Beach Glass

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I recently was able to spend a week at Lake Superior. We rented a hand-hewn cabin from the 1800’s that had been moved to the shore. It was peaceful and wonderful for our family to spend time together.

Each day we would walk the beach. As I passed strangers scouring the sand for interesting items, I’d ask what they’d found or what they were searching for. The answer was invariably agates and beach glass. I wasn’t surprised because I was looking for the same thing. People spent hours walking up and down the beach picking up old pieces of glass scoured smooth by the waves.

As I reached down to pick up another exciting find, a thought struck me. This thing that was so pretty, that we were all spending our vacations hoping to catch a glimpse of, was actually someone’s trash. They were once new shiny objects that were wanted and needed, but along the way they were discarded into the water—no longer thought about or desired. Many were tossed decades ago, some even centuries before.

Yet here we all were squealing with delight over a pretty little cobalt blue chip, or the lip of a bottle still intact. I found some impressive light blue and even a rare black piece, plenty of white and green and brown. One amazing piece even fluoresced neon green under black light. (We were also looking for “Yooperlite” in the evenings and brought little black-light flashlights with us.)

People would meet on the breakwall to talk and watch the sunset. Often conversation would turn to the interesting colors and shapes of stone and glass they found over the years, some brought their finds out of their shirt pockets to prove their tale. They’d invite you over for lunch to show off their collection. Men, women, and children were all excited over these tiny pieces of weathered glass!

Each find had its own story. There are websites dedicated to helping beach combers figure out what the treasure they found used to be in its past life. This summer, I found some beach gems that were probably Depression Glass. It was broken, discarded, beaten by the surf, polished, ground down, year after year tossed by the waves until it finally made its way back onto the beach where one day I delightedly picked it up.

I think that people are subconsciously drawn to beach glass for this very story. We go to the beach to get away from the daily grind that tosses us like waves against the stones of life. We’re broken and ground down, often discarded, beaten and chipped away by the world.

It’s the survivors. Those who make it back to tell their story that give us hope that we can all make it. People are searching endlessly for someone just like you, for someone with your testimony of grit and strength and faith, someone who made it through the waves and became a polished gem. Don’t hide your story of being broken and discarded; let it be redeemed and repurposed instead. Wear it like jewelry for all to see. The waves are not the end of your existence. You can give hope to someone being beaten by the surf of life. They will be delighted by the treasured find. Your story has the potential to be a delight in the eyes of someone who needed to hear that they too can make it.

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Windows

I’ve noticed for the last couple of evenings my sunflowers are facing the windows of my house instead of the sky–even when it’s cloudy. For them the sun has long been out of view. Around 2 in the afternoon the house overshadows them.

They’re sunflowers. They have an innate need to face the sun, but there is no bright spot for them to find.

The window has no light of its own to offer, yet they stare toward it. In fact, even with its dirty spots, the window is quite transparent. Why would the sunflowers stand and beg it for light? The window may be transparent, but its smooth integrity gives it another quality: reflection. It may not have any power of its own to offer, but it can reflect the  ambient light around it. It can concentrate it on the sunflower, feed it, nourish it, and make it think it is in the presence of the sun.

How would the world change if our goal in life was to be the window?

The world is full of people who need to see the Son. They have an innate need to be filled with the glow of His energy. They need to be nourished and fed by the light of love. Yet the sky is cloudy and dim. The shadows cover so much of the day.

If we were like windows in this world, we would be transparent but powerful. Even with our dirty spots, we could both protect the folks inside our house and reflect the power of God onto those searching for a ray of bright hope.

The flowers I see around me seem to turn their heads toward any bright spot: fame and fortune, idols and stars. We need to offer them the power of the Son. Be a focal point in a cloudy, shadow-filled world. Have a smooth kind of integrity. Shine for those who need to feel loved. It isn’t your power you are giving away after all, just a mere reflection of his. In a world this dark, this reflection is enough to turn heads.

“I AM”

God says the greatest human endeavor is to love God and love others. Have you ever actually tried to do that for a whole day? It’s so hard!  How can I love God and love others when everyone else is so hard to love? It is extremely difficult to love others when they are rude, ungrateful, and unkind. It’s hard when they are willfully ignorant and argumentative. It’s almost impossible to love certain people who seem to make it hard on purpose. I want to react to the way they treat me. I want to say they don’t deserve my love. I want to scream and criticize and shake my fist—or at least my head.

God does not love us as a reaction. He does not love us because we are the smartest, the prettiest, the kindest, the most righteous, the strongest, the richest, or the most powerful. He loves us when we are unlovable. He loves us first when he doesn’t have to. Our behavior has no influence on that fact. He would have been completely justified had he decided to throw us away and start over. Instead, he loved us all the way to the cross—while we were his enemies, sinners.

Why does God do that? God introduced himself to Moses as “I AM.”  He is. God said this was his true name, how to fully know him. When Moses had a thousand questions, “I AM” was the answer. When the Israelites asked him who sent him that was supposed to explain everything, answer every question the people may have had.

God does what he does because of his state of being. First he “AM’s,” then he does. He loves because he is love. Rather than reactive to our behavior toward him, God is proactive—creative.  He does what he does because it is his nature. There are consequences to our behavior, but losing God’s love is not one of them. He cannot stop caring about you because he is defined by love. It is his character to do so.

That is exactly how and why we are supposed to love. Genesis 1 tells the story of how God made a plan to make humans in his “likeness and image” and then commissioned us to “fill the earth” with that image of him. We’re supposed to love like little sculptures of him. We are intended to “am” and then do, just like he does so that when people look at us they know exactly what he is like. “We love because he first loved us.” Our great commission is still to spread the good news of God’s lavish love and forgiveness to the entire earth.

The problem is we have all fallen short of being the true representation of God. We are all broken and reflect a warped image of who he is. Unlike God, we don’t love because that is our character; we wait for people to love us before we are willing to take the risk of loving them first. Because of the image we portray, God seems selfish and often petulant.

Jesus had to come and make a correction of our false portrayal. He modeled both truth and grace, a difficult mix to get properly balanced without a good picture of what that should look like. Jesus left his throne in heaven, put on human flesh, suffered through all of the horrors of being human and then died on the cross—for people who spit on him and nailed him there.

Whoa! He said you are worth dying for on your worst day. That’s life changing! Who am I to argue against that? To devalue you, is to devalue myself. He paid the same price for us both.

Strong arming my bad behavior toward difficult people is almost impossible for me. Forcing my will to overpower my natural inclination only lasts as long as the incentive is great enough. The will to do so just doesn’t last forever. Trying just gets exhausting.

But when I look at how you and I are the same, with the same hurts, the same needs, the same brokenness, my entire attitude toward loving you changes. I love you because God loved me first—and he loves you and I exactly the same. Your way of acting-out to soothe your ache may look different than mine on the outside, but we are both just trying to fix our similar sorrow on the inside. We’re all seeking love, joy, and peace (aka: worth, happiness, and security). I can’t judge you as less than I am because both of our bad behavior is marked by replacing God with something else in our lives. What we replace him with is irrelevant. Gossip, anger, and gluttony (often overlooked sin in the church) are just as condemned as drugs, fornication, and lying (common topics for Sunday sermons). According to Jesus, hating your brother is just as bad as murdering him, and lust is just as bad as adultery. You and I are equal “sinners.”  When I see how we are struggling with the same things, empathy and compassion replaces judgmental condescension. I want to make your life better, not hurt you.

If I step over into his image and begin to align myself with his motives, then loving you is so much easier. I don’t love because you love me first. I love you because HE loved me first. I step into the reflection of his “AM” and love you because he said you are worth loving on your worst day. I start to ask how I can be his hands and feet, not whether you deserve my love or not. I become proactive in loving you, not reactive. All inhibitions to that love melt away.  The way you treat me no longer matters, neither do any divisions between us. They are irrelevant; no race, no religion, no status matters to the way I treat you. I love you first because he first loved me. Period.

I obviously have not perfected this ideal. But the more I spend time focusing on making my “am” match his “AM,” the more the behaviors that plagued me before melt away. As my heart’s desire changes, so do my actions. The failing method of strong arming my behavior to do what is right becomes less and less necessary as love itself becomes the incentive.

Love is a tricky thing to know how to do. Sometimes it says yes; sometimes it says no. Sometimes it puts its life on the line; sometimes it flips tables full of money in your face and chases you out of its personal space with a whip. What love always does is have the best interest of the other party at heart. It is always trying to choose what is eternally best, not just what is good for a short term gain.

I’m still a hot mess. I’m still a long way from perfection. I will still get loving you wrong sometimes. I will say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, or not do the right thing. It isn’t because you don’t deserve it. It is simply because I am still unable to see the right thing to do in many situations. What I would want someone to do for me isn’t always a good indicator of what you want me to do in certain situations. I will still continue to press toward the mark, toward the bull’s eye, of perfectly representing the likeness and image of God to as far on earth as I can stretch. I can’t do any of it in my strength. I can’t change one action permanently. But by conforming to the image of the “I AM” my ability to “am” is growing. I pray daily to know him more so that I can “am” more like he does. I don’t shame the ways I get it wrong, I just keep seeking him. He says those who seek will find. Since that is true, I want to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. God says that I am predestined to conform to the image of his son. That gives me hope that changing my behavior is possible despite my inability to always strong arm my will into choosing the right thing—even when I intellectually know it is the right thing to do. Huge steps are taken when I actively seek to humanize those who hurt me by seeing the ways we are the same rather than dehumanize them with labels and judgment that point out the ways we are different.

3 Things That Made 2018 Happier

I’ve been doing the obligatory review of last year. What worked, what didn’t, what needs to change? I don’t do resolutions because I tend to give myself pass or fail grades on those. Then once I fail, forget it. Why bother trying if I already lost? Instead I try to assess and make changes throughout the year. I also try to keep things in small enough, simple steps that I can actually accomplish them. Otherwise I’m easily overwhelmed with too much change at once, and again, I fail. I have 3 things that really worked to make 2018 much happier than my circumstances can explain.

Joy is a state of being. It’s a noun that describes when our mental state is thriving in extreme positivity. It is no surprise that the biggest secret to having more of it in our life has to do with addressing mental attitudes.

Most of us try to adjust our external circumstances in order to produce more joyful experiences. More “me time,” friend-time, weekends, or vacations are the central strategy for more happiness. The problem is that the joy these experiences produce is just as fleeting as the experience. Not only is it impossible to keep circumstances perfect, trying to do so can cause more mental harm than good. In fact, as a mom of 4, the inevitable emotional crash after giddy experiences often had me avoiding extreme emotional highs for my kids. After fun activities, instead of being refreshed, everything became bleak and boring. They pitched fits to get more of whatever fun, whatever assumed joy, they wanted. I found our days slipping into a longing to escape the mundane. Focusing on circumstances had a direct opposite effect than I was hoping for. There was actually less joy.

Gratitude:

Joy began to grow the more I intentionally focused our day on gratitude. The feeling of joy undulated in perfect proportion to the effort of focusing on thankfulness. Great days focused on gratefulness and bad days focused on circumstances.  If it was a day of bickering and contention, I dropped the ball on encouraging thankfulness.

Interestingly test scores also reflected the day’s gratitude factor. If we were in math class and became completely, mentally stuck to the point of shutting down, a deep breath and “5 things you are thankful for” changed their little minds from shutdown to fully functioning in a matter of moments. It was like magic. The exercise of thankfulness became a habitual part of our day. Any day which skipped the focus on gratitude was a bad school day.

No wonder Paul tells us to rejoice and give thanks in all circumstances (Phil. 4:4-14). Thankfulness is an essential habit for mental and emotional health. It focuses our attention back to what is good in life instead of being consumed with what is wrong with our circumstances. This can sometimes be tricky to do when nothing seems to be going right which leads me to the next tool for making life happier.

Learning from everything:

It can be difficult to be thankful when everything seems to be going wrong. When we view everything—good or bad—as an opportunity to learn how better ourselves, it becomes easier to be thankful for difficulty.  Difficult circumstances, difficult people, and difficult truths are all an opportunity for growth. They are opportunities to become more competent adults.

Whether you are religious or irreligious Western society has an affinity for the Judaeo-Christian definition of maturity. What we call maturity is directly correlated to how adept we are at acting selfless and loving. When we define mature we think of words like responsible, caring, faithful, loyal, maybe even protective, strong, provider, dutiful. When someone is immature, we may refer to them as a “petulant child.” Why? Because it has been ingrained in us for generations that grownups are supposed to responsibly nurture those under their care. Children pitch fits to get their own selfish way.

Age has very little to do with actual maturity. Instead we look at one’s ability to self-regulate. In other words the better a person is at limiting their need for immediate self-gratification, the more mature we deem that person to be. The greater capacity one has for seeing the big picture on how to care for society and our part in it, the more adult-like one is. We thrive when we are taking responsibility to serve because God created us to rule and reign in his likeness and image (Gen.1:26-28). Mature love is humanity’s whole intended purpose (Matt. 22:37-40).

Most people in the West can recognize that ideally love is supposed to be patient, kind, generous, truthful, protective, hopeful, and persevering, not envious, boastful, proud, dishonoring, selfish, angry, grudging, or vengeful (1 Cor. 13:1-8). We like to be around those who love us and don’t enjoy being around those who are selfish. We can get quite offended when someone doesn’t treat us according to our expectations of love and respect.

Jesus was the perfect example of what true love looks like. Whether you believe in him or not, becoming a loving person is accomplished by becoming more like Christ, self-sacrificial.

Difficulty gives us the opportunity to hone these essential skills of being human. I often think I’m growing more mature when reality is that I just have not tested a certain aspect of my character in a while. Ha! It is very disappointing when the first little bit of pressure that comes along shatters my delusion that I am a good person.

A false sense of maturity is almost worse for joy than no aspirations to grow at all. Adulting with all its various modes of responsibility is hard. But very worth it! Confidence, satisfaction, and pleasure are more long lasting states of being when they are derived from being a competent, loving adult than from being a self-serving, immature circumstance-seeker. When pleasure is associated with ministry rather than moments, it has a sustained release affect. I cannot begin to describe to you the innate joy produced by loving others rather than self-seeking.

Yes, self-care is important. However, you will find taking time to meditate on thankfulness and love (both the love that has been shown to you, and the love you plan to commit today) is more important than simply adjusting circumstances to be temporarily pleasing. Adjusting our attitude and actions to align with God’s idea of maturity is far more beneficial self-care than a fun outing, a hot bath, chocolate, or any other superficial therapy.

Take a breath and list 5 things you are thankful for, then remember your goals (Phil. 3:14). Try to see how your current adversity can be used to push you toward being a better version of you. Every experience, good or bad, is a learning experience that can help you. Which leads me to the last important element of happiness my family concentrated on in 2018,

Take responsibility for your own happiness:

No one else can make you happy. Nothing outside of you can make you happy. There is no set of circumstances perfect enough to sustain joy. Monday is always coming. You and you alone are responsible for your happiness. The less authority you give to the things outside of you to dictate your bliss, the more satisfied you will become.

You might say, “Wait a second, I thought you preach God is the Source of happiness!” He is! But it is up to you to decide if you are going to draw on that Source or on things/people around you to make you happy. If you depend on what is outside of you, you will be perpetually disappointed with life. You can never control life enough to be happy–not circumstances, not people.

Even the most well-meaning people who love you will eventually let you down. It is impossible for them to see everything from your point of view. They are only human after all and can only do their best. At some point they will be unable to predict what would make you happy because it is different than what would make them happy. Eventually the Golden Rule falls short of guiding their actions toward loving you. At some point even the best relationship will hurt. We’re often told we’d be better off without people who let us down. I believe these relationships are still worth the risk and can be the most enjoyable when they’ve been redeemed and put back together with the love of God. Wisdom from God can guide us in these relationships. They are wonderful frosting in life!

If even our best relationships can be painful sometimes, what about difficult people who don’t even try to put us first. What then? Life is pretty miserable the more we allow these people to govern our happiness. The most common advice is to cut these folks from our lives. That might be necessary, but often is too extreme or even impossible for that matter. How can we be near difficult people and keep our joy? Another solution is to limit their influence on our happiness rather than limit our exposure to them. Their demeaning behavior is not a true reflection of our worth, so don’t believe them. Reject that lie while leaving yourself open to learning from them.

It is always a good idea to learn from any source possible—even negative people. One way is to observe what is so irritating about them and avoid acting like them. I’ve found that often what irritates me is something that reminds me of myself. The irritation is more like mild conviction than anything else. It rubs a wound that was already there.

Another way to learn from difficult people is to actually listen to them. See if their words actually hold any meaning. Do an honest inventory. If their rudeness is poorly expressed truth, make adjustments. Difficult people often express their opinion as a disproportionate extreme that reflects a kernel of truth—that’s why it can be so hurtful. They poke at our scabs, the places we already judge ourselves, the places we already experience the pain of insecurity. Look for the nuggets of truth and throw away the rest.

Since it is tricky to differentiate what is true from what is just meanness, you may need to seek a second opinion from someone who loves you that you can trust to be honest. Look for someone who has your best interest at heart, not just someone who is nice. Both truth and grace are important aspects of self-evaluation and growth.

It is important to recognize that no person is able to make a value judgment about our worth as a human being. Neither difficult people nor those who see us for everything we could be have the ability to change our worth one iota up or down. Their value judgments about us are not true unless they are parroting God’s price set on our worth.  The price of anything is set by what someone is willing to pay for it. Christ already set our value: we are created in the image of God, and we are worth dying for even on our worst day (Rom. 5:7-8). No one else’s opinion matters (not even our own). Every other opinion is either deficient or exaggerated. We cannot change our value. We cannot increase it or decrease it. The highest price has already been paid. All we can do is agree with it, adjust our lives to it, or not.

I spent almost an entire year wallowing on this fact before I got out of bed each day. It had a phenomenal effect on my life. I didn’t judge myself as harshly because my failures didn’t mean I was worthless. The worth of others also increased because they, no matter their actions, were worth the same as me. I was able to be more gracious toward them and toward myself. I can both admit my faults and still believe I am valuable without cognitive dissonance tearing my psyche apart. I can flatly claim that anyone on the face of the earth is my equal—whether society would put them above or below me is irrelevant.

Rank on any scale we use to measure success is irrelevant to self-worth. Financial scales, social ladders, competency assessments, intelligence quotients, not even moral standards—none of it is relevant to a person’s value, not mine, not yours!

Disconnecting value from any sort of rank allows me to both improve myself and not become prideful or self-loathing. It allows me to embrace needed changes more readily rather than excusing or defending my behavior. It also allows me to not judge others, but to value all humans as much as I value myself. This is one of the most essential elements of joy I have ever discovered.

Rank becomes a tool for self-improvement, not a tool for destruction. It allows me to set goals and appreciate moving forward while not disparaging myself or others for failure.

Our society naturally organizes itself to promote those who are good at a particular thing. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Who wants someone who stinks at the job to be a manager? They are always the worst managers! No, it is fine to promote competence rather than arbitrarily move folks up the ranks.

The issue is that humanity often associates greater value to whomever is at the top of any scale. That is no good for our society for many reasons.

For one, we get a warped sense of our worth. We think when we are doing good, we are good. That’s backward. When we are good, we do good. This is one of the fundamental differences between true Christianity and every other religion. Jesus came to change our state of being which in turn changes our actions. God introduced himself to Moses with his name “I AM.” From his state of being he chooses to act. As we become his “likeness and image,” our state of being changes, and we begin to act more like him. Worth is unchanged by our actions–good or bad.

Another issue with associating  greater value with rank is that we tend to associate only in circles where we are climbing to the top of the scale. This deprives us of valuable relationships. We’re stuck in our own bubble where everyone thinks and acts alike. What if we emphasized our similarities instead of our differences? What if intersectionality was focused on ways our similarities could help each other instead of how oppressed we are? What if we found ways to work together to build a better world by utilizing our strengths? That may be a different blog altogether. However, the point is that we must stop allowing comparison with others to value us according to rank, and only use rank as a means of self improvement.

This lack of diversity in relationships leads to missing out on learning opportunities. To avoid the pain of failure, we avoid competing in areas we aren’t good  at–areas we could learn valuable lessons. We cannot become the well-rounded individuals we were created to be without the friction of opposition. We lose diversity that having a wide range of interests and viewpoints allows for.

Becoming the best you that you can be is innately satisfying. Not because of ranking your worth, but because becoming what you were created to be is inherently pleasurable.

This pleasure increases all the biological indicators of happiness while decreasing their antagonists.  We can literally increase our own dopamine, endorphins, serotonin, melatonin, etc. and decrease our cortisol and other stress related reactions. Through this process joy becomes a tangible, measurable, biological reality. Long term, it can never happen from the outside in, rather it must be attained from the inside out.

Being in charge of this biology is what I teach my kids about drugs, alcohol, and sex rather than inducing curiosity by simply  saying “No, no.” Taking any substance or getting a buzz off any experience only increases our need for that substance or experience. We want joy to be a state of being, not an experience.

If my kids are grumpy, we exercise self-regulation to increase our biological indicators of well-being. That may include counting our blessings or doing jumping jacks, saying 5 loving things about a sibling or taking 5 deep breaths, doing a random act of kindness while running laps–usually a combination of physical and mental/emotional actions. I’ll let you know in about 20 years if this strategy worked out. It is, after all, a long term strategy for sustained happiness. (It’s been working for me for the last 16 years or so.)

When we rely on our internal thought process to regulate our biology rather than external things like drugs, alcohol, and social feedback, our ability to create happiness inside of ourselves increases. This is a not skill taught in school, but a skill that can none-the-less be learned. It is essential that we build and improve our ability to increase happiness within ourselves—for our physical health, our mental health, and our emotional health.

Don’t let anything outside of you control your joy, or you will never be able to keep it. Rather than looking for momentary circumstances to induce biological responses, choose sustained lifestyle choices that align with joy so that you don’t need to escape everyday life.

The fullest, long-term joy is only found when God, the Source, is on the inside. He predetermined our value. He alone and no other paid the exact, lofty price for your soul. Therefore, no circumstance, no person, and no truth can diminish our worth. As your Creator, He knows exactly what will make you happy and can teach you how to find it.

Genesis 1 tells us we were created to rule and reign over creation in the image of God. We do this by loving and serving the way Christ taught us to do. Trying to find joy any other way is self-destructive in the long run.

Be thankful, find something to learn from every circumstance—good or bad, and take responsibility for your own happiness.

 

Did Moses Get Gypped?

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God is good.

We’re supposed to believe that. We’re supposed to trust in that.

But what about when real life doesn’t seem that way? What about when God seems harsh and cruel?

Today I had two different conversations about God not letting Moses go into the Promise Land because he struck a rock instead of speaking to it as God told him to do. I turned on the TV, and the first words I heard were from some historical drama where a kid was telling his daddy that God didn’t seem fair. He then sited when God killed Moses instead of taking him into the Promised Land as proof.

What do you think? Does it seem fair that after all his hard work, after all his obedience and putting up with whiny, stiff-necked, pessimistic, faithless followers, after walking around a desert because of someone else’s rebellion, after a coup, snakes, and bitter water Moses—of all people—didn’t get to go into the Promised Land?

Let’s read how the story goes:

On that same day the Lord told Moses, “Go up into the Abarim Range to Mount Nebo in Moab, across from Jericho, and view Canaan, the land I am giving the Israelites as their own possession. There on the mountain that you have climbed you will die and be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people. This is because both of you broke faith with me in the presence of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the Desert of Zin and because you did not uphold my holiness among the Israelites. Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel.” (Deut. 32:48-52, NIV)

Seems pretty harsh so far, but is that the whole story?

We just read from Deuteronomy 32. Chapter 33 is Moses giving a final blessing to the tribes of Israel. Then chapter 34 says this:

Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”

And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.

Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses.

Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel. (Deut. 34:1-12, NIV)

So what do we know so far?

  1. Moses is 120 years old and could no longer lead the people but not because he was physically feeble.
  2. Moses cannot go into the Promised Land because a) he broke faith with God, and b) he didn’t uphold God’s holiness.
  3. Moses was to go to mount Nebo to die and be gathered to his people because of what happened at Meribah.

Well, what really happened at Meribah that was so bad? The people got the water they needed, right? So why was hitting the rock so much worse that speaking to it? The pivotal story is found in Numbers 20.

In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried.

Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord! Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”

Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell face down, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. The Lord said to Moses, “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”

So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.

But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”

These were the waters of Meribah, where the Israelites quarreled with the Lord and where he was proved holy among them. (Num. 20:1-13, NIV)

Here they are, the people of Israel, quarreling and complaining again about Moses bringing them some place terrible—worse than the horrible slavery he rescued them from.  If only they were dead! Why are you such a crappy leader, Moses?!

Notice why they had stopped at this place with no water. Was it because Moses was too stupid to lead them? No. Verse one tells us Moses and Aaron’s sister had just died. They were in the days of mourning for the loss of not only family, but also of their right hand girl—their helper, their trusted team member. By tradition they were to mourn for 30 days before they returned to marching through the wilderness. The pillar of fire and cloud had not moved. God had not signaled that they should cut their mourning short because there was no water. But did these dreadful people have an ounce of sympathy? No! They acted like Moses purposefully brought them to camp in the desert just to be spiteful. Are you kidding me!

Notice next, Moses and Aaron went from the people and fell on their faces before God. It does not say that they prayed for water for the people. Moses had once interceded for the people so that God would not wipe them out during a similar episodic fit. That does not mean that he was interceding for them during this highly emotional time of mourning for his sister. The brothers could have just as easily been casting their cares on the Lord and cursing the sick jerks who did nothing but complain without sympathy or empathy for their pain. David did it; would it have been so bad for Moses?

“There’s no pomegranates here in the desert!” The people said. These guys had never had pomegranates that we know of. First, pomegranates were royal food, not slave fodder.  Second, they’d lived on manna and quail their whole lives.  They’d grown up wandering the desert because their parents, the ones who might have actually eaten pomegranates in Egypt, didn’t have enough faith to enter the Promised Land the first time around. These are the kids of those people, many may not have even been born when the Israelites left Egypt. Apparently their parents had taught them about pomegranates, but not what God had done for Israel last time they had to stop at Meribah (Ex. 17). Last time God made water come out of a rock when Moses struck it with his staff.

Moses and Aaron had been putting up with these people’s complaints for FORTY YEARS! The same yant-yah, mouthy kids all grown up. They learned nothing from their parents’ wasted lives.

God told Moses to provide for them anyway. The brothers were told to take the staff with them, the staff that had turned into a snake for Pharaoh, that had parted the Red Sea. The one that budded to prove they were chosen by God to lead the people. It was a sign of the power of God they held. It was a reminder to the people who they were.

They were instructed to speak to the rock and if they did, water would come out of it. God did not say hitting the rock was an alternative way to get water out of the rock. Moses only had the authority to do miracles because God endowed him with power. Moses didn’t get to make it up as he went along.

Striking the rock should have done nothing. It might have been the way God did things in the past, but there was no indication it would work if now if they disobeyed.

When Moses stood in front of the people and struck the rock instead of obeying God, he was essentially saying, “I will not lead these people to the Promised Land any longer.” In fact, Moses actually said, “Listen here, you contentious bunch of rebels. Why should we bring water from this rock for you!?” He had no intention of doing so by speaking on God’s behalf. He would not be their magic, fix-it man any longer. If God wanted to bring water from the rock, then let him, but Moses by his silence wasn’t going to be part of it. Whack! No.

Aaron conspired with him. Aaron, who was assigned as Moses voice, did not speak to the rock in his stead. They plotted this with malice aforethought (Num. 20:24). This was not a crime of passion. This was not Moses getting angry and hitting a rock. He was making a statement. “I will not!” Notice they hit the rock with the sign of their authority over the power of God. It was a non-verbal curse. No stutter. Just straight up refusal to save the people with the power God endowed to them for that purpose.

By refusing to provide for a rebellious and treacherous people, Moses did not “uphold [God’s] holiness.” By this act, Moses was not a perfect representation of the character of God. Portraying the proper image of God for all the world to see is what we were created for, all of us. It’s humanity’s job to fill the earth with his image (Gen. 1:26-28). Failure to meet this expectation is called missing the mark, sin. We’ve all done it (Rom. 3:23). The result is death (Rom. 6:23). In this, Moses is not unique.

Moses hit the rock because he “broke faith” with God. God put it another way, “You did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites.” God loves even the wicked and rebellious. You’d never know that by the way Moses represented him here.

Moses rebelled against the will of God, but water gushed out of the rock anyway. There was no way that Moses could have known that his curse would result in a blessing instead. Yet, despite Moses and Aaron’s rebellion, God graciously saved the sinful people. That’s what God does. That’s the true character of God. In fact 1Cor. 10:4 says that the water from the rock in the wilderness was a spiritual picture of Christ. Our human leaders may fail to provide for us by speaking truthfully, but God is willing provide Living Water despite their rebellion.

Moses and Aaron made a mistake. In a deliberate conspiracy, they refused to obey God. They would not be a part of providing life sustaining water in the desert. By doing so they misrepresented God’s grace and kindness.  They also broke faith with him. God had called Moses to lead the people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land (Ex. 3). Aaron was to be his mouth piece (Ex. 4:15). By disobeying and striking the rock they were effectively saying they didn’t believe in their mission any more. No one could help these people—not God, not anybody. They quit.

God, consistent with his character, did not force them to do it anyway. He granted Moses and Aaron their wish. They did not have to lead those naughty, rebellious children into the Promised Land.

So now, what are some conclusions we can draw instead of judging God as mean for denying Moses entrance into the Promised Land?

First, Moses was 120 years-old. Genesis 6:3 tells us that 120 years was going to be a full lifespan for a human. Moses’ time was simply up—with or without whacking a rock.

Second, God didn’t just strike Moses with a lightning bolt because he sinned. God told him the time of his death was near. He gave him time to get his affairs in order and pass the mantle of leadership to someone else—an orderly transfer of power as it were. Moses was still as strong and clear as a young man. No one was really expecting that their magic man might leave them. He’d been a feature of Israelite culture for as long as the people could remember. If he had died suddenly the people would have fallen apart, probably gone back to their beloved Egypt—they weren’t known for their strong constitution even when their miracle-worker was there to assure them everything would be fine.  Moses didn’t suffer a long drawn out sickness, yet everyone still had time to prepare. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always loathed the idea of a long, drawn out sickness. On the other hand, I want to be able to kiss the ones I love goodbye and set my affairs in order. At the fullness of his days, God compassionately gave Moses that perfect combination.

Third, at 120 years-old Moses probably almost seemed immortal to the people of Israel. No one ever expects the pillar of the family to go—even after a long, drawn out sickness it can be hard for us to believe the glue that holds the family together is mortal after all. We know it’s going to happen eventually, but it is still a shock when it happens for real. For these folks, it was even worse. Except Joshua and Caleb, the oldest of them was no older than 60. Moses was twice that.  No one older than twenty when the spies scoped out Promised Land was still alive. These guys had now been marching around the wilderness for 40 years.  They never knew a time when they hadn’t been walking around the desert with Moses at their head, doing miracles and taking care of them, telling them what to do, and shielding them from all the monsters, real and imagined. They all needed time to get ready.

Was God being trite or vindictive? I don’t think so. God didn’t even mention Moses hitting a rock . Instead he said Moses could not cross into the land because “you broke faith with me in the presence of the Israelites… and because you did not uphold my holiness among the Israelites.” In other words, “I told you to save the people, and you disobeyed. You lied to them about my love and refused to serve them any longer.”  Moses fell short of being the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). He misrepresented God. He “broke faith.” By breaking his connection to the Source of life, he cut his own life short. Even at 120, he was not immortal.

Moses could not live forever because of sin. God reminded the people of Moses’ sin not just to be accusatory but also because the people needed to have a reason this was happening.  They’d grown up with Moses’ face glowing with God’s own glory. The people  had known no other life but him leading them about the wilderness with miracle after miracle. These people saw Moses as their source for God and needed a reminder that Moses was not God—nor could he go on leading them forever. Therefore, God gave the whiners a very good reason that he was taking their magic man away from them. God wasn’t petty and vindictive; it was Moses’ time to retire.

Two more points and I’ll be done. In Deut. 32 God says, ”There on the mountain that you have climbed you will die and be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people.”

When Aaron died Moses and Aaron’s son were in attendance. They were Aaron’s people who “gathered him in.”

Who was in attendance when Moses died? Who gathered him? Who was his people?

And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. (Deut. 34:5-6)

Jude tells us someone else was there with God:

But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him for slander but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” (Jude 1:9, NIV)

Who gathered in Moses? The Lord and Archangel Michael! THAT was Moses’ people. No other mortal man can boast that. He was gathered home, not to the earthly Promised Land, not to the shadow of things to come, but to the real thing in heaven! He was relieved of the hard work of getting the people to actually fight giants. No more whiny complainers. 120 years. That was enough. God didn’t kill him on the mount for hitting a rock instead of speaking. It says Moses died. (I imagine he gave up his spirit just like Christ on the cross.) Then God buried him. God himself!

Last point, from Deut. 31:1-6:

Then Moses went out and spoke these words to all Israel: “I am now a hundred and twenty years old and I am no longer able to lead you. The Lord has said to me, ‘You shall not cross the Jordan.’ The Lord your God himself will cross over ahead of you. He will destroy these nations before you, and you will take possession of their land. Joshua also will cross over ahead of you, as the Lord said. […] Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deut. 31:1-6, NIV)

 

The first time the people of Israel crossed through a body of water on dry land their magic man was leading them. They had someone standing between God and them, a buffer, another person to take responsibility for them. When God gave the Law from the mountain, the people quaked and asked him never to speak to them again.

When the Israelites crossed the Jordan, the presence of God himself in the form of the Arc of the Covenant stood in the river and opened the path to their future (Josh. 3). The people each had to choose to follow Him. Cross the river. Follow God. Trust. Or don’t. God was moving forward. It was just him and the people now. Joshua never did the types of miracles Moses did. He wasn’t a magic man replacement. The Arc led the people across the Jordan and into victory at Jericho. The Arc replaced Moses as the provider, protector, sustainer.  It was a new dynamic for a people whose time it was to grow up, to take personal responsibility for securing their piece of the Promised Land, to fight their giants—God said he’d do it for them, but they had to trust that was true. If Moses had still been there to do it for them, they would never have learned to walk on their own…many of them still refused. At some point the training wheels have to come off. Moses was sick and tired of leading the babies who refused to grow up. God took that responsibility off his hands and preformed the work himself.

Was this a simple case of whack a rock and die for your crime? I think it was far more complicated a dynamic than that.

Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses,

whom the Lord knew face to face. (Dt. 34:10)

God’s love—his intimate relationship with his friend, his merciful release from a difficult duty—not petty vindictiveness, is what we should see from the story of Moses on Mt. Nebo.

 

Photo of Mt. Nebo by Berthold Werner, Wikipedia Commons.

Meaningfulness vs. Amusement

 

I’ve been learning a hard lesson lately, so I thought I’d share:

As a society there is a trend that is almost so pervasive that we can’t remember any other way of life. In fact unless you are a reader who loves books set before 100 years ago, it may not even occur to you that there is any other way of life.

We work for the weekend. We Americans will do anything to protect our “me time,” our “down time.” This down time is usually focused on “vegging” or some form of entertainment. Amusement offers momentary relieve from the worries of life. Amusement literally means “a state of not thinking.” Our whole goal of working is often to buy the ability to get to the entertainment. The problem is that the thrill, or the joy, or at least the moment of relief only lasts for the moment we are amused. As soon as it is over, the feelings of happiness dissolve. Often downright despair kicks in Monday morning when the daily grind comes crashing back into reality. Musing about our troubles ramps into overdrive and becomes worry and obsession, anxiety and fear.

In contrast, longer lasting happiness is produced by meaningfulness. Instead of entertainment which is meaningless, we need to engage in meaningful thought and activities. Getting involved in things that are meaningful to us is a step in the right direction. Getting involved in things that are meaningful to our community and society as a whole is even more important. Loving others and making connections offers a longer lasting joy. When we are in pain, our reaction is often to focus on our own happiness when the actual answer is to get outside of ourselves and focus on building something more than our tiny kingdom of self. When the joy (or toil) of the moment is over, a lasting feeling of satisfaction remains.

This may seem obvious for an extrovert. They enjoy connecting with people. But even for them if connecting with others is done for self-gratification, then the joy dissipates as soon as the crowd leaves. Meaningful activities are only beneficial in the long term if those activities are focused on building up others, building up society or our world.

Getting involved in meaningful connections may seem like torture for an introvert. However, meaningful connections don’t have to take place in crowded sanctuaries. One on one is where some of the most meaningful connections are made. Meaningful projects don’t necessarily involve getting up in front of people. In fact some of my most meaningful activities are done in solitude. The point is to serve someone else, the greater good. There are many ways that we can use our strengths in order to benefit others.

As long as we as a society continue to focus on the joys of amusement, we will continue to miss the deeper, more lasting joys of meaningfulness. As long as duty, honor, and character are seen as the antithesis of joy, we’re going to need a whole heap more prescriptions. Meaningfulness cannot be bought at a pharmacy. Joy cannot be found in checking out.

As long as we continue to entertain our children in their time off, they will miss the joys of work and the feelings of satisfaction that come with it. Their imaginations and creative power will be crushed. Innovation will be limited. We’ll have a society of basement dwelling pseudo-adults. The earlier we can involve them in meaningfulness, the happier and more satisfied their lives will be–the better off our whole world will be.

Entertainment isn’t bad, but when it replaces meaningfulness it can have deadly consequences both individually and as a society.

What am I doing today that is meaningful? That is my summer break question.

 

Beauty Scars

stock-mountain-pic

The world is full of beautiful places. Photographs of mountain tops and valleys inspire awe and wonder. Actually being in these scenic places evokes visceral feelings of joy and peace. The sheer weight of their glorious beauty can take our breath away and bring us to tears.

We think of these wonders as places of natural beauty. But if we had been alive to see them long ago at the time of their forming, I’m sure we would have shed a different type of tears. They were born of trauma and crushing forces. To see what had been familiar crumpled up, to see the fiery explosions or dams of ice scouring away the world we once knew, what pain and sorrow we would have felt!

All of earth’s geological beauty is evidence of her worst trauma. The places that resonate with our souls are scars from the past. Peaks stand like proud flesh, like puckered, granulation scars. Many were ancient sea beds now broken and thrust above the clouds by crashing continents. Canyons were once plains carved out by powerful forces of erosion. Beaches have endured so much continuous pounding there’s nothing left but little grains of sand.  Volcanic cones now covered in snow were once fiery, destructive eruptions. Island paradises were born by repeatedly ripping open wounds in the sea floor, building up stone layer by layer.

What we see now is the aftermath of ages past. The edges have been softened by time. Green has covered the blacked, bleeding crust. The places that are still raw are that much more beautiful for their rugged endurance against the elements. Life overwhelms the bleakness of pain. Even in the driest desert, life has a way of persevering, of winning. Trees cling to mountain sides, and flowers blush the hillsides. We look and see only the beautiful landscape that is, not the trauma that was.

I feel like so many times people only want to show the world our smooth glass faces. We act like placid pools of normalcy are the only acceptable beauty. We offer the world our meadows, but as beautiful as they are, that is not all we have to give. Through experience, both with my own trauma and observing other survivors, I know that our most breathtaking beauty sometimes takes the form of granulation tissue and fault lines.

Our souls seek mountains, valleys, and the constant rhythm of waves. There is something alluring in damaged beauty that has healed into spectacular vistas. We do not just look for it out in nature, but in the truth of each other. The peace that surrounds us in the wild places is the same peace we seek in our shared stories. We long to find a hero in our fellow man. We want to see that enduring the test of time is possible, that we can come out the other side stunningly, dramatically beautiful. People long to experience hope that life can overcome the ravaged places. Humanity wants to see that someone else has not only survived, but also thrived.

For some reason we think of the hero as someone out there, someone else. Yet tragedy is common to all mankind.  We all have experienced the destructive forces of this broken world. We each have the opportunity to be the hero someone else needs. That is the power of our story, our testimony.

Transformation from jagged rocks into a lush landscape doesn’t happen without the power of life. It is life which softens and covers the rugged mountainsides. It is the happy little trees that live in impossible places. It is the flowers that bloom where life seems difficult.

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life…” (John 14:6) He also said, “I am come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10, KJV). If we want to see our rugged places softened over time, we must allow God to transform our scorched and wounded souls with life—his life. It is God’s sacrificial love that can heal any canyon of self-esteem eroded by public opinion. When the winds of change have turned our heart into a desert, it is the Living Water that can make an oasis for life to return and thrive—a place of joy not only for you, but also for the thirsty world we live in (John 4:14, 7:38). In him, our roots can grow deep again (Jer. 17:7-8). Those traumatic events that stand out like mountains in our lives can be turned into beautiful scenes of hope.

When the changes begin to take place, people will flock from near and far to experience the beauty of it. That is the power of your testimony. No one expects you to always be a placid, glass pond. The dynamic beauty life overcoming destruction is a world changing power. Let all the facets of you be seen. Don’t hide them. Instead of trying to cover up the scars left by trauma in this world, be transformed by Life and then share the beauty of it—even the parts that are still a little jagged. The hope that others will experience will be far more than the joy of a jagged mountain peak. You can be a shining, beautiful vista for all the world to see or simply for the lone hiker lost in the woods.

Politics.

I believe that the average citizen wants a better society–both Republicans and Democrats…and the rest of us. There are some who want a better society for altruistic reasons and some who want it for self-serving reasons–on ALL sides of the argument. Red and Blue differ greatly on how to accomplish a better society.

Republicans and Libertarians tend to believe that by empowering individuals we will have a stronger, healthier collective society. The self-serving folks in this group take the power they gain and use it only for themselves; they get angry when people try to take their hard earned profits. They cry that society is hateful and selfish. The altruistic ones take their power and attempt to serve others as generously as possible, often voluntarily joining other like-minded individuals in order to accomplish more.

Democrats tend to believe that by empowering the collective we will have stronger, healthier individuals, thus a better society. The self-serving folks in this group take from society and don’t give back; they get angry when society does not want to continue to serve their needs. They cry that society is hateful and selfish. The altruistic ones take the power of the collective and try to make sure the most people can be served as generously as possible.

Who’s right and who’s wrong? Who’s good and who’s bad? Fingers fly in both directions. The truth is that there are good people on both sides of the argument. AND there are selfish people on BOTH sides of the argument. I can plead my case and tell you why I believe my side is right, but I cannot for the life of me answer who is good and who is bad because the answer is yes.

The Consistency and Relativity of God

Many theological debates can be easily reconciled when we recognize that while God is unchanging, He is rearing children in many stages of maturity.

Historically we can roughly match the ways that God dealt with mankind with the human steps to maturity. First, in the Garden, he simply met our needs within the boundaries of a loving relationship. God called us “good”. He gave us no specific rules about how to act among other humans but only a choice to be in relationship with him or not.

Soon enough Humanity decided we wanted our own kingdom. We broke out of our simple, trusting relationship and entered the toddler phase full of power struggle. The first fit of rage was recorded in Genesis 4. It wasn’t pretty, so God gave us a few rules to follow; do not murder or eat blood (Gen. 9).

Then humanity grew a little more and entered our school age. We were given a lot of very specific rules (i.e. the Law, Ex. 20) and were expected to learn and follow them. It was a time of reward and punishment according to the Law, so that we could learn the truth of what love looks and acts like. The Law could never make us perfectly “good” again, but it was a huge step in our training to love and respect our fellow man.

Yet following the rules was never the ultimate goal. We were always intended to be the ruling heirs of the Kingdom of God by voluntarily  filling the earth with his likeness (Gen. 1:26-31, 9:7-9, Mt. 5:43-48, Lk. 6:35-36, Rev. 22:3-5). Throughout history God has kept pushing humanity to mature into public servants who humbly reign as little responsible sovereigns in his image (Mt. 20:25-28). We’re to grow beyond the promise of reward or the threat of punishment. He wants grown children that spread God’s love across the globe because we passionately love Love.

Many theologies try to force us to stay in the toddler stage of relationship where we simply fear God. I don’t know too many toddlers who don’t one minute love their parent for providing their need, and then pitch a fit the next because their parent is telling them what to do. The parent’s kindness and sternness seems random and sometimes scary until the ability to reason is achieved. It is the same with us and God. If forced to stay in this fearful way of thinking, our religion becomes fearful, confused, and often abandoned.

Other theologies cap our growth at the school age where it is all about the rules. God is portrayed as the sovereign headmaster who enforces his will upon stupid, little children who never seem to be able to grasp his teaching. This theology keeps us distant from God and immature for all of our lives. Relying on reward and punishment to fulfill our needs can leave us frustrated when we don’t get the rewards we think we deserve, or our enemies don’t seem to be punished according to our standards of right and wrong.  When this happens, the Headmaster seems unjust, cruel, and even tyrannical. I’ve seen many who were in this type of relationship with God quit the faith.

There are huge problems with these theologies including keeping us from a real relationship with God and thus incapable of fulfilling our role in portraying who he really is to a broken and hurting world. His image gets all bent and warped into a tyrannical headmaster or a fluffy Santa Clause. God is neither one of these things.

If our religion is stunted in immaturity our actions follow suit. For instance, if our religion tries to give us the freedom offered to mature children before a child had matured to the point of responsibly loving his neighbor, then the child will undoubtedly abuse that freedom (1 Cor. 10:23-33). Conversely if religion does not at some point expect its students to mature, but instead continuously tries to enforce the “Law” on an adult who should be mature, then religion will no longer be a teacher but an obstruction to the freedom and power available to all who fulfill their God given calling. The fear of the Lord is only the beginning of wisdom, not the sum and total of it (Prov. 9:10, 1 Jn. 4:18). We should be maturing into sons and daughters of God, not perpetual slaves of the Law. When we take verses out of their contexts and mix God’s dealings with man at one maturity level with his interactions at another maturity level, we get messed up religion. We become tyrants or permissive of everything.

Religion was always meant to be a short term solution to our distance from God. It was meant to be an induction from the chaotic kingdom of this world into understanding proper citizenship of God’s Kingdom. It could never save us, only help us reflect on the truth. Nothing more, nothing less.

God’s standard is not relative in the sense that He is always bringing us to perfection. Perfection is to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. If you do these two things, then the rest is covered. This has always been his unchanging intention for humanity. However, love is relative in the sense that it is quite literally all about relationship. Therefore, how Love deals with us on a personal level will always be relative. One way that it is relative is based on maturity level. It affects both expectations and repercussions. If we use a grid over the scriptures to sort passages based on the maturity of the audience many contradictions will align themselves into one consistent truth.

I am blessed!

It is true: I am blessed! Interestingly though, it has nothing to do with whether God just pulled something off exactly the way I wanted it or not. Life is full of wonderful things; all of them a gift from God. Take oxygen for instance, that’s awesome stuff. But the word blessed primarily has nothing to do with tangible things. In fact our landlord has served us with a 30 day eviction notice (no reason given), and I’m still blessed.

If you look up the words “bless” or “blessing” in the New Testament (http://biblehub.net/searchverse.php?q=bless), they are all about speaking well of, to, or about someone. “Blessed” is living in the state of life abundantly, which is wholeness and strength not having a bunch of things.

We can bless someone by speaking a blessing over them, or as Toby Mac says we can “speak life”. We can say a blessing which is a spoken prayer over someone’s life for their good and multiplication. It can also be a word of encouragement or a positive testimony about how wonderful someone is. (No, “bless her heart” and “blessing someone out” do not count.)

Being blessed is living in a state of joy and confidence despite our circumstances due to the understanding that God has already spoken life into us from the beginning and continues to do so. God created us, called us good, and then loved us even in our brokenness enough to give his life to buy us back from the Enemy. This is blessed.

Most often these days I hear it used as a euphemism for lucky. “I’m so happy; I just bought a new car. (Oh, wait that might not sound spiritual enough.) I’m truly blessed! God gave me a new car!” Or “I got the job! Whoop! God blessed me big time!”

But what happens when the worst case scenario happens instead? Do we still feel “blessed”? What if a child dies, or we lose our job …or the landlord gives us 30 days to get out with no place to go? Where is our blessing then? Sometimes it feels like God is withholding our blessing or giving it to some less deserving folk.

This is something I had to work through years ago as I watched the 10th person in our small group announce their pregnancy and got news that my drug addicted cousin was about to have her 6th. My husband and I had been married 6 years, actively perusing children for 2/3rds of that. We had good jobs and two spare bedrooms just waiting on a baby. Children are a blessing from the Lord, right? I had verses to prove it!

God and I had a knockdown, drag out, fighting/shouting match over this. Well, I was doing all the fighting and shouting, and really wished I could have landed a blow. It turns out I was wrong. I know; who’d of thought, right? Blessed is more of a state of being on the inside than a tangible thing we can hold on the outside, even children or a house.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us that being blessed is the ability to be emptied of your own selfish desires and filled with the Spirit, not getting our flesh’s every wish fulfilled. Blessed is being comforted when we mourn, not living a life without ever mourning loss. Blessed is an inner confidence which allows us the ability to exercise self-discipline when we could exert power and crush someone who is bothering us; it isn’t just having the clout to squash our enemy or never being bothered in the first place. Blessed is being able to pinpoint what truly will make you happy and running unrestrained toward it, not having another opportunity to snack along the way on what will never truly satisfy. Blessed is the ability to forgive and become whole, not the moment our revenge is realized. Blessed is a heart in love with Love Himself and nothing else, not finding a temporary substitute. Blessed are the peacemakers, not those who win the war. Blessed are those who withstand hatred aimed at them because of their good character, not those who force religion on those who they deem worthless heathen. http://biblehub.com/niv/matthew/5.htm

Matthew 5 goes on, but you get the point. Religion focuses on God giving us what we want when we want it and calling that blessed. That is a Santa Clause version of God. This version of God is utterly confusing when God doesn’t work the way we think he should. We need a relationship with him, not a sky-daddy, vending machine.

Jesus described it by saying we needed to take on his yoke. A yoke takes two separate entities and combines them into one force with a common goal, direction, and leader. A meaningful relationship with God is blessed. It is walking and living side by side with Christ, having a common goal, direction, and leader: We are empowered to love this world at all costs in order to restore them to a relationship with God, live outside of ourselves, under the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Many of you are watching our story as this crisis unfolds. No matter what the outcome, worst case scenario or best, I AM BLESSED! It isn’t something you can touch; it is the hope and confidence that no matter what lies ahead God will work it into something wonderful. It will empower me to be stronger and greater than I ever could have been otherwise. I have joy unspeakable and peace that passes all understanding. I am absolutely unafraid. I hope my story will inspire you to find the same.