What is Required; You Got This…..!

I’m basically simple; I like simplicity in all forms, and spirituality is no different. I have always been uncomfortable with all of the “rules” of Christendom. Sometimes it seems as if there is a disconnect between what the church teaches and what the Bible says, and then we become bogged down in the mire of confusion as to what is from God and what is man’s opinion.

Take Micah 6:8, for example,  “Human being, you have already been told what is good, what ADONAI demands of you – no more than to act justly, love grace and walk in purity (or blameless) with your God.” (The Complete Jewish Bible) Micah was one of the minor prophets, and like those before and after him, felt the call of God in his life to turn the hearts of his people back to God. He lived in a time not so much different than we live in today; crooked politicians and religious leaders, greed, and violence. Seems like little changes, doesn’t it? Was Micah successful in turning all of the hearts of his people back toward God? Not any more than anyone else has been down through the ages, but the point of his life and message, and others like him, is that he answered the call of God to warn people about turning from God and toward the evils of the world. Some listened and responded.

Micah’s message was simple: be just, love grace (kindness) and walk blamelessly with God. Can anyone be 100% just, kind, and blameless? Not a chance, but what we can do is to the best of our ability adhere to these principles and we will certainly be on the right track. To walk in love, grace and purity is a pretty tall order for everyone, so why do we need to add even higher standards? We don’t.

All too often we focus on fixing the ills of outward man. For instance, the colorful use of cuss words, smoking, drinking alcohol, tattoos, to name a few. Yeshua called the religious leaders of His day “whitewashed sepulchers”, in other words, tombs that were clean on the outside. Not much has changed. The religious of our day back up the Christian dump truck and bury those seeking relationship with God with myriad thou-shalt-not’s. In so doing, we are concerned with shining up the surface and ignoring the rot underneath. God is concerned with the heart of man; the motivations and intentions that guide or misguide his/her daily life. Does it really matter if we are covered in tattoos, lift a beer in toast while smoking a cigarette and peppering our conversations with colorful cuss words, while at the same time, those who consider themselves “Christlike” harbor hatred, and bitterness toward fellow man, gossiping under the guise of praying for another, or setting ourselves above others in pious judgment? We can cheat, steal, and lie and not blink an eye, but dare someone to tell us they frequent the local watering hole on Saturday nights without the white-washed uttering the requisite  “tsk tsk” of hell bound sinner! Perhaps this sounds harsh, but the reality is no one is perfect, everyone is loved by God, and it is high time we embrace these truths. People are leaving churches, those outside are refusing to even give God a chance because pious pew-sitters demand perfection of those coming thru their doors seeking rest, healing, and compassion.

The message of the prophets, and of Yeshua as He walked the Judean countryside, was to bump our heart motivations up against God’s standards and act accordingly. The measuring stick of standards is the Ten Commandments and the sum of those commandments can be found in Micah 6:8 – do what is right.

It is my opinion we have “westernized” the Bible. Our understanding and interpretation of words and scriptures in the Bible are often inaccurate and narrow; the culture at the time any given scripture was written is not considered, and we interpret words based on our own definitions. Biblical Hebrew has a mere 8,000 words, whereas we have 100,000+. Having so few words it only stands to reason that there are layers of meanings to words.  We have the mindset that God requires humanity to be perfect, or walk in obedience; in the case of Micah, to walk blameless. Blameless, obedience and other like words all have their origins in the Hebrew word “shema”. Shema means “to hear”. Hearing is much more than the physical act of sound waves being interpreted by the brain and fashioned into what we call “words”. Shema means the physical act of hearing, but also heeding the words, and responding to what is heard. In Hebrew, to hear is to do. Additionally, “shema” refers to moral innocence, or to integrity, so be be blameless before a Holy God is to live life with integrity. Humans screw up, we don’t always get it right, and we do not always make sound decisions that demonstrate our integrity, but God is merciful to forgive us when we recognize our lack of integrity and purpose to do a better job in the future.

We don’t all “hear” at the same time either. God journeys with each of us individually. We may technically hear, in other words, receive the sound waves for interpretation by the brain ten times, and then on the next go round, we hear with understanding and a call to action. This is the miracle of personal revelation! The light bulb moment! Epiphany! And at that moment the choice becomes ours to act on what has been heard, to respond, to return to a life of integrity.

The Bible says that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. He hasn’t changed; His message is still one of love for His creation, a call to live a life of integrity, to do what is right, to correct our course if we have messed up. Act justly, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. You got this kiddo……

Be Still and Know…..

“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10 (Complete Jewish Bible) Many of us are not good at “being still”. To be still means we quiet the mind and spirit and sit before God and allow His love and peace to wash over us, renewing us.

When was the last time you tried to be still? I don’t know about you, but sometimes it’s nearly impossible for me to quiet the noise of the world. There are too many distractions; family responsibilities, job, church, societal demands, all vying for our attention. Couple all of that with the ills of the world we live in and we get worn down, used up, we feel helpless, hopeless, and empty. Sometimes just waking up in the morning and dragging ourselves through our day is a challenge. Many fight depression, take medications to lift their spirits, turn to alcohol, try myriad remedies to distract themselves from feelings of failure. Some of us purposefully fill our lives with so many activities that we don’t have time to deal with the nagging thoughts that we don’t measure up, that we have missed the mark, have irreparably messed up our lives.

And therein lies the problem; we try to do everything ourselves. Time with God often takes a backseat to all of our other obligations, a quick prayer here and there. Some of us are more successful at scheduling a morning devotional time, but even that can feel like wrestling with the ills of our world, personally and globally. There are too many needs, people to prayer for, situations that need God’s intervention, and pretty soon the “still” part is lost in the noise. Our spirit becomes restless, unsure that God hears our prayers, sees our struggle, understands the in’s and out’s of our trials and tribulations; all because we cannot be still and know.

God’s world and ideals are very different than ours. We are taught to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps when the chips are down, become a self-made person, it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and we will miss the blessings if we don’t take initiative to move the mountains in our way. Even if we believe God is in control, we don’t live as if that were true. Why? Because our focus is wrong. Some of us focus on the problem instead of knowing the solution is in God’s hands and plan. Others focus on the prize, the outcome, instead of the One who can move heaven and earth on our behalf. God says, “be still…..and…..know”.

Like many phrases in the Bible the “be still and know” is a coordinate imperative; a kind of if, then. Put another way the coordinate imperatives demonstrate a condition with the resultant consequence. Be still is the condition we are to assume; the consequence will be that we will recognize God as the all-sufficient One.

Our part sounds easy, but it is not as easy as it seems! To be still means we need to stop striving for, well, everything and realize that we have little control over most everything in our lives; that our security, every breath we breathe, every day we inhabit planet earth, is in His hands. We are admitting our weakness in the midst of His strength. The self-made-man attitude must fall away, we need to give up the thought that somehow our puny efforts result in any security we believe we have outside of God.

To be still and KNOW that He is God is to accept the assurance that I am loved, I am engraved on His hand, that I am on His mind every minute of every day. I don’t need to “do” anything to gain God’s acceptance, I can sit still before Him and drink in His love, His comfort, His guidance, His peace, His rest, His wisdom. To be still and KNOW that He is God is to embrace and internalize that our spirits are intertwined and I don’t fight battles, face trials, or overcome  challenges alone.

Find a quiet place away from the noise of the world and close your eyes. Quiet your mind, breathe in deeply, and let the breath out slowly. Feel your body relax. Release your thoughts, your worries, your struggles. Allow His spirit to flow over, around and through your being, let His peace wash away the doubts and fears of not measuring up, because the reality is that you are a creation of the Creator, loved beyond measure for that fact alone; not for your accomplishments, your accumulated wealth or wisdom, not for your works. You are loved in spite of your past, what you screwed up yesterday, or today, in spite of all your flaws and imperfections.

Be still and KNOW that He is God and in His eyes you have not failed. His mercies are renewed every day and we wake each day to a new opportunity to get it right, to walk more closely with Him, to forgive and be forgiven.

I heard a story once that stuck with me.  In the midst of the ocean a storm was raging; the waves crashing and receding with a frightening strength and furious majesty. In the middle of the ocean, far from land, a rock jutted skyward above the waves. Within the rock was a hole, a shallow cave of sorts. A dove sat calmly in the shallow cave, cold, razor-sharp raindrops pelted the rock, the waves threatening to bury the rock and flood the tiny refuge. All around the tiny dove and as far as the eye could see there was turmoil, yet the dove nestled down in the shallow cave that God had provided in the midst of the storm, confident that when the storm passed he would be fine. That, my friends, is the ultimate picture of peace, of being still and knowing, of trusting God.

You see, the ability to be still and know that He is God is to fully trust in the throes of any situation or circumstance life tosses our way.  Stuff happens in life, does it not? Let go and let God is a statement one hears frequently in Christian circles; it is not as trite a statement as it may seem. The meaning of the statement is centered within the words of Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know…”

Where is your place of refuge and peace where you can let go and let God, where you can be still and know? I picture myself in the cave with the dove. My place of peace is the ocean; the ocean is at the same time a peaceful and frightening place, but it is where I am closest to God, able to drink in and fill myself up with His majesty and His power. The place where I can at the same time be in awe of Him and humbled by Him. The place where I can fully surrender my cares, my worries, the burdens of this life and let them be washed away by the waves that ebb and flow. The place where I am most aware that I am in control of little in my life, yet I can trust everything to His care. If you have not ever experienced letting go, experienced being still and knowing, I encourage you to do so. Find your space and place to be still…..

Are You Available…..?

I work with a Chaplain. We have had some good conversations, shared thoughts on theology, you know, the kind of conversations one would expect to have with a Chaplain. I have never seen her in action other than to say the blessing at the beginning of a meeting,  but I don’t doubt that she does a great job with our elderly patients. One day as we were talking she made a comment about pastors who don’t have the appropriate education and credentials.

In our world the almighty degree has become the gold standard for credibility. Why? I understand that there are professions where a degree, a solid base of knowledge is warranted; the medical profession, for one. But I also believe there is room for all manner of people, with all levels of education in most businesses; the pastorate being one of them. In my life I have heard pastors who have never darkened the doorway of a college deliver some spot on God-inspired messages and others who have spent years in seminary who don’t have a clue. Who’s to say because you have the appropriate letters behind your name that you are any more qualified than another who does not? I know full time musicians who have the degrees to prove their talent, and I know self-taught musicians who can play circles around someone who has a framed piece of paper hanging on their wall declaring their talent and aptitude. I am in the medical profession, and through the years have taught new employees, or those wanting to enter the profession and I have always said I can teach any skill, but I cannot teach compassion. There are medical professionals out there who do not possess one ounce of empathy for their patients, and there are those with wisdom born of years in the field and a double dose of compassion. Sometimes degrees don’t matter.

Yeshua (Jesus) was the Messiah when He walked the earth; Simon Peter, the Rock on whom the “church” was established, Moses, the adopted son of a slave woman led the Hebrews out of Egypt, Matthew the tax collector and author of the first book in the New Testament; all people whose names we recognize today, thousands of years after the fact, none of whom had the appropriate degrees.

Ephesians 4:11-13 says, “Furthermore, he gave some people as emissaries, some as prophets, some as proclaimers of the Good News, and some as shepherds and teachers. 12 Their task is to equip God’s people for the work of service that builds the body of the Messiah, 13 until we all arrive at the unity implied by trusting and knowing the Son of God, at full manhood, at the standard of maturity set by the Messiah’s perfection” (The Complete Jewish Bible) In a nutshell, God chooses those He wants to do His work on the earth until we all are on the same page. Nothing is said about what degrees are necessary, the schools one should attend, or the like. If God is doing the “equipping” that should suffice.

In my life I have talked to lots of people in the course of a workday, in my personal life, in churches I have attended, places I have gone, and very often conversations turn toward the spiritual. I don’t know why, but I have come to believe that God has “sent” them, so to speak, that our meeting isn’t accidental, that God has used me to say something to that person he/she needed to hear. Most of the time I am not aware of what that message may be, and sometimes during further conversations the person will say, “I was thinking about what you said the other day”, or “I really needed to hear what you said the last time we talked”. Is there anything special about me? Not as far as I can tell. I bumble through life just like everyone else.

What I am is available, and God is looking for available. Some of those God called down through the centuries didn’t realize they were available; Saul, whose name was changed to Paul, was knocked off a donkey when Yeshua appeared to him and “equipped” Paul for ministry. Now whether the story is allegory or not is beside the point, I am of the opinion that this part of the story is likely another word picture for us to better grasp the meaning of Paul’s conversion. As a side note, within the degreed ministry there is a lot of controversy as to whether Paul was knocked off a donkey or a horse, if he was riding any animal at all, and if Yeshua (Jesus) actually spoke to him in an audible voice, etc. Is it really necessary to focus on donkey vs horse, audible vs spiritual voice? It’s a good way to miss the point, however! The point of the story was that Saul was doing his best to persecute those who called themselves “Christians” and God decided He had better use for Saul as Paul. Knocking Saul off his donkey was necessary to get his attention to strongly encourage him to be a bit more available! Paul, though an educated man, was sent to teach Gentile and Jew alike about Yeshua, of which, in the beginning he knew little about!

Ministry, the gifts we are endowed with, is about using those gifts in whatever capacity they are needed, whether it be a kind word someone going through a tough time needs to hear, an arm around the shoulders of someone who is grieving, a meal or visit to a shut-in, or a worldwide ministry teaching thousands. Ministry is also this silver-haired, beaten-up-but-not-knocked-out-by-life nurse/ordained minister who wants people to know that Yeshua will meet them wherever they are, in whatever condition they are, on any given day, and journey with them, loving, and accepting them always.

So often we only think of ministry in terms of those who stand in a pulpit, those we see on television preaching before the masses, but ministry happens wherever God’s work is being done. I have told people many times in my life, we never know in what way we have touched another person; someone we know very well, or a stranger in the checkout line at Wal-Mart that needed a kind word or a smile. Do I always get it right? Nope! But, little by little I am trying everyday to do a better job of being available, and just being aware that people need God in small and big ways. We are all called to minister; He calls some to be pastors, and teachers, some to mentor, and others to prophesy. What is your gift? Better question; are you available to use that gift…..?

Contradiction? I Beg to Differ…..

Have you ever noticed that the Bible is full of contradictions? One disciple’s recounting of Yeshua’s (Jesus’s) life on the earth is different than another’s. Paul and Peter were at odds with one another at times, James, Yeshua’s brother, was at odds with both Peter and Paul during much of his ministry, and John, the disciple who was considered Yeshua’s closest friend and confidante had yet another view of Yeshua’s life and message. Why is that?

The scriptures as we know them were transcribed and interpreted by men. Contradictions abound because men interpreted Yeshua’s message and ministry from their perspective back in the day, and we still do.

Yeshua chose very different and interesting people as disciples, whether they knew Yeshua personally, or later caught the fire of His message. Peter, the disciple who always seemed to be zigging when he should have been zagging, the disciple who rushed in where angels feared to tread, was a fisherman, a common man, often brash, and rough around the edges. Peter was called to spread Yeshua’s message to the Jew and Gentile alike, however he believed there was a distinction between the Jew and Gentile in God’s eyes. He also believed “works” – the things we do to prove our faith and conversion –  were a necessary part of salvation. Peter screwed up pretty often and maybe he thought he could “undo” some of the times he screwed up by “works”. 

James was Yeshua’s half brother and grew up with Yeshua in a Jewish family and community. It wasn’t until after the resurrection that James believed his half brother to actually “be” the Messiah. Imagine being one of Yeshua’s half siblings; I bet it was more than just a little difficult to believe that your brother was the promised “Messiah”! James believed Yeshua’s message was intended only for the Jew and stressed “works” as the evidence of faith, the importance of living a disciplined life and following the law. In some ways I see James’s dogmatic belief that Yeshua’s message was only meant for the Jew, and the proof of discipleship reflected in the need for rigid discipline, alive and well in many churches today. Substitute “saved” for “Jew” and the result is the doctrine of many.

Paul was a Pharisee, educated, refined, and caught the fire, so to speak, after Yeshua’s life on earth ended. Prior to his conversion he spent a fair amount of time criticizing the new “Christians” to the point that he believed in the death sentence for the heresy of claiming Yeshua the Messiah.  Paul’s  ministry was primarily to the Gentile, and his message was a message of love and acceptance by God, trust with little emphasis on “works” and he believed there to be no distinction between Jew and Gentile in the eyes of God. Paul had persecuted God’s people for belief in His Son, God Incarnate. How do you atone for that with works? You can’t, and so I believe Paul’s ministry was borne of his forgiveness and acceptance by God in spite of his former behavior. 

Today, as then, there are Peter’s, Paul’s, and James’s preaching and teaching their interpretation of the scriptures. How God has revealed Himself to us colors and forms our interpretation of who He is. Each of those He calls have a different ministry; to bring God to others, and very often it is in the way He manifested Himself to them and within the confines of their unique personalities and bents. In this way God reaches ALL people.

Is one interpretation more “right” than another? I don’t think so. We interpret life through the lens of our own beliefs, values, and experiences. Some people are more comfortable within the confines of dogma and rigid doctrine, others are comfortable outside the box. Neither is right or wrong, good or bad, fact or fiction. God meets us where we are and walks our journey with us, revealing Himself to us as He sees fit; sometimes within the confines of our comfort zone, sometimes not so much.

We are not required to be perfect, acceptable, clean, sinless – pick an adjective – in order to have a relationship, or ministry for that matter, with God. Let that digest for just a moment. Maybe you have never heard that before, never had someone say it is ok to be who you are with God and not be afraid of being rejected. There is a place for you in His Kingdom, and the truth is that we all are called to bring God to others.

Yeshua hung with the ones who knew full well perfection was nowhere to be seen on the horizon. He was criticized loudly and often for His choice of friends and disciples. If we believe Yeshua was God clothed in human flesh, God incarnate, how do we reconcile perfection preferring the drunkard, the prostitute, the tax collector, the fisherman, the lowest of the low to spend His time with? Wouldn’t it make more sense to spend His time with the leaders of the Synagogue? They were the keepers of the law, after all, the ones who spent their days in prayer, those in charge of pointing out the glaring imperfection of the masses; perfection should sup with humanity’s offering of perfection. Alas, He did not, so much so that Yeshua spoke openly, loudly, and often about His disdain for the seemingly “perfect”.

Contradictions in scripture? Yeshua was the biggest contradiction to ever grace the face of the earth! Perfection choosing to spend His limited days on earth with any and all who knew full well they were unacceptable to the world. Why? Because they knew He accepted them, as they were, bedraggled, bruised by life, bloodied by circumstance, broken seemingly beyond repair, and anything but perfect. And, in turn for being accepted they went forth to bring God to others as He had been revealed to each of them through Yeshua. Peter, James, Paul, Mary of Magdala, you, me, the list goes on.

That kind of acceptance is powerful and transforms lives. We don’t need a laundry list of our flaws, faults, and foibles. We don’t need reminders that we screw up daily, have taken wrong turns, made bad decisions. We need Perfection’s stamp of approval, not of our behavior, rather we need to know that we are accepted and loved in spite of our behavior. The truth is we have it, we’ve always had it, now it’s time to embrace His acceptance and bring God to others in the very way He revealed Himself to us……

Keeping Christ in Christmas…..

For many Americans, the Thanksgiving holiday weekend marks the beginning of the Christmas holiday. Christmas shopping begins in earnest, the Christmas tree is set up, our thoughts turn toward Christmas parties, joy, Santa Claus, and for believers, the Christmas Story.

The reality is, however, the Christmas Story believers around the world celebrate is just that; a story. Historically, there is no evidence whatsoever that any of the story we hold so dear is anything but myth. In fact, much of the celebration we have come to know as Christmas had its origins in pagan worship and practices, some quite brutal and horrific. Knowing this, nevertheless, we too, set up our Christmas tree, hung the stockings from the mantel and lovingly set up the Nativity.

The first ornament placed on our tree is a hidden ornament; a metal “nail” hung on a sturdy branch near the trunk of the tree hidden within the branches. The nail is the first placed to remind us that Christ would later die nailed to a tree for the salvation of all who would believe, and hidden since its meaning is within our hearts. For me, the essence of Christmas has nothing to do with the commercialism that has come to define the season, nor the myth of its origins; the essence of Christmas is the knowledge that I am loved by the Creator of the Universe to the extent that He was willing to sacrifice Himself, clothed in the flesh of the humanity He created in order to reconcile flawed and fallible humanity with His perfection.

As I decorated the rest of the tree, many of the ornaments hold special meaning for me, and for us as a family. Some are angels, some in honor of meaningful events and people in our lives, and some in remembrance of the reason we choose to celebrate. I have ornaments for the names of God and Yeshua; Prince of Peace, Mighty God, Wonderful Counselor, Everlasting Father. As I hung the Prince of Peace ornament my thoughts turned to peace. Would there ever really be peace on earth? I can’t answer that question.

The very life of Yeshua brought division to the world and in so doing His life was antithetical to the concept of peace, and yet He is hailed as the Prince of Peace. Regardless of how any of us may feel about Yeshua, the fact remains His birth, life and death split time. No other religious or spiritual figure has ever done the same.

Will we see peace in our lifetime? Globally it’s not likely. The reality is, however, that peace begins and ends with each one of us. Peace begins in our hearts and projects outward from there. Without inward peace there will never be peace in our lives, our families, our workplace, our communities. Like begets like. Strife in a heart begets more strife and spreads outward. A heart seated in peace begets peace, and that peace will spread outward, as well. Peace will never be born of strife, of hatred, of war. Romans 12:18 says, “If possible, and to the extent that it depends on you, live in peace with all people. “(The Complete Jewish Bible) Peace begins with each one of us. We cannot afford to wait until a day when someone else, a leader, spiritual or otherwise, mandates peace; that is not going to happen. The Christmas season, in spite of its brutal and pagan origins, is a season when the thoughts of many turn to peace; making peace with themselves, within their families, and the desire to mend broken relationships.

Historically, there is no evidence that any of the story we have come to believe as “The Christmas Story” is true; the virgin birth (the Hebrew term Bible translators have coined “virgin” simply means “young woman”), a babe born in a stable and placed in a manager, three wise men and the census decreed by Caesar Augustus that led to the birth of “the Christ child” in Bethlehem are all rooted in myth. That knowledge, however, does not deter me from the celebration of Yeshua, the One whose birth, life and death, split time, the Prince of Peace, the One who would sacrifice His blood to reconcile fallible man to Himself. For me, Christ will remain in Christmas…..

Abba, I Belong to You…..

Several years ago I read a book called Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. I also had the privilege of attending a couple of his seminars and meeting him. His books, and the messages he taught, resonated within me then and today. Brennan was a forthright, gifted writer, speaker, and very flawed lover of God. His message was simple; God loves us as we are and not as we should be. Let that sink in a minute before reading further.

Brennan held spiritual retreats where he taught contemplative spirituality and centered prayer; he taught people how to be quiet and listen to God speak His love into their spirits. At one of the seminars I attended, Brennan spoke about each of us being a child of “Abba”. Abba is an Aramaic word meaning “Father” and the connotation is very intimate.  Galatians 4:6 says, ….God has sent forth into our hearts the Spirit of his Son, the Spirit who cries out, “Abba!” (The Complete Jewish Bible)

For the vast majority of my life I have never felt worthy; worthy of love or acceptance from anyone, especially God. Nevermind being forgiven for “sin”. If I couldn’t believe that God loved and accepted me, how was I to expect that He would forgive my “sins”? And then Brennan Manning happened. At one of the seminars he had us close our eyes and quietly speak the words “Abba I belong to You”. He said each morning when we wake, and before we went to sleep at night, to settle into a quiet state of being before God and simply repeat that phrase a few times. One day the reality of that simple phrase would take root in our spirits; it did for me.

Life was not good for me at that time and it continued to roll downhill gaining speed. Nonetheless, a simple phrase reverberated within the core of my being helping me to see myself through the eyes of my Abba. God and I have not always been on the best of terms because of the valleys of my past I was drug through, however, since internalizing that my Abba loves me as I AM and not as I SHOULD be, I have known He has never, and will never, step away from me. That is the “furious love of God’ that Brennan spoke of.

Do you know, really KNOW, that you are loved with the “furious love” of the Creator of all? If not, I would challenge you to quiet yourself before God and repeat that simple phrase, “Abba, I belong to You”, as you are waking in the morning and as you slip into peaceful sleep for the night. Throughout the day when life’s stressors begin to mount, silently speak these words into your being. They are not “magic” words by any means, and some have argued they are a “mantra” of sorts; those who participate are dabbling in the black arts and so on, but that is not the case. It is a reminder that we are loved and accepted as we are.

If you think about the “self-talk” we all have running through our brains all day, everyday, most of that dialogue is negative. The self-talk most of us hears tells us we are not good enough, we don’t measure up, we should be thinner, smarter, have more money, be a better mother, father, daughter, employee, friend, spouse; the list is endless. But the reality is that we ARE accepted and loved despite all of the “shoulds” we beat ourselves up with. Will the knowledge that you are Abba’s beloved erase the negative self-talk? No, but it gives us another option. When we find ourselves berating ourselves with negatives we can remind ourselves that there is One who does not need for us to be “better” or “perfect” to be accepted and loved. We are the ones who berate and belittle Abba’s beloved. Our negative self-talk then permeates the thoughts we have about others and we see others through the lens of negativity resulting in dislike, criticism, and ultimately hatred.

Over the years I have read negative reviews from those who do not appreciate the teachings and wisdom of Brennan Manning. There are those within the church, denominational or otherwise, that believe Brennan was a heretic; a wolf in sheep’s clothing because he believed we could be accepted and loved as we are. The negative nellies claim his message was dangerous because it was egocentric; apparently we don’t dwell on our sinful nature enough, don’t flagellate ourselves for a respectable enough amount of time for being human, for not measuring up.

I am fully aware of my sinful nature, of the “sins” I commit on a daily basis, but as I recall the Bible says that God is faithful to forgive us of our sins, and that He has loved us before we breathed our first breath. The knowledge that I am loved regardless of my humanity and all its flaws and warts empowers me to be a little more patient with my fellow man, a bit more tolerant when met with the flaws of others.

I am a ragamuffin, and I am loved with a furious love by my Abba. The “shoulds” and “thou shalt nots” have fallen to the wayside; they are no longer my focus. Rather I choose to focus on my Abba, and the tender love and acceptance He offers me in my fallible humanity. That change of focus has led me into a closer relationship with my Creator; a journey of love and acceptance of myself and all others. There is plenty of room for you and others on the journey……..

We don’t say I love you enough…..

Seems like a simple enough thing to do; tell others we love them. But the reality is, we don’t do it. We don’t do it enough, or at all, in some cases. Why is that, do you suppose?

Let’s face it, we are too busy, too preoccupied with the inane, with making a living, with the kids, too busy watching sports, or checking our Facebook, emails, Snaps, or any myriad of electronic communications. I’m as guilty as anyone else. Recently I have been making an effort to be “present” when other people are around; to attend to the task at hand instead of multi-tasking. And let’s call it what it is; scrolling through a phone while attempting to have a conversation with another is just plain rude.

I was sitting in my chiropractor’s office the other day and looked around the waiting room; everyone except for me was scrolling through their Facebook or emails, or both and that is typical. Check it out the next time you are in the company of others.

The art of meaningful conversation is in the throes of death, too. We don’t talk enough; I mean really talk and connect with other human beings. When was the last time you had an intimate conversation with your spouse, a close friend, your kids? A conversation that involved depth, a vulnerable conversation that brought feelings to the surface, and not just an exchange of information? A conversation without one or both of you scrolling through Facebook? We have become “ok” with knowing people on a very superficial level, and that’s not really “ok”. How can we truly care for another human being if we don’t “know” them; know what makes them happy, sad, what makes them cry, what causes fear, anxiety, what their hopes, dreams and goals hidden in the depth of their soul may be? News flash; knowing another human being is more than a compilation of Facebook posts and meme’s. Electronic communication has robbed us of our “humanness”, of caring, really caring, for others.

I have thought about this a lot, and I have concluded the two are very  much related. It is my belief that the more “electronic” we get, the less human we become. We are no longer concerned that we may hurt the feelings of others, or that we “connect” with others at all, for that matter. Texts and emails are so impersonal, a brief exchange of pertinent information; no more, no less. When we are upset we often communicate in a far more harsh tone than if we were delivering the same message in person. Ever been mad about something or at someone and decided to fire off an email or text? Was it full of capital letters and exclamation points? Anger or frustration expressed in capital letters. It’s kind of dumb, actually, but it gets the point across! Text and email screaming and fist-shaking!

What if electronic communication had been invented and widely used in Yeshua’s (Jesus) day? Can you imagine the Sermon on the Mount, or perhaps the Last Supper with those present scrolling through their Facebook accounts while Yeshua taught the principles of life and love, or was attempting to give direction to His disciples for the days following the crucifixion?

My husband and I got married a year ago. At our wedding one of our best friends gave a toast that ended with, “we don’t say I love you enough”. I was blubbering by that time, and I like to pretend I’m real badass and tough as nails; I’m not. Keep that between you and me! His dad had taught him that very simple, yet profound truth; the best kind of truth. Since that day I have thought a lot about that statement and how it affected me. I am trying to remember, making a conscious effort to say, “I love you” as often as I can to family, friends, those who are special and close to my heart; not as a trite phrase uttered as absent-mindedly as we do “how are you”, or “keep in touch” but to truly communicate the love I have for those people. I have purposed in my heart to speak those three important words more often because we never know when those we love, or we, may breathe our last. We assume those we love will be with us forever; never thinking about the day we will lose that special person(s) in our lives. Those people who have cared for us, nurtured us, prayed for us, comforted us, those who have encouraged us, offered wisdom at just the right moment, or whose simple presence made us feel safe.

Too often, the very words “I love you” have become little more than a spoken “hello”, “good-bye”, or hastily sent emoticon, instead of a powerful statement of unconditional, steadfast solidarity. When did that happen? Marriages, families, and friends relationships end every day, often over issues that could be resolved if the parties involved would talk to each other and share the hurts in their hearts that led to the break-ups. And I often wonder when  I say, “I love you” to those I love if they really internalize all that phrase means; I don’t say it nonchalantly, and we shouldn’t. When I have heard “I love you” or seen it in text from others and then a bump in the road ends the relationship I question the other’s depth of “love”; wonder if those three words were just that: words. Electronic communication has trivialized the importance of three of the most powerful words in the human language.

A crazy thing happened on the way to reestablishing my “humanness”; my heart has softened. I now make a conscious effort to think before I speak, send an email, or text so that I monitor the words I use, my tone of voice, and use of capital letters and punctuation. I am more cognizant of the impact my words may have on others. I am less demanding that others attain perfection in my eyes and allow them to be human and all that means. I have a long way to go, but as with changing any behavior, recognizing the problem is the first step.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son……… God loved us so much that He spoke His love for each one of us in the person of Yeshua (Jesus); God incarnate who clothed His love in human flesh. We truly don’t say, “I love you” enough…..