If you love Me, you will obey what I command. John 15:1
These words, from anyone but God, would be manipulative and dangerous. But His ownership of me warrants such a preserving love.
It’s not that He’s saying to me, Do everything I command to prove that you love Me.
In that lies the essence of all religion. It tries to earn love and acceptance. It always strives to lay hold of temporary accomplishments and struggles to stay above water. It is often content with crumbs because the real food of life seems desperately out of reach. It camps inside the sombre lines looking longingly out at what is forbidden, not wanting to risk the loss of its rickety shelter or suffer the searing shame of being discovered; falling prey to many border crossing escapades when it thinks no one is looking.
I know—my abandoned tent pegs are probably still stuck in the ground there.
But He wasn’t saying that. He wasn’t soliciting mindless allegiance–a dynasty of drones.
He was saying,
Obedience follows love for Me the way goslings are glued to their mother.
Obeying Me is the geyser that gushes out of a heart bursting with love for Me.
A heart that loves Me has no other flame to warm itself with in this cold, dark world—and it will stoke its fires often.
His is not a call to die under a dictatorship, but an invitation to live in freedom from religious works.
Free to be me, in His love,
opens the way to living in submission.
But Naaman left in a rage, saying, “I thought that he would at least come out to me, pray to the Lord his God, wave his hand over the diseased spot, and cure me!” (2 Kings 5:11)
Rage is a voracious devourer. Erupting from the molten madness within, it spews red-hot lava into the atmosphere, consuming every living thing in its insatiable appetite. It makes volcanoes of us all—desolate mountains of destruction.
No one wants to live near a volcano. People don’t scour the housing ads for property near the bottom of a smouldering hill. Orchards don’t grow in its wake.
Bubbly springs don’t nourish the soil, and flowers don’t fence it in. It is a self-righteous fountain of fury, fed by wrong thinking. I thought … he would wave his hand over the diseased spot and…
If we trust in our own thinking it will eventually let us down.
I thought my marriage would last forever… I thought my healthy lifestyle meant I would never get cancer… I thought my children were going to come back home… I thought I would have a husband by now…
And when it does, we can choose to be filled with rage and sentence ourselves to barren captivity, or…
So Naaman went down to the Jordan, dipped himself in it seven times, as Elisha had instructed, and he was completely cured. His flesh became firm and healthy like that of a child. (Verse 14)
Our feeble thinking was never meant to be the framework for what we believe. We are always learning, being changed, and seeing things from new perspectives. If we lean on what we think is right today, tomorrow it may be a broken fence post crumbling beneath the weight of our insecurities.
Naaman eventually chose to trust God, and even though what God wanted him to do was absurd and humiliating…to him, it was what he needed to do; it’s what we need to do to get to a place where we can receive what God wants us to have.
Trusting God sometimes seems childish, foolish, and humiliating in seasons of distress—but it is the only sure way to breathe wellness and life back into a dying landscape.
In times of plenty
it’s hard to imagine
could be anything but waste, to be wiped away with the trash.
A good meal
is taken for granted
in times of plenty.
Sometimes, when my heart is filled up with plenty–plenty of activities; plenty of dreams; plenty of goals to achieve–I give God the crumbs.
When my prayer time gets swept away with the wastefulness of life it’s never long before famine sets into my soul.
And I find myself back at the altar,
begging just to taste the crumbs at His table, once more.
It was blizzardy when I left class early. The wind pelted the few exposed centimeters of my face and jabbed at my eyes as I followed the other wayfarers into the warm refuge of the bus terminal. Still half an hour before departure—I thought I’d spent more time at the drug store than I had.
The grime accosted me the first time I had to wait inside—months ago; but now it seems normal, inviting even.
I walk around and look through windows at nothing in particular. I watch the others without trying to be obvious or ill-mannered—people make me curious. I check my phone to see if my daughter messaged me and take a seat along the back beneath the window; that way I can catch what’s going on. Also, there are a few empty seats in a row.
Mostly it amazes me. The cacophonous quiet. That so many people could be in such a small space and only a spattered few are engaged in some kind of conversation. There’s a double row of seats facing me like someone set them up to play musical chairs. People slip in–trying not to make contact with the person next to them, as though they might detonate. Some are pacing, some passing through—but almost all are busy button pushing or scrolling across the lighted screens of their gadgets. I’d like to blame technology for our lack of horizontal contact, but if I’m real honest, I don’t need technology to keep me from not striking up a conversation with a complete stranger. Still, there’s something surreal about seeing so many people hooked up to the heavens—completely oblivious to what’s going on around them.
I think about what I was reading in computer class—about networks. They can be hierarchical or peer-to-peer; and all the devices connected to them are nodes. A woman walks by in front of me looking like an angel, her face glowing from the notebook device she’s looking into as she goes. She’s a node, I think to myself with a smile. We’re all nodes, connected to something.
I enjoy being here today; watching people go by, waiting for my bus. Sometimes I listen to sermons on my Mp3 player, but for the moment I’m contented just holding God’s hand with my heart. His is a secure connection–hierarchical and peer-to-peer at the same time. And I’m just a little node… learning to be content, even when the ride (as it often will) takes me places I’d rather not go.
This morning, as I was hanging my laundry on the line in descending order of weight and size, I took my time to drape the last few articles—with stains—facing the sun. Nothing can disintegrate mustard spots and fade the vilest blotches of blood like a June morning’s piercing rays. Last week I hung a white tunic up with a mango mark that hadn’t come out in the wash, and hours later I reeled it back in without spot or wrinkle. Okay, it still had a few wrinkles—we’re at the mercy of the wind for that—but the yellow fleck had forever fled from the sun’s penetrating gaze.
That wasn’t the first time this morning I’d aired my dirty laundry, though.
I hauled my basket full of soiled cares and sullied concerns to my prayer place and washed them in the water of His Word. I let His mercy pour healing agents into the rinse as I scrubbed every anxiety over the washboard of His wisdom and commands. Ours is no quick-cycle chemical cleansing—prayer is a ‘roll up your sleeves’ kind of rewarding work.
Sometimes I get up from on my face before God fully cleansed and refreshed. Other times, like this morning, I find there are things that just don’t come out in the wash.
So I hung them up on my faith-line. I tethered them to mercy, and secured them with trust—carefully positioning each one before the Son’s face. He sees them, I know. They don’t stand a chance against His penetrating gaze.
Clouds might get in the way, this is true. But out there they will stay until He comes through.
I like to think that prayer is a little like doing my laundry. I have to keep up with it or I don’t have anything to wear. Sometimes a gentle rinse cycle is all I need. Some requests get put through the wringer. And some things just have to hang and dry.
… purify yourselves and change your clothes. Genesis 35:2
So I’m sitting outside the other day with Loco and one of the neighbour girls who often comes over to visit, and she turns to me and asks, “Can I have your dog when you die?”
Ah, I’m thinking to myself, the innocence of children. She thinks my little Loco (who’s already nearly ten in people years—making her eligible for Old Age Security in dog years, if they actually paid it out to dogs [I’ll have to write a letter to Peta]) is going to outlive me.
“Oh,” I say, “Loco’s ten years old.” But she keeps looking at me for an answer, so I continue, “She’ll most likely only live to be about 15.” She continues to look at me as I rock back and forth in my porch chair, feeling now like I should be knitting socks and pulling a shawl over my shoulders.
“Um, do I actually look to you like I’m going to die before that?”
She nods. And with childlike sincerity adds, “Yes… well, except for your hair.”
Definitely not getting the dog. And, although I did enjoy the rest of our time together (I have THE most darling neighbours), all I could think about was getting back inside so I could look in a mirror and scrutinize the latest attack the aging army had launched against me unawares. Should I have invested all that money in a good straightener when a set of curlers was more my speed?
Suddenly, how old I looked to the rest of the world mattered very much to me.
I have to admit, though, getting older isn’t the struggle I thought it was going to be—it’s those other areas of my life where people’s opinions have either validated or demeaned who I am; those areas set in stone, cemented into something sculpted by what others have said about or to me–and I find the Christian life is somewhat of a perplexing paradox at times.
We have within us an inner witness to the forgiveness, life and promises of our Creator—while outward circumstances bear down with such force they threaten to snuff it all out. And, if that isn’t bad enough, those looking on can threaten to annihilate us completely by their erroneous assessments—judging who we are by our situations.
True, we sometimes bring the storm on ourselves, and often we’re just reaping what we planted—but even then, when our hearts are repentant God is with us, and we must hold on to that truth without ever letting go, because that, alone, is our lifeline to getting through. We must learn to swim against the onslaught of opinion.
A man who’s fallen overboard and is floundering to keep his head above water in the middle of the ocean does not worry about how his hair looks as he clings to the lifesaver tossed out to him. God is not concerned about how well we impress others as we ‘work out our salvation with fear and trembling;’ clinging to what His Word says about us as the umbilical cord keeping us securely connected to the womb of faith.
Joseph had to do it. So did Job. David did it, too. All of them looking pretty insignificant in the eyes of their contemporaries—suffering scorn and contempt. One thing they didn’t do, though, and that was listen to popular opinion, not even their own. They believed what God said about them; they chose the path less travelled—and that, like the famous poet said—made all the difference.
Feeling a little boxed in by other people’s opinions? Don’t give up, God has a lot to say about who we are…
even when the rest of the world has our days numbered.
I heard the Oscar Wilde quote in a song this morning on my way to our Easter service.
In the inevitable ups and downs of everyday life, I happen to find myself more down than up, lately—emotionally. But that’s okay this time around. I know I’m gaining ground spiritually. I’m sucking the marrow out of whatever the season is serving up as a side dish. Finding it’s even possible to be joyful and hopeful when I’m not particularly happy; when some circumstances loom like dark destroyer clouds ready to drop their bombs.
But the sap of my life runs from a profound place where nothing can touch it. Like God promised, I am becoming a tree planted by a stream that does not wither in times of drought.
When Jesus called I answered. When it was time to seek, I sought. And though I sometimes stumble, I have turned where He’s asked me to… because He made it possible.
Often I feel alone. Faith is not fun when the world’s chill beats at your best intentions and hammers down on your resolve. This graveyard of dead trees is haunting and unkind.
But deep within, where the riches of His kindness and grace have hewed out a sparkling spring, I drink deeply.
My roots have ravished the soil in their desperate quest to stay alive. Years without much sunshine; harsh winds, storms and winter chill have forced them down to places I never knew existed, and I feel each tendril wrapping itself around the Rock of Ages with all its might.
This saint has a past. A past that howls through those barren trees in a tormenting mockery of the way things should have been. It curls its spiny tendrils around the dry twigs of my regrets and snaps my feeble dreams in two. It reminds me that so much of my desolation is my own fault; rubs my nose in the reality of how my wrong choices have hurt others. It wants me to stay frozen in the winter of its torment for good.
But, oh, this sinner has a future!
It springs from within—no matter if the sun is shining or the storms are rolling on. Or even if I don’t live up to my own expectations. It splits the deafening silence with the loud laughter of everlasting life, bellowing assurances carved into all creation from before the foundation of the earth.
It shouts, ‘Forgiven!’ It resonates, ‘Paid in Full!’ It burns away the chaff of winter’s wicked taunts in the unquenchable passion of His mercy.
How timely our last Beth Moore Bible study lesson happened to coincide with Easter. A few weeks back we wrote down the personal, besetting sins that have troubled us and each took our turn nailing them to the cross.
The object lesson tore into my soul like lightning striking sand, melding and transforming it permanently into something beautiful. I had never sensed, so deeply, my own guilt—not anybody else’s; mine—that crucified Jesus. My sins He took on that cross. I think the recurring revelation will still lacerate the memory of my pride and rejuvenate my gratitude a million years from now, whenever I see the scars that testify of a Saviour-God Whose Holy justice could only be avenged by His own unrelenting love.
Yes, this sinner has a past I can’t deny,