A Gutter Ball Performance

In my experience, there in nothing quite as vulnerable as bowling. Your skills, or in my case, lack thereof, are on display for all to see. There is no turning back from what you’ve done. Everyone has seen it. It’s out there… strike, spare, split, gutter ball… it’s all out there.

I was with one of my best friends and her family a few months back. They were going bowling and invited me to join them. At that point I had bowled a grand total of four times in my life and on one of those occasions I was two years old.  In my more recent attempts I managed to take a fair stab at the game, nothing spectacular,  but I held my own. I was looking forward to just being with this extended family of mine and bowling sounded like a lot of fun.

Not coincidentally, the Lord had been making me aware of my thoughts and behaviors with regards to “performance.” I was stuck in the mindset that somehow it was about what I did for Him that was somehow connected to being loved. I knew in my head that wasn’t right. That’s not how He operates. But my actions and my thoughts weren’t supporting what I knew to be true. I had hoped a day with close friends would take my mind off of it for a while but, as He often does, God had other ideas.

For the next two hours the Lord proceeded to show me exactly how much my “performance” was worth to Him. To say my bowling skills were pathetic would be extremely generous. I am not sure I even broke 100. Every time I stepped up to the line, it seemed my attempt was worse than the frame before. It didn’t matter what I tried, lighter ball, heavier ball, slow release, fast release, flip the wrist, don’t flip the wrist, spin the ball, don’t spin the ball… nothing I did seemed to work. It was utterly humiliating.

Although I don’t think she would ever admit it, I believe my dear, sweet friend was purposely throwing gutter balls just to make me feel better. She is not competitive and she knows I am. She’d sacrifice a good score just to make me feel better. That’s just her heart for me. But even in her gracious attempts she still outscored me by a significant margin.

But the most powerful thing that happened to me that day was not the humiliation of a horrible bowling experience or even the love of my dear friend. The most powerful experience came from her dad, David.

Although his whole family was there – his wife, his daughters, his grandkids, his brother, his sister-in-law, his niece and nephews – he was focused on me. He just wanted to talk to me, spend time with me. He wanted to hear my opinions about things. He didn’t talk to me about bowling. He didn’t try to correct my form. He just wanted to know me better. He didn’t care what the score was. He’d just be waiting for me after each attempt I made so that we could pick up our conversation where we left off. And, when the game was over he wanted to make plans for the next time we would be together.

The ride home for me that day was a tearful one. I was raw. I felt totally exposed. My “performance” was out there for the world to see and it was awful. But the tears weren’t because I bowled a terrible game – although that didn’t help. The tears were coming from the vulnerability of having my “performance defense” ripped away from me in such a tangible way. I was not only face-to-face with the truth of being a horrible bowler, I was also face-to-face with an overwhelming sense of love and acceptance. I had a choice to make. I could either continue to cling to the lie I was believing or relish in the love that was being extended to me.

Amidst the tears and confusion as I drove home, I sensed the Lord’s presence. He knew my choice. He was the One who put it in front of me. Still following my old pattern of behavior I said to the Lord, “David was so nice to me.” I heard God ask me, “Why wouldn’t he be?” I answered through my tears, “Because I’m a terrible bowler!” I’m almost sure I heard a sympathetic chuckle from the Lord as I felt His embrace. Had the feelings not been so deep I would have joined Him in that chuckle. I knew it was ridiculous as soon as I said it but it didn’t change the fact that that is exactly what I believed. The choice was an obvious one. I chose to let go of the gutter ball performance and cling to the love.

What David showed me that day was a beautiful and powerful example of God’s love. It is NEVER about our performance. It is always about His love for us. He already knows us. No one knows us better. He created us. He wants to show us how well He knows us and that comes through spending time with Him. His desire is not only to spend time with us but for us to desire to spend time with Him and grow closer and deeper in our relationship. It’s all about that relationship. We as believers get so focused on what we “do” for Him. But that is not what deepens our relationship WITH Him. That is not where our love and acceptance is found. The love and acceptance come first. It always has! “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) It has NEVER been about our performance. Our performance could never merit the kind of love He has for us.

It is only from the depths of our relationship with Him that the gifts He has given us flow freely into the world and what we “do” for Him becomes visible for others to see. What we “do” isn’t for Him to see and notice us. It’s for others to see and notice HIM. Our focus should always be Him and our relationship with Him. It should never be about the works. They should flow from the relationship and what He does with them in the lives of others is between Him and them.

Lord, thank you for loving and accepting terrible bowlers like me. Thank you for your love and acceptance before I ever did one thing for you. Help me to focus my time, energy and love on my relationship with You. May the gifts you have given me flow freely into the lives of others to point them to You. But, may my focus never leave You and may I always desire to spend time with you. Thank you for giving us people in our lives to show us Your great love for us. Thank you for David. In Jesus’ precious name, amen.

THIS is Love!

 

With the events of this past week still fresh in our minds I want to comment and reflect on the nobel profession for which I have been privileged to be a part of for more than 20 years – law enforcement.  While I am not a sworn officer, I have spent my career surrounded by some of the finest men and women on the face of the planet who have sworn to protect the people they serve.  Men and women who train to love. Yes, you read it correctly – they train to love you.

What you witnessed last week as you watched the news footage from San Bernardino was the most unadulterated expression of love you will find in human beings.   It is love that says, “I will not just stand between good and evil, I will run after evil until it is stopped.”   It is love that says, “I will do this not just for the ones I love but I will do it for everyone.”  And it is love that says, as the Deputy from San Bernardino put so eloquently, “I will take a bullet before you do – that’s for damn sure.”

Aside from the men and women in our military I do not believe there is another profession that is more Christ-like than law enforcement.  The Bible talks a lot about love.  “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  (John 15:13)  It also says, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)  God’s love is sacrificial and it doesn’t come as response to what we have done.  In fact, it comes in spite of what we have done.  We don’t deserve it.  It is powerful.  It is unadulterated.  It cannot be stopped.

The men and women of law enforcement in your community have been chosen by God to represent Him and His love for you.  Whether they believe in God or not is inconsequential.  They have been chosen by Him to enact His love on this earth in the same way that His own Son enacted His love… through the potential of sacrificing their own lives for the sake of yours.  Very few of the rest of us will ever have the privilege of delivering God’s love in that way.

Unlike God’s Son however, these officers are not perfect.  Their lives do not bring salvation as Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection does.  They, like you, make mistakes – sometimes very serious mistakes because of the power they have been given.  But I guarantee you with very, very little exception, what motivates our officers to do their job every day is love.  Some of them may be too tough to admit that, but I don’t know how else to define what they do for you every day.  Whether they are writing a ticket to hold you accountable for actions that may get you or someone else hurt, or running into a gun battle to save lives it is a heart filled with love that drives them.  Their day is spent looking for evil and trying to defeat it.  And when they are not looking for it they are training to be better at defeating it.  Every second of their work day (and much of their off-duty time)  is spent training to love you better and keep you and your family safe.

These past couple of years have been tumultuous for the law enforcement community.  Regardless of your feelings about cops or any injustices you may have personally experienced at the hands of law enforcement, I can only say that they will continue to love you.  They will defend the law that gives you the right to speak out against them.  They will even put themselves on the front line and take rocks and bottles from you.  They will continue to arrest bad guys even when voters have taken the teeth out of the laws that keep the law-breakers behind bars.  They will continue to respond to your calls whether you love them or hate them.  Because it’s all about love.  And we will keep loving you because that is what we have been called to do.

God’s love is as relentless as the long arm of the law.  It is unshaken by our temper tantrums, our misdeeds and our out-right rejection of it.  His love is relentless.  His sent His Son to die for us while we were still His enemy.  I pray that you accept His love.  If you don’t know Him personally, He knows you, He loves you and He wants a relationship with you.

I also pray that you will come to understand that the officers that work in your community love you.  They show it to you every day in ways that you are not even aware of.  They are willing to give their life in order to save yours.  They do it every day.  They do it day and night.  And they do it for you.  THIS is love.

The Depth of True Love

Do you remember the excitement when mom and dad announced they were going out and your favorite babysitter would be there any minute?  What was it that made those nights so special?  For me it was knowing that for the next several hours the rules did not apply.  I could stay up a little later.  I could eat whatever I wanted.  I could make a fort in the middle of the living room, and I could watch the scary movie.  And mom and dad would never know… or so it seemed.

In a kid’s world that is a dream come true, isn’t it?  No rules.  No limits.  We can do whatever we want and not have any consequences.  What could be better?  But, would we have traded our parents for the babysitter? Maybe in the moment, in the mind of a 7 year old we would… for a second.  But all it would take would be one scary dream (from watching the scary movie we weren’t supposed to) when mom and dad suddenly became the most priceless commodity in our life.  How could we have ever entertained the thought of life without them even if it was only for a second?

And yet, I would bet that if you asked my babysitter, or yours… especially your favorite one, they would tell you that they loved you.  And most of them would really mean it.  They loved sitting with you, playing with you, allowing you to break a few rules here and there, being the fun sitter that you asked for by name.  That love was genuine.  But, is it the same kind of love as your parent’s love?  Of course not.

The love from our parents included limits, boundaries, and rules.  It was annoying, irritating, persistent, and unrelenting.  It was standing over us as we cleaned our room for hours when it would have taken them 20 minutes.  It was staying up late with us watching us finish homework that we put off until the last minute and didn’t tell them about until bedtime.  It was staying awake to hold us in the middle of the night so we could sleep when sickness or fear overcame us.

We use the same word.  We call it love.  But I think we all agree, that kind of love is a love that runs much deeper than the love from our favorite babysitter.  It is sacrificial.  It is messy.  It is tough.  It is at times uncomfortable to receive because its limits deny us from getting what we want.  But it doesn’t end.  It doesn’t go home at the end of the night.  And it’s the love that’s there for us when we break those rules and push those boundaries and have to pay the consequences.

Our Country is celebrating what some are calling a great victory.  What is most tragic to me is not that the Supreme Court ruled as they did.  The decisions of mankind even of the highest court in our great land are just that… the decisions of mankind.  They are of no surprise to God.  They neither diminish His authority, nor dissuade His passion for us.  What is most tragic to me is that, to use our analogy, the babysitter’s love is being touted as greater than the love of a parent.  That is not true.  And belief in it will fail those who trust it.

The truth is that no matter what our government sanctions, whatever laws or rules we are allowed to break the rules of the house don’t change.  Going to bed at a decent hour, eating healthy, keeping the living room neat and tidy, and staying away from scary movies didn’t just disappear when the babysitter showed up.  They still existed.  We just had permission to ignore them.  Do you remember making the argument to your parents, “But the babysitter lets me do that?”  How did that work out for you?

True love does set limits.  It sets limits that are uncomfortable.  It sets limits that absolutely go against our nature.  It sets limits we sometimes don’t understand.  It tells us at times we can’t have what we want even if what we want seems to be what everyone else has.  It doesn’t seem fair.  But that doesn’t mean it is not love.

To my LGBT friends: There is One who sees you, knows you, and made you exactly the way that you are.  He knows where you are at and what you have been through.  He knows your struggle.  He loves you so much that before you even existed in this world, He looked at you and who you would become and then said to His Son, “Son, it’s for her… it’s for her that I’m sending you into the world to die.  Because I want to have a relationship with her that will last forever.  I want her to have everything you have as my Son.”  He’s not a mean parent who doesn’t want you to be happy.  He’s a Parent who loves you so deeply that He sets what seems to be unrealistic limitations because what He has for you is a life that is better than what the babysitter can offer you.  It is true relationship with the God of the universe filled with deep and passionate love that will last forever.

I know that may be of little comfort to you when your heart is aching for a person that you feel fulfilled by, one that you believe completes you in a way no one else can, the one you want to build your life with.  But I guarantee you, that He will be there for you in the middle of the night when no one else is.  He will be there to guide every decision and help you through every difficulty.  His love is real and yes, it does have limits even on those things that feel natural and right.  Don’t settle for the babysitter’s love.  It will fail you.  Don’t judge His love as hate because it sets limits, or because those who supposedly know His love have judged or mistreated you.  Christians are sinners too and tragically do not always love as He loves.  But He is the real deal.  He knows what sacrificing the love of His life feels like… He gave up His own Son for you.

I also want you to know, my friends, that I share this with you as someone who has struggled with her own identity.  My experiences may not be the same as yours, but I believe I understand your struggle from first-hand experience.  I have chosen to put God first, to follow His rules, and to dedicate my life to Him.  That has meant in some cases, going without, being different, not fitting in with what everyone else in society seems to have.  All I can tell you is, I know His love is real.  He has not failed me yet and I know by faith that He never will.  He has been a part of my darkest hours and I wouldn’t trade Him for a temporary happiness that will ultimately leave me spiritually empty.

Lord, my prayer is your heart’s desire… that all will come to know your love.  Thank you for that love.  Help me and all those who follow you to show that love to others and especially to those who are struggling with sin – whatever that sin may be.   Thank you for your great grace.  Thank you for a passion that can never be deterred by the laws and decisions of man.  Your love is real and deeper than the deepest ocean.  You are real.  Thank you for sacrificing your own Son so that we could have a restored relationship with you that will last forever.  I love you and I need you, Lord, every day.  Thank you for being there to meet us where we’re at.

We Who Are Many Form One

IMG_1153I am a jigsaw puzzle junkie… have been since I was a kid.  There is something that is just so satisfying about connecting pieces that belong together, seeing one image come from lots of tiny pieces.  The more pieces there are and the more challenging the image, the more I like it.

I’ve got a jigsaw puzzle app on my iPad that allows me to do puzzles anywhere.  It is wonderfully entertaining (and slightly addicting).  I never have to worry about losing a piece.  They are all right there in front of me.  I will admit that there are times when I start a new puzzle and all the pieces are on the playing surface that I think to myself… there’s no way all of these pieces are going to fit into one puzzle  But of course they always do.

Romans 12:4-5 says, “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”  Paul, as he did quite often, used the body to help us understand the unity of all believers.  But I see us a a giant jigsaw puzzle.

We each look different and perform a different function, but we are all connected.  I may not be directly connected, that is, physically touching, the believer (puzzle piece) in Uganda, but we’re a part of the same puzzle.  As Paul says, “each member belongs to all the others.”  We have a place in each other’s lives.  We’re dependent upon each other.  We’re a part of the same puzzle.  All of us, uniquely shaped and colored, are chosen to fill a gap in the sphere of influence where the Spirit has placed us and purposed us to be.  No other puzzle piece can fill that space. It’s ours.  It’s where God has us in the world.

One of the many tragedies in the church today are those believers who say, “I’m not gifted.  Sally has this gift.  Frank has that gift.  But I don’t have any of those qualities.”  That, to put it bluntly, is a lie!  The Bible teaches, if you are a believer you have been given a gift.  In that same passage in Romans Paul continues, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.  If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.  If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.” (12:6-8)  Nowhere does it say, “Oh, and for poor Gertrude, she can just sit by and watch us as we are about the Lord’s work… poor thing.”  NO!  There is no caveat for the ungifted, because the ungifted do not exist in the body of believers!   None of us have the option of staying inside the puzzle box.  We ALL belong to the same puzzle and we all have a specific role to play.

Just as when I start a new puzzle and feel slightly anxious over all the pieces fitting into place there are times when my mind has a hard time wrapping itself around the concept of one Church united, one Body of believers functioning as such, one Puzzle coming together in order to  point those who have not yet figured out they are a puzzle piece to Jesus.  Today’s Body seems so fractured. Christian denominations refusing to pray with another Christian denomination or participate in the same event.  Churches trying to make their “puzzle” more attractive than the church down the street so they can have the most pieces.  Churches becoming so self-focused they care about nothing more than themselves and their reputation as a church.

But, if I don’t believe that the Church is One I am no better than those believers who say they have no gift.  Paul says to the Ephesians, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.  Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (4:1-3)   The Spirit has united us.  God Himself has put us in the same puzzle box no matter how different or fractured we appear as believers all dumped out on the playing surface.  Paul exhorts us to KEEP the unity of the Spirit.  It exists in spite of our humanity, in spite of our differences, in spite of our apparent brokenness.

Our duty then as believers is to live as a puzzle piece.  To know that we are a part of an amazing work of art and live out our purpose to the fullest.  To believe that the Spirit has united us with all believers around the world and in spite of the disunity we might see, our job as individual puzzle pieces must be diligent to be humble, gentle, patient, and above all LOVE every other puzzle piece in His perfect peace.

Lord, thank you for making us pieces of the same puzzle, for connecting us to one another in a purpose that is far greater than all of us put together.  Help us never to deny our giftedness but pursue it with the faith you have given us to fulfill our calling.  And help us not to be discouraged by the fractures and brokenness in our world and in our churches.  Give us the faith to know and believe you have made us ONE and give us the fruit of your Spirit to keep the unity you have created among us.  In your precious name, amen.