The Fairest Love

I’ve been reading Beth Moore’s book, Audacious, for the past week or so now. It’s a tight, short book. If you’re looking for motivation or gumption for the ‘next step’ in your life, it’s an excellent read. I sort of parked today on a chapter near the end where she talks about John Nash as portrayed by Russell Crowe in the movie, A Beautiful Mind. She talks about his tumultuous life and how it wore so heavily on his faithful wife who sits in a packed audience at the end of the film, watching him receive the Nobel Prize. In his speech he says of her, “You are all my reasons.” It is such a touching scene, worth watching the movie for every single time. The idea she touches on in the book is that this is what we ought to say of Jesus. Jesus, YOU are all my reasons! Can you imagine what a life with that kind of audacity would look like?

I had to press pause after reading that chapter. The challenge to really ask myself if I really am completely aware of His love for me and really ready to love Him fully just shook me to my core. I wept over my brokenness, my heart that is so twisted and hurt that I can hardly see straight let alone love Him. She deftly points out that if we are not in the place where we can say we love Him fully that we need but ask and He will pour out His love on us and in us and through us in ways we cannot even fathom. This so challenged me. I was forced to admit that I truly don’t love Him fully. I’m scared to! I had to realize that saying: “Be the driving desire of my life,” as she suggests, was something I had never done. It was so painful for me to crank out those gut-wrenching words, “Be the driving desire of my life” when I wasn’t sure yet if I meant them. But once I got those words out, more came. Words I did not expect nor could I stop. I found myself telling the Lord through stinging tears that I didn’t think He wanted me or loved me like that and was scared He never would. I may never be good enough. I think He will always love someone else more. I think I will never receive His fullest favor. I’m too late, too screwed up, and there is someone far better. At that moment, so clearly I saw myself as the 11 year old girl I was years ago singing at the top of my lungs in the back seat of my dad’s car. I remember singing as clearly and as beautifully as I could, remember clearly hoping my dad would comment on my singing. My older sister sat in the front seat and sang along to whatever was on the radio. Within a few seconds he turned to her and said, “Wow, you have such a beautiful voice!” Oh how those words have hurt me. I’m sure if he knew he would be sorry. I’m sure I’ve received more compliments than I deserve over the years since but none has left a mark so good and so strong enough to undo the pain of the one I didn’t get from my dad.

That scene flooded me again this afternoon and I realized that I have been putting the very real favoritism my earthly father displayed onto my heavenly father. Not right, and I know that. Not true, and I know that. But in the deepest part of my heart is the engraved message that there is someone else better and more worthy of his affection than me and despite the myriad of ways that God has redeemed so many painful memories and years, it is still hard for me to believe the truth. Furthermore, I think I feel – as I did in that back seat years ago – that I am competing with others for attention. When the truth is that God’s love, while it is unique to each of us, it is equal as well. He has an equal measure of His adoring, ravishing, extravagant love for every single one of us. He is able to pay attention to each of us at the same time. I think the lie that Satan would love to write afresh on un-favored hearts like mine is that God loves us most and this is equally dangerous. The truth is that He does not play favorites! He has time, ears, and adoring words for every child that sings in His ‘car’ and He never misses the chance to speak to our hearts life, love, and encouragement. It all starts with a question. How I think He loves to answer questions like this, “do you hear me singing for you? Do you see me?”

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Short Thoughts on the Long Game

2 Timothy 2:22 NASB – “Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”

Recently I read this verse and my mind went to the perfect balance in that first line – God is so good to us! He doesn’t only warn and command us to run from something evil – He calls us into the pursuit of something good. I love how balanced it is. He knows how directionless and aimless we can be – how many rabbit holes we run down – and He gives us a clear picture of what He wants us to pursue instead. It would almost imply that there is no middle ground. We cannot only flee from ‘youthful lusts’ – we’re not really leaving until we’re going towards something else. Imagine a football player gets the ball and all he knows is to run from the other teams’ end zone.  He may avoid it but he may never make a touchdown. Having a goal becomes a game-changer. And God knows us, wired us, and made us to need direction and supplies the point for us to pursue. Pursue is such a rich word – it makes me think of a police chase, and the thing about police is, once they are in pursuit, they don’t stop till they catch the bad guy. I think the same idea is present here. We will never “catch” righteousness, faith, love, and peace; we will never see perfection on this side of eternity but we must always be in pursuit of it. The pursuit itself is so important because just like that aimless football player, it gets us closer to the goal and keeps us on course. The pursuit is important because it’s where life actually happens, the journey to the finish line. Some run faster than others, some fumble, falter, fall and then get up and keep going. Sometimes we get overtaken by others; we pass the ball to someone else when we just can’t carry it anymore. But it’s that running to the end that gives the whole thing meaning, the pursuit that gives life meaning.

What is ‘Christian music’ exactly?

Years ago, in a ministry class in college (that sounds ironic to me for some reason), I had the task of writing a paper to dissect what a postmodernist culture was doing to American youth, what their worldview looked like, and in light of that, how to best reach and minister to them. I got a B on the paper. I could easily dissect the layers of belief and see the issues but I either could not understand how to best reach them or could not express it.  I opened the paper by sharing the current #1 pop song and the current #1 CCM (Contemporary-Christian-Music) song. At the time it was “If I Were a Boy” by Beyoncé and “Give Me Your Eyes” by Brandon Heath – were there ever two songs any more different? While I could point to that as evidence showing how out of touch Christian culture is with world/youth culture, I could not comprehensibly offer a solution.  I still can’t.  I can say this however, that as I listened to the radio just the other day, I remembered this assignment and found myself thinking and wondering – what would the music industry look like today if the Christian music artists of ten or twenty years ago had poured their talent into making excellent music for a lost world instead of Christian music for a saved world? Do we doubt our ability to have any chance to be accepted or be successful outside of our Christian circles? It’s easy to see how quickly Christians in the media can be ridiculed and overlooked – I could think of many examples! But it would not be exhaustive and those examples don’t dictate a rule. In other words it is not impossible for a Christian to have success in the ‘secular’ side of the music industry, just a lot more difficult. I couldn’t help but wonder what it would look like if we changed the way we did things. It seems as though we have gotten so comfortable with not being ‘of the world’ that we have forgotten the command, yes, command, to be ‘in the world’(John 17:14-19).

Talking about ‘Christian music’ begs the question, what is Christian music, exactly? To be sure, there is a real genre of music that falls here. But have you ever listened to Nessun Dorma and not felt your soul stirred? Ava Maria? We could apply this same question to literature, art, movies and see the conversation become very loose and subjective. Ultimately, it depends on the philosophy of the hearer. That is, is it the experience we bring to the music, as a Christian, that makes it a Christian experience or is it the intention of the author that determines its value on the scale of worldly-Christianese? It’s an important question and it sort of stretches our minds because both realities are inescapable.

Wherever we land, we cannot escape that command – to be ‘in the world’. We have to engage the world and pulling our best talent back into our tight Christian circle communicates a strong dichotomy to the rest of the world – a very “us vs. them” sort of an image. It doesn’t walk out among the people as Jesus did and it is as afraid of touching those people with truth as it is of being touched with sin (as if we aren’t sinful ourselves). We cannot be a people that live in a secluded place away from the world and still expect to have an effect on it. There is nothing inherently wrong with Christian music, obviously. But it cannot become the hole we hide in while the world around us is dead. I don’t know that I’ve come very far from that term paper I wrote years ago – I am still dumbfounded by the hurt and the lostness of the world and still constantly begging God for grace to engage a lost world the way that He would. I do know that while our popular Christian movies and music have value, they are only making what the world produces that much worse. We cannot expect to pull all our best influence and talent into our bubble and then be shocked at what the world produces. Incarnational ministry is the heart of the Gospel and it can inform what we do in business and what the media looks like every day if we are willing to step in.

The Trouble with ‘Loosened’

Have you ever read a verse that just made you mad? There are some parts of scripture that I just honestly find hard to swallow. And they don’t always hit me the first time. Sometimes the weight and truth of a verse just takes a few times to sink in. When I first read Psalm 116 I probably glanced over this verse, but at one point, it just stuck out like a sore thumb.

“Lord, I am indeed Your servant; I am Your servant, the son of Your female servant. You have loosened my bonds.” Psalm 116:16 HCSB

I got particularly stuck on that word ‘loosened’. Why would God, the all-powerful, prisoner-freeing, all-forgiving God ‘loosen’ our bonds? I had this mental picture of a person standing in yards and yards of rope, just all tangled up, and God comes along, all powerful remember, and all He chooses to do is ‘loosen’ those bonds. I could not get past that. It sort of irritated me. I wanted God to do more than that. I thought and prayed, asking the Lord what it meant and why this was in the Bible. I’m not sure how it occurred to me, but I sat there imagining that person with loosened bonds and what happens? Gravity takes over, naturally. Gravity puts those ‘loosened’ bonds on the ground and therein lays the great opportunity. God loosens our bonds so that we have a choice about them. We can stand inside that tangled rope or walk away. We have this God who forces nothing upon us and asks us to follow and even when He sets us free, He never pushes us to freedom – only invites. In this, ‘loosened’ becomes that opportunity, rather than an obstacle. It also sheds light on Hebrews 12:1 and that famous phrase “the sin that so easily entangles”.

That word – ‘bonds’ – could also mean family or relational bonds. This obviously gives quite a different reading! Can you imagine God “loosening the bonds” with your family so you were able to serve Him and love Him more fully? It sounds so sadistic to me to even say that. It is a captivating thought and one that deserves to be explored. On the one hand, I don’t believe God is asking us to shirk commitment or responsibility to our families in order to serve Him but I also am not saying the opposite. Serving God does not find life solely in service to family. The Gospels are full of controversial sayings from Jesus about this very subject (Matthew 10:37, Matthew 8:21, Luke 8:21). Whatever the meaning in this Psalm for the word “bonds” I think I can say with certainty that our family ties were never meant to be stronger than our tie to Jesus. In fact, I would even argue that by first knowing Him more and loving Him more fully, we serve and love our families better.

I’ve done some research into that word and it is the same word used elsewhere (Isaiah 42:7,61:1) to describe freedom from captivity, literally and figuratively. So I have to go with meaning #1. My husband always says the best commentary we can ever read is Scripture itself, and I would add the greatest teacher of application is the author. I have to ask myself, knowing what this verse means and implies – what is it God has freed me from that I am in danger of being ‘easily entangled’ in? What is it for you?

Movies & Money Changers

I hate writing about hot-button topics. Well, actually I don’t mind that so much. It’s the incredible amount of backlash you get for voicing unpopular opinion that I really hate. I do not have a thick skin and I hate the culture of social media – it’s essentially a stomping ground for opinions. I just have so much in me to say about this subject that I don’t think I can keep quiet about it. Earlier today I shared an article on my Facebook page from a mom writing about the experience of taking her kids to the new Beauty and the Beast movie. It was such a sweet perspective. She talked about all the hype that surrounded the film and her decision to take her kids and mostly, about their reaction to the film when she gave them a unique set of instructions about it. She asked them to “look for God” in the movie. I’m sure she’s not the only parent to give that type of instruction; I know I’ve had conversations with my kids and husband about God-related themes and ideas in movies – I’m sure there are many parents who do the same. I just loved that she shared this particular experience because the conversation surrounding this movie was due for a shift. And this is a perspective that shifts the conversation dramatically – you can read more about it on her blog – sarahcinnamon.com.

It got me thinking about something I remember talking to friends about in college. I remember watching the Disney animated version at home one weekend and getting to the scene where Belle is in the West Wing and the Beast barges in, with all his anger unleashed and kicks her out. It’s a powerful scene. What struck me about it was the moment I saw the Beast flip a piece of furniture, my mind immediately went to the story of Jesus in the temple, turning over the tables of the money changers. Isn’t it so similar? Jesus didn’t barge in – John 2:15 tells us he took the time to make a whip. He had more patience than the Beast. But they were both doing something so violent and at the heart of that action was the desire to protect something important, sacred even. I love viewing this scene from this perspective and reading that story with this scene in mind. It is so angry and vivid, and even necessary.  What would have happened if Belle had touched the rose? Would the Beast be cursed forever? What would have happened if Jesus had let them be – allowed them to continue doing business, bad business at that? God forbid He ever let us continue down a path where we bring destruction on ourselves.  We tend to assume that His mercy and grace should stay His hand but it’s the other way around. It is His mercy and grace that discipline us and even run us out of our sin violently. Thank God He fights for us, sacrificing furniture or our feelings along the way.

The truth is, our culture is so broken, hurting, and lost – we do not have time to be nice and let the world get away with teaching our kids. It is nothing new that Disney has an “agenda” – what’s new is that we are suddenly shocked by it. The world will always present worldly material and if it is not for God it is against Him. So like Sarah says in her blog – we must be proactive – and if Disney is bringing an agenda – have an agenda of your own! Don’t be afraid of hurt feelings and broken furniture. What you are doing with your kids and in your family is so important and sacred that it is worth the mess.

On Oklahoma

On Oklahoma

Here’s to your sunsets
your cowboys and Indians
your unsung heroes
my favorite tree
Here’s to your houses
the one with the tunnel
the one with a cellar
the shaggy green carpet
the cathedral roof upstairs
Here’s to your churches
the friendships that last
the broken, the lonely
embraced from the past
Here’s to the legends
the moments we don’t forget
to 99, to 2013
and to the people
you know the calm after the storm
Here’s to your families
your Sunday dinners
your Christmas Eve’s
your helping hands
Here’s to you, Oklahoma
from me.

$10 at Target

One of the things I found myself thinking about as I looked at 2017 on the horizon was that I wanted it to be the year I relaxed.  I wanted more grace and more room for forgiveness. I wanted less stress and a healthier mindset and lifestyle.  Now that we’re nearing the middle of January I feel like I have taken some positive steps towards a different life. I’ve read helpful books, made my daily Bible reading time a no fly zone, and made some choices to move towards a healthier version of myself.  Today was hard though.  I don’t why I feel compelled to write about it but I do.

It’s so easy to look at people and sort of miss them and look past them but if we can see them, they can see us.

I went to Target today. I had a couple things to return and a few things on my list.  I took both my boys, as per usual.  I saw the familiar face of the manager when I walked in.  I’ve talked to him a couple times and I know we have seen each other several times. I’m a regular at Target (and at the Starbucks inside!).  I know he has seen me with sweet mild mannered children on good days.  He has seen me on the wild, screaming, run-away-from-mom-in-the-middle-of-the-store days too. Because we are a military family we are also nomads.  We won’t be here for much longer.  That said, I only have so many trips to Target left.  And it would be so easy to look at him or any of the other employees and sort of miss them or see past them, but the thing is, if we can see them – they can see us.

Now, keep in mind my grand vision for myself in 2017.  Today I hit a glitch. A sort of catch between who I am-my natural, and sinful, tendencies, and who I really want to be.  I paid for my items and the total was about $10 more than I thought it would be (I should add that I am very careful about adding my items and allowing for tax – it amazes my husband but it’s just sort of a budgeting thing for me – I always know what I can expect to pay).  Because there were several people in line, I didn’t say anything and assumed the mistake was mine.  I got to the van, buckled both my children in, and sat down to check my bags and receipt.  There was not one, but two, incorrectly priced items- exactly $10 difference.  I then had to face the glitch.  Everything in me wants to go give the poor girl working customer service a piece of my mind and show her the sunscreen I bought rang up at regular price even though it has a clearance sticker, then walk her right back to the wall hooks and show her the price on the other item and get that $10 back. But I didn’t. I kept thinking about that manager, about how I would have to get my kids out, about the walk to the back of the store, about stress I don’t need in my life. I sat for a while before I finally called my husband and literally broke into tears over this difficult decision. I am a few hours removed from it now and I am so glad my husband was supportive of me driving away.  It was difficult to feel my instincts telling me one thing but my head telling me another.  I am so glad I chose grace.  I have spent $10 on things that are far less important than my reputation.

I tend to be so sure of things and take things so strongly and want the world to live up to my standard instead of expecting it to be what it inherently is – a lost world.  I am much more at peace in this moment, I believe, than I would have been had I had it out with Target over $10.