Time to Drop the Yet

I’ve often heard said, “God has never failed me yet.”

I’ve done a little digging to see if that exact phrase is in God’s Word because it troubles me a little.

It didn’t trouble me in the past.  It was easy for me to say, “God hasn’t failed me, yet he might.”

I was a little weak in the faith category and I must confess I still am, although exponentially stronger than I once was.  I was more of a God has kind of failed me, but maybe not, but he still might, I totally doubt him kind of semi-believer.

Oh, I believed that he had done great things.  He probably didn’t do those things for me.  I believed he had sent his son to die for my sins.  And maybe it was enough to cover my sins, maybe not.

But, I doubted he was engaging with me in any sort of personal way.

So, I gave in and I kind of tested God.  There were a lot of times I felt he had failed me.  Maybe you haven’t ever felt that way but I sure have.  I have shook my fist at the sky and mumbled, grumbled, shouted and wept in the aftermath of what surely must be the failings of God.

But as time marched on, purpose emerged from the pain.  Power burst forth out of weakness and faith became immovable bedrock that my relationship with God was built upon.

But still, I uttered the words, “He has never failed me…yet.”

Yet, I may do something so bad, so wrong, so awful, so big that God’s love cannot climb it let alone cover it.

Yet, I must doubt because I am from the Show-Me State where we have to see it to believe it.

Yet, I cannot comprehend that there exists love that is unconditional.

Those three little letters…Y-E-T, they are starting to bug me.  I really feel like it is time to drop them from my faith, from my thoughts, from the words I sing, from the affirmations of faith in God alone.

God’s love has NEVER failed me.

There is no need to place a disclaimer on the end of the sentence.  There is no reason to allow myself a shadow of a doubt.  There is no need to imply conditional love.

His love will never fail me.  His promises will never fail me.  His word will never fail me.  His strength will never fail me.

He will NEVER fail me…period.

Psalm 109:26 Help me, O Lord my God!
Save me because of your unfailing love.

He is unfailing.  He will always be unfailing.  He has always been unfailing.

I need to hang on to this and drop the “yet”.  I need to take that next big step that roots doubts and fears out of my heart and stand up, stand strong and know that no matter how bleak things look, how ugly the future may seem, how tough today may be, God has already not failed.  He has already won the victory.

I do not need to doubt what has already been done.

He will never fail me.  My faith is in the right place.

 

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I’ve Been Here

Here we are, the last piece I’ll write before Christmas.

I’ve reached this point in life sixty times, zooming up on the Christmas holidays.  I’ve been a baby that had no clue it was Christmas and the memories, if any, are buried deep within the cravings for food and a clean diaper or a nap.

I’ve been here in anticipation of Santa, hoping that I wasn’t on the list I deserved to be on.

I’ve been here doing school plays, dressed up like candy canes, shepherds, Joseph or just about any other people from the nativity except for Mary or a wise man (I wonder why I was never chosen to be a wise man).

I’ve been here frantically searching through a house with limited space to hide presents, to find and make sure that what I expected for Christmas lined up with what I actually got.

I’ve been here dashing about in crowds doing all my shopping at the absolute worst possible time, trying to buy impressive gifts with a minute amount of time to get them home, wrap them and appear to have finished my shopping weeks ago.

I’ve been here hoping that I can just survive the holidays, hoping that this anxiety and depression will leave me alone for just a little while so that I can force a smile or two in front of friends and family.

I’ve been here self-medicating my hidden fears and pain, looking for a way to find a spark of this joy that is supposed to be for all the world.

I’ve been here, praying that everyone would just go away, praying I could find some comfort in loneliness that never came.

I’ve been here, running to hide as often as I could to make my own version of chemical reaction that erases my faults, gives me some fake feeling of euphoria, some false sense that everything is going to be OK.

I’ve been here trying to make Christmas special for my kids and my family, wanting it to be more than was possible but never satisfied that it was enough.

I’ve been here through a lot of times.  I guess it would be foolish to try to list all sixty times I have been here.  It would probably get mighty boring for you to read, too.

But, I’ve been here and I have had expectations and wishes and hopes, dreams and desires, need and despair, tears and laughter, friendship, family and solitude.

I’ve been here and I’ve learned a lot about what holidays are not.  They are not magical recipes to cure me and my ills, they are not about songs that are the answer to the things that crush my spirit.  They are not a substitute for hard work building relationships.  They are not the solution to my puzzling feelings and behaviors.

They are a time to plant seeds.

This barren winter day, just after winter solstice, is an opportunity to start something small, to place something in the bare ground that will be waiting when I arrive here again next year.

See, all these times I have been here before, all these things I have experienced or brought to pass, all this I have carried into these days, most of it won’t matter one day.  Most of it will blow away like the few dried and withered leaves on my front lawn.

1 Corinthians 13:13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

I’m here for the sixtieth time, with an open heart, laid out before anyone that cares to see the scars and failures, the growth and successes, the sorrow and joy, gazing at the seeds I have planted in recent years, seeds my parents planted, seeds my grandparents planted, seeds that have taken root and grown into things that last forever.

If Christmas has often been a time of hurt, frustration and disappointment, don’t try to just turn it all around in one day like some corny Hallmark movie would lead you to believe is possible, plant some seeds for next Christmas.  Plant some things that last forever.

And the greatest of these is love.

 

 

 

A Little Love

There are times I sit down to write here and don’t know where to start.  I think, “There is nothing new, nothing wise, nothing clever, nothing creative to transfer from my brain to this screen and into the brains of others.”

There are times I place my hands on these keys and feel nothing, think nothing.  My mind is a blank.

There are those that may claim my mind is always a blank and maybe that is the case.  My my blank mind is a good place for God to jot down a few notes for the day.

So, on those days, days like this, I look at the one thing I should be feeling.  The one thing that makes me have a valid, meaningful purpose.

1 Corinthians 13:1 If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.

That one thing that I can turn to each and every day, when I feel like a stone sitting in the cold wind looking for some way to feel except cold, is loving others.

I am careful not to base my faith or my mental health on my feelings.  There are so many things that I feel that are not really based on anything real.  They are made of opinions, desires, fear and a bounty of other ingredients that can mix together are make me feel things that just aren’t there.

My feelings are real but the foundation of those feelings is not.

There are other times I feel nothing.  It would be easy to assume that since I feel nothing, a lot of the stuff I base my faith and my life on aren’t real.  But truth marches on regardless of whether I feel anything about it or not.

But, when I read God’s word, it rouses up this love feeling.  It isn’t just a gooey feeling I have inside but it is action taken on my part.

So, when I feel nothing, feel hollow, feel listless and blank, God calls me into action.  Love.

Words are just words without it.  In fact, they are less than just words, they are annoying noise in discord with the still small voice I should be hearing.

Knowing God, even being like God, knew what God knew, understood the unfathomable and could move the Rockies over to Appalachia, I would be nothing without love.

When love takes action, it brings a feeling into a life that many people search all over for.  It brings focus into life, it becomes motivation and movement.

Love that pines away for something isn’t love at all.  Love that moves me into new and deeper waters, takes me beyond my fear and pulls me out of myself, it exhilarates me.

It fills me with what I cannot explain, what I cannot duplicate, what I never knew I needed.

It changes the reason I do things.

Every year, I ring the Salvation Army bell.  I don’t do it so people can say, “Mike has done that sixteen years straight!”

I do it for people that put everything in their pockets in the bucket with tears in their eyes and whisper, “Thank you.”

Something happens between this old guy swinging the bell and that person giving more than they can really afford.  Love happens.  I see the needy in a different way.  I look beyond the people playing the system, beyond the lazy, beyond the entitled and see real, hurting, needy people.

I feel the nudge to love them.  I can tell as I sit here this morning with tears filling eyes that were just a few short minutes ago engaged in a blank stare, I need to love more.  I need to love better.  I need to base more of my life on things that do not do me one bit of good except to please God and give my life some meaning.

I need to love unconditionally or else I am nothing.

Always Loved

I don’t say much about my parents when I write, other than what a difficult time they must have had raising four kids like us. I had much better parents than most yet I would have to say that much of their job of parenting was difficult and often discouraging.

There were the normal things, like having to deal with why I would think that using the basement door of the house which contained three windows as a backstop when teaching my sister to hit a baseball. Of course, she missed the ball and the ball went through one of the windows and dad had to talk to me wondering how I could ever had thought would ever possibly work out in a good way at all.

One kid can do twenty stupid things in one day easily. It doesn’t matter if he is two or twelve, the ability doesn’t go away. Four kids can increase that number exponentially to around one thousand. A stay at home mom doesn’t have a chance and a dad coming home from work to the aftermath of a seeming contest where the winner is the one that wreaks the most havoc is bound to lose his ability to say to the family, “Gee, it’s great to be home.”

We weren’t bad kids (depending on who you ask), we were kids that didn’t have all these modern things to make us sit still in front of a TV and pretend we were killing vampires. We were accustomed to running the streets and yards of the neighborhood and settling in our beds out of sheer exhaustion when mom could finally slow us down.

Life got more complicated as we got older and it got no easier to be our parents. I even got to the point that I didn’t want parents really. I wanted extra money if I needed it and a place to sleep. I was ungrateful and selfish and neglected them because I was simply more important to myself.

On the day I was born, my mom and dad looked down at me (I don’t actually remember this but I have been told by reliable sources) and they loved me. Later, my diaper was a disaster zone and they still loved me. I cried too much and they still loved me. I couldn’t possibly make them love me more or less. They just loved me and would always love me.

I broke their hearts, they loved me. I did everything wrong for weeks and months and years on end that tore them apart and they still loved me. They were not perfect people, just regular old people, and in the midst of their flaws and struggles I was loved even when I did not return that love.

Why do I find it so hard to believe that God in all of his perfect unfailing love can switch his love for me to the “off” position over the slightest transgression?

He loved me in my creation, my birth, my throwing baseballs through the windows, my stupid decision-making that I chose to disallow him to be involved in, my defiance of his authority, my disobedience, my collapse, my wallowing in dung and ashes, my self-loathing.

There was no decision made by me to allow him to love me. He just did. This is love that never fails. No amount of garbage I can attach to it or distant I can run from it can change it one little bit because to change God’s love for me would change God himself. He will not change.

1 John 4:7 Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. 8 But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

Me, nor you or any group of people residing on this planet or angels or demons, not even the devil himself can change God and we are partakers of his love. My success or failure is not a factor. I am loved, I am the beloved, I am walking, rather clumsily, in love and that can not be changed by dynamite, nuclear bombs or hurricanes.

If my parents can get a handle on this love thing and manage to have loved me through a lot of self-inflicted stupidity on my part, God can surely continue to be who he is and that is one that loves me.

Period. Beginning of story.

Uncle Norman

My uncle passed away on July 4th of this year.  He was ninety-nine years old.  He spoke of heaven as the next thing on his bucket list the last few years.

Yesterday, at his funeral, I heard that he figured his friends all thought he must not have made it do heaven because he hadn’t shown up yet.  He had outlived them all.

I could fill a few pages with my own stories of Uncle Norman but, instead, I’ll write a little bit about one of the the things he taught me.

I had the privilege of working with him at a church for a while.  It was a hopeless kind of church and I was there working with another pastor before he arrived.

I had thought I could make a difference there and things had not gone the way I had envisioned them.  I was disappointed and beat down when Uncle Norman stepped in to pastor.

I didn’t really like Uncle Norman’s vision for the church.  He had no grandiose plans to turn that church into anything special, no big crowds, no status in the community, no big changes.  He just stepped in and started loving those people.

I guess I had gone there in hopes of changing everyone, making that church as respected as the Baptists down the street.

I clearly was imposing my vision of what a church ought to be on them and totally disregarding what God wanted them to be.

I really don’t talk much about my time there in that church.  I have always felt like a failure there.

But sitting in that funeral yesterday, honoring a man that had clearly learned that his primary purpose in over six decades as a pastor was to love people, I saw that I am a blessed man indeed.  I have been blessed to have such an example in my life that I know what humility and living out the Great Commission looks like.

A lot of people have never seen a man like my uncle.  They’ve never had someone like that in their lives.  I’m blessed to have been embraced by him and taught valuable lessons that I was able to see lived out with my own eyes.

Goodbye, Uncle Norman.  You did life right.

1 Timothy 6:13 And I charge you before God, who gives life to all, and before Christ Jesus, who gave a good testimony before Pontius Pilate, 14 that you obey this command without wavering. Then no one can find fault with you from now until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again.

Boooo!

The first time we took our son to a baseball game he was not even a year old. We dressed him in a Cardinal uniform and took him into the always packed Busch Stadium. It was the original Busch Stadium where so much Cardinal baseball history happened. I don’t remember who the Redbirds played that day or even if they won. I just remember watching Joe take it all in for the first time. There was Fredbird and cheers and chants, vendors selling hotdogs and beer, the constant noise of the fans and lots and lots of red. Cardinal fans love their red! Our son didn’t really talk yet but he did participate in the noise of the crowd. He cheered a lot but I have to say his favorite part was booing for the other team and the umpires. At the first hint of booing from anywhere within earshot he began making that familiar sound to sports enthusiasts everywhere. Booooooo!

It is such a natural thing for humans to express their displeasure with things. I spent nearly half a century booing the world. I booed this president and that president. I booed my parents, I booed my church, I booed my co-workers. I focused most of my energy on what everyone else was doing wrong or at least what I felt they were doing wrong and led the chorus of boos on their efforts. I became that obnoxious fan at the ball game. You know, that fat guy that never played a sport, the guy that never gets out of a chair and couldn’t run around the living room without passing out, the one that blows cigar smoke in your face and coughs on your neck. He is the one that points out everything everyone on the field is doing wrong. He never cheers, he only sees the negative and the mistakes. He not only sees them, but he goes on and on about every transgression. He could write a book about Stan Musial, and never mention one single good thing Stan the Man ever did.

I was that guy every where I went. I criticized everything that went on around me. I criticized everyone that tried to do anything. I lost the ability to cheer. Booing was my specialty and it was the one thing I was good at. I had no skills anymore. I had lost them all while I sat and watched everyone else live life. I booed everyone else even though they were doing things I couldn’t even begin to do. Being that negative guy is easy. No one does anything perfectly. Getting something done is what counts. It doesn’t have to be pretty and it definitely doesn’t have to get done my way. I fell into the trap of pointing out the bad in good things. This trap is a pit and it is easier just to sit in it and keep booing than it is to climb out and become a part of what is going on around me. To get out of that trap I have to learn to cheer.

Ephesians 4:29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

How could I claim to be a Christian and feel that I was justified saying so many things that were not good and helpful? I had become an expert at finding what was wrong with everything. I felt I had to let everyone know. What if God wanted me to see what was wrong and get up out of my chair and help make it right? Wow! I would sure be busy.

Deuteronomy 22:4 “If you see that your neighbor’s donkey or ox has collapsed on the road, do not look the other way. Go and help your neighbor get it back on its feet!”

First of all, this does not only mean donkeys or oxen qualify my neighbor for help. Next, God doesn’t expect me to boo the donkey for falling down and my neighbor for not getting to his destination on time. I am called to action not criticism.

Galatians 6:1 Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. 2 Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.

Helping someone back on the right path is a lot harder than helping a fallen donkey. It is really easy to sit back and talk about how far from God someone has gotten. That is no help to them at all. God is clearly not calling me to do the easy thing here. I have to be gentle and humble, not a couple of my strong points. God expects me to change. I have to do it if I want to get back into the game. Sharing burdens sounds like work. Running my mouth burns zero calories. I have to remember that if I am speaking of what others are doing wrong that I am probably not helping them back onto the right path. They need to hear me cheer. Boos will make them want to give up.

Galatians 6:3 If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.

I don’t know why but I just love the way that verse reads. I am not that important. Today I must shut up and help those that need it.

God, make my mind focus on the good and when I see wrong give me wisdom and courage to help. Make my words please you and be encouragement to others. Amen.

Some Thoughts on Love

Depression has always pushed me to isolate myself.  But it doesn’t always push a man or woman into an isolation that others see well.

When I recently heard of the suicide of Chris Cornell that happened not so long after he had performed before thousands, he probably didn’t seem isolated and alone.  But having stood painfully close to the place he was standing before he left this world, his problems, whatever they were, had become too much for him to bear.

The truth is, all of us bear more than we can stand to bear alone.  It is the self-imposed isolation, the urge to carry what we cannot carry and the refusal to share the load that often kills us.

I can’t sit here and say, “If only this or that had happened he would still be alive.”  I can’t speak into the ultimate outcome of someone taking one step in the right direction in their time of crisis.  But a step in the right direction is a good start.

I only know what happened for me, the step out of my own self into a world filled with other people.  I always knew they were there but I didn’t know I was a part of them.

Although I want to walk as far as I can down the path to recovery, I don’t ever want to forget that I stood on the edge of life and what it was like to live without sanity or a place in a world full of people that care about me.

I have a reason to get out of bed in the morning and a goal for each day.

Romans 13:9 For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.

Love fulfills God’s requirements.  Love requires me to reach out of my isolation.  Love is the one thing I can never do alone.  Love needs more than one participant.  Love will guide me along the path to recovery and show me sanity.

I’m called to love more than myself, more than my things, more than what I can imagine.  I’m to love others, others that are happy, others that are sad, others that deserve and others that seem not to, others like me and others far different.

Love takes away my self-imposed limits, how much I can take and how much I can give, and lets me experience a way to become more than my flaws as I become a part of something bigger than what I am or what I can become.

I don’t know what all Chris Cornell or anyone else that has taken their own life needed in order for them to still be here today.  But I do know that a little more love would have helped in some way.

As I sit here this morning, I can’t help but feel the need to seek someone out that is approaching that place, that point of no return and showing them some love.  I know that having just plain old me to show that love isn’t like winning the lottery or anything, but I have more than what I am to give.

 

What If???

For about a year I worked for General Mills up in Hannibal, MO. It was a fifty mile drive each way, almost every day of the week. When I worked there, the people in charge didn’t believe in giving the maintenance guys much time off. If the production lines didn’t run on the weekends we repaired them. The good news is that as much as I didn’t like this job, it was a ton better than the job I had before that. I was at work all the time. I had no life other than driving an hour to and from work and work. Outside of that was a little time for sleeping and that was about it.

So one afternoon I was heading north on Highway 61, heading to the big factory that smelled like soup, taco shells and tomatoes cooking. The drive was usually uneventful, except for those times the weather was bad, but on this day the weather was perfect. I was my usual zombie-like self as I cruised up the highway. I passed one small town on my journey I approached a semi. He was going slower than my nice and easy pace of between seventy and seventy-five mph, so I got over in the left lane and started around him. I was next to the trailer when his blinker came on and he immediately started into my lane. There was no way I could accelerate around him and no time to slow down and get behind him. He had no idea I was there. There was no shoulder on my side of the road, only a median between me and the oncoming lanes. I honked my horn but the puny little tooter on my car couldn’t be heard by the driver of the massive truck. I had one choice. I had to leave the road and I turned into the grass.

I don’t know if you have ever watched a NASCAR race and seen a car drive into the grass. It seems to speed up, the steering wheel doesn’t appear to do much and the brakes don’t have much effect. It looks like a scary thing. I can honestly say it is a scary thing. When I got that car on the grass I was basically out of control. I made modest movements with the wheel and the results were unpredictable. I was terrified that I was going to go out of control and go speeding into the traffic coming towards me, but I managed to get the car going in a straight line down the middle of the median.

Just as I thought I would be able to ride this thing out I realized that I was heading for a crossing. I was going too fast to hit the sign posts and concrete in front of me. I started working the brakes, searching for a place where they provided resistance to the ground beneath me without losing complete traction.

The truck driver had realized what he had done and pulled over. The traffic behind me had all slowed down, probably to be able to watch and see what my outcome would be. I am glad they did because that opened the highway up for me. As I neared the crossing between the northbound and southbound lanes I took the chance that I had slowed the car down enough to turn it and maintain control. I eased it within inches of a metal signpost and came back onto the pavement.

For a few seconds there was a lot of noise as dirt and grass came out of the treads on my tires and flew into the body of my car, but shortly the sound of rubber on the road was the same old familiar tune I was accustomed to.

I had survived. I still wanted to fight the truck driver but I survived. What seemed like a sure tragedy faded into just another close call.

Those few seconds looked like the end or the beginning of a long recovery from something really bad. It turns out that I handled it well. I handled the part afterward the worst, I think I screamed and yelled at that truck driver for the next ten miles down the road. When I got to work I had pretty much lost my voice.

The out of control parts of my life can last for seconds or days or weeks. Sometimes I only have time to react. I think those times are the easiest. Sometimes I have lots of time to think. That is dangerous stuff. I think about all the “what if’s” and the “what if’s” that go along with all of those “what if’s” and pretty soon I am “what iffing” the end of life as we know it. I can “what if” myself from bad fishing to “what if the government has poisoned all the fish?” This exercise never fixes any problem. It just keeps me looking for all the possibilities of a myriad of new problems that will probably never occur. Why is it so much easier to focus on the problem than on the solution?

1 Peter 4:7 The end of the world is coming soon. Therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers. 8 Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay. 10 God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. 11 Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.

Isn’t it interesting that Peter says the end of the world is coming soon and then tells the church to pray, show deep love, share what we have and use the gifts He has given us? I don’t know exactly why Peter uses the phrase that “the end of the world is coming” but I do know that none of my upcoming problems are on that kind of scale. If Peter’s instructions would suffice for the end of the world then they surely must be good enough for the trials I am going through. He certainly doesn’t tell anyone to “what if” the end of the world to death. He pushes them (and me) into Godly action. He gives us the solution to the problem.

Satan lives in our “what if’s”. God doesn’t work in that world. He works in the solution.

God, help me focus on the things you have called me to do today. Help me let go of my need to look at all the possibilities of how this trial can grow worse and to get a firm grasp on the things You have told me to do. Amen.

Waiting for a Good Smack

We’ve got a dog, well, actually it is my son’s dog, that hangs around our house. That’s not quite right either, he is an inside dog so he hangs around inside the house. He is a beautiful Siberian Husky that my wife somehow managed to find in the shelter among all the lab-mixes and little shrill-barking ankle-biters. He stood out like a king surrounded by the dogs with no pedigree.

The first time I saw him on the leash, with his head held high and the lightness of his step, I knew he was a special dog. If he just didn’t have so much hair, he would be the perfect mutt.

We know nothing of his life before he came to our home, not a lot anyway. I know one thing, though. He knows that a hand can hit him. Many times I raise my hand to pet him and he winces and lowers his head expecting to get whacked. I can’t imagine what he would have gotten whacked for. He doesn’t hardly ever bark, so he never needs to be told to shut-up much less get a rap on the noggin. He doesn’t chew things up. He doesn’t bite (even though his favorite game is to chew on my hand gently while he growls and makes other weird dog noises).

He is a good dog that doesn’t need to be smacked…ever. Sometimes, he gets too rambunctious on the leash but a good tug stops that. Sometimes, he doesn’t listen so well the first few times he is told to do something but that seems to be an inherited trait that is somehow shared by the entire breed. Usually making some eye contact or changing the tone of voice overcomes this.

I wonder about his life before us every time he ducks his head and tenses up awaiting the impact of my hand before I touch him. It stirs something in my heart to see this. I simply want to pet him before I leave for work but his instinct is to brace for the worst.

I guess he is much better off than before now. He was running loose and got captured and we got him out of one of those shelter cages and made him a member of the family.

I think that many times I see some of this stuff in me. I am so much better off than I was before. But I just don’t see it all the time. Rather than run to the arms of God, I duck my head and wait for him to whack me up side my melon. When I really sit down and think about it, getting whacked, in my past experience did not come from God. He has never seen the need to inflict physical or emotional damage on me to make his point. That damage comes from me. I really need to stop acting like drawing close to God is going to get me smacked around.

Maybe life would be easier if every time I got too close to the fence, I got zapped by some electricity or took the sting of a BB on my backside. But God doesn’t work that way. If I want to go explore greener pastures or chase the neighbor’s horses, he will patiently call me back home. It isn’t God that causes the horse to kick me in the head, it is caused by me aggravating the horse.

Luke 15:13 “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living.”

We’ve all heard about the prodigal son (It seems like I wrote this line yesterday, too, and promised to tell the whole story, but yet again, today I only touch on part of the parable). He ran away to spend his money and live a life free from rules and things he thought were holding him down. It turns out that in reality he was just being held. He found out before long what being held down was really like.

Luke 15:14 “About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. 15 He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. 16 The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.”

The bible doesn’t speak much to what the prodigal felt when he arrived home. I’m sure he winced and waited for the smack up side the head. He was willing to live as a slave rather than face the world he had known again. He must have felt he deserved to get knocked around a little, maybe even a lot.

Luke 15:22 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.”

I have to remind myself that the beating I expect at the hands of God for my past and my mistakes, my choices and selfishness, is just not going to happen. It is not God that sets off the inner motion detector that puts me into panic mode when God moves toward me. This is a lie of Satan. He wants me to fear drawing close to God. He will yank and pull trying to keep me from being pulled into the safety of God’s arms. He will kick me, punch me, sabotage me, and do anything he can think of. When I turn to look at who is doing this he will be standing there with an innocent look on his face, pointing his crooked finger at God.

I must come to my senses and turn back to God and realize that I am welcome where I belong.

Psalm 5:11 But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them sing joyful praises forever. Spread your protection over them, that all who love your name may be filled with joy. 12 For you bless the godly, O Lord; you surround them with your shield of love.

Hey Big Brother!

We’ve all heard the parable about the prodigal son (if you haven’t and would like to, be sure to read tomorrow’s post here).  Today isn’t so much about the long-lost son but the faithful son that didn’t leave home, didn’t want his inheritance before it was rightfully his and didn’t abandon his duties serving his father.  He didn’t live his life covered in filth, chasing after his lustful desires or drinking till his liver was about to burst.

One day, the not so prodigal son was out in the fields working, just like he did every day. He was sweaty, dirty and hungry and just about ready to hit the showers (well, get cleaned up but I’m sure if there were showers back in those days, one would have been pretty great about then).

Well, he headed home and heard music and partying going on inside the house.

“Wow!  There’s a party going on.  What’s up with that?”

Luke 15:25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’

Here was an opportunity to celebrate his brother’s safe return but not only that, the restoration of his family, an end to his father’s pain of losing a son and having a younger brother to talk into doing stupid things to put on YouTube (well, that last one is something I would celebrate).

But big brother would do no celebrating.  In fact, he would try to steal his father’s joy.

Luke 15:28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’

Nope, not the least bit happy his brother isn’t dead.  In fact, he wouldn’t even allow himself to enjoy some great brisket, baked beans, fried taters and an ice cold Coca-Cola after a hard day’s work.  He was willing to punish himself just to prove his brother didn’t deserve a party.

Big brother, let’s just call him Mike, was more concerned about himself getting slighted that he was willing to slight himself.  Mike was not too bright.

My name is Mike and I am often not too bright.  I have to wonder, not because I am brilliant and think of lots of interesting things (I’m not too bright), but because someone mentioned this to me, what would have happened if the first person the prodigal ran into on the way back home was Mike?

I’m afraid the meeting might not have gone well and the prodigal may have turned and left home unwelcome and alone and the story may have ended with a prodigal dead in the pig slop and feces.

I think I forget that I too was a prodigal, without anything and wanting for nothing more than enough to survive and far too often I look down my nose till I’m cross-eyed at the poor brother of mine trying to get back home.  I try to decide if they deserve to be restored to the family when the whole concept of getting what one deserves is not applicable to here.

Our father gives what he gives to all who come humbly to accept it.  It isn’t my place to be angry or jealous or judgmental.  It is my place to join the party and be glad another one hasn’t been lost forever in a cruel world.