Mendy’s question

“This is what I am pondering tonight. Can you be so busy obeying that you miss out on a real relationship with God, that would make obeying the rules become more natural?”

I read this post from a sweet friend last night on Facebook and then I went back and read it again…and then again. I love it when people post things that show they’re actually thinking!  Posts that show people are pursuing God and want to be who they were designed to be instead of sharing the latest gossip or what they’re having for supper…well, those are the kinds of posts that keep me on Facebook in spite of the other kind.

Back to the actual question, though.  I loved it because I know the heart behind it and because it cries for something deeper that a quick pat on the head or an off-the-cuff religious answer.  It’s a great question and one that I wanted to take some time thinking about before I just fired off my initial response.

I took another look at it today and found myself agreeing with others who had responded.  They all said, “yes!” and while I believe that they are correct, the writer and the God-lover inside of me won’t allow me to be so minimalistic in my answer.  So, here’s my response:

For me, the answer is a “yes” and I think that’s the basic difference between a religion and a relationship.  When all you have is religion, rules are the order of the day and making sure that you’re following all of those rules leaves precious little time to consider whether or not the rules you’re following actually came from God or if they were the result of man’s attempt to ‘clean up the mess’ around him.

Yes, I know, it is shocking, but that actually happened…and it still does, from time to time.  It’s one of the reasons we have all manner of denominations and such widely varied practices all in the name of being religious.  People with really good intentions (and on occasion, the desire to make people behave more like they want them to!) have created more rules than God Himself and when we haven’t actually read what GOD has to say is most important, it becomes easier to just fall in line and conform to what those around us are doing without asking that all-important WHY question.

And, yes, God does have rules.  That’s a really inconvenient truth for some people who would rather pursue a religion designed to accommodate their lifestyle choices and allow them to hang out with similarly like-minded people under the guise of pursuing God–as they have chosen to re-create Him. (As if the ultimate Creator could ever be re-created!)

Scripture is clear, however, that God’s rules always have a purpose.  They are designed to protect us and to direct our lives as we become more like His Son—lives that are holy and set apart on purpose so that others will see the difference and want to ask that WHY question for themselves.

I know that there are those who read only a particular portion of Scripture and say how barbaric God must be and how He couldn’t possibly be kind and loving or even fun when they’ve read only that section of the Bible, but honestly, it boils down to things that are a lot simpler than all of our sophistication tries to make it.  Example:  It isn’t that God was unkind and wanted to deprive His people from the delicious taste of great barbeque when He gave them such specific food restrictions.  It was His way of protecting them because it’s really hard to tailgate with all those people on a 40-year hike through the desert without any means of refrigeration!  (grin)

While that’s a really light-hearted example and will not address the sincere frustrations many people have with God’s rules, there’s still a lot of truth in it.  His primary purpose is our protection so that we can live lives that are healthy and allow us to focus on actually having a relationship with Him.  Relationships aren’t always easy or simple.  They involve more than one voice and while God will have the final say, He’s not threatened when we question Him and His will or express our anger or our hurt at the way things are turning out for us down here.  He’s way bigger than that!  In fact, if we never question, how will we ever learn?  That basic educational truth applies here, as well.

In fact, I think it is required that we question God–and I think He likes it!  I think it shows that we’re interested in what He thinks and proves that we’re actually using that wonderful brain that He took the time to create!  Yes, there are respectful ways to talk with Him and ask those questions, but I promise you that He isn’t waiting until you get your questions grammatically correct and voiced in the proper deferential tone of voice before He’ll deign to speak with you.

So, all that basically boils down to a decided “Yes, Mendy, it is possible to be so busy following the rules that we miss God entirely.  We can live really morally acceptable lives that impress all kinds of people without ever becoming acceptable to God Himself…and in the process, we will rob ourselves of that most precious gift: a real-life relationship with the One who loves us most.  Thanks for not doing that!”

Forgiveness, Grace and Tough Love

I lost count of the conversations I had last week about forgiveness and grace.  They ranged from how glad we are to have them personally to how difficult they are to share…with some people.  You know the ones I’m talking about—they’re the ones who are (right now!) hopping up and down on your last nerve.  They’re the ones who’re making poor decisions and expecting you to be happy for them.  They’re the ones who are living dangerously and being defiant or the ones refusing to live and being too dependent.  They’re the ones…who need forgiveness and grace the most.

I’m one of them.

So are you.

That’s us.  I just described all of us…because at least at some point in our lives, we’ve all been there.

Looking at the whole plan for humanity and knowing all that He knew was to come (because He really does know everything!), God still chose to create us.  He chose to love us and even send His Son to die for us so that we could spend eternity with Him.  Why?  Because He’s crazy about us.  Because He’s just like that.  He’s not lame, not naïve, and not needy, but LOVE.

So…if we’ve all been there (and we have!), why is it so hard to share those same gifts with others?

Our reasons may be many and varied.  Some of them may even be true, but it really doesn’t make any difference if they are or not.  We’re still called to share the gifts of forgiveness and grace.  Yes, I know.  Scripture does talk about the difference between those who ask for forgiveness and those who don’t…and it really does make a difference in the eternal outcome with God, as well, but it doesn’t stop Him from loving them anyway, regardless of the choice they make.

Tough love.  It’s more than just the disciplinary actions taken to help guide a wayward person back into the straight and narrow.  It has to be.  Tough love is about being love personified and being committed to love even the unlovable…especially the unlovable.  It has to be about hanging tough and loving them forever…no matter who, how long or why.  Tough love is the God-type love.  It’s the everlasting kind that doesn’t always approve and can’t always condone, but always loves anyway.  Flat out, 100% love.

It isn’t easy.  That kind of commitment never is.  It is, however, the kind of love every single person who has asked Christ to be their Lord and chosen to follow the path He laid out for us in His word has experienced personally and it is the kind that we are now required to share with those around us. (And, yes, there are still people out there who think being a Christian is just an easy escape from reality?! HA!)  We are called to be forgivers and grace-extenders.  We’re called to love those who don’t even love themselves enough to make choices in their own best interests.  We’re called to be “Jesus with skin on” for all of those who haven’t met Him yet…and might never do so if we aren’t serious about this love and grace and forgiveness stuff.

Easy it is not, but required it is.  Sounds a bit like Yoda-speak, but it is still true! (grin)

So, who is it?  You know…that person whose name popped into your head before you were even through reading the first paragraph?  And, what are you going to do about it this week?  (and just in case it was my name…I love you, too.)

The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying:
“Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love;
Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.  (Jeremiah 31:3 NKJV)

So far…

It’s been a pretty busy year so far…

  • I’ve emptied what feels like a thousand boxes and there are still more to go and
  • I managed to survive without internet here at the house…until Valentine’s Day night…when the UPS man delivered a package really late in the night containing our new modem and my husband sprang into action to get me hooked up because he knows how hard it has been for me to be here and not tell you every little thing about it. (grin)

And today…

  • I’ve played Billy Joel music and missed my sister who loves listening to him sing and
  • I sat in the chair that my grandmother used to sit in at Christmas and open presents surrounded by family from all over while I talked with the neighbor who crossed the road to tell me “thanks!” for the thank-you note I sent after she dropped off cake. (Yes, God has truly dropped me off in one of the last bastions of true Southern hospitality and gentility. Grin.)
  • I accepted her compliment about my massive bouquet of pine branches in the old crock on the front porch and laughed as I told her that God sent them to me in the snow storm so it seemed a shame to waste them.  (That’s what you do, you know…you make the best of things in the carnage after the storm passes so others can see that you’re aware that God sends you blessings even in the storm.  Don’t forget to look for them!)
  • After she left, I checked the mail which contained cards of congratulations for us as we celebrate 21 years of marriage tomorrow and thought about all of the storms we’ve weathered during these fast-flying years that still seem like they were just yesterday and
  • I dragged even more large limbs back to my burn-pile-in-process (I’m creating a huge pile and ringing it with old stones and broken pieces of concrete left from the carnage created by people in the past (yes, that lesson above still holds true even for things left in a jumble by people you don’t even know) and
  • I came back inside and patched holes in walls and painted over them so you can’t tell they were there while I thanked God for these walls and this place and
  • I made a batch of my mother’s recipe for homemade pimento and cheese using Duke’s mayonnaise (just like my grandmother did before my mother did) and
  • I listened to Moonlight Sonata as I stirred it all together and prayed for the new little family member who arrived yesterday and
  • I thanked God for continuations…of life and blessings and traditions and family and work and the deliciousness of accomplishing things for yourself and
  • as I bagged the trash and took it to the road for pick up and removal never to be seen by me again tomorrow, I thanked Him for taking all the trash of our sins and putting them so far, far away that He won’t even remember them.

“As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”  Psalm 1-3:12 (NKJV) 

So far, so far…

It has been a pretty full day, so far…and there is more to do, so—in the meantime—take a moment to reflect and see how far God has brought you, as well.