Obedience = Love

The setting: My 5th grade classroom just outside Guatemala City
The context: Online school
The problem: Yet again, over half the class did not complete an assignment correctly.
Why? Because they didn’t bother to read the directions.
They glided right over them, did what they thought was correct and clicked “Turn in.”

After opening my sixth incomplete assignment, I buried my head in my hands and moaned, “Why can’t they just follow instructions???” Then I looked at my coworker and said,
“I just want to say to them, ‘If you love me at all, please follow the directions!’”

And just like that, conviction struck.
Deeply.
Swiftly.
“To the dividing of bone from sinew” as the writer of Hebrews put it.
The sharp, two-edged sword of the Word of God pierced my heart.
As the Man with the pierced hands and feet said,
“Exactly, Kathy. If you love Me at all, please follow My directions!”

Oh, how often I do what my students do!
I glance at the assignment, also known as the Word of God, and decide I know what is best.
And then I do it.
Not what is says – but what I want it to say.
What I am comfortable with it saying.
Rewriting the Word of God so that it becomes the Gospel According to Kathy.

And often what I manage to do is partially correct – but not totally.
Which makes it completely wrong.

I may have the right actions, but the wrong heart.
Or I may say the right words but to the wrong people.
I may give a half-hearted attempt to follow the Word but I am not trusting Him with ALL my heart.
Or I say I trust Him – but I lean on my understanding of the situation, my view of the world.

No matter how you shake it, I blow the assignment when I don’t simply obey the words of the Master.

He says, “Be kind and tenderhearted.”
I say, “But they aren’t being kind.”

He says, “Consider others before yourself.”
I say, “But won’t that make me a doormat?”

He says, “Forgive everyone.”
I say, “OK, everyone but them, right?”

He says, “Love everyone.”
I say, “OK, everyone but them, right?”

He says, “Give as freely as I have given to you.”
I say, “But I have to take care of myself, right?”

He says, “Do not worry.”
I say, “OK, I won’t be worried. I’ll just be concerned, OK?”

He says, “Tell the world that I love them.”
I say, “When it is safe, I will.”

He says, “Count it all joy when you face trials of various kinds.”
I say, “OK, I will praise You after You solve the trials of various kinds.”

Tweaking His directions to make them easier for me to do.
Completely forgetting that, if it is something He has called me to do, HE will give me the power to do it.
ALL of it. As written. Because He said so. End of discussion.

Obedience equals love.

That’s what Jesus told the disciples in John 15.
“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.”

To my great sorrow, I can easily picture Him putting His head in nail-scarred hands far too often and saying, “Oh, Kathy. If you love Me, you’ll follow My directions.”

Thank goodness His mercies are new every morning!
And that His love for me is not predicated on my obedience but rather His heart.
He doesn’t love me any less when I disobey.
But I am saying, “I love me more than You” when I do.

May I do a better job with obedience today than I did yesterday.
May every choice I make today shout, “I love You, Lord!”
May my obedience be even more consistent tomorrow.

And may the same be true of you (as well as my students!)

“Whatever Happens…”

“Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. I never get tired of telling you these things, and I do it to safeguard your faith.” – Paul, from jail, to the believers in Philippi

Whatever happens globally…
2020
Corona virus
Lockdowns
Infighting
Racial horrors
Financial distress
More infighting
Wildfires
Mask wars
Elections
Political maneuvering
Wars and rumors of wars

Whatever happens personally…
Unfulfilled expectations
Unmet desires
Cultural adjustments
Online teaching
People letting you down
Loneliness
Doubt
Fear

“Whatever happens…rejoice in the Lord.”

I used to think that “rejoice in the Lord” was simply another way to say “praise the Lord”.
And I do believe that is part of it.
But as I have chewed on what it means to “rejoice in the Lord” I have come to realize it is bigger than remembering to be thankful, bigger than praising Him for His attributes, bigger than singing a praise song.

Those things are good, important, even vital.
But rejoicing IN the Lord…I think that is reveling in Him.
Enjoying Him.
Craving Him.

Have you ever hung out with someone that you just enjoyed being with?
I think of time spent with some of my favorite kids through the years, playing silly games, singing songs, snuggling sleeping babies.
I think of perfect days with friends, laughing, sharing, sometimes crying but just enjoying time. Sometimes over coffee. Sometimes over games. Sometimes over shared experiences.
Just enjoying them.
Reveling in the time, the presence, the joy.

I think that is what it means to “Rejoice in the Lord.”
Literally enjoying life with God.
Reveling in what it means to be His friend. His kid. His beloved.
Hanging out with Him.
Loving being with Him.
Every moment of every day.

Opening my eyes to see His fingerprints everywhere.
Gorgeous sunrise? “Way to God, God! That’s a good one.”
Someone says something funny? “Did you hear that one, Lord? It was a good one!”
Getting back safely from a drive anywhere? “Thanks, God, for your protection.”
Getting ready to answer an email, a message, a phone call? “Thanks that You go before me into this one, Abba!”
Having a conversation with a person? In a parallel conversation in my head, “Abba, You know her heart. Give me wisdom on what to say – and when to shut up.”
Looking in the mirror in the morning? “Well, Lord, it’s not what I would like to see. But thank You that inner beauty is way more important. Make me beautiful today by Your definition, please!”
A delicious snack? “Thanks for this, Abba!”
And everything else.

Moment by moment, heartbeat by heartbeat, enjoying Him.
Reveling in Him.
Seeing Him all around.
Acknowledging Him in all of it.
The fun stuff.
The daily grind stuff.
The hard stuff.
The no brainer stuff.
Inviting Him in.
Chatting with Him.
And being quick, quick, quick to give Him praise in ALL of it.

“Abba, my heart is breaking right now. Thank You for being the glue that holds me together.”
“Lord, I am not feeling heard or understood. Thank You that You do both.”
“God, I feel the need for vindication. Thank You that that is Your job and not mine.”
“God, I don’t know what to say, what to do, how to address this. Thank You for the wisdom You will give.”

Reveling in Him.
Soaking in Him.
Hanging out with Him.
Whatever happens, rejoicing IN the Lord.

Because the way Paul finishes Philippians 3:1 is so, so true:
“I never get tired of telling you these things, and I do it to safeguard your faith.”

The enemy is always, always on the prowl, always looking for an ear to fill with lies.
“God is not good. He isn’t looking out for you. He doesn’t know what He’s doing. You can’t trust Him. You are better off on your own….”

But a heart that is busy reveling in her best friend doesn’t have time, space or inclination to let those whispers even land, let alone take root.

When I stop rejoicing in the Lord, when I stop looking for His fingerprints, when I stop the ongoing chat that fills my days, when I choose sin and block that flow of fellowship temporarily – that is when those lies not only take root but they grow quickly into temptation that rapidly sprouts sinful choices.
Suddenly, my mind is filled with what I deserve, my rights, my desires and how I have been wronged.
How others are so hard to deal with.
How my life is so much less wonderful than yours.
Selfishness. Pride. Bitterness.

Motives are questioned.
People are denigrated.
And joy leaks out like the air from a punctured tire.

Rejoicing in the Lord is a safeguard for my faith.
Delighting in Him because He is delightful, delight-worthy, is a protection for my spirit.
And I am much less likely to sin when I am busy marinating myself in the wonder of Him.

That is why Paul expounded on this idea again in chapter 4 of Philippians.
“Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS, and again I say, REJOICE!”

But what about those hard things, those hard times, those emotions that swamp me? Fear, regret, jealousy, anger, resentment…what about those?

The very next verses address those times:
Don’t worry about those things. Instead, pray about them! Tell God EVERTHING – and give thanks while you do it! And when you do that, His peace will replace all of those things. It is what He wants to do! That way you can get back to reveling in Him – and everything that is worth thinking about. Things that are “true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

Full circle, back to delighting in Him.
Back to reveling in His character, even when I cannot explain His conduct.
Back to believing He is for me and not against me, even when I am walking in the dark.
Back to knowing that if He loved me enough to die for me, surely He loves me enough to give me all I need to live.

It’s been a hard season.
But if Paul can revel in the Lord from prison and can exhort us to do the same, I know it is possible.
Not by my own strength.
But by the grace of God and through His power, I can choose to rejoice in the Lord.
And so can you.

“Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. I never get tired of telling you these things, and I do it to safeguard your faith.”

Words From A Hero

My life at the moment is ridiculously busy. Teaching online is not for the faint of heart!

And, while God is teaching me stuff “along the way”, there is nothing I can share here yet.

So, since I have no encouraging words to share this week, I thought I would offer you a set of quotes from one of my heroes, Corrie ten Boom.

Corrie was born in 1892 and was about my age when World War II broke out. Because of their faith, she and her family worked together to hide Jews in Holland from Hitler’s Gestapo. They were eventually found out.

Corrie’s father died in prison and her sister died at Ravensbruck, one of the concentration camps, where the two of them were sent. Corrie was eventually released due to a clerical error and spent the rest of her life teaching, writing and serving others. You can read her story in “The Hiding Place”.

Keeping that context in mind, here are some of her thoughts about life, the Lord and walking with Him. I hope they bless you as much as they bless me!

“Don’t bother to give God instructions, just report for duty.”

“You can never learn that Christ is all you need, until Christ is all you have.”

“Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?”

“What wings are to a bird and sails to a ship, so is prayer to the soul.”

“It is not my ability, but my response to God’s ability that counts.”

“This is what the past is for! Every experience God gives us, every person he puts in our lives is the perfect preparation for the future that only he can see.”

“The measure of a life, after all, is not its duration, but its donation.”

“Faith sees the invisible, believes the unbelievable, and receives the impossible.”

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

“Trying to do the Lord’s work in your own strength is the most confusing, exhausting, and tedious of all work. But when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, then the ministry of Jesus just flows out of you.”

“There is no panic in Heaven! God has no problems, only plans.”

“When I try, I fail. When I trust, he succeeds.”

“Worry is a cycle of inefficient thoughts whirling around a center of fear.”

“When we are powerless to do a thing, it is a great joy that we can come and step inside the ability of Jesus.”

“Faith is like radar that sees through the fog — the reality of things at a distance that the human eye cannot see.”

“We never know how God will answer our prayers, but we can expect that He will get us involved in His plan for the answer. If we are true intercessors, we must be ready to take part in God’s work on behalf of the people for whom we pray.”

“My job was to simply follow His leading one step at a time, holding every decision up to him in prayer.”

“Whatever in our life is hardest to bear, love can transform into beauty.”

“The wonderful thing about praying is that you leave a world of not being able to do something, and enter God’s realm where everything is possible. He specializes in the impossible. Nothing is too great for His almighty power. Nothing is too small for His love.”

“Jesus can turn loss into glory.”