When God Says No

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I’ve learned that God is not nearly as restrictive as the culture I grew up in. He doesn’t place fences around fences around fences out of fear of one of us accidently going too far – at least for those who desire to grow in relationship with him.

The more we look to the Holy Spirit to guide us with his love and empower us with his grace, the more rule-making and rule-keeping becomes superfluous. In fact, rule-keeping can keep us from a closer walk with God, for we tend to focus on definitions of right-and-wrong behaviour rather than a love-based relationship that shows in our choices. When we rely on study alone and forget that the scriptures tells us we can, indeed, hear the Shepherd, we don’t bother to listen. (for Weeding Out the Noise click here.)

My own sheep will hear my voice and I know each one, and they will follow me. (John 10:27)

But sometimes I forget to ask him. Sometimes I start to walk in self-confidence instead of Holy Spirit-confidence. It looks good to me so away I go. Sometimes I barge ahead when I need to stay close to God and pay attention to the wisdom from above. Not all is as it first appears. Not every well-intended action is wise. Not everyone has the same assignment. Not all my own unexamined motives are pure.

More than once I have gone along with projects that looked good and ignored warning signs. The road may be right for them and suited to their personal equipping, but it’s not for me, at least not now. Often, I have found myself bogged down in burdensome tasks because I was led by my own desire to alleviate suffering (or my own privilege-guilt) without paying attention and asking for discernment in this particular situation. I wanted to do something – anything. So I did.

It didn’t turn out so well.

I once joined a group of people who seemed to be forging the way for greater things to be done in this city. I was happy to learn from them, even though they seemed to concentrate more on looking for historic strongholds of evil and what the devil was doing than looking at what Jesus was doing. Then I had a dream.

In the dream I was travelling down a local country lane which is called Hidden Valley Road. I came to a red light where there is no red light in real life. When the light didn’t change, I assumed it wasn’t working and kept going. Then a barbed wire fence appeared across the road. Now my curiosity kicked in. What was it I was not supposed to see?

In the dream I crawled under the fence to peak at what was around the bend. Suddenly a rockslide tumbled down the hillside in front of me. Boulders covered the road missing my toes by millimeters.

“What was that about?” I prayed after I woke up.

Over the next few days, I came to realize that when I asked the Lord to guide my path he would. He was saying no. Exploring the hidden valleys of darkness was not for me. My assignment is to talk about his goodness and his mercy. I longed for a group of friends in which I felt I could belong and be understood so much that it was difficult to drop out, but I did.

It wasn’t until months later the wisdom of stepping away was confirmed.

Most of the time I hear the Lord say that he gives us much more freedom to grow than we have this far taken advantage of. But greater freedom comes with greater responsibility to stay close to him. When he says no we need to stop immediately, even when we don’t understand the reason or fear offending someone.

I am learning to hear his voice. Sometimes I am wrong, and I need to admit when I have missed it, but God is good and there is grace for the maturing process. The faith walk in real time means taking risks, taking responsibility, and learning how to respond more quickly the next time.

But solid food is for the mature, whose spiritual senses perceive heavenly matters. And they have been adequately trained by what they’ve experienced to emerge with understanding of the difference between what is truly excellent and what is evil and harmful.

(Hebrews 5:14 TPT)

Refresh

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“Are you weary, carrying a heavy burden? Then come to me. I will refresh your life, for I am your oasis. Simply join your life with mine. Learn my ways and you’ll discover that I’m gentle, humble, easy to please. You will find refreshment and rest in me. For all that I require of you will be pleasant and easy to bear.”

(Matthew 11:28-30 TPT)

Potential

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I pray with great faith for you, because I’m fully convinced that the One who began this glorious work in you will faithfully continue the process of maturing you and will put his finishing touches to it until the unveiling of our Lord Jesus Christ!

Philippians 1:6 TPT

Sometimes we are so quick to evaluate people-in-progress as if this is as good as it’s going to get. Maturity is a process. Even in old age the process continues. There is grace for you to change, so you can afford to extend grace to others.

Some people are stubbornly foolish and will not be content until everyone submits to their foolishness. Keeping a distance may be a wise decision in these cases, but many (okay, all) believers need time to fully become what the Lord created them to be. If you pull away now you may miss seeing something wonderful blossom later.

God is not finished with us yet.

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Let Me Help You

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“Two-gun Pete with the stinky feet!” my husband crooned as he tickled his baby grandson’s toes.
“What? Where did you learn that?” I asked.

The baby laughed one of those contagious giggles that makes you repeat what ever action brought on the delightful response.

“Two-gun Pete with the stinky feet!” he chanted again, blurbling the soles of Baby’s chubby feet. “It’s something my Granny used to sing,” he added, smiling at our precious boy as if he were passing on a profound family secret.
“Is there more to this song?”
“That’s all I remember.”

The ‘baby’ is wearing size nine gym shoes now. If stinky is involved, it’s his problem.

You know, the oddest things fall off the shelves in my brain when I give my head a shake. The Pete’s Feet ditty started playing on my internal music machine while reading the story in the Bible about Peter refusing, at first, to let Jesus wash his feet. I wondered, if Peter possessed two guns that night if he would have used them instead of the sword he wielded to cut off someone’s ear when they came to arrest Jesus. He seemed the type.

The Passover meal they ate marked the last evening the whole gang spent together before the crucifixion. Jesus knew what was about to happen, so everything he did and said carried importance the way last conversations before partings do, even when nobody else recognizes its seriousness.

At one point, Jesus got up, grabbed a basin with water, tied a towel around his waist, and washed the other disciples’ feet. He came to Peter. Peter protested.

Peter looked at Jesus and said, “You’ll never wash my dirty feet—never!”
“But Peter, if you don’t allow me to wash your feet,” Jesus responded, “then you will not be able to share life with me.” (from John 13 in The Passion Translation)

When Peter refused, Jesus confronted him sternly. This was important. This was so important that Jesus said Peter could not be a part of him if he did not let Jesus wash his feet. That’s a harsh thing to say to someone who has given up everything to follow you. Why did Jesus insist?

I’ve always looked at this foot-washing act as a demonstration of the need to imitate Christ in his willingness to minister to others as a humble servant. That lesson is certainly there, but lately I’ve seen more in this story.

Pete probably had stinky feet, sanitation being what it was in the days of dusty roads and animals in the streets. Jesus was his Lord. One simply does not plop one’s unattractive stinky parts in the lap of someone one is trying to worship, and probably impress.

Peter saw himself as a servant, someone who was ready to honour and protect the man he recognized as the Son of God. He carried the sword they scrounged up at the last minute and he used it in defense of his Master.

He came from a culture with a pecking order where people knew their place. He was ready to play the part of looking after Jesus. He announced his intentions to do so. He followed the rules. But Jesus had different expectations. He was asking Peter to see things differently. Like me, Peter needed serious nudging to provoke change.

At the last supper Jesus told his disciples that he didn’t call them servants, like most would expect. He called them friends.

“You show that you are my intimate friends when you obey all that I command you. I have never called you ‘servants,’ because a master doesn’t confide in his servants, and servants don’t always understand what the master is doing. But I call you my most intimate friends, for I reveal to you everything that I’ve heard from my Father.” (John 15:14, 15)

When we first came to faith in Christ many of us approached as orphans, grateful for shelter and nourishment. A lot of people remain content with that level of relationship. Others move on to become servants out of gratitude and respect and sincere desire to demonstrate love. Many of us secretly hope, through self-sacrificing servanthood, to secure a place in the Lord’s affections by becoming useful in the Kingdom.

Jesus wants something else. He wants us to participate in intimate friendship with him.

What did Jesus ask of his disciples?

“So this is my parting command: Love one another deeply!” (verse 17)

Loving one another deeply requires mutual submission. Submission is not a word I like. Surrender is even worse. Both bring back memories of ‘play’ fights with my brothers that didn’t end until someone said ‘uncle’ or someone was hurt or humiliated — often all three.

By washing their feet, Jesus demonstrated a serving attitude in leadership as opposed to the usual “lording over” attitude of religious and political hierarchies. By confronting Peter he also gave the clear message: Unless you are willing to accept help — my help — you can’t be a part of this.

More than the message, “Help others,” Jesus also preached, “Let others help you,” and specifically, “Let Me help you.”

I realized this is the aspect of submission that I missed for so many years. I didn’t understand what the word means. Submission doesn’t mean being a doormat to someone who would take advantage. Submission means saying, “How can I extend myself to help you to become all Christ means you to be?” Submission also means responding to Christ in others when he says through them, “Let me help you.”

Submission means becoming vulnerable, but becoming vulnerable to God’s goodness.

Can I admit one of the more horrifying aspects of my health adventures in the past two and a half years has been the humiliating need to sometimes present for examination embarrassing parts of my body I prefer to keep under wraps? There’s nothing like both major gynecological and bowel surgery in one year to put a large dent in one’s sense of decorum. When you live in a small city that can involve the participation of your friend’s husband guiding a camera on the end of a probe, or a former student wiping your butt with a damp wash cloth, or a visiting relative holding a basin.

I understand Peter. I don’t want people I hold in esteem to have to deal with my less-than-attractive parts. I feel entirely too vulnerable. I would much rather see myself as someone who helps than as someone who needs help.

Lately, I have needed help. I am learning to quit dropping subtle (and sometimes whiney) hints and admit when I can’t do something.

I have learned, in this process, that I am not the only one in the crowd with metaphorical stinky feet (and other inglorious bits.) The more we become family as we connect with the Holy Spirit in each other, the more people trust us by being honest about their own messy lives. When we can offer the same grace we have received, relationships develop and love grows.

Perhaps it is not until we have been in a position of needing help that we begin to understand how to offer help in a way that preserves the dignity of both the giver and the receiver.

I wonder if some people who find themselves in prolonged seasons of feeling inadequate for the task (as Peter did after he discovered his deeply disappointing weakness), are in training for positions greater influence. I wonder if the story of Jesus washing his friends’ feet was as much about learning to receive graciously as to give graciously.

At the very least, I hear Jesus’ gentle chiding, “I dearly want you to be able to share life with me. But first, let Me help you.”

Stepping into Freedom

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Have you ever assembled your paints and brushes and canvas, or sharpened your carving knife and fondled that perfect piece of wood, or pulled the new fabric out of the shopping bag, and then asked yourself the question, “What should I make?”

For me, deciding on subject matter is the hardest part of creativity. I collect potential. It’s easier to spend time imagining possibilities and gathering materials in arts and craft stores, or stationery stores, or fabric stores, or writing app stores, than it is to decide what I want to say. Always there is the fear deep down somewhere, What if it’s not good enough? What if I waste time and materials and create disappointment that doesn’t measure up to what other people are doing?

Sometimes I need a nudge to just do it already. Painting as a form of creative worship moves me out of my comfort zone. Way out of my comfort zone. People are watching. Time is limited. I’m an amateur. I don’t know what I’m doing.

The musicians at most Sunday services play for less than thirty minutes. In the circle my friends have invited me to hang out in, a weekend conference with a guest speaker provides three sessions with a total of about one and a half hours in which to paint something.

I don’t even have as much time trying to decide what to paint as I usually spend trying to pick a Netflix show. Sometimes I have ideas before I get there. Sometimes nothing.

This past weekend, as I prayed about it while the band did their sound check, I remembered a picture I had in my head as I listened to people worshiping God one morning recently. I saw a pretty scene with an inviting path. Then it was as though the camera pulled back and I realized my point of view was behind barbed wire. An gate opened. When I looked up I saw the words written over many prison camps in Europe in World War II: Arbeit macht frei. Work makes free.

But I saw them in reverse. I saw them from the point of view of someone inside the prison camp who knew too much, someone who knew those words were not true. Arbeit macht frei was a ruse meant to placate people who were anything but frei.  I understood. I had worked and worked for years and still didn’t feel good enough — and definitely not free.

I asked the Lord what this was about. I understood it was an invitation to step out of the captivity of believing the lie that if we work hard enough, if we prove ourselves invaluable to God, if we perform well enough to impress him, he will notice us and accept us into his kingdom.

In my vision the gates were open, not only for me, but for everyone who responds to his call to come away with him. We are free to step out of imprisoning thoughts of having to earn his love. We are free to step into all the beauty he has for us. We are free to walk with him now, knowing the Creator of the Universe as the Lover of Our Souls.

So this is what I painted, imperfect as it is. I choose to step into freedom. I choose to step into all he has for me. Jesus Christ sets the captives free.

Then we cried out, “Lord, help us! Rescue us!” And he did!
His light broke through the darkness and
he led us out in freedom from death’s dark shadow
and snapped every one of our chains.
So lift your hands and give thanks to God for his marvelous kindness
and for his miracles of mercy for those he loves!
For he smashed through heavy prison doors and
shattered the steel bars that held us back, just to set us free!

Psalm 107: 13-16 TPT

Epiphany

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“Epiphanies occur by the immediacy of unbidden insight, arriving without conscious thought or reasoning skills. They often come at times of great perplexity when the discrepancy between where you are and where you are intended to be leave you feeling as if a solution is not forthcoming, and there is temptation to surrender to a sense of despair. It’s the creative tension existing in that gap where you dare to believe.”

-Mark Chironna