When Working Doesn’t Work

“If a religious system dominates or powers over you and tries to manage your behaviors or beliefs, it’s a human-made system.”
from Bandersnatch by Erika Morrison

The above statement caught my eye as I read, and I couldn’t help but give at least a slight nod of agreement. Indeed, it seems our human tendency is one of keeping up appearances while keeping others in their place. I can’t help but think this notion impacted Paul’s penning of Galatians’ reminder that the heart of Christianity is not a list of rule-keeping, but rather faith, expressing itself in love. (See Galatians 5:5)

The Message’s introduction to Galatians shares: When men and women get their hands on religion, one of the first things they do is turn it into an instrument for controlling others.

It’s hard to break tradition. It’s hard to step outside a pattern of doing things the way we have always done them. Galatians is a warning to those who had chosen a new course of following Jesus in place of the rules that had long governed their entire religious system. It holds a message of caution to avoid imposing personal beliefs upon others, leading them back into bondage to a method instead of toward God’s gift of grace. It’s also a reminder to resist allowing our own freedoms to be turned back to captivity.

Paul addresses the Galatians with the questions: How did your new life in Christ begin? Was it by working to please God or was it by responding to His message of love to you? Clearly, the way of Jesus was an invitation to accept His love and sacrifice poured out on behalf of all mankind at Calvary’s knoll. So how is it that you continue to play the fool with this load of “works-oriented” faith? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human exertions?

In essence, Paul is issuing the reminder that we can never complete by our own best efforts what was begun in us by grace alone.

It is only by trusting in Jesus’ righteousness that we are made right with God. To think or act otherwise flies in the face of Christ’s suffering on the Cross.

Knowing all that, I still fall into the trap of scrambling to please God with my own version of “goodness.” The thought of grace really does seem too good to be true, so I attempt to support my salvation with a host of erroneous addendums. Sadly, by thinking to somehow add to my own saving, I am actually taking away from grace’s full effect over my life as I mask the complete work of Christ with false representations of human efforts.

Another portion of The Message’s introduction reads:  Through Jesus, Paul learned that God was not an impersonal force to be used to make people behave in certain prescribed ways, but a personal Savior who set us free to live a free life. God did not coerce us from without, but set us free from within. (emphasis mine)

It is not a burdensome system of rules to which we have been invited to partake, but more akin to a lavish banquet provided by the King of the Universe. Yet we approach it like a neighborhood potluck. Scrambling to throw together a casserole to add to the mix, we scrounge through our meager supplies, desperate to come up with our own version of heavenly hash to offer.

Let me reiterate Paul’s sentiment to this mindset: There is absolutely NOTHING we can bring to the table on our own.

Everything is already there, from the most succulent of entrees to the last piece of silverware. All has been provided by the nail-pierced hands of a flawless Savior. It is beyond time to cease striving, attempting to perform our way into God’s good graces. We can never sustain a relationship with Him on our own merit; it is only through faith in Jesus that we stand secure and holy.

At the root of the gospel is not a list of standards to uphold, but rather, it is a love affair with Jesus.

It is this love that should govern our lives and our faith. We don’t need human-made rules to keep us looking perfect. In actuality, rule keeping merely perpetuates itself into more rule keeping. Where will the vicious cycle ever end? What we really need is His love — received deep into our souls and applied to every facet of living.

It is the love of Jesus that both sets us free and holds us steady.

For eternity.

And for our good.

And for His glory.

Let’s toss in the towel of “works-oriented” faith so we can freely grasp the unmerited grace and favor of Jesus as the sheer gift that it is. Then let’s run like wild toward the goal set before us – arms outstretched to fling ourselves into His own. Knowing we will be caught and held and loved there forever.

The deal has been closed.

Your salvation is secure.

And your future is alive with purpose.

Let’s live like we believe it is so.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be encumbered once more by a yoke of slavery.” — Galatians 5:1

© 2018MereWhispers.wordpress.com

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We Are But Dust

“Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.” – Psalm 103:13-14, NASB,  emphasis mine

As the famous Chris Tomlin song goes, “He’s a good, good Father.” But Mr. Tomlin is not the originator of that thought; a few thousand years before him, the psalmist who penned #103 knew the compassion of a loving heavenly Father intimately.

God is, indeed, a good Father.

One who is always aware, never forgetting just who I am. He is mindful I am nothing more than a fragile, earthen vessel.

My frame is weak and fallible.
Prone to fail, yet struggle on.
Trusting His mercy will save me yet again.

While my frame is frail and subject to cracking at the first sign of stress placed upon it, My Father is the foundation on which I stand. It is His underlying strength that maintains and supports me.

But sometimes I forget.

I forget WHO it is who stabilizes me against the chaos of this world. So I clamor and tug, attempting to hold myself (and everything and everyone else and all of their problems and responsibilities, etc., etc., etc.) together, straining to keep all things from unraveling in a messy heap about my feet.

Can I get an, “Amen, sister!” Anyone?

Why do I worry, and stress, and allow all sorts of disquiet to disrupt my soul?

Because I forget.

Because, unlike Father, I am not so mindful to remember that I am but dust.

On my own, I would surely fade away into nothingness. Even my next breath is beyond my control to accomplish without the Creator’s empowering it. But thankfully He does just that. And not merely giving attention to my physical being. No, He is far more interested in the health of my soul than this human body that is wasting away more and more each day.

It is here that He supports me when I am fatigued and soul-weary.

Right in the middle of my messy, mundane, tilt-a-whirl life spinning wildly out of control.

Like a perfect Daddy with ever watchful eyes, God rises to show me compassion. Refusing to leave me, despite my insistence to have it my own way, He steps in to save me.

Over.

And over.

And over again.

Left to my own devices, I would surely self-destruct on the daily. But God stands near, reaches out, and grasps me in my floundering. He recognizes my useless flailing to save myself and swoops in with gracious arms, wrapping His strength about me. Settling my soul. Whispering, “Peace, be still,” over my anxious thoughts. Calming the chaos churning in my heart.

Rescuing me

. . . from the schemes of the enemy.

. . . from the temptation to go it alone.

. . . from my forgetfulness in remembering that I am but dust.

Though Father knows full well.

He knows what I am able to bear, and what not.

He knows how fragile I am, how incapable of withstanding things on my own.

So He remains.

Hovering like a merciful Dad.
Standing watch over me 24/7.
Never slumbering.
Never letting down His guard over me.
Never taken by surprise.
Ready to step in before I break.
Reminding me of His extraordinary strength.
Smack dab in the frailty of my far-too-numerous-to-number weaknesses.

He. Is. Here.

Showing favor to me and to my children.

Extending boundless grace.

Ever aware of all things concerning me.

Remembering always, though I am oft tempted to believe He has forgotten.

Truly, what would become of me without His unfailing compassion coming to my aid, time and again?

How little I can do without Him.
How little I can bear.

For I am but dust.

But. . .
Father knows.
Father sees.
Father cares.

And in the middle of it all, Father reminds me He remembers.

And still delights to call me His own.

Mere dust though I may be.

Thoughts to Ponder: What about you? Do you ever need the reminder that your life and all its responsibilities are not dependent upon you alone? Do you struggle to maintain control over things that are far beyond your capabilities to fix, or do you look to God as the loving Father He desires to be and allow Him to carry your worries and strengthen you with a power that only comes from His Spirit? What are your biggest challenges in remembering that “you are but dust”? What steps can you take today to lean into God and trust Him to have compassion on you as you release your worries into His capable and loving hands?

© 2018 MereWhispers.wordpress.com

 

 

 

It’s All About Perspective

It’s disconcerting how one’s perspective can distort the truth of a matter and how quick we are to make premature judgments based on our own narrow view of a situation. This short video is a fun example:

I admit that I began watching this clip with some less-than-pleasant sentiments toward the young man depicted eating cookies with this elderly lady. But by the time this video played out, my impression of this fellow had done a complete about-face and the negative thoughts had turned to ones of admiration and praise.

It’s scary how easily I can believe the worst of someone based on my own narrow vision. Judging by the initial reaction of my friends and family members who watched this video with me, it appears I am not alone in jumping to rash conclusions. Wisdom would tell me my own viewpoint is limited truth, yet time and again, I make premature judgments about a person or situation based solely on my (often skewed) perspective.

While an easy definition for “perspective” would be to simply refer to it as a “point of view,” I was intrigued by a more technical definition of Merriam Webster’s: representation in a drawing or painting of parallel lines as converging in order to give the illusion of depth and distance.

Let’s face it, there is no perfect way to accurately portray a three-dimensional object on a two-dimensional surface. As talented as some artists can be, their representation of a figure on a flat surface is still just an illusion drawn from the artist’s point of view.

Likewise, the stance from which we form our frame of reference is key in our portrayal of the reality before us. Be it people, circumstances, or even God.

That is why I am challenging myself (and you, if you’re up for it) to seek out perspective-magnifying opportunities. And I can think of no better place to start than from a position of honor and gratitude.

When I look at the surrounding world and all the cries of outrage over “freedom” and “rights’ and “not rights,” I can’t help but believe we are entirely too wrapped up in our own points of view, ones that definitely do NOT reflect an attitude of honor or thankfulness. Nor ones that are based on truth, but rather rest in the futility of misconstrued speculations.

When people ask my take on how things have gone so awry in this day and age, I generally refer to the following verses from Romans 1:

“For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures . . .  And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper . . .” (Romans 1:21-23, 28 NASB, emphasis mine)

The apostle Paul goes on to list a host of sins that are rampant in our world today (as they were in Paul’s time, also) all because the masses failed to honor God and were ungrateful. Instead of viewing life from the reality of God’s truth, people began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. And because of this, their misconceptions soon overtook them.

To the point where chaos reigned in place of wisdom.

To the place where emotionally reacting with outrage to supposed offenses was the norm.

To the degree where innate characteristics of divine nature were swapped out for unnatural desires and all forms of godlessness overtook society.

Wickedness, greed, evil, hatred, murder, slander, gossip, homosexuality, insolence, malice, arrogance. . .  having no mercy, no understanding, untrustworthy covenant breakers . . . haters of God.

Perhaps not one of those above-mentioned things breaks my heart more than that last statement.

Haters of God.

Resenting the very One who breathed life into our beings.

Loathing His presence.

Despising His existence to the point that we have convinced ourselves He no longer exists.

But just because we refuse to believe the truth does not invalidate the truth.

It just shows how warped our perspective has become.

How broken we really are.

When I look at the chaos flooding this world, honestly, I could lose hope.

I could easily despair at the signs of our society acting like a selfish, young man greedily gobbling up an elderly woman’s cookies.

OR I could change my stance . . .

And look at life through a lens of honor and gratitude, anchoring my thoughts and my faith and my heart on one thing:

HOPE.

Instead of being filled with angst, I want to reflect the truth of a timeless God who has promised to fill me with hope. A hope that does not end in disappointment, no matter how futile things may appear.

So today, I choose to seek out the One who sees all things from a perfect point of view.

Today, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the next . . . I want to approach His throne with honor and thanks, and as Lauren Daigle so confidently sings:
I will stand my ground where hope can be found.

May God’s children continue to find their hope in a Savior who will take all that is wrong with this world and make things right.

In His time.

And while we wait, let’s keep on loving with honor and thankfulness as we partner with Jesus to extend goodness . . . here in the land of the living.

© 2018 MereWhispers.wordpress.com

 

When Your Tribe Finds You

Find Your Tribe — These words were the invitation I accepted last year as I stumbled upon http://oneword365.com/find-your-tribe/ —  “a global tribe committed to journeying together and living intentionally.”

Since I had already been living the premise of this challenge to follow the course of one particular word each year long before the founding of this online group of life embracers, throwing my word into the mix of similar-minded folks seemed like a natural thing to do. It would be interesting to connect with others who were pursuing the same goal in life. So, I logged in and typed the word that had been resonating within my heart.

Gather.

Seems like a pretty inclusive word, doesn’t it? Or so I thought. But apparently, no one else in this online group of nearly two thousand had this same word branded upon their hearts. From January through December of 2017, I remained the lone member of my “tribe.”

Sometimes living out a purpose is a solitary commitment.

Sometimes we have to continue on even when our  “tribe” is a tribe of one and there is no support group of fellow sojourners.

Despite my failed efforts to connect to a tribe via online invitation, my 2017 was in no way without people. After all, with the word I was given, how could I possibly end up in solitude?

When I first allowed my mind to mull over the word “gather,” I had my own idea of how things might progress. I envisioned a group of ladies casually seated around my table for meals and conversation. Lunch dates to connect with friends, new and old alike. I was even willing to concede that this gathering might be more spiritual than physical as I “gathered” people in my prayers who were not close in proximity. And while each of those scenarios did happen, it was not the brunt of the path God had in mind.

Folks have, indeed, been gathered into my home and have filled the chairs around my table, but it has not been a group of ladies whose presence has been made known. Instead, my heart has been enlarged to embrace a band of brothers (yes, literal brothers). Three blonde-haired adventurers have joined the ranks of those nearest and dearest to me, young men who have befriended my own kids and have wormed their way into this mama’s heart in the process. For the majority of the past five months, they have lived in our home, sleeping in beds or sprawled across couches and floors. They have worked alongside us and eaten at our table and “crashed” our family vacation and sat around fires with us and sang and laughed and hugged and danced their way completely into our lives.

What a gathering it has been!

This past year has shown me that:

Sometimes God starts us on a journey.

Sometimes He calls us to “find our tribe.”

Sometimes that tribe may seem to be a tribe of one.

Sometimes God turns the tide and brings you a whole new tribe.

In surprising ways.

If you are feeling on the outskirts of community, I invite you to “find your tribe.”  You may discover those folks over at http://oneword365.com/find-your-tribe/  or you might walk the whole of 2018 with no online match of fellow travelers. But that doesn’t mean they are not out there.

It may just require you to first venture forth on your own.

It might mean walking a solitary path of obedience for a season.

And it may look very different than your initial expectations.

But in the end, you will find yourself surrounded by a band of brothers or sisters who will inspire and encourage you.

In ways beyond imagining.

Be willing to take the journey and find out.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.” – Isaiah 55:8, NLT

© 2018 MereWhispers.wordpress.com

 

Keeper of Universes and of Souls

There is One who numbers the stars and calls them each by name.
Who counts the grains of sand sprinkled across vast deserts and tucked in ocean depths
Who creates a myriad of snowflakes, each unique in frosty garb
Who refreshes the earth with droplets of summer showers poured from heavenly reserves
Who tallies the hairs upon my head
And knows my every thought before even one of them is formed.

The One who adorns meadows with spectacular array of wildflowers and bends rainbows to soothe the force of mighty thunderstorms is the One
who calls me His child.

Crafter of galaxies and of universes
Maker of the Milky Way
Painter of planets
Sustainer of solar systems
Designer of DNA
Caretaker of every living being that creeps and swoops and runs and flies.

This is Abba.

My Father.

The One who holds new mercies in store each day, inviting me to grasp them as my own.

Keeper of beggar hearts,
Come and show me once again what it means to live with
Christ in me.

Let us explore these wonders You’ve created.
And let’s begin with the ones waiting to be unearthed within my soul.

© 2018 MereWhispers.wordpress.com 

Slow of Heart

When it comes to movement, I am generally not a slow person. Those who know me well can attest to the fact that I intentionally must alter my steps to decelerate when walking with a group of people. I frequently must pause for automatic doors to open. And apparently, I appear to be in a hurry even when simply moving at my normal stride, a fact attested to by the Walmart greeter who has dubbed me “Speedy.”

But when it comes to the things of God, such is not the case.  In truth, I can be a bit of a spiritual dawdler.

When I bumped up against the following admonishment of Jesus spoken to the two men on their way to Emmaus in Luke 24:25, I knew I could claim this statement as my own: “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken . . . ” (emphasis mine)

How similar I am to these two bewildered disciples.

Slow to believe, yet still wanting Jesus to linger long.

Puzzled by His true identity, yet knowing there is something about His presence that makes my heart burn within me and long to hear more of what He has to say.

Not fully comprehending His teachings or His ways, but desiring He remains with me nonetheless.

I am thankful my Savior knows who He is even when I don’t recognize Him.

Even when I struggle to believe and am slow in coming to terms with His unconventional ways.

I am grateful Jesus is content to walk alongside me in my foolishness.

That He is not put off by my ignorance and unbelief.

That He chooses to abide with me.

Patiently sharing His presence.

Gently teaching me.

Instructing me in things of His nature so I can make it more fully my own.

Opening my eyes, blink by blink, to the riches of His kingdom.

Extending His purposes for me to pick up and claim.

Showing tidbits of Himself, glimpse after glimpse, until I grasp His truth with wonder and thankfulness.

Yes, I am slow of heart to believe.

I am also wholly loved by a patient Teacher who knows the worst of me yet is still determined to embrace the best.

Here in my smallness,

I am found.

I am called.

I am loved.

By a Savior who is alive and well.

Immanuel.

God incarnate come to earth.

Willing to linger with the likes of me.

Slow of heart though I may be.

© 2017 MereWhispers.wordpress.com

Banished by Grace

To have the knowledge of good and evil without the perfect judgment of a wise and all-knowing God is a dangerous thing.

To attempt to understand the truth of sin and of righteousness without the flawless mind of the Creator can lead to irrational and insufficient declarations of good and bad.

It’s no wonder God banished Adam and Eve from the garden once they had sampled the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. To live in this muddled state of confusion forever would have been a disastrous story, indeed.

This is why a Savior was necessary — to repeal and to revoke the license of evil and to free us from an eternity of its presence hovering near.

Only a perfect God can sort through this delicate balance of good and evil perfectly.

Only a perfect Savior can ransom the souls of imperfect men perfectly.

This is why I now view Adam and Eve’s banishment from Eden as an act of grace instead of an angry response from a frustrated Creator.

As I ponder the mercy extended alongside this exile, I can’t help but wonder how many other acts of grace have been granted me in this life. Acts of grace which I have mistakenly viewed as Father’s disappointment, or as disapproval, or as let downs seen as unanswered prayers.

Like Adam and Eve, my understanding is skewed from Father’s complete wisdom. That is why His grace poured out sometimes appears as neglect toward my desires when, in truth, that is never the case.

No matter how often I am tempted to believe otherwise, I am not left on my own. My Father notices every detail of the whole of creation, including each nuance of my seemingly insignificant life.

Not one breath is taken without His awareness.

Not one thought skips across my mind without capturing His attention.

And whether I believe it or not, not one prayer goes unanswered.

It’s just that sometimes the answer is simply grace.

A grace all too often misinterpreted by my faltering faith grasping for miracles of a different form.

While I still may wonder at the perfectness of a paradise with so many opportunities for human error, today I choose to see banishment as a blessing.

Some of my dreams banished . . .  for a better way.

Some longings displaced . . . for a higher purpose.

Some prayers left hanging . . .

Because grace has come.

Sometimes in disguise, but always present.

And always, always framed with Father’s perfect love.