The Stumbling Block

 

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I recently heard a talk radio personality talking about his love for the word “earn.”  It is one of his favorite words in the English language.  He didn’t go into great detail about it, but the strength of his conviction was evident by his impassioned tone.  I believe many people in America share his love for that word.  We are a “pick yourself up by the bootstraps” kind of nation.  We root for the underdog, wanting them to succeed through hard work and perseverance.  And while we value our children’s self-esteem, we are not really an “everyone gets a trophy” kind of country.  We want rewards and accomplishments to have value, to really mean something because we worked hard for them.

I share a lot of the same opinions and convictions with this radio personality but I don’t share his affinity for the word “earn.”  In fact, when he made that comment I was reminded of how much I dislike the word, “deserve.”  The words are similar.  According to Miriam Webster, the first definition for the word earn is: “to receive as return for effort and especially for work done or services rendered.”  And the second definition is nearly identical to the definition for the word deserve: “to be worthy, fit, or suitable for some reward.”  So, although this radio personality and myself both seem to have visceral reactions to these very similar words our reactions are in opposite directions.  Why is that?

I can only speak for myself but my dislike for the word “deserve” comes from my faith.  At the very core of Christianity is the concept of grace.  It is the exact opposite of earn or deserve.  My faith teaches me that I can do nothing to be saved.  All of my good works add up to, as one prophet puts it, “filthy rags.”  (Isaiah 64:6)  I cannot earn God’s favor.  I do not deserve heaven.  But, I have both because of the grace given to me as a gift by Jesus Christ.  He is the reason God sees me as one of His children.  He is the reason I will spend eternity in heaven.  It was what He did as God’s Son that makes me worthy to receive.  So, even when I hear the word attributed to things like a vacation, retirement, or splurging on an unusual purchase, I cringe.  Nothing I have is “deserved.”  God has and continues to be gracious to me.

This concept of grace does not fit with the flag-waving, red-white-and-blue, American pride I described above.  In fact, the two are quite a contrast.  As far as sin is concerned, we do not have the ability to pick ourselves up by the bootstraps and save ourselves.  We are completely unable to cleanse ourselves of our own sin thereby bridging the gap between ourselves and our perfect Creator.  If that were possible there would be no need for a Savior.

In this context, even our love for the proverbial David vs. Goliath underdog is often misplaced.  David only defeated Goliath because the Lord delivered him into his hands.  He said so himself.  “David said to the Philistine, ‘You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.  This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head.’ ”  1 Samuel 17:45-46  The “David’s” of the world are not to be the object of our worship and admiration, only God who was the true source of David’s victory.

And, as Christians, we believe that Christ died for all.  His love, His forgiveness, His mercy, His grace, is for all who believe in Him.  That means that everyone IS eligible for that trophy regardless of, and often in spite of, their performance in this world.  Unlike us however, God does not award us this “trophy” of salvation to build up our self esteem.  HE is our esteem.  He is the very reason we came into being.  We reflect Him in our uniqueness.  It is in His image that we are created… not the other way around.  It is not about us.  Our “trophy” is a renewed and repaired relationship with the One who created us and it is absolutely undeserved.

These truths of our faith go against what has been ingrained in us as Americans.  This post is not meant to be a criticism of our great American pride or our nation as a whole.  Not at all!  It is instead a reminder that we as believers cannot trip over this common stumbling block.

Paul says in his letter to the Romans: “What then will we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it.  Why not? Because their pursuit was not by faith, but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written:  ‘See, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and the one who believes in Him will never be put to shame.’ ” (Romans 9:30-33, emphasis mine)  Paul is quoting from the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 8:14; 28:16).

God knew that what He chose to do for us to reconcile man back to Himself, would be a stumbling block for us.  He knew our pride.  He knew it long before America existed.  He knew it long before Christianity existed.  He spoke about it through His prophet Isaiah in the 8th century B.C.  What He asks of us, is to lay aside our desire to earn our way to heaven.  It can’t be done anyway!  He’s asking us to stop working as if it’s even possible.

He is also asking us to recognize and acknowledge that our salvation comes from only one source, His Son, Jesus.  This too is a stumbling block for many.  Not only can we not earn our salvation, we must acknowledge that salvation can only come through Jesus.  Grace does not come through all religions.  All religions do not lead to salvation.  Jesus alone sacrificed His life, paying the price for our sin so that we could have eternal life.  He is the stumbling block in our politically correct world.  But this is not new.

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians in his first letter to them he said:  “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’  Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.  Jews demand signs and Greeks search for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)

As believers it’s important that we stay alert and don’t trip over Jesus as so many in this world do.  Our faith requires us to lay down our pride and acknowledge that only by God’s grace through His Son are we saved.  This is utter foolishness to the world.  It always has been.  But to us who know God personally, it is the power and wisdom (and grace) of God.  We have to be willing to “look foolish” to the world.  We have to be willing to lay aside our desire to “earn” our way.  And we have to acknowledge that nothing we have done “deserves” the salvation we receive by faith in God’s Son, our Savior, Jesus.

Lord, make your church willing to look foolish to the world.  Thank you for the precious gift of your Son to save us from the sin that keeps us from your perfect presence.  Thank you for the fact that we cannot earn it.  Give us the humility to simply receive your grace.  May we be a witness to those who are stumbling over You.  May they see Your light in us.  Use us so that they may know with assurance that they too can have the free gift You are offering.  We love you, Lord.  In your Son’s most precious name, amen.

 

Finding Hope at the Donut Man

donut man strawberry donutIf you’ve never been there, you gotta go!  The Donut Man in Glendora, CA (thedonutmanca.com) has the most amazing donuts you could ever imagine.  This is just one of their delectable delights, The Original Fresh Strawberry Stuffed Donut.  It was National Donut Day last week and I couldn’t resist making the trek to get one of these beauties.  What I didn’t expect was in addition to the rush of sugar, fat and carbs, I also received a refreshing jolt of hope, joy and encouragement from my fellow sweet-seeking humans.

The Donut Man is a small donut stand on the famous Route 66.  The modest building has two walk up windows and a convenient ATM tucked alongside it.  It is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and I have never been there when there wasn’t a line stretching around the corner.  Finding parking is always a challenge.  I usually end up in the dirt lot annex adjacent to the small paved lot behind the store.  The donuts are enormous.  In addition to their stuffed treats they have tiger tail donuts and chocolate bars that are about the size of my forearm.  It’s an amazing place.

As I got in line last Friday there were about 8 people ahead of me, all different ages, races and backgrounds represented.  The young ladies at the window were giddy with excitement, cackling and giggling as they waited for their order.  They were the only ones expressing what I suspect all of us were trying to contain as the sights and smells of the donuts filled our senses.  Just as I rounded the corner to the front of the stand I noticed one of the gentlemen a few people in front of me get out of line.  He explained to those around him he needed to use the ATM.  I heard one of them say, “No problem.  We got you.”  As he left the front of the stand just a few steps away to use the ATM several other hungry patrons got in line.  He completed his transaction and as he turned and noticed the line had grown he quietly stepped to the back of it.

The couple right behind me called out to him, “Hey!  You were ahead of us.  You don’t have to get back in line.”

The man shook his head, “It’s okay.”

The man who had been holding his place chimed in as well, “Dude.  You’re up here.  Come on.”

I jumped in too, “Yeah, come on,” as I waved him over.  Reluctantly he came forward and took his original place in line, thanking everyone along the way as he did.

I don’t know if it was blend of sugary goodness that was in the air, or the anticipation of gorging myself on that strawberry glaze, but my heart soared at the way these total strangers came together.  Frankly, it was kind of shocking.  He was so quiet about going to the end of the line, everyone could have easily ignored him and allowed him to stay there.  Someone who had gotten in line while he used the ATM could have objected to our urging as well, but they didn’t.   On the other hand, he could have been insistent about his place in line as well, elbowing others to get back to the place he had left.  But none of that happened.  Everyone just did what was right.  They did what was nice.  They thought of someone else before themselves.  It was refreshing to see.

If you look at what is in the news, or listen to talk radio, or infuse yourself in social media, you would think that the very fabric of our nation is about split apart.  We are in constant opposition no matter what the topic.  We are bombarded with opinion and disagreement.  We are compelled to take a side, make our opinion known, and attack those who don’t agree.  There is very little truth, only spin, and the topic changes moment by moment.  There are tornadoes of distraction trying to suck us into their vortex and all of them lead to the same conclusion:  Abandon all hope!  Pick a side! Everyone hates each other!

But then there are these Donut Man experiences:  real people interacting with each other face to face, exchanging glances and words, smiles, and “hellos,” saving places for each other in long lines; no arguments, no harsh language, no vigilantism, just people showing kindness to one another.  What a contrast.

I recently read in the book of Colossians, “Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.  For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.  And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.  So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you.  Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires.  Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshipping the things of this world. Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming.  You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world.  But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language.  Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds.  Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.”  Colossians 3:2-10 (New Living Translation)

Satan would like nothing more than to distract us with the things of this world.  Get us caught up in the latest controversy or opinion poll.  It really doesn’t matter what side we’re on.  That’s never his point.  His only goal is to divide us – to make us believe our differences are more important than what we have in common; to make us believe our opinion is more valuable than connecting as fellow human beings.  Don’t fall for it!

As believers, heaven is to be in the forefront of our minds.  We don’t belong to the world anymore.  That doesn’t mean we live in a bubble and don’t engage with the world.  In fact, it’s just the opposite!  We are to be the lights, the love of God in the flesh for others to see, feel, and experience.  But we can’t do that when we are caught up in the same things that are distracting and dividing those who don’t know Him.   The world is becoming darker.  God told us it would.  Many are abandoning all hope and believing the hype they are reading.  But we know Hope personally.  His name is Jesus and He lives inside of us.

The Donut Man experience was my reminder of the value of real connection.  It was the reminder that God’s love – His undeserving, gracious love – is available and it’s available through US!  We’re His delivery system.  And when we work together as one in delivering that love, powerful things can happen – far more powerful than the tornadoes of distraction that try to keep us from loving.

Father, I thank you for experiences like the one you gave me at Donut Man that show me that there is a reason you chose people, as flawed as we are, to be the vessels through whom You are made known to the world.  Help us, as your Body, to remember that responsibility and keep us from getting caught up in the mire, distraction, and dissension of this world.  We look forward to when we get to be with You.  In the mean time, use us to spread Your powerful love so that others may be restored to you and their hope, like ours, can be in Jesus.  It’s in His name that we ask these things, amen.  

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.

Love Outside the Box

About fifteen years ago the Lord shared a vision with me.  I have to tell you I have received visions before but on very rare occasions and they are usually for other people.  This one however was for me and although I recorded it, wrote it down and even rewrote it a few times it’s only now that I truly see it’s significance in my life.  Isn’t it just like God to be patient with us for 15 years (or longer) in order for us to get where He’s coming from!

I am sharing the vision with you now because I believe it is applicable to many.  You may change the meaning of a few things to fit your story, but I believe the message to all of us is the same.  I pray it will be a blessing for you.  This is certainly my longest blog post but I hope that will not deter you from reading it and enjoying it.

I awoke suddenly to a strange reality. The truth of the matter was, I wasn’t sure I had been asleep at all. But there I was sitting inside what could only be described as a wooden box standing upright.  The box was dark and quiet.  And although I was startled to find myself confined I felt strangely comfortable. It was a familiar place. I fumbled in the dark to get my bearings. The box stood about 6’ tall with four walls about 3’ wide on all sides, square top and bottom. I sat on the floor and leaned against one of the walls. I was neither warm nor cold, neither scared nor peaceful. I merely existed within the box, resigned and for the moment, content.

From the bottom edge of one wall a small but persistent light streamed in through the spaces between the planks. It was dull at first, distant. But slowly it began to creep upwards. It was different from a sunrise. It swayed back and forth. It was clear that this light was being carried and the one who bore the light was coming closer. As the light grew brighter I stood and pressed my cheek against the wall that faced the light. I strained to see between the planks, first with one eye then the other. The stronger the light became the more desperate I was to see who carried it.

They drew closer and my heart warmed to the thought that someone was coming – a rescuer perhaps to free me from this place. I found a knothole in one of the planks. Finally a clearer view of who was coming my way. The sound of my gasp broke the frigid silence and my hand quickly muffled the sound. It was the Lord.

He was still a ways off when the depravity of my surroundings came into my awareness. His light had illuminated the box enough for me to see its dingy, filthy, worthless appearance. Tears gathered in my throat. I was about to have an encounter with my Lord and this is where I found myself. I peeked out again to see that he was much closer now. A twinge of nerves shot through my body and then that horrible resolution that failure brings.

I sensed that he had stopped. I looked out again hoping He wouldn’t see me and yet pleading silently in the deepest part of me that He would. I moved my hand to my mouth in anticipation of seeing my Lord. And there He was, just a few feet from me now. I was breathless as I took in His dark hair and dark eyes, His bearded chin, and His chiseled, weather-worn face. His robe was white, His hands at His side. He was looking in my direction with warm and gentle eyes. A subtle grin suddenly appeared across His lips as He crouched down. I quickly backed away from the wall to the corner furthest from Him.

“Where are you?” He asked.

I waited to hear a response. There was none.

“Where are you?” He asked again.

I hesitated. I slowly moved to the front of the box and peered out again. His forearms rested on His knees as He crouched down looking in my direction. He smiled. “Where are you,” He said looking right at me without a question in His tone.

“I’m here.” My voice cracked as I spoke. I wasn’t even sure He heard it.

“I want to be with you,” He said.

I didn’t answer. Not because I didn’t want to but because I was swept away by the thought that He just might be serious.

“My love,” He said, “why do you hide from me? I want to be with you. I want you to be with me.”

My heart beat faster. The tightness in my throat grew and tears began to well in my eyes. “I’m here Lord,” I managed.

As drawn as I was to His goodness and light I struggled within my surroundings. I wanted to burst through the walls that held me and run to Him but at the same time I feared leaving the security of the box. Confined both within and without I again took my eyes off of Him sunk into the corner and began to weep.

Then from just outside the box I heard Him just above a whisper, “Where is my love?”

“I’m in here,” I sobbed.

With a tenderness that I have never heard before He said, “What is it that keeps my love from me?”

I could sense He was standing over me. Light shined in from all sides. His love and warmth penetrated every side of the box until finally I could not resist any longer. In weakness I stood hardly able to keep my balance. With all I had I pushed against the wall where the light shone most brightly. In an instant I was free. His hands caught mine as I pushed through and His eyes met mine.

We stared at each other for a moment. I was afraid to hold his gaze for long. As much as I wanted to leap into His welcoming presence I stood paralyzed barely able to breathe.

He continued to hold my hands. “Oh, my love,” He said. “How I have longed to see you.” His smile melted my heart.

I slowly pulled my hands away from His. I folded my arms in front of me and leaned back slightly until I felt the box behind me. His eyes never let me go.

“I came to see what hides you from me,” He said. “Show me this place,” He said with a gentle smile. He sat on the ground with His legs crossed beneath Him. I sat close but not close enough to touch Him.

I looked at the wall that I had just pushed open. It suddenly occurred to me how simple it was to move. Funny I hadn’t tried opening it before. The Lord was looking carefully at it, examining it with His hands.

“This wall here,” He said. “Tell me about it.”

“This hides the real me.” I wasn’t sure where the words came from but the tears quickly followed. I tried to hold them back but to no avail. He waited. I took a deep breath and continued. “The real me isn’t accepted, Lord. I’m not like everyone else. When I’ve let that show…” The tears wouldn’t let me continue. “I’ve learned it’s safer to hide. If people see who I really am…” The tears took over again.

“Oh, my dear girl. I know you,” He said with a smile in His voice. “I know everything about you. I know that you’re creative and love to play basketball. I know that your short and you really don’t like being short – but you’ve learned to live with it. I know the color of your eyes and how many tears you have shed since the day you were born. I hear you. I see you. AND, I love you.

“I know what you’ve done every moment of every day of your life. I know what you believe in and what you stand for. I know what your favorite pair of tennis shoes are. I know that you get lonely and afraid and sometimes you just want to be held. I know you. I know what you have needed from others and haven’t received. I know what melts your heart. I know what brings you the greatest joy. I know your deepest desires – even those you’re afraid to ask me for. I have made you. You have never been out of my sight. I know you. I love you and you are the apple of my eye. And I want to be with you… the real you, the one I have created you to be. I won’t settle for any substitute. I want you.”  He smiled broadly and tears filled His eyes.

“I want you too,” I whispered as I inched closer to Him.

He turned His head until my eyes met His. “Then let me fill this side of the box. Is that okay? Let me take the place of this wall. You will no longer have to pretend to be someone you’re not. You are seen by me and you are more than acceptable. You have been created by me, and that you is the you I love most.”

I nodded yes as our attention turned back to the box. We both stood and reached for the side of the box that stood partially away from the other sides. Together we pulled until the rusty pegs came free from their holes. With a mighty gust of wind that side of the box was gone. The Lord filled that side with His presence and again took a seat on the ground. I sat down too, my arm resting on his knee.

“Now what’s this second side here?” He asked, pointing to the wall on His right.

My face felt flush. “I feel like I am constantly seeking to fill the emptiness of my life. I work hard. I love deeply. I throw myself into whatever task you put in front of me, Lord.  And when I’m not doing that I’m filling my time with nonsense – distractions of all kinds.  I keep searching and longing for something or someone to fill that ache. I just keep striving for it but it always alludes me. I’m weary, Lord. I feel like I’ve reached the end of myself and there’s nothing left to grab onto.”

“Me.”

I looked at Him.

“Me. Grab on to me.” He paused. “I’m the one, my sweet girl. I’m the one who has given you everything you’re seeking to cling to. You’re looking at the gifts I’ve given you as the answer to your fulfillment. Honey, I am the answer to your fulfillment. Look to the giver. I want nothing more than to fulfill your every desire, but you have to know the source. And when you know the source our desires will be the same – yours will match mine. But until then, my sweet one, as long as you seek out people, places, things, and activities to fill your heart it will remain empty. I’m the only one who can fill it.

“And my love, when you recognize that I am the source of what you are seeking, you will not only be filled but will be overflowing. When you overflow with my love, you will be connected to others in a way you have never connected before. You will be sharing my love with them. The fulfillment they too are seeking will flow right through you and into them. Then you can share the secret. I am the key, dear child. Let me fulfill you. Then you can help me fulfill others with the same love you have come to know.”

We both turned again towards the box. “What if I would fill this side of the box too?” He asked.

“Yes, Lord. Take that side too.”

And with that another side was gone. The Lord positioned Himself at the empty corner of what was once the box. As He moved, I moved a bit closer to Him this time. “What about this third wall?”

Looking at it in the light now I could see I leaned against this side the most. The wood was worn smooth. There were distinct outlines where I leaned against it. I looked at Him then back towards the wall. I took a deep breath.

“Well Lord, this is my self-reliance,” I said with hints of both pride and shame. “You see, I have a tendency to rely a lot on myself. I don’t rely too heavily on other people. I’ve learned to handle things on my own – had to. I admit that I have allowed this to get in the way of my relationship with you. Sometimes, especially when you really bless me, Lord – when things are going so well, I feel like I may not even need you. I know that isn’t true, but sometimes I think I can handle life on my own.”

“Hmmm,” He said with a serious look on His face. “This sounds pretty important to you. Is this something you want to part with?”

My heart sank and my throat tightened. What was I saying?! It made no sense! My eyes filled with tears and my hand covered my mouth. He looked in my direction. All I could do was shake my head.

“Oh, my girl,” He said tenderly His hands reaching for my shoulders. “I know,” He said as He pulled me closer but held my gaze. “May I fill this side of the box too?”

I shook my head yes and immediately the wall collapsed. It disintegrated without a trace.

“My love, the wall upon which you relied most, was nothing but dust. In fact, it was no wall at all. The credit you have given yourself belongs to me. When you leaned upon that wall it was I who held it up. It was not your strength at all, it was mine. And the comfort you felt when you leaned upon this side, was the comfort of my presence. And when I blessed you, my sweet one, I blessed you so that you would run towards me, not away from me. My heart’s desire has always been to bring you close.”

I leaned into His chest and sobbed. “I’m sorry, Lord. I’m sorry I missed you.”

Without moving, His presence seemed to grow. As I gathered myself again I found I was now sitting in His lap. The box that once stood over us was now one thin small wall with a square attached at the top and the bottom. It seemed so small in comparison to us.

“There’s one left,” He said.

A chill ran through me that made me pull away from Him suddenly. I stood up quickly nearly pushing Him over backwards. My breath quickened. I could hardly catch it. I backed away from Him until I could feel the remaining wall against my back. He stood up.

“What is it, child? Tell me about this side.”

I clutched the wall behind me. I looked at Him desperately but was too afraid to even cry.

“What is it? It’s okay to tell me,” He beckoned. His eyes were soft.

The splinters of the wall were in me now as they had been so many times. “Fear,” I managed. I tried to pull away from the wall but it had me in its grips. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t give voice to the screams inside.

I watched Him back away from me. His eyes remained fixed on me and I could see the same passion I had seen all along. “Where is He going?” I thought to myself. No! This is exactly what I fear the most. Where? Why?  LORD!

He took a few more steps back and pointed to His right. He never let His eyes leave me. Shaking, my eyes darted in the direction he was pointing. Charging towards me was a knight on a galloping horse. He held a lance that was aimed at me. As each second ticked by he grew closer. The rider rose in his saddle, raising the lance with precision aim. With everything in me I pushed away from the wall that held me just as the horse and rider ran past me. I ran as fast as I could into my Savior’s arms and buried my face in His neck.

He held me tight and rocked me back and forth. I don’t know how much time had passed but finally He said, “Look!”

I turned in the direction of the knight. He was cantering away on his horse the flimsy wall which looked like cheap cardboard was still stuck on the end of his lance along with the top and bottom of what was once the box.

I looked up at Him. “He wasn’t after me?”

He tipped His head back and laughed. “No, my love. He wasn’t after you,” He said His forehead leaning against mine. “I have conquered fear, my lamb. You need not be held by it any longer.”

I smiled. For the first time since I saw Him, I smiled. In the pit of my stomach I felt something I hadn’t felt before. The feeling travelled up my spine and down to my toes. I began to giggle, and then laugh. Tears filled my eyes but they were different tears than what I had shed before. I threw my arms around Him.

“You know what that is, my lovely?” He waited. “That’s joy!” He whispered loudly in my ear until it tickled.

I don’t know how long that moment lasted, it could have been seconds, it could have been years.  It was sheer joy and I felt complete in His presence.  As we both caught our breath my attention was drawn to where the box had once stood.  I can’t describe what I saw or heard but I knew something was there.  I looked at Him.  He let me down and said, “Go look and see.”

I moved carefully towards the site my eyes pealed for whatever was drawing my attention.  When I arrived I saw what appeared to be bits of broken pottery.  There seemed to be hundreds of them packed tightly into the square upon which the box stood.  Even though I hadn’t seen them before I knew the pieces well.  They were pieces of me… broken places of my life that had served as a foundation upon which that box was built.  I gathered up as many pieces as I could and ran to Jesus.  He had gathered the front of His robe into His hands in order to collect every piece I brought Him.  Without a word He took each piece and I ran back to get more.

I returned to the foundation more than a dozen times until each piece was picked up.  I went back on last time to make sure I had gotten them all.  I had.  And when I made my way back to Jesus, there He stood, not a piece of broken pottery in sight.  His arms were open to me and although I could no longer see what I had brought Him I knew He had them all and that they were safe. 

He gathered me in His arms and we walked the path together.

I pray that you know how much you are loved by the Savior of the world.  I pray that you know that His love is greater than any box you have created around you.  He can free you to be the person He has always intended you to be.  There is Love outside that box just waiting for you to experience!  Love for you to receive and love for you to give.

Thank you, Lord, for you love for us.  Thank you for sending your Son to rescue us from shame and fear, distractions and self-reliance.  Set us free to be loved and to love as you have loved us.  In Jesus’ name, amen.