Happy Birthday, America!


flag mapToday, as we celebrate the 239th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, it is good to remember the purpose and text of the document.   The thirteen New World states were declaring their independence from Britain, and the Declaration was written to explain why. These lines convey the foundation and essence of American liberty.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Recently there has been a great deal of sentiment expressed over the Supreme Court ruling allowing gay marriage throughout the country. Christians have spoken out on both sides of the issue. But it is not and never has been the purpose of the American government to decide what is right and what is wrong, only (as the declaration states) to secure the rights of its citizens.

I find it interesting to note that Jesus refused to engage in the political issues of his day, and instead talked about the kingdom of heaven. He said, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” My purpose as a Christian is to represent Christ in whatever circumstances I find myself. Jesus never required anyone to be without sin before he talked to them, ate with them, healed them, loved them, or died for them. His death provided forgiveness for all of us, while we were yet sinners. Jesus’ purpose is not to condemn, but to save. Followers of Jesus should diligently share the love, compassion, and mercy of our God with every person on this planet, whether their sin is blatantly obvious or cleverly disguised as self-righteousness.

As Benjamin Franklin (one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence) said, “Instead of cursing the darkness, light a candle.”

Diving into the Waves



Today I was alone at the ocean.  I’ve always enjoyed being in the water, but my experience today changed me.

The surf was so high that the red “do not swim” flags were out (but no one enforces these things.)  As the waves pounded toward shore, I eagerly walked toward them.  By the time I was in water to my waist, the incoming waves were over my head.  If I tried to stand against them, they knocked me backwards.  But as each wave approached, just before impact, I dove into the base of the wave, and the foaming water passed harmlessly over me.  I came out on the other side laughing.

I did this for quite a while, wading deeper, facing higher waves, until I could no longer touch the bottom.  Then I swam beyond where the waves were breaking.  In the deeper water they were just high swells, constantly moving.  I floated on top and gazed at the puffy white clouds dotting the deep blue sky.  There was so much power in the water, but there was no reason to fight it or fear it.  It was the perfect place to rest and relax.

I was reminded of the passage where the apostle Paul prays that we might “comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth” of Christ’s love.  I was barely a speck in the water in the tiny bay where I floated on the edge of a vast ocean, and could not begin to imagine how much water surrounded me.  But that’s how God’s love is.  There is so much power in it, but I can rest in it as easily as I floated on those waves.  Nothing I face is too hard for God.  Nothing I need is beyond His capacity to provide.  When life’s circumstances come at me and threaten to knock me down, I can dive into God’s love and come up laughing on the other side.

Paul concludes his prayer, “know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge, that you might be filled with all the fullness of God.”  To that I say, Amen!

Don’t Blame God


Nearly eight years ago, I sat at dinner in a restaurant with my husband and three youngest children. My youngest son, six years old at the time, was behaving a little strangely. While waiting for the waitress to take our order, he drank his water, then he drank mine, then he drank his nearest sister’s water. I wondered what he had eaten that made him so thirsty. As the dinner was served he continued to drink everything he could reach every time the waitress filled our glasses.
That night, after everyone was in bed, I went downstairs and looked up symptoms of diabetes. At that point, my son had only two of the symptoms. I hoped that the crazy thirst was just a fluke. The next night, as my son got out of the bathtub, I noticed that I could see every rib. Sudden weight loss is another symptom of type 1 diabetes. Again I put everyone to bed and retreated to the basement. This time I begged God to spare my son. I pleaded with Him to give me the diabetes instead. Normally my prayers ended with “Thy will be done,” but not this time. I was NOT ok with my son being sick and I made that very clear.
At the doctor’s office the next morning, the diagnosis was confirmed. My beautiful little boy was doomed to constant finger pricking and insulin injections and counting the carbohydrate value of everything he ate or drank for the rest of his life. There is no cure. We were sent to spend three days at the children’s hospital to stabilize his blood sugar and learn how to cope with this disease.
I brought my Bible along to the hospital, but I didn’t read it that week, and I didn’t pray at all. I was angry at God for giving my son diabetes, and I was hurt that He had not answered my prayers. Like nearly everyone I know, I believed that God was “up there” controlling everything that happened in my life. If only I had known then what I know now.
Many Christians believe that God is good, and that whatever He does, He does for a reason. They believe that someday they will understand why He caused or allowed every rotten thing they have experienced, just as I eventually became resigned to the diabetes and told my son I didn’t know why God gave it to him but to just trust Him because He knew what He was doing.
Fast forward many years to the time I began to read the Bible with the revelation that it is all true. Jesus said, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” That makes it pretty clear that if there is stealing and killing and destroying going on, it isn’t Jesus doing it.
When Jesus was on the earth, He healed the sick, He fed the hungry, He gave sight to the blind. He willingly suffered all the punishment we deserved so that we might have life. It is the thief, Satan, who comes to steal our joy and destroy our lives and kill us by war and crime and accident and disease. Why doesn’t God stop him?
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. He planted a beautiful garden that contained everything needed by mankind. And it was all good. There was no sickness or crime. There wasn’t even bad weather! So what happened? We know about Eve and the forbidden fruit, but why was that such a big deal?
God had given mankind dominion (power and authority) over the earth. Once God says something, He never goes back on his word. So even though man did not do what God intended, God could not take back the authority that he had given. It’s like you give your daughter a car and tell her to use it to get to school and work and wherever they need to go. You give her only one rule: never let anyone else drive. Off your kid goes, and pretty soon, she picks up a hitchhiker. The hitchhiker is a really smooth talker and convinces your daughter that everything will be so much better if she lets him drive. He gets behind the wheel and proceeds to start speeding, driving recklessly, and mowing down little old ladies. That’s not what you wanted the car to be used for, but you did give it to your kid. Once you signed the title over, there’s only so much you can do. When the hitchhiker goes spinning out of control, your child is going to pay the price.
So God gave Adam and Eve dominion over the earth, and they handed it over to the devil when they chose his smooth talk over God’s intentions, kind of like your daughter let the hitchhiker drive. And that’s the deal with God and the earth. God still wants good things for us, but He is spirit, and he can only act on earth through people. He gave us free will and never violates it. We can choose to act in accord with His will and reap the blessings He has promised us, or we can go our own way and suffer the consequences.
God did not choose for my son to have diabetes any more than He chose for Cain to murder Abel. God created mankind perfect and whole; there was no disease in the Garden of Eden. That original sin opened the door to all the corruption that is in the earth today. Sometimes our suffering is a result of choices we have made, sometimes it’s a result of someone else’s choice, and sometimes it’s just a result of living in a fallen world that has been corrupted by every wrong choice since the time of Adam and Eve.
Eventually, through studying the Scriptures, I came to realize that God is still good. He does still love us and want good things for us, just like we want good things for our children. He sent Jesus to get our authority back from the devil, and as believers in Jesus we have His power to defeat the works of the enemy. I am in the process of learning about the authority I have and learning how to use it. I have stopped blaming God for what the devil does to us and what we do to each other. Instead, I thank God that He has given me, and all believers, everything we need to live an abundant life.

Overwhelmed with gratitude


Last night I dreamed I was about to be murdered. I did not want to be killed, and I tried to get away. But when I knew death was inevitable, I was just fine with it. As the knife cut into my neck, I shouted,”Jesus, I’m coming to see you! Mommy, I’m coming to see you!”
I don’t have a death wish. I have everything I need in this life and so much more than what I need. I have a fantastic family of uniquely gifted people, great friends, satisfying work, and plans for an even greater future. But I’m okay with leaving this life behind. The glorious paradise that God has prepared for those who love him is far superior to even the blessed life I have now. As grateful as I am for the here and now, I’m utterly amazed at what God has planned: a world without sickness, strife, or pain.
I don’t know how long it will be before I leave this earthly life. I’m in no hurry, but when the time comes, I’m ready!

Why Did He Have To Die?


When I was a kid, we went to church on Good Friday (the Friday before Easter.)  We would interactively read through the gospel accounts of Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion.  The readers would take the part of Pilate (“What is truth?”) and Peter (“I don’t know him!”) and we, the congregation, would be the crowd.  “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

The priest would play Jesus, but he didn’t say much.  I always thought Jesus could have said or done any number of things to get himself out of the crucifixion, but he didn’t. Every year I would root for him, and every year he would meekly die a horrible death, forgiving the very people who were killing him.

Why?  I asked people, why did Jesus die? And they would say he died to forgive my sins.  It didn’t make any sense.  He forgave other people’s sins just by telling them their sins were forgiven.  Why did he have to die for mine?

I didn’t know until many years later that the separation between God and man was so absolute that there was no way we could cross it by ourselves.  We tend to judge ourselves by comparing ourselves to the people around us, and by that standard we can always find someone who is “worse” than we are.  I didn’t know it then, but God doesn’t grade on a curve.  He is holy and absolutely perfect, and to deserve to be in His presence, we have to be holy and perfect too.

One scripture says “The wages of sin is death.”  Wages are what you deserve to be paid for the work you have done. According to this, if I were a defendant in court being accused of having sinned, I would be declared guilty and sentenced to death. I have sinned and deserve to die.  But the rest of the verse says “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  How did I go from deserving death to getting eternal life instead? To being able to stand before God with a perfectly clear conscience?

When Jesus was tortured and crucified, He took the punishment for my sins and for the sins of the whole world; past, present, and future.  He paid all the debt we all owed to God.  And more than that, He suffered every kind of pain and torment so that we would not have to suffer them.  He defeated the devil so that we don’t have to be controlled by sin any longer. On the cross, He willingly exchanged His perfect righteousness for our sin!  If Jesus had not died, the judgment and punishment, the guilty verdict, would still be hanging over me and all of us, and there would be no way for us to pay it off. Other scriptures say that Jesus gave us the power to become children of God rather than children of the devil. Think about what it means to be a child of God.  If you could choose your parents, would you rather they be good and loving and generous, or would you choose ones who were hateful and violent and out to destroy you?

Like most parents, I love my children.  I want them to have good health and good relationships. I want them to find work that they enjoy and to be surrounded by people they love and who love them.  I want them to have peace, to be free from stress and worry, guilt and shame.  I want them to know that I love them no matter what they do.  And that is what God wants for His children.  I love being a child of God. I love knowing that what He wants to give me is better than anything I could ever get for myself.  Now that I know why Jesus died, and what His death accomplished, I am eternally grateful that he did.  I finally understand why they call the commemoration of His death Good Friday.



A couple weeks ago I spent much of a Saturday driving from Minnesota toward my childhood home in Indiana.  It is a drive I have made countless times over the 26 years since I moved “up north.”  I’ve driven it in every season, alone or with family, under all types of circumstances.  In all those trips for whatever reason I was driving, there was a constant.  My parents would be at the other end, and they would be happy to see me whether I was visiting for a week or just stopping by on my way through.

This trip was different though, because I was driving to my mother’s house, but my mother wasn’t there.  She went home to Jesus about six weeks ago.  Every time I thought about it, I felt like sobbing.  When I thought of my father trying to go on without his wife of almost 70 years, my heart broke. It hurts!

Then I would think about my mom and where she is now: in heaven with the Lord she served so long and so well, and with the many family members and friends who preceded her in death.  Her body is no longer broken and all her happy memories are restored.  I am SO HAPPY for my mom!  Soon I am smiling through my tears, and the tears dry up as I picture the reunions one by one: her parents, her sister, her grandson, the baby she lost, her friends…

This is how it works.  As long as I focus on the loss, on the hard things, I am sad, even desperate.  But as I reflect on the truth that my mom lived 90+ years and was more than ready to go home, I wouldn’t bring her back if I could.  Instead I look forward to the day I see her again.  This is a reminder to me to focus on the bigger truth, to look at the good in every situation, and not to dwell on whatever pain is affecting me.  There is good and beauty all around, if I take the time to look for it.  God is indeed good!

As I Have Loved You


Last time I talked about how grace is a gift- how we don’t earn God’s love or acceptance by our behavior.  He just chooses to love us.  It is so good to know that God loves me no matter what!  It means I can stop pretending to be perfect.  I used to try to find an excuse for everything I did wrong, and I was constantly spinning the truth to show myself in the best possible light.  I’ve learned that I can just say, “I was wrong.  I’m sorry,” and it’s over. The world will not end if someone knows I messed up. If God isn’t holding it against me, why should I worry about what anyone else is going to think?  The point is, I’m not perfect, and God loves me anyway.

If it is true that God loves me even though I mess up, then it is also true that He loves other people the same way.  It is pretty easy to find excuses for my own misbehavior but I can be pretty bad about holding everyone around me to a higher standard than I hold myself.  Somewhere I got the notion that it was my right and duty to judge people according to their behavior, and to punish them or at least point out their failures. I didn’t realize that setting myself up as judge was more destructive to me than to the people I was judging.

It is easy to believe that “God loves everyone” in an abstract way; but it took some growing for me to accept that “everyone” includes people I disagree with and people who have hurt me. He loves the rich and the poor, the leaders and the outcasts.  Jesus ate with sinners, He fed them, He taught them, He healed them, He cast out their demons.  Ultimately He died for them.  He really loves them.  He really loves us.  Each and every one of us broken human beings is precious to Him.  If God, who is perfect and holy, can forgive sinners, shouldn’t I?

Jesus said these things, and I would have to believe that He meant for us to actually do them.

“Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.”    

“Do not repay evil for evil, but answer evil with good.”

“Love one another as I have loved you.”

As I have loved you.  The kind of love Jesus displayed, the kind of love He commands us to give, is radical, expensive, extravagant, boundless.  It is the most powerful force in the universe. 

My take is this: If a man insults you and spreads lies about you, speak well of him, do him a favor, buy him a cup of coffee.  Repay evil with good.  It is amazing what a little bit of generosity can do to change a bad situation. 

If someone has hurt you deeply or repeatedly and there is longstanding enmity between you, you may not be able to buy them a cup of coffee.  What you can do is this: pray for them. Every time you think of them, pray that God blesses them and brings good things to them.  As you “pray for those who persecute you,” you will be released from the pain they have caused you, and it will be replaced by God’s tremendous love toward that person.  Keep praying until the day you are able to look them in the eye and say “I forgive you.” At that point, it will be a joy for you to see them, and you truly will wish them to be blessed.  The other person may be changed, or they may not.  But the pain they caused you will be gone.

Love is the only power greater than hatred.  In the end, love really does conquer all.