New Beginnings and Why We Struggle

New Beginnings

Happy 2018! We’ve had a lovely couple of days spending fun quality time with friends and family. It feels like Brian has been home from work with us for a long time, and it’s been heavenly!

New beginnings have been on my mind. I have been reading a new chronological Bible that I got for Christmas, starting in Genesis, and I have also been pondering the year ahead of me, as vacation time comes to a close. I feel both excited and reluctant when facing personal physical, mental, and spiritual goals, because setbacks are discouraging, and I don’t want to let them tempt me into giving up. Overall, I feel hopeful, because I am involving God, family, and friends in my goals, and we can do this together!

Reading Genesis again has stirred up a lot of the old big questions about God and humanity. It reminds me of how doomed to failure we humans have seemed from the start, and how quickly the human race can tumble into chaos and cruelty. Even we, who consider ourselves “pretty good” people, can’t seem to be the way we want to be, never mind how God wants us to be. It’s frustrating. Why do I feel like God asks the impossible of me?  I feel compelled to look deeper, to find God in this messy story. Creator and Redeemer and Returning King – those are the steady and familiar roles to me, but I want to better understand the heart of God. The human mind can’t fully comprehend God, and he certainly doesn’t have to explain himself to me, but I still like to ponder these things out of curiosity.

Big Questions

Why, if God knew all that we would do, did he still proceed in the manner that he did with creating a people that would fail him, and then personally lay down his life for this same people who would continue to hurt each other and mischaracterize him? And why, literally on Earth, would he send the devil to be anywhere near where we were, or were going to be? After pondering these things for the last few days, I have arrived at two conclusions. Within the context of the Bigger Story, there is no other possible way he could create beings and remain true to the character he claims, and he more highly values a redeemed humanity than a perfect one.

That is the main point I want to make. If I keep these thoughts in mind, instead of being frustrated with my failing nature, I can accept that that’s just how it is, and it’s no surprise to God. I can marvel at God’s grace and his promises to help me through and hang in there a little longer until our relationship is restored to its completeness. I can pursue this relationship with confidence that mistakes are going to be a part of the journey, and I can learn from them and walk with others graciously through theirs.

The Bigger Story

Those can be fairly big claims, so I will share with you my thought process in the context of God’s overarching story, as presented in the Bible. God’s story is by no means a universally-accepted one. But, for it to be true and acceptable to me, it has to be the entire fantastic biblical story. In fact, this “story” makes my reality realer for me than without it. I’ll explain.

The Context

  • The setting starts with a beautiful angel (Lucifer) in an important position in God’s service (Ez 28: 12-15).
  • Lucifer became prideful and wanted to be God (Isaiah 14:12-14).
  • Somewhere along the way, God turned a “formless and void” Earth into a planet full of life. (Genesis 1, 2).
  • Lucifer escalated his efforts to overtake God’s throne to the point of heavenly war and gets kicked out with a third of the angels he convinced (Revelation 12: 7-12, Luke 10:18).
  • Lucifer, then known as Satan, the serpent, the dragon, is cast to earth (Revelation 12:9).
  • Satan is angry at God and makes it his mission to accuse God of unfairness, and to hurt God by turning his creation against him (Job 1: 6-12, 1 Peter 5:8, Hebrews 2:14, Ephesians 6:11, 2 Timothy 2:26, John 13:2, Genesis 3).

I want to pause here to notice something. At this point, a perfect angel rebelled and caused war in heaven. Have you ever heard a parent say to their kid, “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out of it”? It’s fascinating to see that God does not simply destroy Lucifer and end the evil before it infects others, so heaven can move on in its glorious perfection. Knowing the devastating things Lucifer would do, God also didn’t choose to simply not create him. Who would even know if God opted out of creating someone?

If God claims to be Love, and claims that all creation has free will, then what would destroying a rebel do? Likely, it would then cause all of heaven to obey God out of fear. Had God not created him (who would even know it?), would that choice still not violate the purity of love and free will, regardless of how humane or invisible we might consider it? Love doesn’t rule like that. So now, all that is left is to let sin run its course and allow all of the universe to see what it truly means to live by selfish principles instead of by God’s ways.

God lets Satan be Satan for a time. He IS going to destroy Satan and his angels (Matthew 25:41), but not until all of creation can participate in the so-called heavenly courts where God stands on trial with Satan, the prosecutor. This comes at a terrible personal cost to God, because He knows what we will do, and the price He will choose to pay for it.

  • God, in a demonstration of the free will of the people he just created, provides them with a means to demonstrate their commitment and their power of choice. It is God’s desire that they do not know about the evil that now exists. He tells them not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 2:17).
  • Satan is permitted to tempt them with this tree, and successfully convinces them that God is keeping something desirable from them. Satan then could claim mankind as his, through mankind’s choosing. (Genesis 3:1-4).
  • With the sudden awareness (knowledge) of their sin – their choice to mistrust God – and the new-found clarity of Satan’s deception, Adam & Eve can’t bear to face God in their shame (Genesis 3:7-8)
  • God responds both strongly and tenderly. He curses the serpent and encourages mankind that through Eve a descendant would come that would crush Satan and restore what was lost (Genesis 3:14,15).
  • He informs them of the new challenging life they will experience with sin present in the world (Genesis 3:16-19).
  • He clothes them with animal skins – the solemn experience of the first (animal) death, and the beginning of a continual practice of sacrifice that would remind them of the devastation of sin, and point forward as a reminder of the coming sacrifice of Jesus, perfect and innocent as a lamb (Genesis 3:21).

The Result

Basically, God is saying, “Okay, this is the part that’s going to hurt for all of us, but it’s not going to be like this forever.” The rest of the Old Testament is essentially the story of God trying to get his people to hang in there and remember who he really is, while Satan makes every effort to twist and deceive and hurt. Then, Jesus steps in and buys us back from Satan with his own perfect life. Now God waits in his own perfect time, for the right time to return, hoping that not one of us will be lost (2 Peter 3:9). When God closes the curtain on sin, it will be clear to all that God’s ways are truly loving and desirable, and sin is a terrible, destructive path that will never be chosen again.

So…Why do I feel like God asks the impossible of me? 

He does and He doesn’t. God never changes. Neither does his law. His law is still the way to the perfect life of joy, love, unity, and harmony. It’s serious business to sin. It keeps us isolating ourselves from God, just like Adam and Eve hid from God, fresh off the sin press, and what God wants most is unity with us (John 17:20-23). The deception Satan has worked on us is that what God wants is our perfection, from our own efforts. No. If God wanted perfection, he could’ve orchestrated it effectively. What he wants is a deep and eternal relationship with us, freely chosen, and he wants to help us achieve it. The same power of God that raised Jesus from the dead is the same power at work in us to help us grow and to help us love him and each other with all our being.

What does a redeemed people have over a perfect people? We could be enjoying a perfect life right now, on a perfect Earth, and delighting in God’s visible presence. We would be simple and innocent, and literally none the wiser. I imagine God would like for us to have chosen that in the first place. But, now that it’s done, I believe we will be experiencing God on a whole other level (I have to be careful how I say this before I paint God with Hero Syndrome). We will experience an eternity with a God that personally formed us in His image, communed with us, watched us reject Him, and then personally intervened with his own life to save us from the sin we regretfully invited, and then will restore to us a life without pain or sadness or struggle. We will experience deep, safe, and lasting connection. We will be in awe of Him and all that he has done for us, and the immeasurable depth of His grace and love. On some level, that’s such a richer, more beautiful story, and it’s ours.

 

If that’s not the story, then I have no other explanation of the presence of chaos, the evil, or conversely, the striving to resist the entropy that comes so naturally. Never have I spoken to someone that was doing or feeling anything unpleasant, unkind, or harmful and heard them say that’s exactly how they want to feel, or that wrong is the thing they want to do. People want to feel whole, complete, good, loving. This story explains to me the presence of the contradiction in us – that we were made in God’s image, with his law written in our hearts, but a poison is among us. For now.

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Talking To Your Kids About Sex in the First Ten Years (A Christian Perspective)

I take a break for a time, and suddenly I feel like I return with such a grown topic. My guys still seem little to me, but we have to grow together. We still have much playfulness and “little guy” stuff, but we have to face what’s approaching.

As my oldest is entering the pre-teen years, there is suddenly both a greater interest in the topic of sex among the brothers, and an increasing exposure to sexualized things. The feeling of mild panic in my chest has been growing for a few years, and I ponder all the things we have covered and what I wish we had spent more time covering to prepare their hearts and minds for what they will more seriously face in the near future.

With the abundance of technology and media in our lives, things we don’t want to see, or have our kids see, are very easily found by accident. The internet terrifies me for my kids. I want my kids to know what to do, and how to process it when (not if) they encounter what they shouldn’t. I also know the cultural pressures I faced as a female, from all the media distortions, and no doubt men have their own set. Kids are being exposed to these expectations in every grocery store aisle, on billboards, in commercials, and even on the toy aisle. I want my kids to know, not only how to see the precious human in every body (even those in images), but to also, in their words, their eyes, and their actions, invite people to live free of these perceived expectations. I want them to eventually realize the abuse, exploitation, and trafficking that is behind the porn industry, and choose to be protectors. I want them to delight in God and will the best for His people.

With young children, it doesn’t make sense to simply come out and say all these things. There needs to be a foundation. As I consider all the age-appropriate things we’ve addressed in former years, I am noticing how pertinent they are to discussions on internet safety all the way down to navigating the drug store greeting card aisle.

Before I dive into these concepts, in no particular order, I want to say that I’d like this to be a living document and a helpful guide. As I write, I know I’m not recalling every important point. I rely on feedback to make updates that can more thoroughly help others. I am not citing sources, because I am the sorry sort that reads many things and remembers the gist, but little more. Do take this as one voice of many and apply it to your parenting repertoire as your judgment deems fit.

Bodies

The most obvious, and a frequently-mentioned topic is children’s own bodies. It is important that children feel comfortable with themselves, and not ashamed. Kids are really curious about their own bodies, and about concepts like where babies come from. I make a point to answer these questions simply and directly. If they want to know more, they’ll ask. Practice in private if you have to. It’s important to normalize these things, even in the level of comfort you show. From birth on up, it’s important to use proper terminology for body parts and to give children choices in their appearance. Children need a say in what happens to their bodies in everything from being tickled to whether or not to hug their Aunt. This is important for their personal safety and for their future ability to speak up for themselves against social pressures.

Ownership

In addition to having dominion over ones own body, I like to teach accountability and responsibility and owning the parts we played in our interactions. I believe in genuine apologies, or at minimum recognizing ones own contributions and what a better alternative would have been. I and only I am responsible for the choices I make. This is very important, because in the future, my kids will see that the victim often gets the blame, or at least a hefty share of it. Nobody ever deserves or “asks to” be touched or treated in any harmful or unwanted way. Ever. The offender chose their own actions. End of story. In a less serious example, when my kids have made a poor choice, we can only work through what we own up to. Truth is gold.

Advertising

I’ve always had an interest in how the mind works, and as soon as my boys were old enough to engage in basic conversations, I’ve talked with them about the goals of marketing. We’ve examined the nutritional value of cereals and observed which kinds of cereals had cartoons on their boxes – the sugary ones! I’ve pointed out how companies would love to make people think certain thoughts and want what they’re selling, so they can make lots of money! “Now, who do you want in charge of this beautiful brain God gave you?” So, from barely a reading age, my kids have been dutifully ignoring the pictures and going straight for nutrition labels. This segues excellently into an older kid “sex sells” discussion, which is a perfect transition back to the value God places on sex versus it’s commercial value.

Addiction

In a similar vein of mind things, I liked starting to discuss our amazing brain and the chemicals it makes that help us to feel good about the things God gave us to enjoy, but how some things can make the brain spend too much and get really hungry for more. They’ve been exposed, through our relationship with our church school to talks about drugs and alcohol and addiction. I’ve been able to connect that concept to other hyper-rewarding activities like video games. One way they get to practice self-moderation is by choosing an agreeable amount of time to play on electronics (after completing other responsibilities),  setting their own timer, and sticking to it. My youngest, when referring to food, said, “The longer you look at it the more you want it.” That led to a great discussion about what we can choose to gaze at, and what we can leave as a glance.

Humanity

The parenting books and styles I’ve most deeply connected with are the ones that place equal value on children and adults. To be clear, nothing I’ve read has directly said that children are worth less. But some have done a better job of emphasizing respecting children and allowing them to retain as much of their power as possible. Everyone has power. Some people, through size or authority, have a greater perceived or actual power over others. Sometimes, as parents, we get in an authoritarian mode that seeks to dominate the child and exert our power over them to “make” them do or say something. In the short term, this can be effective. However, it misses some great long-term benefits offered by a more authoritative approach. When a child is treated like an intelligent, capable human, able to be reasoned with and to reach wise conclusions, they typically rise to the occasion. Children who feel heard, believe they have a voice, and get to practice their ability to solve their own problems will maintain a greater capacity to respect other humans’ autonomy and to empathize with them. This is critical in a world that encourages us to view other people as objects for our personal enjoyment. Every picture or video of someone, every model, actor, and stranger on the street is a PERSON.

Safety

Physical safety is an obvious factor. Slightly more challenging is emotional safety. As a parent, sometimes my fears and other emotions get more tangled up in a situation than they need to be. I yell and demand, and all I get is upset, resentful kids who feel worse about themselves, are less likely to trust me next time, and haven’t learned much more than how to people-please or sneak. If commonly treated like this, they’d be more likely to comply with a “more powerful” person (physically or socially) and less likely to make a well-reasoned decision. My feelings matter; I am half of every parent-child win-win arrangement, and my needs get to be met as well as theirs. However, some goals are better served by me taking the time I need to collect myself before entering a discussion with the boys (or by processing my feelings later with my husband, friend, or journal). If my feelings are truly relevant to the matter, I can phrase them in ways that lower defenses and increase receptivity. If my feelings don’t significantly contribute to the objective, I can then proceed with a more relaxed presence and angle to listen as much as I talk. It’s important to me to reinforce our family values, but it’s equally important to me to be a consistently safe source of support and knowledge for my kids, especially for the tougher scenarios. Besides being another level of protection from real and electronic predators, modeling emotional safety to my kids will teach them how to be a safe space for others, and how to handle the conflict and confrontation of uncomfortable situations.

Consent

As soon as a child is able to grab a toy from another child, they are old enough to consciously enter the consent discussion. Before that, the healthy warmth and affection and gentle meeting of needs communicates to the infant the security of being worth protecting and being cared for. As my kids played, conflicts arose, and I spent the time to point out cues of displeasure – crying, frowning, stomping, yelling, “no” words, and of enjoyment – laughing, smiling, inviting. I taught them that other people are in charge of their bodies, and if they say “no, you must listen immediately. You must have their permission to hug, tickle, wrestle, battle or carry them. If they are using a toy, they get to keep using the toy. If you want a turn, tell them and ask them how much longer they are going to play with it. I help them make reasonable negotiations. It takes more time than forced sharing, but it’s a skill they need. Conversely, the one who feels offended needs the practice developing skills to express what is happening and how they feel about it.

I taught them how comforting hugs can be, and how much some people like them, but that they never have to hug someone they aren’t comfortable hugging. They know that it’s great form to always start with good manners, but if they feel threatened they may use any means at their disposal to get to safety. They have a good idea about unhealthy interactions with other people; nobody should make others uncomfortable, nobody should have others keep uncomfortable secrets, adults shouldn’t ask kids for help or give them things without a parent’s permission, nobody should insist on a kid being alone with them, and nobody should bully others. Tricky people do these things. We can be protectors by keeping ourselves safe, and by getting help if we find out someone is in a tricky situation.

Unity

Families are a fantastic model to teach kids about the unity God wants to experience with us, and designed for us to experience with each other. Moms and babies are two people connected physically, and later with a strong emotional bond – dads too! I teach my kids that their mom and dad are two people who became friends and liked each other very much, and learned everything about each other and grew in love together. We had the same “big deal” things important to us and both want to love God more than anything or anyone else. We chose to be together as a team forever. We are two individuals, but we operate as one unit in purpose and direction. This reminds us of God – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and how God wants to be close to each of us like that. When we go to church, we see that everybody has a different job to do, but we are all working together, again, for one purpose and direction.

As the kids get older and ask more questions, this naturally leads to describing sex as an amazing gift to bond mom and dad together really close, to enjoy each other, and even to sometimes bring another person into the world to share their love with (just like God did when he made us!). If we were to bond like that outside of marriage, it could hurt our hearts when the bond gets pulled apart. It could result in harder situations for kids and parents who don’t all have each other. It could even result in difficult health challenges. It’s such a meaningful gift to start loving your future spouse, even now, so much that you save the bond for only them. This discussion can begin a more long-term thinking process and increase the value they see in others, as well as seeing outside of themselves to the role they play in the bigger picture of humanity.

Protecting (Love)

Another outward-looking angle I like to take is the idea that we have so we can give. If we are strong, well, and secure, we can look out for others. We can meet needs. We can show respect and compassion to all people. We can speak up against a wrongdoing. We can learn how things were and are, and what we can do for the “could be”. I have even recently suggested we can “protect” others who don’t even know it. See, if an image or a person grabs our attention visually or mentally, we can “protect” them from being treated like an object. We aren’t responsible for what we see, or even what we think or feel about what we see. But we are in charge of what we do from that point on. We can consciously choose thoughts and actions that honor them as a person of great value. We can discourage objectifying speech and behaviors we witness. God is love, and love means willing the good of others in thought AND action.

Delayed Gratification

Society is formatted for near-instant gratification. Our kids are growing consumers and well-entertained. This can lead to dangerous self-absorption and entitlement, addiction, and overstimulation. Certain amounts of boredom can actually be healthy for the brain, in terms of generating creativity. Learning to wait has benefits like building patience and impulse control, saving money, and learning appreciation for hard work. When the conversation turns to sex and pornography, chasing instant gratification can lead to sexual addiction and heartache. Focusing on building strong relationships is rewarding, meaningful, and healthy.

Grace

I always say that kids are great scientists. From birth, it seems most of what they do is experiment. They soon learn that many of these experiments are not appreciated by the adults in their lives. How we respond to kids doing what is completely developmentally appropriate can make a big difference to their self-esteem, their ability to make decisions, and how they handle life’s many failures. I try (and often fail) to treat mistakes like learning opportunities. I believe in the value of re-dos – literally reenacting the situation that just now devolved into sadness and frustration, but with the addition of more helpful words and behaviors I can help provide. I need to keep the attitude that my kids are going to make mistakes. Even the ones I made myself and warned them about. Failure is an important tool in success.

Normalizing

Regularly discussing and practicing all these topics normalizes the concept of sex. Normalizing sex is important to safety, development, healthy future relationships, and for providing opportunities to discuss questions or issues the kids encounter. Shame is the enemy to all these things. When talking about internet safety, I remind my kids that sex and curiosity aren’t inappropriate, but that there is much content on the internet that very much is inappropriate, and even harmful. I feel like we have had much success keeping a lifelong, age-appropriate dialogue going, in an emotionally-safe environment, and nabbing random opportunities to engage with them about what can be some uncomfortable topics. As a mom, I feel a sense of relief every time God leads me to an opportunity to talk about something important and heavy on my heart.

 

As you can see, there is so much ground to cover that superficially seems to have little to do with sex. Yet, as the kids age, it turns out most of “the talk” has been had, and there are merely points to connect and short new lines to draw. As a Christian mom who wishes there was such thing as “porn-proofing”, I know that if I can fully delight in God, I can teach my kids a genuine delight in and reliance on God. That in turn will go a long way to minimizing the desirability of the many self-oriented pleasures that can be had, as well as maximizing strength, grace, and resilience. I pray that the spiritual growth I continue to experience, coupled with the wisdom of God and friends, and the practical application of these topics, will provide my sons a solid foundation on which they can build good decisions, and weather the not-so-good ones.

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Can We Trust God (and His Grapes)?

Examining God’s Love in Jeremiah

I want to share what God put on my heart during my quiet time this morning, as I read Jeremiah 5. It’s really easy to gloss over the Old Testament (OT – the writings before Jesus’ time on Earth) and see an angry, violent God, and to feel totally at a loss for how to reconcile this with our doe-eyed image of Jesus of the New Testament (NT – the writings covering the period during and after Jesus’ time on Earth). The truth is, God is neither impetuous nor pasty. And likewise, Christianity is not the bipolar rancid-saccharine, micromanaging thing we’ve made it. It will take me some time to talk through this, but I hope you will hear me out.

The Backstory

In Jeremiah 5, God is in the midst of describing a nation as an unfaithful wife who has rejected perfect love in exchange for cruelty, usury, violence, gluttony, and deceit. But let’s get the backstory. If we back up to the book of Isaiah, we see in Chapter 5 a beautiful picture of a Beloved attentive gardener:
Now let me sing to my Well-beloved
A song of my Beloved regarding His vineyard:
My Well-beloved has a vineyard
On a very fruitful hill.

This is starting off very lovely. I like this guy.

He dug it up and cleared out its stones,
And planted it with the choicest vine.
He built a tower in its midst,
And also made a winepress in it;

What an attentive gardener! This garden has everything it needs to thrive. This guy knows what he’s doing.

So He expected it to bring forth good grapes,
But it brought forth wild grapes.

Oh, dear. That was unexpected.

“And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah,
Judge, please, between Me and My vineyard.
What more could have been done to My vineyard
That I have not done in it?
Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes,
Did it bring forth wild grapes?

Excellent point. “What more could have been done?” Generally, one would expect that a garden (or vineyard), started with high quality seed, in the perfect soil, in an ideal location, in the hands of an attentive Master Gardener, and guarded from a watchtower, would grow what was planted, and in good quality. Silly grapes.

And now, please let Me tell you what I will do to My vineyard:

Yes, do. This should be interesting.

I will take away its hedge, and it shall be burned;
And break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.
I will lay it waste;
It shall not be pruned or dug,
But there shall come up briers and thorns.
I will also command the clouds
That they rain no rain on it.”

Oh, snap. That sounds like a professional tantrum right there. Where’s the love? What happened to “Beloved”? Who hired this gardener? Where are his references? Anyway, proceed:

For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel,
And the men of Judah are His pleasant plant.
He looked for justice, but behold, oppression;
For righteousness, but behold, a cry for help.

The Garden Analogy

I see what he did there. The garden is the nation of Israel. God gave Israel everything it needed to succeed and thrive, and as I mentioned above, the people did everything except be good grapes.
But, this harsh reaction still raises a lot of questions and discomfort. If we’re supposed to draw some meaning from this for our spiritual growth today, it could cause some fear and/or resentment if not carefully considered. Who wants to associate with “obey or else”?

I’m going to hop back to Jeremiah 5:10 now, where God still seems to be in the midst of thundering on about his wonky garden, his wayward bride:

“Go up on her walls and destroy,
But do not make a complete end.
Take away her branches,
For they are not the Lord’s
For the house of Israel and the house of Judah
Have dealt very treacherously with Me,” says the Lord.

The Remnant

What stood out to me was the phrase, “But do not make a complete end.” As I have been reading throughout the OT, I have encountered this concept a lot. There is always a remnant. But what is left, and how bad is it trembling? What’s with the decimation? The only answers I can come up with are:

1) God wants someone left to torture
or
2) God wants someone left to love

I have to zoom out and look at the whole story, the whole Bible, and figure out which one it is. This is something, by the way, that I can’t discover for you. But, I will dare to say that you probably have a fear about which one it might be, and a deep wish for which one you want it to be, and that the answer is not too good to be true.

Before I delve more into what might be happening in this OT drama, I want to include another concept that I noticed in this passage. The next thing that stood out to me was the phrase, “For they are not the Lord’s”. God is removing what is not His, and thus keeping what is His. This is makes sense, so far. We see a claim check; What will we find in God’s coat closet? I’ll make a representative list based on what God has communicated in the Bible, and please do check my work.

What is God’s.

  • “Indeed heaven and the highest heavens belong to the Lord your God, also the earth with all that is in it.” (Deuteronomy 10:14)
  • The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it. (Psalm 24:1)
  • But that day belongs to the Lord, the Lord Almighty—a day of vengeance, for vengeance on his foes. (Jeremiah 46:10)
  • Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. (Daniel 2:20)
  • The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth; you founded the world and all that is in it. (Psalm 89:11)
  • If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it. (Psalm 50:12)
  • Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”says the Lord. (Romans 12:19)

So, basically, everything. The heavens. The earth. Everything on Earth. Everyone on Earth. Wisdom. Power. Revenge (justice). *Everything. He made it. He made it perfectly, and called it VERY GOOD. It’s His. But He’s not a control freak. He’s not a senseless hoarder. There is no GOOD in that. However, looking around, I do believe He is unnecessarily extravagant. He didn’t have to make flowers smell amazing, or birds sing beautifully, or the universe so astonishingly expansive, or the tiny things so complex, or everything so orderly and intricate. He didn’t have to make us. But, He made us, made an amazing world for us, and gave us dominion over it.

What is not God’s.

*”Everything” excludes all that God did not create. We can have philosophical arguments about God creating evil, or at least the capacity for evil, but that is for another time. I am basing this discussion on the foundation of God’s Word, that He created all things and called them “very good”. Freedom of thought and choice was also “very good” and is an important hallmark of a healthy, loving relationship. Control is not love. Long story short, sin was born on Earth from the choice to listen to self and deception and not trust God. God’s “very good” became corrupted, and God hates corruption. By the way, we hate it too. We’re made in God’s image, and He put His nature in our hearts. God, knowing the beginning from the end, understands how his Very Good creation will suffer in it’s self-absorption. This is not what He wanted for us. We were supposed to have VERY GOOD.

There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community. (Proverbs 6:16-19)

God hates the thing that has caused us to struggle and fail to love each other and to mistrust His perfect love.

 

The Hero

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

God will do anything and has given everything to get us back to where we were with Him. He needs us to trust Him for a little while. Like the hero in a movie who, at the height of an intense scene, turns to his beloved and asks, “Do you trust me?” just before an amazing and dangerous rescue.

Listen to the otherness, the longing, the stop-at-nothing devotion in this next passage.
This is what Jesus prayed for the people He created,
before He willingly faced terrifying and torturous death,
for the purpose of buying us back from our permanent death in Sin,
because of Satan, the Father of Lies, who kidnapped our hearts.
Through all the slander, God aches for us to see the truth about Himself, if only through His own sacrifice.

“My prayer is not for them alone.
I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,
that all of them may be one, Father,
just as you are in me
and I am in you.
May they also be in us
so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
I have given them the glory that you gave me,
that they may be one as we are one—
I in them and you in me—
so that they may be brought to complete unity.
Then the world will know that you sent me
and have loved them
even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)

How amazing does that unity sound? Aren’t you tired of conflict? Wouldn’t you rather picture a God that you can trust and know deeply?

Patience and Perspective


The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

Jesus is the hero in our story. “Not wishing that any should perish.” “But do not make a complete end.” Can you see here the awful surgery? He wants every one of us to be the beloved sidekick that says, “Yes, I trust you.” But, at some point, the leap of rescue must be made. To God’s anguish, too many people have their own, insufficient, rescue plan. The God of the OT knows this.
The God of the OT, of the NT, of now, and of the future, is a daring, jealous, lover, and a consuming, refining wildfire. He will burn away the underbrush that chokes us, that mimics what is good, but depletes our soul, so we can grow and thrive and produce the “good grapes” of love,
joy,
peace,
patience,
compassion,
faithfulness,
gentleness,
and self-control.
When our “gardens” rage out of control, He will cut off our noses to save our faces. He will prune away the branches in us that He didn’t grow.

I don’t want to get distracted and tangled in the notion that God causes bad or painful things to happen. Remember, God made what is VERY GOOD, but He now must contend with the invasive species of Sin. He can and will use all things to his glory and to our success in trusting Him.

We need a perspective shift. We tend to see pain as punishment and we tend to minimize sin as we consider God’s grace. If all I’ve claimed of God’s love and intentions toward us is the truth, then we have been severely abusing God. We’ve been having a terrible, adulterous affair with sin. Anything less than our utter rejection or destruction, would hardly be just. Yet, He remains steady, unchanging. He wants us back.  We NEED a jealous God.

We are in a spiritual war – within ourselves and all around us – and there are very real, very tangible results. Ask any athlete – growth hurts. Ask any human – life hurts. But we are not the pale, submissive victims of power depicted in renaissance art. We are also not the recipients of a shiny new easy life, or of a commission to micromanage others. But, we are “more than conquerors” when we trust Jesus, when we open ourselves up to being stretched, and to loosening our grip on control and certainty. We experience solid trust, acceptance, empowerment, growth, belonging, and joy. Hearts soften. Appetites change.
Gluttony becomes nourishment.
Devouring becomes delight.
Lust becomes honor.
Control becomes God’s provision.
Insecurity becomes God’s identity.
Fear becomes courage.
Scarcity becomes “enough to share.”

I am full of “wild grapes,” but I know an overwhelmingly good God who has been growing me in ways I could never have imagined. I hope I have helped you understand my thoughts about Him, and perhaps have given you a clearer picture of His love. It’s VERY GOOD.

 

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