Who I Am

I’m a people-watcher. When we go out, I love to observe people… how they act, what they say and the expressions that play across their faces. And to be truthful, I sometimes eavesdrop. I can’t help it… If I’m in the grocery store and someone is talking on their cell phone within my vicinity, I’m going to listen. Because that’s what my ears are made for… hearing what people say. It was Thursday, though, that I felt pretty upset by my people observation skills. Because within the span of a couple of hours, I received more ugly looks than I can count. Oh, for various reasons, which lead me to believe that I must be the worst driver in history. One man looked at me so angrily, he even shook his head in a curt way, as if I were going to plow right over top of him and his two daughters. This happened as I was pulling away from a drive-through window and I can assure you I was not going to run him over. I stopped as soon as I saw him, which was at least 10 or 15 feet away. At any rate, my feelings were hurt. And the look I received didn’t produce any loving vibes toward the man. In fact, I felt quite the opposite… I felt attacked and that the situation (or the ugly look) was uncalled for. At any rate, I’m getting off track here.

The point is, I love to watch people. Especially teenage girls. I think this is probably because I was uncomfortable in my own skin growing up. When I was young, I always wanted to be somebody else because I was not happy with who I was. And I wonder about the young girls I see today. I wonder if they’re comfortable in their own skin, or if they want to be somebody else, too. I would venture to say, it’s the latter. Because what I notice about packs of young girls, is that they look the same. They wear their hair in a similar fashion, their clothing could be interchangeable, and they talk alike. They usually prefer the same music and have the same affectations. Basically, they prove the saying, “You are who your friends are.” And I believe that saying to be very true. I think you do become like who you spend the most time with. Because I lived it out for most of my formative years. When I was in my early twenties, a person pointed out to me that I was like a chameleon, changing my personality to fit who I was with. At the time, I felt anger at the observation, but now that I’m older I see that it’s true. And even now, I find a residual trace of longing within me. See, I want to be liked. By everyone. And so, I may feel out the crowd, and may or may not say something, depending on who I’m with. And so this behavior begs the question, “Am I still uncomfortable in my own skin?”

You know, the Bible is filled with conversations between God and His people. I can scan the pages of Scripture and eavesdrop on conversations that took place long ago, and not even feel bad for doing it (unlike recently, when my ears perked up at a restaurant as I listened to the four women behind me). And I think that in doing this… searching God’s word, that is… I will come to feel comfortable in my own skin. I think the more I listen in on conversations of old, the more I will find out about who I am today. Because what God had to say to His people, and what He felt for them so long ago, hasn’t changed… because He is the same. And so, through a conversation that took place between God and Moses, I learn a lot about God… and a lot about me. It’s through their banter that I find out just who I am to God. This is what I overheard:

The LORD spoke to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend. And Moses pleaded with God, “Now therefore, I pray, if I have found grace in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know You and that I may find grace in Your sight.” God answered, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest. For you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name.” Moses went a step further… he asked that God please show him His glory. And God allowed it. God said, “Here is a place by Me, and you shall stand on the rock and so it shall be that while My glory passes by that I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with My hand…” And so, Moses rose early in the morning to meet with God on Mount Sinai. God descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and He proclaimed to Moses His very nature. (Exodus 33)

God spoke to Moses. He stood with Moses and revealed things about His nature to him. Because they were friends. God said, “I speak with him face to face, even plainly, and not in dark sayings; and he sees the form of the LORD.” Numbers 12:8. See, Moses spent time with God. He had a real relationship with Him, and took the the time to know God and what He cared about. And what was important to God became important to Moses. And isn’t that how it is for us today… with those that we have intimate relationships with? Don’t we spend time with our friends, talking to them and listening to what they have to say? Don’t we care about what they do? And so, from this conversation between two friends, God and Moses, I see this is exactly what He wants from us today… our friendship. In addition to everything else that He is to us, He wants to be our friend. And it’s here in this truth that I can become comfortable in my own skin. It’s here that I can find my identity.

You know, I feel for the young girls I see today. Because I remember. I know how hard it is growing up, and wanting to be liked by everyone. I know what it’s like to run after everything or everyone searching for an identity. Because that’s what I did for so very long. I just didn’t like who I was. Even today, there are things I wish I could change. But you know, I have a good Friend and He has my back… He has me covered. He loves me and cares about what I do, and He knows me by name. It’s in God that I find my true identity. And if I ever forget… if I begin to feel insecure and that I don’t measure up, He will comfort me. He will remind me of just who I am… in Him.

It’s Enough

Baptism

Eighteen days ago, I had doubt about what I was doing. It came on the heels of writing about struggle, and an old friend’s comment gave me a moment’s pause. He said that he didn’t feel that he was at the end of his rope at all, and in fact, was very blessed and excited through the journey. And so, I had doubts about writing about all the struggle. Because the last thing I want to do is discourage someone, and so I questioned myself, “Am I doing the right thing?” But then I remembered… that was the whole point of the blog. I want to tell the truth about God & me, so that someone will know who needs to know, that it’s not all glory and light and beauty and roses and sunshine. There is struggle and hardship and darkness at times… but yes, there is light. After the darkness, comes the light.

See, I never wanted to write, and I certainly never wanted to be a blogger… much less a blogger about God! And yet this past February I felt compelled to. And what I see is that within 42 posts I have painted the picture of a Christian woman fighting the fight of faith. Only, the woman is me and the struggle has been very real. Through this blog, I have been honest about the struggles and questions I’ve encountered in my trek towards Him. Through this blog, I have examined my heart, and found some things inside that don’t belong there. And it’s through this blog that I believe God has brought me full circle. Or at least brought it to my attention that I’ve come full circle. I’m right back to where I started… just a few years later and in a new locale. And today, what I see most clearly is that perhaps I am the very one I’m writing for. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph… I think I’m that someone who needs to know. Because through the comment from a fellow blogger, I think my eyes have finally been opened in a way they never have been before. See, the light does come after the darkness.

You know, if you want to hear from God, He’ll speak to you. However, you must be alert as His voice may come through the mouths of those closest to you. And if you’re not really listening, you may miss what He has to say. This is what happened to me this past week. Basically, I heard the same thing from three different people… “stop focusing on what you’ve not done well, and think about what you’re doing right,” and “you’re too hard on yourself,” and “you beat yourself up.” After the third occasion, I faltered and asked my friend if that’s what was coming across through the blogs. I feared they sounded like complaint rather than exhortation. And so, I once again doubted that I was doing the right thing with my very public struggle. I brushed it off mid-week, but after reading a comment from a fellow blogger on Friday, the light came on. He said, “Pretty rough on yourself.” Wow, my eyes snapped open then. Fortunately, God used another soul to get my attention, because I didn’t hear Him loud enough through my loved ones. It was after reading that comment that I felt it in my heart, “It’s enough!” And God meant enough on so many levels.

You know, I have been beating myself up, struggling through this journey with God. But the truth is, it doesn’t have to be as much of a struggle as it has been. Despite the fact that there will always be obstacles and trials, the struggle I’ve had does not have to be a part of the fight. Because I’ve been fighting myself. See, I want to please God. I really do. I want to find Him… I want to be near Him… I want to hear from Him… I want to talk to Him… and I want to love Him. But I just don’t think some of what I do is good enough. I compare myself to the modern day greats (Francis Chan, Beth Moore, Billy Graham, Chuck Swindoll – and the list goes on and on and on), and I feel that I fall pitifully short. And so through works and trying to keep up with others, it seems as though I’ve been trying to save myself. But that battle was won long ago. And you know what else… God knows my heart. He knows that my striving has been in an effort to reach Him. He knows I’ve been seeking Him and drawing near to Him the best way I know how to. But what I’ve just realized this past week is, if the last thing I ever do again… for God… is to seek Him wholeheartedly through His Son Jesus Christ, then it will be enough. It’s enough.

There’s a lot we can do for God’s kingdom… especially if we belong to a church. There are numerous activities, a myriad of studies and fellowships and outings… and there are times we beat ourselves up thinking that we need to do them all. We feel like we have to be there every single time the door opens for every single thing… we feel we have to volunteer for every activity and donate to every cause. But if we feel we have to, then that may be guilt talking. That may be a works-based mentality creeping in on us. Because if we do something because we think we have to, then we’ve missed the big picture. Without that one essential piece, then every single thing we do for God will never be enough.

Do you know what that essential piece is? Do you know what God really wants from us? He wants a real relationship with us through His Son, Jesus Christ. He simply wants our hearts…

“So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm.” Joel 2:13

The one thing we can do to please God is give Him our heart… a heart full of belief that God is who He says He is, and that Jesus is who God says He is. Believe in our hearts that God in fact sacrificed His own Son for our sins, and that He raised Him from the dead. Believe that what Jesus did for us is enough. He accomplished what we could never do. All our works will never, ever be enough for God. But Jesus… He’s enough.

Yes, God gave me a word this past week. Oh so patiently, He said, “That’s enough, Pam.” Yes, it’s been a struggle, but it does not have to be. And it’s time to depart from the valley in which I’ve been dwelling, because I’ve spent enough time there. God says enough. See, He knows all about my striving and my works. But He also knows my heart. And that’s just it… He knows me because my heart belongs to Him, because through His grace He saved me. At the very least, I have been washed by the blood. And God says, “It’s enough.”

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

The Engagement Period

“But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Mark 10:6-9

I remember the days before my wedding. A lot of preparation and excitement and eager anticipation. And the day of, I wanted to look my best because I was soon to be joined to the one I love… as one flesh. In the early days, before we were even engaged, he was the one I wanted to be with. ALL THE TIME. At work, I thought about Him. As soon as I got home, I’d call him and arrange a time to meet. I’d shower and prep and fly to him and not leave him until I had to. We talked about everything and I would hold his hand. I would shower him with kisses, and hug him as tight as I could. I clung to him afraid to let go. See, I held fast to the one I loved.

Then came the wedding, and days of bliss followed. But then, reality set in. I realized that a relationship with the one I love took a little work. It was not all sunshine and roses. In fact, many days were like thunderstorms and thorns. We had to adjust to each other. And honestly, there was a time or two that I didn’t know if we would make it. But thankfully, we’re together today… our bond stronger than ever. Our relationship has endured the test of time, and I cannot imagine being apart from him. For He’s my husband… we are as one.

So… what about God? He tells me that He is my Husband. Can I honestly say I have felt the same about Him? And what about Jesus? The church is the bride of Christ, which makes Him the Bridegroom. So have I eagerly run to Jesus in the same manner I flew to my earthly mate? Have I wholly devoted myself to Him, as I have done with my tangible husband? As I burned for my fiancé so many years back, have I been overtaken by an all consuming fire for Jesus? Because the reality is, this is our engagement period and I should be consumed by Him. This is the time for getting to know Him. And until that glorious Day when He returns, it will continue to be the time for getting to know Him. I should be pursuing Him every bit as much as I pursued my husband if not more so. Because I made a commitment to Him when I received Him into my heart. For I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I committed to Him until that Day (2 Timothy 1:12).

You know, Jesus is there waiting for me to turn to Him. The fact is He is my first Love, but over time my heart grew cold. Because I allowed myself to be seduced by the world and all she has to offer. See, the world beckons to her lovers every day and if we’re not careful, we’ll be unfaithful to the One we’re betrothed to. Because the lure of status, the demands of self, the desire for material gain, and the cravings for earthly pleasures are hard to resist. “For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God…” 2 Timothy 3:2-4.

God demands our loyalty and undivided love. We should love Him with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind. But is all of our heart available to offer Him? The fact is, most of us have been wooed away by other lovers. Most of us are actively committing adultery against the One who loves us the most. That means we’re harlots. And God has stern words of warning for harlots. However, His mercies are new every morning. Each day we have another chance to be faithful to the One who is Faithful and True. We simply must choose to nurture our relationship with Him by giving Him the attention He so deserves. This is the only way we can get to know Him… the relationship.

For quite some time now, I’ve been on a mission to know God and what He requires and expects of me. But now I see that I’ve been going about it all wrong. Because I’ve been trying to work out a formula to follow God’s commands. So dogmatic have I been about my regimen, I’ve left no room for the spontaneity of a relationship with Him. And because I’ve forgotten the simplicity of relationship, walking and talking and listening, I’ve bypassed His love! Because I’ve been focused on the routine. And you know, love should be the foundation of our relationship. And it is on His part for I know He loves me. Christ is the proof of His love. But what about my love? How can I love Him with all my heart, and all my soul and all my mind when my love is limited, having been doled out on other lovers?

We’ve all heard, “If you love something set it free; if it returns its yours forever, if not, it was never meant to be.” You know, it’s kind of like that with God, because He leaves it up to us as to whether or not we’ll return to our first Love. The decision is ours to make. Will we return to Him? Or will we doggedly pursue other lovers… false lovers… lovers who offer unspeakable pleasures…. lovers we seek relentlessly and passionately, but never lay claim to. Although it’s our nature to turn from Him, we’re fortunate in that it’s His nature to call us back. Throughout the pages of Scripture He calls out, “Return to me…” And He does the same today. See, no matter what we do, God will always love us and He’ll always quietly call us back to Him. Although He sets us free in that He allows us to make our own choices, He will never utterly let us go. Because He remains faithful to the unfaithful. Because He loves us more than we could possibly imagine.

And so, I will rest in the prayer of Jesus. His prayer was that He would be in us, and the Father in Him… complete unity… like a marriage. My prayer is that I will forsake my false lovers, so that I may return to Him with my whole heart. My prayer is that through a real relationship with God, I will come to know Him. And in knowing Him, I will love Him… my Betrothed. With all my heart, and with all my soul and with all my mind. And today is the day to get to know Him… for it’s our engagement period.

I in them and you in meso that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” John 17:23-26

 

A Love Story

“I remember you, the kindness of your youth, the love of your betrothal, when you went after Me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown.” Jeremiah 2:2

He said, “I know you by name, and you have found grace in My sight.” So she asked Him, “Show me Your way, that I may know You. Please show me Your glory…” And so, He lovingly took her by the hand and led her through the valley, through the desert… His presence ever before her. He brought her into a bountiful country, to eat of its fruit and its goodness. But when she entered, she defiled the land. She committed two evils… she forsook her Love as she took to her bosom many lovers. She conceived and bore Him children of harlotry. He named them No Mercy and Not my People. He said to them, “Bring charges against your mother, for she is not My wife, nor am I her Husband!” He said, “Let her put away her harlotries from her sight.”

And so, He turned His face away from her for a time, as she chased after her many lovers. And although she pursued them, she never overtook them. Yes, she sought them, but she never laid claim to them. And so, she remembered. She said, “I will go and return to my first Husband. For then it was better for me than it is now.” And He took her back. Although she forgot Him and went after her lovers, He allured her back to Him. He spoke comfort to her. In that day, she sang… as in the days of her youth… as in the days of her early betrothal. And it became as it was before… she again called Him her Husband.

He betrothed her to Him forever… He betrothed her to Him in righteousness, in justice, in lovingkindness, and in mercy. He is the One who betrothed her to Him… in faithfulness. He lovingly told her, “You shall know the LORD.”

**taken from the books of Exodus, Jeremiah and Hosea

More than mercy

But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ Matthew 9:13

A year ago, I was so impassioned by Micah 6:8 that I felt compelled to write a book about it. At that time, I didn’t remember having read it before. But that I did, as evidenced by my own handwriting from August 30, 2010. However, I was using a different version of the Bible then. In 2010, I wrote down: He has told you what is good and what it is the LORD requires of you: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God. And this sounds somewhat different than the version that I’m most familiar with, which says to love mercy. It was not long ago that I discovered the difference, and was prompted to dig deeper. Because through the book of Hosea, I see there’s more to mercy than meets the eye. I see that mercy goes beyond kindness and goodness and forgiveness. And the book of Hosea paints the picture for us.

God’s chosen people were the Israelites, and He spoke to them through His prophets. Throughout the years, God’s people left Him again and again. They turned their back on Him over and over, and every time God had mercy on them. God loyally loved His chosen people. However, they definitely suffered the consequences of their actions more than one time. God spoke to Hosea, and told him to marry a harlot. And so Hosea took Gomer as his wife and had children. I find it fascinating that God told Hosea to name his daughter Lo-Ruhamah (means No Mercy) and his second son Lo-Ammi (Not My People). This was judgment from the Judge. God was saying that He will no longer have mercy on His chosen people… and furthermore, they were not His people and He would not be their God.

God’s people were being punished for spiritual adultery. Despite His rescuing them from slavery in Egypt, they soon forgot Him when they reached the promised land. They adapted to the surrounding peoples’ ways and accepted false gods as their own. And God called them harlots. He uses Hosea and Gomer to depict His own relationship with His chosen people. See, Gomer was not faithful to Hosea. But God told him to go again and love her, the woman who is loved by a lover and is committing adultery… just like the children of Israel, who looked to other gods. This is called idolatry… and God called His people harlots. But the good news is God promised to restore Israel. The good news is God told Hosea to go and retrieve Gomer, even after she took lovers. The good news is Hosea was faithful to Gomer, even though she wasn’t faithful to him. And that’s exactly how it works today. We’re unfaithful to God again and again, but He remains faithful to us. Because He loves us. And we have a promise:

“And it shall be, in that day,” says the LORD, “that you will call Me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer call Me ‘My Master…’ “I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know the LORD.” “And I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; then I will say to those who were not My people, You are My people!’ and they shall say, ‘You are my God!'” Hosea chapter 2

Yes, God desires mercy. He longs to be merciful to us, and He wants for us to have mercy on others. But it’s our faithfulness that God desires. Because whether we realize it or not, He’s husband to us: “For your husband is your Maker, whose name is the Lord of hosts; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, who is called the God of all the earth.” Isaiah 54:4-5. See, I have not been faithful to God. I did the same thing His chosen people of long ago did. He brought me into my promised land in the fall of 2010, but I soon forgot Him. For nearly a year, I barely thought about Him as I took other lovers in the form of work, busyness, idleness and play. But in His mercy and through His faithfulness, He brought me back to Him. And from the summer of 2011 until now, I have been seeking Him. And yet, He’s bringing all this to the forefront of my mind. And so I have to ask myself anew, “Am I being faithful to Him? Or have a taken a new lover?” And the truth is, I have been seduced. Because writing consumes me. I burn with passion to write about Him… and yet, it pulls me away from Him. It’s apparent that I no longer am in love with Him, my husband who is my Maker, but rather I’m obsessed with my newest love, which is writing.

A funny thing… after God revived my heart during the summer of 2011, I wanted to pay tribute to Him. It was then that the coals of desire began to smolder deep inside… I began to burn with a need to write. And so, I wrote out my testimony and entitled it, “From darkness to light, that they may know.” I wanted that book to be a standing stone for God, a memorial and testament to His greatness. I wanted my family to see how He brought me from darkness to light, and brought me into my personal promised land. I wanted them to know that the LORD God is real and active and right here among us. I wanted them to know that God is faithful to answer prayer. My intentions at first were noble and true. But then the lure of status seduced me. I entertained another lover who distracted me from God. Once again, unfaithful. The funniest thing is the title. I’ve since changed it, because quite clearly darkness did not dispel upon my return home. If anything, it intensified. Because 1 Peter 2:9 references darkness and light, it was included in the manuscript. However, now it’s the verse immediately following that captures my eye:

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. 1 Peter 2:9-10.

This is a follow up to Hosea and his children of harlotry, Lo-Ruhamah (No Mercy) and his second son Lo-Ammi (Not My People)! There’s an everlasting promise here. See, because of His Son, Jesus Christ, we have become the people of God. Because of Jesus, we have obtained mercy. And although we turn our back on Him again and again, He remains ever merciful. He remains ever faithful to us, even when we’re not! But nevertheless, He desires our mercy, not sacrifice. Nevertheless, He desires our faithfulness.

How then, can we, the people of God, deny Him the one thing asks? Lord, may we, Your people, remain faithful to You… as You ask us to. In the mighty name of Jesus, Amen.

Miles from Mercy

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8

Last Spring, this verse knocked me over. I thought “How simple God’s will is.” I thought, “I can do this!” And so, I thought I would write a book to share with everyone the simplicity of God’s commands to us. And write I did, churning out a manuscript called, “My Heart Sings,” completely inspired by this one verse. Here lately, I keep thinking about that book. Because I know something today that I didn’t know then. You see, at the time I wrote “My Heart Sings,” I didn’t have a clue as to what I was writing about! I thought I was wisely proclaiming to everyone else what they should be doing. I didn’t know then that through the writing, God was telling me what I should not be doing. Perhaps, “The Pharisee in Me,” would have more aptly captured the essence of the book. And today, I have to laugh about that. Because I was so incredibly blind. The perfect picture of a Pharisee in that I couldn’t see my own faults. Such a hypocrite in that I was trying to remove the speck from my brother’s eye without first taking the plank out of my own. Matthew 7:5.

Today I look on that verse and am amazed to see that I have not fulfilled one portion of it. The verse that so moved me somehow failed to move me beyond my present state. I was unable to fulfill the most basic of requirements, and today I know why. Because I am a Pharisee… the worst sort of scoundrel that Jesus gave warning to throughout the New Testament. The Pharisee lacked mercy and judged everyone. And it was to them that Jesus said, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” Matthew 9:13. And now I realize He’s telling me the same thing: “go and learn what this means…” Because this particular verse jumped off the page at me not that long ago. And I believe it had everything to do with Micah 6:8… see, I thought myself to be somewhat of an expert at doing justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with your God. I thought I had that verse down pat. But what I’m learning about myself lately is that I’m nowhere near mercy. In fact, I’m miles from mercy with so far to go. And I believe learning what Jesus told me to learn is the whole key to conquering my pharisaical nature. Mercy is the key that will unlock the bars of my prison called pharisaicalness.

I know what happened. I know how I became a Pharisee. See, I didn’t become a child of God until I was 24 years old. And I was pretty worldly by that time, accepting of pretty much everything. By that time, I had quite a past… a past better forgotten than remembered. And so, when I finally met my future husband, I somewhat settled down (so to speak). It was just me and him, and I didn’t go out and do all those things I once did. And so, by the time I realized I needed Jesus, I had forgotten much of who I really was. See, I was good by the time I came to Jesus. At least from a worldly point of view. And so, I asked Jesus to save me from my sins – but vaguely. Because my specific sins were better left behind… I never dwelt on them. And so, there I was a 24 year old baby Christian. But I never really knew how much of a sinner I truly was. Because by the time I came to Jesus, my past was buried and left behind.

Over time, I came to where I really wanted God. I needed Him. And so I began to seek Him through His word. I began to acquire the knowledge of God. Hosea 6:6 actually says, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” Well, there it is… knowledge. This is part of what tripped me up. Because if you add all this acquired knowledge to never really feeling bad about who you were, well, there’s the answer. Knowledge + a false sense of who you really are = Pharisee. At least this is how the equation worked in my life. And there I was, feeling good about myself to begin with and piling on all that knowledge, well, naturally I became puffed up and prideful. Naturally, I became judgmental. And naturally, I became self-righteous. Because the truth is, I never fully realized His righteousness.

Do you know what I think, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” really means? I believe that through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, God provided us with the ultimate act of mercy. He had mercy on His creation in sending us His Son. And He longs to be merciful to us today… but we need to realize what He did. Because when we don’t understand how bad of a sinner we really are, it diminishes what Jesus did on the cross. When we neglect coming to the cross all the way, we tend to start sacrificing over time. We sacrifice by way of obligatory giving, obligatory prayers and obligatory works… because deep down we still feel we have something to atone for. We begin to work for God, and offer up unacceptable sacrifices hoping to atone for something we never brought to the cross to begin with. In fact, we never fully obtained the mercy of Jesus because we never fully realized our sin. How could we know what Jesus really did for us when we never thought we were that bad? How could we fully accept His free gift of mercy and grace, when we didn’t realize we were in dire need of it in the first place?

This is what I’ve been grappling with this past year. Basically, I’m trying to learn what Jesus meant in saying “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” And since I have been on this journey towards mercy for a while now, I was taken aback recently when I found myself back at “Pharisee.” Honestly, I was surprised to see how easily those old ways slipped right back in. And so I have to ask myself a tough question… today, do I know what I really am? Because until I know what I really am, there’s no way I can understand what Jesus really did. And until I fully understand what Jesus did, for me – a sinner – there’s no way I can come to understand what Jesus means when He says, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” Because He is mercy.

As long as I’m stuck at “Pharisee,” I’ll find myself miles from mercy. As long as I’m stuck at “Pharisee,” there’s no way I can fully obtain His mercy. And without receiving it, I’ll have none to offer. And as long as I’m stuck at “works,” trying to pay off a debt there’s no way I can repay, then I haven’t fully understood the work Jesus accomplished on the cross. And as long as I’m working off my debt, not comprehending that Jesus already paid it in full, then I’ll continue to expect others to do the same… working off a debt I’ve accrued in my head… a debt that they in no way can repay. And naturally, when someone falls short of my expectations, I deem them a sinner. I judge them and point my finger, holding them accountable. I want them to work for my forgiveness… like I’m working for mine… completely forgetting that Jesus already came to do just that… forgive sinners.

And so it goes, I try to remove the speck from the sinners eye without first removing the plank from my own. And thus, I find myself miles from mercy, with so far to go.

Laundry… or greatness?

Last Sunday we talked about greatness in Sunday School. The question, “What keeps you from greatness?” There were a lot of answers ranging from debt to fear to busyness. I even put out my hands to portray a set scales… laundry in one hand and greatness in the other, to show which outweighed the other. Laundry had it. But this morning, I’ve come to the conclusion I can have it both ways. I can have my laundry along with that elusive greatness. And this morning, I see that I am the very thing that’s keeping me from it. Ironically, it’s my inaccurate sense of self-importance that keeps me from greatness.

Micah 6:8 says to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. I believe He says to walk humbly because we need to have an accurate view of ourselves. It’s in Romans 12:3 that we read, “For I say, through the grace given to me to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.” The truth is, if you think too highly of yourself, you cannot practice justice and mercy. Because if you believe yourself to be holier than thou and that you can do no wrong, then you may think that perhaps the person collecting benefits from the government should be out there working like you do, right? And if you think you’re so high and mighty, then just maybe the person who is doing something wrong deserves every bad thing that comes their way, right? Because you’re not doing that wrong thing. The ugly truth is if your opinion of yourself is overly elevated (and I’m speaking for myself here), then you will not be able to do justice and love mercy. It’s impossible, and I should know. Because I’m living proof.

We can simply walk with God, or we can walk humbly with God. It’s our choice. I wish I could say I chose the latter, but for years now, I believe I simply walked with Him. And highly, I might add. Because I walked and talked with God, and attained all the knowledge I could. But rather than apply it to my life, I tucked it all away inside my head. And that caused me to feel good about myself… all that stored up knowledge. And because I was walking with God, who is Greatness, well, there were times in which I could not help but feel as if some of His greatness rubbed off on me. There’s no denying that sometimes I have sat back feeling smug in the knowledge I’ve acquired, feeling oh, so enlightened. In fact, there have been times that I’ve felt pretty, darn great. But not about Him… about me!

So how do I fight this? It’s evident that knowledge puffs up, so what can I do? Fortunately, God showed me what it is that I lack. It’s something called wisdom, and He offers it to us all. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” James 1:5.  I see that knowledge without wisdom is useless. Because they work together. Wikipedia states that wisdom is the judicious study and application of knowledge. And so, that’s one of my problems. I haven’t applied what I’ve learned.

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthy, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing will be there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. James 3:13-17

Envy and self-seeking are not new conditions of the heart. They’re worldly and they’re as old as the hills. It’s in our nature to covet what someone else has, and to desire what we don’t have. Jealousy comes naturally to us. But it’s earthy, sensual and demonic. And it goes all the way back to Adam and Eve in the garden, and the first sin. It goes back to Cain and Abel, and the first murder. It goes back to Jacob and Esau, and determining who would rule the other. It goes back to the hatred of Joseph’s brothers, when their father loved him best. And it goes back to the disciples. They had a worldly way of looking at things, too, as there was rivalry among them. They argued about who would be the greatest. Jesus said, “Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” And when the disciples’ mother was self-seeking and ambitious for her two sons, the others were moved to indignation (self-righteous indignation, I’m sure). Jesus said, “But whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Wisdom is thrown at us every day. But there’s worldly wisdom and there’s godly wisdom. The two do not go hand in hand. Because what the world says is great is the complete opposite of what God says is great. The world says look out for number one, but Jesus says to look out for them. The world says the more money you have the greater you are, but Jesus says to give it all away. The world esteems those who are wealthy and famous, snubbing those who don’t reign as high. But Jesus says blessed are the poor. And Jesus, who was the greatest to ever walk this earth, did not come to be served, but to be Servant. He is our example.

So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” John 13:12-15.

Sunday, I wondered, “Laundry… or greatness?” Well, I wanted greatness. And now I know, I can have both. Rather than resent the duty of laundry, it can be an act of service I humbly provide to those I love the most. If my attitude is lowly, and if my heart is not lifted up, then in the eyes of my Lord and Teacher, laundry is greatness. Becoming servant to my family and loved ones is what will make me great in His kingdom. I simply need God’s wisdom to apply all the truths I’ve learned. And then, as I walk humbly with Him along life’s highway, I will be changed through the process. I’ll be able to accurately and soberly assess myself because I’ll have glimpsed God’s glory. And so, when I am not lifted up… I will be able to live out Micah 6:8, serving God by doing justly and loving mercy. Because God will direct my path as I humbly follow Him. The humble He guides in justice, and the humble He teaches His way… all the paths of the LORD are mercy and truth. Psalm 25:9-10

As time goes by, I’ll come to understand that it’s not at all what I think that will make me great. But the complete opposite. Because God’s wisdom is so different from my own.

I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also. Romans 16:1-2