When love and judgment meet

So – like most of you, I have had a ground-level view of 2017-era America. In fact, I have been paying particularly close attention… Say what you want, but it’s not pretty y’all. 

The public discourse in the media, on Facebook, even in the legislature sounds like the backseat of my car when my two preschoolers are hangry. (i.e. what my car sounds like on my way home from work every. single. day. ) 

People are upset. Opinions are flying. And my brothers and sisters in Christ, myself included, aren’t holding back. And even though I have feelings (FEELINGS) about what is going on, the thing that bothers me the most is that I don’t believe that any of this is how Jesus would handle this. Christ saw his fair share of controversy. Of corrupt government. Of abhorrent behavior and outright racism. And yet each person he met seemed singular in his attention. Not stereotyped into groups. Not categorized by race or color or orientation or belief. Each person was precious and worthy of his full attention. 

And if that’s just not what I am seeing today. In fact, to confess, that’s just not how I am behaving today. 

So here goes… 

to my brothers and sisters of color, God loves you. Deeply. He created you to be exactly who you are intentionally and joyfully. (Ps. 139) his active desire for this world is to see love and justice roll like water, to break down barriers, to see his children sit together and peace, love, and equality.  Jesus loves you. Y O U. And so do I…

to my precious fellow children of God who are immigrants, refugees, strangers in a strange land, God loves you. Jesus himself was a refugee. His people wandered for centuries in a land that was not their home. God has a heart for setting the lonely in families. (Ps. 68) he wants to shelter you under the feathers of his wings. (Ps. 91)  Jesus loves you. Y O U. And so do I…

To my beloved family members who LBGTQ, questioning, or somewhere in between, God loves you. You are made in the image of the Most High God, and that God defines himself as Love. Your ability to love and the love you give and receive to the world is a reflection of His nature.  His thoughts for you outnumber the grains of sand on the seashore. (Ps 139) God rejoices over you with singing (Zeph 3). Jesus loves you. Y O U. And so do I…

To my dear siblings who feel marginalized, silenced, overlooked, God loves you. You are not forgotten, you are not abandoned. God perceives your thoughts from afar. (Ps 139) He knows your days, he says that to Him, you are a priceless treasure. (1 Pet. 2) remember – it was to you the angel armies appeared to announce the coming of our Savior. 

And to my fellow believers, my spiritual family, I pray that you know deep in your bones how wildly loved you are. 

-But-

I hope that you also remember that none of us, not one, are righteous. That if we were able to measure up to God’s standard on our own accord, there would have been no need for Christ to come and die. I hope that you remember your own awakening to this kingdom of faith, and realize that it was the voice of love, and not the voice of condemnation or fear, that drew you in. It is my conviction that the Kingdom of God would be much more close at hand if we His children encountered the world with an attitude of radical love, not condemnation.

Yes, I agree, sin is sin. Yet it seems lately more convenient to concern ourselves with the specks in the eyes of others. What planks hinder our vision today? Could it be that our preoccupation with legislating morality is actually hurting the kingdom cause? 

Jesus showed outright love and compassion to those the world condemned. The adulterous. The woman at the well. Zacchaeus. The thieves on the cross. He reserved his condemnation for the Pharisees, the moneychangers in the temple. Those who benefited from his grace yet did not extend said grace to others. 

I will admit – I have no answers. I do not actually know what Jesus would do if he lived in America today. But I have read the Bible. A few times. And much more than a rulebook, the Bible is a love story. And in this book, we are not the mighty hero. We are in the damsel in distress. Needing a rescue. Drowning in a flood of our own making. The thought of which reminds me to end with this: to my fellow Christians…

Jesus loves you. Y O U. And so do I…

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even in darkness

139

I had a conversation a few weeks ago where someone asked me what I thought about times in one’s life when you don’t feel God’s presence as strongly as you once did.  While the person seemed to be asking me an open ended question, I felt the tension of needing to give the ‘right answer’.  I knew that what I was supposed to say is that when you feel far from God, you just grit your teeth, double down, and wrestle your way back into the Light.  So, in my shame and cowardice, that is what I said.

But here is the truth.

I am in that place- the valley.  I have been for a while now.  And right now, today, I don’t have the strength, or even the desire to pull myself up by my bootstraps.  I’m weary.  I’m battered.  And, paradoxically, I am okay with it.

Because here in this valley, I am in the process of learning one of the most valuable lessons I have ever been given.

Though I may waver, God is faithful.

O Lord, you have examined my heart
    and know everything about me.
    You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
    even before I say it, Lord.
 You go before me and follow me.
    You place your hand of blessing on my head.
 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too great for me to understand!
Psalm 139:1-6

Me? I am fickle.  I am bound by circumstance and perspective.  My view on life, on God, on everything, is bound by time and situation.  I can’t see my way out of this place.  Also- I am tired.  My days are consumed with watching small children, with holding down a full time job, with walking the dog, and doing the dishes, and the dozens of other small obligations that seem to crowd into my life.  When I reach the end of my day, I am just as often crashing into bed feeling like I narrowly escaped catastrophe as I am going to sleep with a prayer on my lips.  Right now I do not have the time, quiet, or capacity to be pursuing God like I ought to be.  Like I want to be

…and that is okay…

You saw me before I was born.
    Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
    before a single day had passed.
Psalm 139:16

Because God never changes.

His love for me is unwavering. No matter how I act, no matter what I do, His love for me remains.  Because Love is knit into His character just as firmly as fallibility is woven into mine.  God’s love is not based on merit, on effort, or on intentions.  It is based upon the fact that we are His beloved children, created by Him and treasured by him.

How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
    They cannot be numbered!
I can’t even count them;
    they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
    you are still with me!
Psalm 139 17:18

I am, by nature a do-er.  I grew up in a family known for their good works.  My temptation is always to view my worth in terms of my worthiness in terms of what I have done to deserve love, to deserve mercy, and (let’s be honest) to deserve applause.  Living life in a day to day race to the finish line makes me feel as if I am somehow not measuring up.  When a day goes by and my Bible remains unread, I imagine it glaring at me from the nightstand, resentfully neglected.    When the pile of Christian Living books on my bookshelf is covered by a layer of dust, I see this as physical evidence of my unworthiness, of my failure as a disciple.

And yet, when I read scripture, this is simply not true.  God’s love for me is not tied to my efforts.  Who I am, my identity in Christ, is hidden in something much more solid than my own efforts.  I am a child of God.  Dearly loved.  Redeemed.  Delighted in. Known.  Seen.  Treasured.  None of this depends upon or even reflects what I do to deserve it.

I am beginning to feel that this time of darkness is truly a blessing.  Though I don’t always feel competent successful in this phase of life, I can come to rest on the truth that God’s love is built on the solid truth of who HE is, not on the capricious reality of who I am at the given moment.

I can never escape from your Spirit!
    I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
    if I go down to the grave,[a] you are there.
 If I ride the wings of the morning,
    if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
 even there your hand will guide me,
    and your strength will support me.
 I could ask the darkness to hide me
    and the light around me to become night—
   but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
    Darkness and light are the same to you.
Psalm 139:7-12

When you next find yourself in the valley, straining to feel God’s presence, and feeling condemned by your own shortcomings, I invite you to see this as a time of invitation.  A time to rest, to reflect, to intentionally not try to climb your way out.  Instead, join me in the process of waiting and listening.  And trust that God’s love is still there, still unwavering, still the truest thing about you.  For this has been a lesson that is changing my life right now.

Yet also, realize this- when I speak of the valley, I am using present tense.  I think we often view these chapters of life as lessons that need to be learned, or times we need to endure before we can bounce back, invigorated and ready to overcome.  Yes.  I am learning.  Yes, God is speaking.  But, yes.  I am still here in this place.

Often we don’t know the reasons or the answers to why things happen to us.  And that is yet another time when the big-ness of God can be a comfort.  For he knows I am here.  I am not forgotten.  Though I may not feel the closeness with God that I crave, though I may not feel the delight I once felt, I know God is there.  And for now, that will have to be enough.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
    and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
Psalm 139:23-24