perfect celebration of his resurrection than recognizing your need for a savior and surrendering, once and for all, to him? Oh, I pray you will do just that. And if you do, please let me know! I want to rejoice with you and walk alongside you as you begin the beautiful journey of faith.

Celebrate this Easter as a fully loved child of the King. Let nothing hold you back. Lift up your face with the assurance of hope for he is risen…

he is risen, indeed!

Beautiful One

Our neck of the woods is so beautiful. Tennessee has hills and trees as far as the eye can see and winter’s dull landscape is quickly being replaced by the brightest, tiny green leaves you have ever seen. Spring is here. The last threats of frost seem to be past and the garden centers are bursting with an abundance vegetables and flowers just begging to be taken home and planted in my garden or perched on my front porch.

Yesterday I walked outside, barefoot. The sun was shining and the grass was cool and soft under my feet. I took a deep breath, noting the sweet scent of hyacinths still lingering and the Cardinal in a nearby tree sang his song for me.

“Thank you, Jesus,” I whispered. “Thank you, God.”

Nasturtiums popped up from the soil, awakened by the warming sun today. A couple of squash seeds have poked their happy heads up as well, a perfect accompaniment to the Roma tomatoes that will rise within the steel cages. I’ve often read that one is nearer God’s heart in a garden than any other place on earth. I don’t know if that is biblical but I do know a garden was man’s first home. It’s where we were intended to be. Our hearts long for soft soil and green leaves. Dirty fingernails and scuffed knees are the hallmark of a happy gardener, of which I am one.

And in the breeze I hear Him whisper. Not audibly, exactly, but almost so. He allows me to feel His pleasure through no work of my own and gives me respite from the hectic pace of this season of life. My children laugh from upstairs and I’m sure I heard my daughters singing.

Dear Solomon, surely you were consumed with love during the early days of Spring…

My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away,
for behold, the winter is past;
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
The fig tree ripens its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away.

Song of Solomon 2:10-14

Why is it so hard to be still? Have you ever set a timer, intending to pray for ten or twenty minutes? It seems the second we try to sit our minds race with all the things we “should” be doing and we struggle to focus, much less commune with the Lord. A million distractions surround us, sucking hour after hour from our one short life, yet we cannot talk to God for more than a few minutes without growing restless.

Yet we must. We must stop and, literally, smell the roses. We must say “no” to the distractions and put away the things that rob us of intimacy with our Maker. Taking the time to be still and let the knowledge that HE is God, that He is the Lover of our Soul and there is no one else like Him, seep into our very bones is absolutely vital. He deserves nothing less. It is a battle worth fighting and fight, we must.

Because we cannot live…truly live…without Him.

Take a walk. Go for a run or even sit in quiet with the Bible open and nothing else to distract you. Determine to develop the discipline of daily stillness before the Father and watch as your heart tunes better to His. Listen as His whisper grows easier to discern and enjoy the refreshing this time will bring to your relationship with God. It will affect everything, especially your interactions with friends and family for we can only offer what we already posess ourselves.

My kids know, if they awaken early, where I will be. They will steal into the room and grace me with a kiss before padding downstairs to eat breakfast or, sometimes, they will sit quietly as I finish my time with the Lord. But it took years for me to develop the discipline to do this consistently. I finally did, though, and I’m so grateful. I’ve learned to steal moments throughout the day, listening to music (The Rabbit Room being my favorite source of life-giving music) and podcasts to train my mind and direct my thoughts toward things of the Kingdom because, if I don’t, I will find my thoughts directed everywhere else.

And, now that it is Spring, I go outside. Barefoot. I watch the hills come alive and the rebuds bloom, knowing the God who created every beautiful thing also created me.

You are altogether beautiful, my love;
there is no flaw in you.

Song of Solomon 4:7

Your Father calls you his “beautiful one.” Live forward into that truth, for that is who He says you are.

 

The Loving Thing to Do

A few days ago I had a conversation with one of my daughters about what I have been learning in my study of the Bible. We talked about the origins of the earth and the human race, how we can know there is a creator and how we can know that creator is our God…the one true God. We also talked about salvation; the necessity of faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus to satisfy the penalty we would have had to pay for our sins and give us victory over death to live with Him forever.

I looked at her, this budding, bold child who is taking one big faith-step after another as she learns to lean in and fall in love with Jesus. She is still a little girl in some ways but I almost daily see glimpses of the woman she is becoming. Oh, how I pray for her heart to be solidly His.

She has walked through some hard things in the past couple of years. There have been days when it felt like her world was spiraling out of control but God always, gently, reminded us He was there and still at work even when we couldn’t see Him. She has matured and is finding her voice, treading the waters of boldness and testing the call to be a leader among her peers.

Still, though, she struggles as we all do to speak the truth in love. We live in a world that is not friendly to the message of the cross. The name of Jesus is sure to bring hostility and accusation if wielded openly. Speaking the truth in love is hard for most of us, I would say, and especially so in a culture that equates truth with judgement and being “holier-than-thou.” When asked direct questions even the most committed Christians can step back a bit and hedge their answers out of a desire not to offend and lose opportunity for relationship.

Sometimes, when the issue is one that does not have eternal consequences, hedging is the kind thing to do. (I try to minor in the minors) But what if asked, point-blank, if you really believe Jesus is the only way to Heaven? What if that person is a dear friend or family member that you know is a “good person” and really sincere in their personal beliefs?

Think about it…

What if your toddler, who just rode her tricycle into the middle of the freeway, sincerely believes the car rounding the curve and heading toward her at 75 miles per hour won’t hit her? In fact, she sincerely believes the car is not even there. Do you run out and grab her? Do you risk her being upset with you because you ruined her fun?

Or do you risk it all to save her life?

I looked at my daughter, and asked her a hard question…

“If we really believe Jesus is the only way to Heaven, why do we hold back? If we really believe people who do not trust Jesus as their savior will go to Hell, what is the truly loving thing to do?’

Her eyes widened as the lightbulb came on.

“You have to tell them, Mom.” She shook her head a little, clearing her thoughts.

“It would be wrong not to tell them, wouldn’t it? To let them go to hell because we didn’t want to make them mad or think we are judging them…?”

“Yeah, wow. I had never thought of it that way.”

Truth sets us free. Knowing the truth of Jesus Christ, realizing the incredible, undeserved love the Father has for us, is the key to everything. He made a way for us! He made it simple enough that a child can understand; that just a mustard seed of faith will forever change where we spend eternity. Many religions attempt to control behavior and offer the possibility to attain life after death (if all goes well and you satisfy the requirements of that particular god or prophet), but only faith in Jesus Christ takes care of the root of the problem plaguing all of humanity…sin…every single time. Without fail.

So I’m telling you now, because I do love you and want to be sure you are ushered safely home when your time on earth is over, that Jesus is the way…the only way to Heaven. You will not find eternal security anywhere else. Through faith in Jesus, God will redeem you and transform you. He will open your eyes to the sins you thought were hidden or no big deal (along with the things you were convinced weren’t sins at all) and systematically deal with them, making you more and more like His Son every day. He will fill you with the Holy Spirit and give you understanding of things that had before seemed to be mysteries as you read and learn the Bible. It will come alive and He will make you new.

Call me narrow. Call me small-minded. I am no longer content to sit back and watch person after person fall to the false teachings that have flooded the world. My dear friends, you are loved with an everlasting love, you only have to surrender.

Now you may not want to acknowledge this, but you are, in fact, already surrendered to something…either Jesus or the other “little-g” gods that surround us. (religion, wealth, position, gender,and race to name a few) The little-g gods will enslave you and leave you in bondage. The God of the Bible? Well, He is the complete opposite. He will set you free and, by faith in His Son, you will, indeed be truly free.

I pray you will surrender. I pray you will recognize your need for a Savior and repent of your sins, trusting in the death of Christ to pay the penalty you could not pay and receive the life He offers through the power of His resurrection. Please let me know if you do! I want to celebrate with you and encourage you as your find your footing in this new life.

Without Jesus you are in grave danger.

I love you too much to let you stay in the street.

When Quiet Won

It was so quiet that I could hear the fluttering of the birds’ wings. Newly filled feeders had invited them near and in droves they came, red-winged blackbirds, nut-hatches, cardinals and sparrows all vying for position and dominance over the provisions that had been carefully hung from hooks and branches.

The sun shone in all it’s glory, framed by a baby blue sky and not a single cloud. The distant pond’s surface rippled gently, a deep and dark blue disguising the teeming life swimming beneath.

I almost missed it. I almost stayed inside, turning on the TV because spring is wreaking havoc on my allergies. Sniffles and nosebleeds and coughs, oh my! I almost let a sinus headache win, but I didn’t and I’m grateful, for what is more healing than the sun?

What better antidote to a cold or the blues than bright skies gently beckoning our eyes upward and onward?

What is more lovely than the scent of hyacinths breaking through the most clogged of noses as they open green arms wide and declare the glory of God in the deepest of perfumed purple hues?

“In quietness and trust shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)

I have a hard time with the “quiet” part of that verse. My days are filled with bustle and noise and when it all dies down my mind struggles to find a spot to sit. It runs in circles and tries to fill the silence with whatever is close and convenient.

But today the quiet won and as I sit on my porch, the colorful garden flag fluttering in the gentle breeze and the turquoise windmill that my daughter insisted we snag at Lowe’s spinning in delight, I hear Him whisper.

In the beauty of creation he reminds me that I am his beloved.

In the stillness He smiles upon me and fills the long pause with the laughter of a child in the distance, wafting across the pasture with last season’s tall grasses waving their golden stalks and the little horse shelter awaiting the summer wildflowers that will surely come.

A distant dog barks a friendly warning as a bumblebee whizzes by and there it is again…the laughter of a child.

Unbridled joy.

The Great Mercy of God

Rain fell softly as we waited in line among ten-thousand of our neighbors from the Nashville area. Music was promised inside Bridgestone Arena. Music different from what normally is heard in that huge venue. Music that would reach out and woo the seeker, hopefully, into surrendering their lives to Jesus Christ.

My daughter and her friend were all smiles, excited to see artist whose music they loved to sing along with on the radio…Mandisa, Danny Gokey, The Newsboys, Rend Collective, etc…while my friend and I enjoyed their bubbling excitement.

I had dropped them off at the entrance so they could get a place in line while I parked the car two blocks away. I walked quickly in the rain, the hood of my raincoat pulled over my head. As I spotted my friend waving from near the front (yay!) I noticed a loud yelling coming from my right. I turned to find the source and my heart sunk as I realized what was going on.

Two men, dressed in black and white, one standing on a platform with a megaphone to his mouth and the other on the ground beside held large signs with red and black letters reading “SIN NOT” among other messages urging people to turn to God.

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But nothing about the way these men were evangelizing would ever be effective.

There was so much anger.

“DO YOU PARENTS NOT FEAR THE LORD? DO YOU NOT TEACH YOUR CHILDREN THE FEAR OF THE LORD?”

My friend shook her head as I joined them in line. “Do they not realize we are taking them to a Christian concert?”

But I knew they did. Unfortunately, I knew the place from where these men spoke…and sang.

Oh, yes, one was singing. He screamed out, like a curse, “Oh how I love Jesus, because He first loved me.” I never dreamed that song could sound angry or vicious, but somehow this man managed to make it so. Over and over, his voice grinding in anger and hatred, he screamed every word of every line to the crowd who, for the most part, ignored him.

We finally got inside and found good seats, spending the next four and a half hours hearing one band after another share their gifts and their stories. Stories of brokennes, redemption, and hope. Stories shared in humility with the desire to see the young people in that arena grasp the life-giving truth of God’s perfect love. Stories that caused hands to raise in surrender and eternities to be forever changed.

And I thought, as we left singing and smiling, that is the difference between legalism and grace.

I grew up in a legalistic tradition. Rules were expected to be upheld in order to achieve salvation. One wrong move and, poof, you were back to square one and you’d better confess and repent or else.

I went to sleep at night afraid. I prayed God would forgive me for anything I didn’t know I had done wrong on top of all the things I was aware of. I saw God as an angry old man “up there” who was checking off my sin-boxes as I committed them. One after the other the list of my sins piled up and I knew I would never measure up.

Might as well give up.

Oh sure, I went to church each Sunday just in case that would help. If I died in a car accident on the way home at least I’d been in church, right? I did not understand how God could love me.

I didn’t even like me most of the time.

But He did, and He does.

Truth flooded my heart when I was twenty-one years old. The realization, at last, that Jesus had paid it all and that I was free would completely change my life.

It would take more than ten years for me to shake the bondage of legalism, though, and I admit I still struggle with it as I raise my kids because, well, that is our fleshly default. We like things to look “right” because if the appearances are good we can pretend that everything is in alignment in our lives even when what is under the surface is so very confused, possibly even lost.

But you cannot force the heart.

You cannot fake faith.

Screaming and yelling hellfire and brimstone will only change behavior. It will never save souls.

I wish I could have spoken to those men. I know they did what they did out of concern for that crowd. I wish I could have explained to them a life changed, a heart set free, a holy calling gladly pursued out of gratitude and love for the One who died for me. I wish I could have explained to them that legalism only breeds sin. I wish I could lead them here, to Romans 8:1-11, to read for themselves God’s heart for them so they could be set free to lead others to Christ in love, humility and grace, trusting the Holy Spirit to change hearts and lives instead of their own angry, accusatory screams.

Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus, because the Spirit’s law of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. What the law could not do since it was limited by the flesh, God did. He condemned sin in the flesh by sending His own Son in flesh like ours under sin’s domain, and as a sin offering, in order that the law’s requirement would be accomplished in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh think about the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, about the things of the Spirit. For the mind-set of the flesh is death, but the mind-set of the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind-set of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit itself to God’s law, for it is unable to do so. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God lives in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. Now if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, then He who raised Christ from the dead will also bring your mortal bodies to life through His Spirit who lives in you. (Emphasis mine)

Should we fear God? Absolutely. In the great words of C.S. Lewis, “He is not safe but He is good.”

Is there consequence for sin? You bet. God is love and out of that great love he disciplines us. Without acknowledging Him as Father and Savior we are hopeless and lost in sin. He does not want anyone to perish, and gives every human being opportunity to know Him, even on a mustard-seed level. But a healthy fear of God leads us to the throne of mercy. It is surrender, it is the realization that we need Jesus, that without Him we cannot overcome sin, serve God and impact this world for Christ. It is ALL on Him. We are only vessels.

He who raised Christ from the dead is the one who brings us to life through His Spirit who lives in us. The first step is inviting Him in, giving Him the reins, stepping back and asking the simple question…”What now, Lord? I’ll do whatever you want. Just speak, for your servant is listening.”

And the Law? It will remind us of our great need. It will give us the boundaries within which we can live. It will frame our understanding of all of Scripture. And as we learn and grow in faith we will be brought to our knees in gratitude more and more for the One who perfectly fulfilled the Law because we simply could not.

His righteousness is exchanged for our sin.

His grace, for our failures.

His life forever traded for our death.

And from that place of mercy we cry out praise to the One who loves us completely. We share our stories of redemption with the world who desperately needs hope. We humbly take the hand of our friend and say, will you come with me? Will you let me lead you to the feet of Jesus?

“Oh, how I love Jesus…because He first loved me.”

(If the video doesn’t load, just click on the words above. You’ll be glad you did.)