The Law is Gentle

 

No Parking Signs

I first posted this thought at http://www.inspireafire.com/the-law-is-gentle/

Martin Luther famously said that God’s Law serves three purposes. First, it acts as a curb to prevent violent outbursts of sin. Think of a curb along a road, or a curb bit in a horse’s mouth. The law is like that barrier saying “you can come this far… and no farther.”

Danger SignSecond, the law acts as a mirror. When we compare ourselves to the perfection demanded by God’s law – perfection not just in outward action but in thought and desire, too – then we begin to see ourselves in a new and unflattering light. Like a little league star tested against the professionals, we suddenly realize we might not be such hot stuff after all.

Finally, the law acts as a guide. Although we can never attain perfection on our own, we know from the Law what it looks like. We know what to aspire to. We know what to ask God to help us achieve.

And God does help us.

So often when we think of the Law we think of the rules and regulations. We may think of these curbs, mirrors, and guides. We may think of how far we fall short. But today, I’m also thinking of Jesus, weeping over Jerusalem with the words “How often I wanted to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…” (Matthew 23:37).

All of the law’s harshness can be summarized in one gentle command: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30).

Like chicks under a protective wing, we are called to press against Jesus. Do not beat against the curb, distress over the mirror, or try in vain to follow the guide. There is another way.

Bible in MirrorLove God.

That’s it. Love God.

Pursue Him. Run after Him. Seek Him. Love Him.

It sounds so simple, but there’s a catch. We have to want it. We have to want God more than anything else. More than any other relationship, more than any other passion, more than any other pursuit.

It is a gentle command. Which means it can be so easy to ignore. God will pursue us, but He will not force us to obey. We can choose to love so many other things. And I have found through my own wandering ways that when other loves begin to supersede the First Love, life begins to unravel in devastating ways.

The greatest command, Jesus said, is to love God. That one comes first.

Not second. Not somewhere down the line.

First.

Love Never Fails signAre you struggling? With loving others or loving yourself? With sin you can’t shake? With broken relationships, broken dreams, broken hope?

Refocus. On. God.

Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these other things will be given to you. “You shall seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart,” saith the Lord (Jeremiah 29:13).

It is not a harsh command, but it is the most important one.

Love God.

Love Springs

Toy groundhog in plants

I posted this earlier this week at www.inspireafire.com/love-springs. Enjoy this re-post, and Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

I heard that Punxsutawney Phil is predicting an early spring this year. Legend has it that this Pennsylvanian groundhog can predict the approach of spring when he sticks his head out of his den on February 2nd. If he sees a shadow, he flees back down into his hole to slumber for another 6 weeks. This year, no shadow means spring is on its way.

clouds parting

Regardless of how much trust you have in this furry, four-legged prediction, the real question we should be asking is: What season follows spring?

I often picture spring as a gradual transition from winter into summer. The days get longer and warmer; little buds appear and then begin to pop. Color flows seamlessly from winter greys to joyful hues.

But that’s not how it happens.

More often than not, spring approaches like last year’s rusty tractor. It roars to life only to sputter and fade. It coughs and wheezes and jerks into motion only to stall half-way across the yard. It promises summer only to retreat back into winter.  You may need three different weight coats just to make it through one day, and the next day you may need to wear the same three coats in reverse.

Welcome to spring.

Winter

Ah, spring! Not only is it the precursor to summer, it is also the season of love. I think of that when I see my daffodils shoot out of the ground one day only to be blanketed with snow the next. Or weeks later when  they raise their yellow blooms toward glorious sunshine only to be whacked across the face with a deluge of ice pellets. Anyone who thinks that spring is gentle has never really paid attention.  And anyone who thinks that love is gentle has never really been in love.

What season are you walking through in your relationships right now? Equally important, what season is coming next?

Perhaps you’re in the thrall of romance. Absorb it like rays of sunshine, and let it grow deep roots to sustain you.

Perhaps you’re in a season of dark desperation, not sure how much more battering you can take. Hold onto the truth that the Son will never leave you. Seek Him harder than you have ever sought Him before.

Or perhaps you’re in a season of turmoil as chaotic as spring itself – blown about by life’s demands and twirling in confusion. Identify just one small thing that you can put in order, and start there. Sometimes changes to the smallest tributaries can divert the most raging torrent.

Desert flower

Love is not always easy, but we know that love is always worth it, because God Himself is love. No matter what season of love you’re in, pursue God with open arms. Through rain and snow and sleet and sunshine, seek God. He can bring order. He can bring healing. He can bring joy. One day, you will find that your arms are no longer empty. You are holding onto Love.

Because here’s something else about spring: it never gives up. No matter how many times winter throws another punch, spring always gets back up. In the end, spring always wins.

And so does love. Even when it hurts.

Memories. And a Net of Thanksgiving.

This post first appeared at http://www.inspireafire.com/casting-a-net-of-thanksgiving/

Memories can turn bittersweet in a second.

I can be happily following the rabbit trail of my thoughts, hopping between afternoon plans and pleasant reminiscing when WHAM!

Thoughts in a rabbit candy dishIt’s like a hole suddenly opened up beneath my feet, or a rock slammed me back twenty yards. Use whatever analogy you want – perhaps you’ve experienced it too? – but a wave of sadness, or anger, or fear (or all three) has me pinned and wriggling beneath its weight. My happy little thought trail just turned deadly.

Maybe it’s the loss of a loved one, or a struggling relationship, or a transition you’re trying to navigate. There will be a time when memories bring you joy and comfort, but not right away. First, they hurt. They hurt like a red hot poker you can’t get near enough to touch. And so you stay away. But eventually those memories start to sneak in. A familiar location, a familiar scent, a familiar sound. Between the red hot poker phase and the happy memory phase there is this in-between time. A memory starts out so innocently that you glance its way. And then it pummels you.

I’m navigating that in-between time right now. Trying to learn when it’s okay to look, and when it’s not. When it’s safe to let my mind wander, and when my mind is about to turn against me. It is a journey by trial and error. But it’s a journey I have to take. If I never touch the thoughts, I never progress. I would simply harden my heart, withdraw, turn cold. But on the other hand, if I move too quickly, I will drown in the floodgates of emotion.

I am learning to walk my thought trails with a weapon at the ready, and the weapon I have found most effective may surprise you. There is a fraction of second, a space barely the size of the gap between two thoughts, when I feel my thoughts turning against me, swinging me over a pit of grief.

TrailAnd in that thought gap, that fraction between thought and emotion, I throw a net.

A net of thanksgiving.

“I am thankful for this memory,” I say. And then I transition immediately to the present. “I am thankful that God is continuing to take care of me and preparing new moments for me to enjoy. I am thankful God is restoring old relationships and bringing new relationships. Thank you…”

The secret to success with this weapon is three-fold. First, I have to throw the net the milli-second I feel myself being swung over that pit. I can’t test the thought to see if it’s really turning on me; I can’t think a little further to see if it’s really all that sad. I lose that battle every time, and once I’m on the way down, it’s much harder to grab a handhold.

Second, I have to move away from the memory that threw me over the pit to begin with. Too many times I’ve tried to weave a net of thanksgiving by stringing together everything I’m thankful for in that old memory. The problem is that while my brain is saying thank you, my heart is feeling the loss of every one of those old memories. Before I know it, I’ve used my net to climb down into the very pit I was trying to avoid.

View from hammock.Third, this is a safety net, not a hammock. This strategy disrupts the spiraling thoughts just enough for me to get back to safer ground. Whatever train of thought brought me to the edge, now is not the time to hop on board again. Too many times I’ve swung myself out of the pit just to ride my thoughts right back down into it. If I can’t lead my thoughts elsewhere on my own, I need to turn on music, a podcast, or call a friend. Anything to move to a new location in my mind. I can go visit that train of thought some other day.

Memories are finicky things. They don’t always announce whether they are friend or foe, whether they carry joy or sadness. Often they carry both. Memories allow us to learn, to grow, and to relive moments. But their power should propel us toward our future, not hold us mired in the past. There are times we need to thank them for their service, and walk away.

Waiting Patiently – A New Understanding of Rest

I originally shared this post at http://www.inspireafire.com/waiting-patiently-a-new-understanding-of-rest/. I hope you enjoy!

Hammock

Fall always seems like the busiest time of year. School is back in session. Work emails quadruple. Outside it’s the season of harvest – that narrow window where all the accumulation from the summer sun must be bundled in before the winter. And just the other day I heard a flock of geese sounding their way south. Already!

Despite the bustle of the changing season, I’ve found myself staring out the window and thinking not about all I have to do (though there is plenty). I find myself thinking instead about the exact opposite.

Autumn orchardI’m thinking about rest.

Perhaps because I’ve had more changes at work and home than I generally care to tackle all at once, but summer seems to have slipped by without me noticing. I’m staring into the tumult of fall and yearning for rebirth, for regeneration, for the hope of spring.

It seems a long time away.

I find myself gravitating to scripture passages like “He gives to his beloved sleep.” And “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Not my typical “no time to be idle” fall verses. But I pause when I study Psalm 37:7, which in the King James Version says, “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him.”

At first reading, this verse has the same soothing balm as the others. Then I look up the original Greek.

The word translated as “wait patiently” is not the wait-in-this-sunny-meadow kind of waiting that I first assumed. It isn’t even the cast-your-cares-upon-the-Lord-and-stop-worrying kind of waiting. The word actually means to writhe in pain as in child birth.

I do not like this.

I want to think about waiting patiently as something pleasant. Something I can meditate on while drifting off to sleep. I don’t want nightmares of writhing in pain.

But the more I’ve thought about this, the more I see the hope embedded in the words. The connotation is one of enduring, with the promise of a joy so complete as to make the pain worthwhile. “A woman giving birth has pain,” Jesus said, “but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy.” (John 16:21)

View from hammock.Waiting patiently for God is sometimes hard work. Resting in the Lord may not always mean peaceful slumber. God’s transforming power in our lives may in fact feel like our insides are writhing. But this transformation also comes with the promise of a peace and joy so complete as to make our current trials seem light and momentary, even if they don’t feel that way right now.

The springtime regeneration I am looking forward to actually begins now. Now – as I snuggle into the fall season, holding onto God’s promise that He will never leave me nor forsake me. I can trust that He will bring to completion the good works begun in me. He will give me the strength, courage, and wisdom to walk out the path He has laid before me. He will restore my soul and make my joy complete. He will do all this, as I rest in and wait patiently for Him.

Resting in the Lord and waiting patiently for Him may not be the lazy summer day kind of resting that I first envisioned. It might be more of a fall activity after all.

And it might be exactly the type of rest I am actually yearning for.

Delayed. A story of fun things.

This post originally appeared at http://www.inspireafire.com/delayed-a-story-of-fun-things/.

I hope you enjoy!

Plane

It wasn’t the dinner-with-family I had envisioned.

I should have been there by early afternoon, but after a series of delays, cancellations, and rebookings, I found myself with an extra seven hours at the Charlotte airport.

Seven hours is a long layover.

Fortunately, there were two pieces of good news. First, I could still get out that night, so my long-weekend was still intact. Second, I’m a writer. Writers know exactly what to do in situations like this.

We go looking for something interesting to write.

My first stop was a model airplane mobile circulating above a sushi bar. I had already walked by this spot several times, but I never noticed it until I started looking. The slowly moving aircraft were mesmerizing, and all different. People rushed by me en route to their gates, but I stood so long staring over the heads of the diners that one lady finally got agitated and left. I took her seat.

Plane mobile

After this I strolled through a line of fake trees. It wasn’t exactly Sherwood Forest, but with a bit of imagination and the cute little directional signs I could almost pretend I was in a quaint English village. Almost.

Inside Trees

One entire terminal was open during construction. They weren’t kidding about the construction. Exposed wires, cardboard floors… I didn’t stay down there very long for fear that I might plummet onto the tarmac. But I did stay long enough to snap a picture of this exposed ductwork that I thought looked a bit like a silver saguaro cactus. Don’t you agree?

Exposed duct work

Throughout the Charlotte Airport are these fantastic seating areas filled not with the traditional bolted down airport seats, but with sparkling white rocking chairs. (You’ve got to love southern hospitality.) No matter which terminal I went to, these special rocking chairs were almost always filled to capacity, but one advantage of a 7-hour layover is you can outwait almost every other passenger. I did eventually get my turn to rock. Twice. And it was quite nice.

Rocking Chairs

Down what I dubbed the digital terminal, there was a fascinating display screen that constantly morphed into different colors and shapes. I stood amongst shrieking children pointing and exclaiming at the wall. I’m pretty sure more of the nearby adults would have joined in our jubilant awe, but they must not have had a long enough layover to shake off their layers of self-consciousness.

The nearby sign explained that this wall was a visual representation of all the data flowing through Charlotte International Airport at that very moment. Something in my brain does not allow me to understand how data punched into a computer morphs into something visually cool, but that’s okay. I decided to spend my time enjoying it rather than figuring it out.

Digital display

From there I wandered down countless more corridors, jumped on and off moving sidewalks, and ran up and down some stairs just for fun. I danced to oldies music outside a burger place and mariachi outside a Mexican cantina. I enjoyed some Carolina Pit BBQ with collard greens because it seemed like the thing to do. And then just like that, it was time to head to my gate and fly away.

Perhaps you’re also finding yourself someplace other than your intended destination. Maybe family vacation plans got rerouted, or maybe life threw you a curveball. Let me encourage you to take the time to explore where you are. Don’t compare it to where you’d rather be – of course it won’t measure up – but you might be surprised how God shows you some interesting things right here until He is ready to move you on to the next leg or your journey.

That Still Small Voice

Fire

Happy Father’s Day! This post originally appeared at http://www.inspireafire.com/still-small-voice/. I’m re-posting it here in honor of my dad!

“Let your conscience be your guide,” my father used to say.

Compass

Let your conscience by your guide.

I don’t remember him ever telling me what my conscience was, but somehow I knew. It was that still, small voice that stopped me when I was tempted to go along with the wrong crowd. It was that slight, uncomfortable prodding when I was tempted to take the easy way out. It was the seed of something beautiful that would grow with me and become at times the clear, almost audible voice of God.

Sometimes that voice needs to work through a lot of tangle before I can hear it. I am reminded of this when I read the story of Elijah in the cave (1 Kings 19). There was a great and powerful wind, followed by an earthquake, followed by fire, but the Lord was not in any of those things. Instead, these cataclysmic events were contrasted with the gentle whisper of the Lord.

The thing that struck me recently about this story was not the contrast of catastrophic power with gentle instruction, but the fact that the catastrophic power came first.

We read this story in a few lines and it seems like Elijah waited only moments before he could walk to the opening of the cave and talk with the Lord. When my life is in cataclysmic upheaval I wish that I, too, could wait for just a moment and then walk out of the devastation and into gentle instruction. I yearn for God to say to me: “You are not the only one left. Come out of there. Let me tell you what to do.”

But we don’t know how long the winds blew as they tore apart everything that once seemed secure. Or how long the earthquake rooted everything into upheaval. Or how long the fire burned to rubble even what little remained. What we know is that even after all of that, the still small voice was still there for Elijah.

And that still small voice is still there for us.

Footsteps

He is guiding our steps.

Sometimes we have to go through wind and fire before we are in a place where we can hear His voice, but we have a promise from God that even when we cannot hear Him over the tumult, He is still by our side, guiding our steps. He is still stopping us, prodding us, growing us, until we come to a place where we can hear Him more clearly again.

I recently asked my father what lessons he hopes he passed on to his children.

“Integrity,” he answered. And in that one word he summed up a multitude.

Integrity is how you treat people. Integrity is how you do your work. Integrity is when you listen to that still small voice…  and let your conscience be your guide.

I have more than one Father teaching me that lesson.

Pentecostal Listening

Fifty days after Passover, Jews from all nations gather in Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, also known as Pentecost. On one very special Pentecost a little over 2000 years ago, the gathering Jews witnessed a never-before-seen event. With a sound like rushing wind and a visual of leaping flames, the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles. They began proclaiming the wonders of God in different languages. Some of the gathering Jews were amazed – “How is it that each of us hears them speaking in his own native language?” – while others laughed at them, thinking they were drunk.

Fire

How is it that such an outpouring of power could be witnessed by some as a great miracle and by others as drunken nonsense? The answer, I think, is that they heard different things.

God’s spirit has been poured out on all people, but not all people recognize the voice. Jesus gave the analogy of sheep that follow their shepherd when they know his voice. To the unbelieving Jews He said, “You do not believe, because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:26-27).

Likewise, on the day of Pentecost, God sent His Holy Spirit to speak through the apostles. From the gathering crowd there were those who recognized the voice. They heard, each in his own language, the wonders of God being proclaimed. Astonished, they looked around, and in the neighboring faces they saw similar amazement. This divine encounter was not happening to them alone, but to everyone who connected with the words being spoken.

But there were others in the gathering crowd who did not share this amazement. Perhaps they did not press in close enough to truly hear. Perhaps they had hardened their hearts to not recognize God in their midst. Whatever the reason, it is not hard to imagine what they heard: the sound of eleven men shouting in multiple languages could easily be confused with drunken gibberish. They turned away from the presence of God and scoffed at the apostles, saying, “They are filled with new wine.”

The outpouring of God’s spirit at Pentecost was an inaugural event, but the outpouring of God’s spirit has never ceased. When the crowd asked Peter what they should do, he replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

Bible1Did you catch that? The gift of the Holy Spirit was for them, and their children, and for all who are far off, including everyone whom the Lord our God will call. In other words, this promise is for us, too.

Whether the entire Christian faith is foreign to you, or you are a believer who struggles with confusing elements, don’t be too hasty to mock. If it sounds like gibberish to you, press in closer. Listen more intently. Read God’s written word, and listen to biblical teachings. You may be surprised to discover that through the tumult around you, God is speaking directly to you.

He is waiting to pour His Holy Spirit into every area of your life.