Wednesday, July 14, 2010

God Loves You for the Email Tell Us So

I wrote an email this morning to a friend. I asked her permission to share it with you. I hope you'll take the time to read it. As usual, the names and details are changed to protect confidentiality but the story is true. God does love you. I write these for the Branches newsletter ( but not everyone on the internet gets the newsletter. Go figure...

Dear Friend,

It's 2 o'clock in the morning and both of us should be asleep. I know I'm not and I'm guessing you may not be either. Instead I'm sitting on the couch watching the lightning flash and thinking about how much God loves us. Not us as in "He's got the whole world in His hands" but us as in me and you, specifically, by name, in person you there and me here, He loves us.
I had a typical day today. I saw a woman who is so depressed she can hardly get her head off the pillow. The I saw a young professional man whose sexual sin has become so hideous that he has lost his family and pretty much everything he holds dear. I saw a guy that is wracked with the guilt and shame. Next I saw Doris for lunch. (She's not crazy I just saw her for lunch and it was great). I finished the afternoon by sitting with a couple that is watching their love for each other disintegrate over a struggle to understand intimacy. And then a beautiful, Godly, really neat woman who has spent her whole life trying to perform just right to please a God that she thinks is unpleasable and sees her as a miserable failure.
You know what? I only have one message for each one of them. God loves them. Not as a group, or in a general sense. I mean He knows each one of them by name and He knows their story and He loves them with this incredible, undying, everlasting love. He really loves them. and if somehow I could just help them see that everyone of their situations would be a thousand times better. Oh, they would still have stuff. They might still need medicine, and have more bills than paycheck. They might even still get divorces and struggle with sin. But they would know that God loves them for who they are, that He's crazy about them and He wants more than anything to help them get things on the right track and to find a peace that, well, that is beyond understanding.
If I could only help them see that but heck, half the time I forget it myself. It is such a simple concept. And most of us know it in our heads. A lot of us even believe it in our hearts...for everybody else. But not for ourselves. "For God so loved the world" is really not about the world at all. It's about me. And its about you. Its about a huge, magnificent, incredible God, calling my name and saying, "Hey, you with the too big nose and thinning hair, I am absolutely crazy about you. I think you are the greatest thing since sliced bread. I really do love you."
No wonder Paul said, "I pray that you, being rooted and grounded in God's love, might have the power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep the love of Christ is for you. and to know this love that surpasses knowledge." Even Paul knew that you and me would have a hard time really getting it. God loves us.
When I was in my darkest days I had a cd that I used to play a thousand times a day. Actually just one song, over and over and over again. It was my sister singing, "God loves you,and He wants you to know, He is with you. You are not alone. He will see you through. God loves you." I love to hear my sister sing. I still listen to it a couple of times a week. That is the lesson if we all could get, well, we'd be okay. And tonight, at 2 o'clock in the morning it is the lesson just for you. He loves you. Not because He's God and He's supposed to but because you are you and He wants to. Now go to bed and get some sleep. You're hard to love when you're cranky. Mike

Friday, July 2, 2010

Boundaries, Zombies, and Freedom

I had an idea the other day. I was talking to a young friend who is having a difficult time establishing and making boundaries in his life. He gets into trouble because he hasn’t decided where his life begins and other peoples ends. Paul says in Ephesians 4:14 that when we are like that we are like a ship adrift on a sea, “tossed about by every wave of new ideas.” We are easily persuaded to do this thing that we might not otherwise do or go to this place that we might otherwise not go.

So I suggested to my young friend that he write out a short list of a few rules to live by, things that he would operate by when the pressure came from other places to make a bad decision. He jumped all over that. He was so excited. “Dude,” he exclaimed. (I love to be included in the dude crowd.) “Dude, that’s just like the movie Zombieland. This guy had a bunch of rules that helped him to not get eaten by the zombies.” Well, what do you know? I had no idea that I was so artistically in tune with the creator of such a cinematic classic. I am so blessed to know that Mike Courtney, Cecil B. DeMille and the director of Zombieland have similar genius.

Cecil B. DeMille, in case you miss my witty reference directed The Ten Commandments. Remember Charlton Heston and the Red Sea and God writing His rules on a tablet of stone. Okay, maybe it wasn’t so witty after all. But the problem is that many of us think rules, ours or God’s, take away our freedom and make us zombies. We just stumble around with our arms straight out and our eyes have closed doing what we are told to do and not allowed to have any fun or be our own person.

Obviously you’ve missed the finer nuances of that work of art. In Zombieland it was the rules that kept the guy from getting eaten. The people without rules got caught and turned into zombies. In other words boundaries and commandments and living according to God’s plan for us, rather that impeding our freedom actually keeps us free. When I make Jon-Mical, my grandson, hold my hand while we walk across the parking lot, I know that I am keeping him free by not letting him get hurt by a life without rules. Paul again talks about that in Romans 5 and 6 when he says that without the law we wouldn’t know what sin is. And without sin we wouldn’t know what grace is. Dudes, let me put that in words you can understand. If it weren’t for rules you wouldn’t know the zombies from the, well from the dudes and dudettes. And if you didn’t recognize the zombies you wouldn’t know how good it is to not be a zombie. Get it?

Well, let me try one more time. Knowing and living by the boundaries that God has placed in my life does not take my freedom away. In fact, it keeps me from the many pitfalls in life that would destroy both me and my freedom. So the rules in fact keep me free and that is a wonderful gift from God. No wonder the Psalmist says, “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.” Psalm 16:6
On this weekend when we celebrate our freedom and remind ourselves of how great it is to not be a zombie perhaps I should also thank God for the rules that are in place that make my freedom in Him and in life possible. I am so grateful for the boundaries. Now pass me the popcorn, dude, the movies about to start.


Nothing to Prove and Nothing to Hide

I went to South Carolina this weekend, to a reunion of a youth choir I was a part of 40 years ago. I have never been very good at reunions. There is usually too much trying to impress, trying to look good, trying to put on a show. And that’s all from me. But this was different. It was great to see old friends, some I hadn’t seen for more than 3 decades. Kids I hung out with, leaders I looked up to, and men and women that spoke God into my life in a way that I will never forget.
They asked me to sing a song that I sang way back then. When it was over, TW, one of those great men said, “I remember when you sang that song 40 years ago. It was better then.” He was right but it was really fun anyway. We sang. We laughed. We told old stories. And we remembered.
There is a saying in the 12 Steps meeting that I go to a lot. The way to real peace is to have nothing to prove and nothing to hide. Can I brag for just a minute? I think the reason this visit was so good was that I am finally learning to live that way. And it feels good.
To live life in the moment, not focusing on the past or the future but trusting God for the here and now is joyful and the source of peace. It takes away the insane need to be something I am not for people I don’t even know, or for those I do. Some days I do that well. Other days, not so much. But I keep trying. I think it’s what Paul had in mind when he says, “Forgetting those things which are behind…I press on.”
Now don’t get me wrong. There are deep regrets from my past. When I am with old friends I can’t help but think about those people that I hurt, that I let down in my many failures. But putting my trust in God keeps me from dwelling on those things or taking on the shame of the past. When I know that I am lost in His love and covered by His blood, well, that’s enough in any group.
So I am suggesting for you that you quit worrying so much about what others think and start reminding yourself of how He feels about you. He loves you “with an everlasting love.” “He will never leave you or forsake you.” “He delights in you and rejoices over you with singing.” Keep all of that in mind and go visit some old friends. Be yourself and let them love you.
As for me, I plan to keep on living one day at a time. I’m not going to spend my energy trying to impress other people. Except I need to lose a little weight, maybe get my hair colored just a little, I wonder if I could get a tuck under my chin. Be blessed. Mike