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Thursday, November 17, 2005

A Martin Luther moment

Gearing up for the holidays has been something I've enjoyed since childhood. Unfortunately, growing up in the painful family I did, all my excitement usually ended with ugly family arguments or icy silence during and after the holiday.

This year is different. The family argument has already taken place before the holidays even started. But this time I’m different too. I laid appropriate boundaries and stuck with them even when my mother laid all the blame at my feet and said because of my boundaries she would not come visit and hung up on me.

Needless to say that was a hurtful conversation. But I took it to God and am still growing into all He’s show me through these circumstances. One of the first things He revealed was my “place” in my family of origin. I have, ever since I can remember, been the family “bad guy” and “scapegoat” because I tried to be the family counselor and no one wanted to hear what I had to say. I was the problem for saying we had a problem. When I became a Christian in my teens, I became even more of a “problem” because I had words to define the awful stuff that went on in my “everything looks good on the outside” family.

It took this year’s argument with my mother for me to face my role as the “bad guy” in my family. To see that I still believed her insults even though I pointed out what’s wrong in our family system and said I wouldn’t continue to walk that way.

But God had something different to say about who I am.

When I went to Him with all the hurt and all the painful things that were said, God took me to three different verses about blame. I’ve personalized them in my special Bible verse album (it’s a dollar store photo album) that I look through when I’m discouraged. It helps me remember the Truth.

The first verse was Ephesians 1:4: “For God chose Amy in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love…”

The next verse God showed me is one of my all-time favorites~ 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24: “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify Amy through and through. May Amy’s whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”

At this point the truth started to seep into those wounded places in my heart and wash out some entrenched lies. I don’t have to “get blameless” or prove anything to my family. God is the one who makes me blameless and keeps me blameless in Him. And, not to be cold, but it doesn’t matter what my family thinks. What they say and how they treat me is on them, not for me to bear and live as though it’s true.

How I act is another story.

So I started talking to God about all the ways I’ve failed to be a godly example to my family and all the ways I’ve failed to honor and respect my parents. I started to see how I’ve tried to push harder and work faster to get blameless and make myself perfect to avoid the painful rejections from my family when I did mess up. Instead of resting in God’s perfection, I tried to get there on my own.

Big mistake.

But one that is like all others… paid for at the Cross.

When I started thinking about the Cross, that’s when my Martin Luther moment happened. Like Luther’s reading in Romans and realizing salvation is by faith alone and the amazing revelation of God being a God of grace and love, I had my “ah-ha” moment reading in 1 Peter 2:23-24.

“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”

All I could think over and over in my mind and heart was, “Jesus bore my sin. Jesus bore my sin. Jesus bore my sin.”

While I’m pretty sure I had a vague understanding of this at salvation some twenty years ago, the everyday truth I missed. But in reading those verses and talking about all my family stuff with God, He made it real to me. I don’t have to bear my sins. In fact, I can’t. Jesus already did.

Even if my family wants a perfect Amy who sees no wrong or else I’m insulted and punished verbally for my opinions, I don’t have to receive what they believe and play the family scapegoat role. Jesus bore my sins. And He left me an example to follow as well as the Holy Spirit’s power within me to do as Jesus did.

So this holiday season will be different for me in many ways. While I won’t see any of my birth family and that saddens me some, I also won’t be playing the old family role either. I’m stepping into a healthier place. One where I hope and pray my parents and siblings will choose to join me. I’m trying to invite them in little ways. But even if my family doesn’t respond, this truth and the healthier place it has produced in me is bearing fruit in my own family. I’m learning in action that I don’t have to be perfect to be loved, and neither do they. My husband and I and our precious princesses are being freed by this truth to enjoy each other and celebrate this holiday season with renewed hope.

We give thanks because Jesus came as a baby and grew into a man for the purpose of bearing the sins of the world on a tree.

My girls and I were talking about this a few days ago. About how the shadow of the cross was on the infant in the manger. What an amazing truth.

I pray I’ll remember each day that the shadow of the cross rests on me because the blood shed there paid for my sins. Totally. The only role I have is that of God’s Beloved Child. I don’t ever want to forget or fail to be moved by this simple truth…

Jesus bore my sins.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Unfailing love

Last night I did a Beth Moore Bible study on the topic of unfailing love. It's taken me two years to get to Week Eight of Breaking Free, but I keep plugging away. And quitting. And going back again. God has to show me over and over in real life before the words in this study make it into my heart.

The whole idea of living free and especially grasping the truth of unfailing love is a tough one. Before this week I don’t think I could have really processed the little that I did last night. I’m so glad God is Sovereign and cares that I read the right thing at the right time for it to burrow deep into my soul.

Not only that, but He also orders my circumstances to make sure I don’t miss a thing. Even when I wish He wouldn’t.

It’s been a tough few days around my home. Make that a tough few weeks, and really, a tough few years. Looking at it objectively, there have been some wonderful good times and some horrendous bad times. Lately it feels like the tide has turned back to more of the bad than good. But I think that’s actually a function of my attitude more than it is the “facts” about each day.

God is using it all to drive home a point about unfailing love.

I can’t get it from my husband.

I can’t get it from my children.

I can’t get it from my friends.

I can’t get it from my writing.

And I can’t even force God to prove it.

That hit me like a load of bricks today. Me, try to force God to prove He loves me??? Yep.

Unfortunately, that being two before God thing doesn’t always mean I’m cuddly and sweet and coming to Him like an adoring child. I think I’m a lot more like a two-year-old tantrum than I wanted to admit.

So God had to shine the light and hold a mirror in my direction once again.

And He worked through one of His favorite means in my life… my girls. Not just my three little princesses, but also my Bible study girls. One of which sent me an email today talking about the deadness she felt inside. All I could think to say in response was, “Me too.”

So that’s what I typed. But my conscious wouldn’t leave me alone. Just commiserating about how life sucks isn’t what God gave me words to do. Sure it’s important to bear one another’s burdens and weep with those who weep. That’s what I started doing, but it wasn’t enough.

And maybe nothing I said will be enough. But I’m praying what God started to show me as I typed will be. If nothing else I hope it will plant a seed.

This young lady is precious to me, as are all my Bible study girls and the seniors I teach on Sundays. But the one who emailed me today is unique in that God seems to be walking us down similar paths. It’s humbling to write with the intent of encouraging and teaching only to end up realizing I’m the student.

I didn’t start my email response to her with the purpose of teaching. My only thought was to let her know I’m right there with her. But I couldn’t stop typing once I started, because God got a hold of my heart.

I remembered my Bible study last night on unfailing love and it hit me that I'm feeling numb inside because I shut myself down. Because I'm so tired of my own failure and the hurt from other people failing me. I'm even a little angry with God for not answering prayers and changing things I've begged Him to change for a long while now.

There’s that forcing God to prove He loves me. I didn’t realize it, but I was saying in effect…

Heal my body and I’ll believe You love me.

Heal my marriage and I’ll believe You love me.

Give me a book contract and I’ll believe You love me.

God says simply, “I love you with an unfailing love.” Period.

No conditions.

Just the Cross.

And His Word.

Proverbs 19:22 “What a man desires is unfailing love; better to be poor than a liar.”

Proverbs 20:6 “Many a man claims to have unfailing love, but a faithful man who can find?”

Every human alive longs for, desires, and is so hungry to have unfailing love that we'll do anything just to get a taste. Even numb out as a way to deny the pain when this need feels unfulfilled.

But only God is capable of unfailing love. In fact the Biblical words for unfailing/ agape love ONLY refer to God. We humans can't muster or get "holy" enough to love that way. And no human can love us that way all the time. We all fail. We fail to love and be loved well.

But God doesn't. He loves anyway. No matter the sin. No matter the anger. No matter the deadness inside. No matter what I perceive as unanswered prayers.

Those “unanswered prayers” are one way God got my attention to see that the fight I’m to fight isn’t about forcing Him to prove He loves me. Or to get others to love me the way I want to be loved.

It’s the fight of faith that counts. The fight to believe the truth. And walk in it.

The fight that runs to God believing that God and God alone is the only one capable of unfailing love.

We either fight the fight of faith and keep fighting or we try to deaden our hearts a little more every day. If we fight, there will be times of rest, times of healing, and- ultimately... God's perfect time - complete rest, healing, and peace.

But if we give up and deaden our hearts, what is there? No hope. No possibility of joy. Nothing. That's where the enemy wants us to stay. Because he knows who we were created to be and he fears us.

Love and joy and faith are painful. No two ways about that. But inner deadness isn't really death. It's self-protection. And it doesn’t work.

As I finished up the email to my friend, I was reminded self-protectiveness is a sin because it's denying God's rightful place in my life. He's my Protector and Comforter. He's Daddy and Mommy; Strength and Peace. He's everything I need. And it’s God, and God alone, that loves me with unfailing love.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 “God is patient, God is kind. God does not envy, God does not boast, God is not proud. God is not rude, God is not self-seeking, God is not easily angered, God keeps no record of wrongs. God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. God always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. God never fails.”

Jeremiah 31:3 "I have loved you with an everlasting love.”


Exclamation mark!

Unfailing love.

Not only is God’s love exactly what I need… it’s what I want, what I desire too.

What about you?
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