Don't get confused between my personality & my attitude. My personality is who I am. My attitude depends on who you are.This little gem (minus the No symbol) has popped up on my Facebook feed several times lately. Oddly, I’ve only seen it posted by my conservative Christian friends, and it tends to get many Likes. Every time I see it I want to say, “Really? You’re that proud of the hold others have on you?”

So I decided to add the No symbol and explain why I’m not a fan of this “wisdom.” To me, since Christians should know better, it says something about the absence of serious spiritual training in many churches today. We’re taught to keep a single-minded focus on the cross and forgiveness.

We are not taught how to gradually take back freedom from sin’s control over daily living. In fact, a very popular teaching is that it’s impossible to do, which is why you need constant forgiveness. Apparently, it’s the only definition of victory they know.

So, (1) this saying is just a long-standing habit common to man. It’s the old way, the “world’s way,” and nothing has seized us but what’s common to man. Personally, I’d prefer to overcome common habits so they don’t eat me alive or keep me stuck with a snippy, blind, complaining spirit that sees nothing but wrongness everywhere I turn.

Jesus offers better alternatives for our blessedness and well-being, and I want to practice all of them. He assures us that habits can be broken. This is one of them. As Paul observed, it’s a matter of putting off the old self and putting on the new, one habit at a time.

(2) On the surface, I can see how this might make someone feel powerful by putting others on “notice.” It’s a kind of warning with a touch of smug superiority thrown in. “As long as you’re not a jerk, I won’t go off on you.” Conversely, if I go off, you’re the problem, not me.

But in reality, this puts others in control and, effectively, makes me their bitch. Owned.

I doubt that Christians realize how this thinking shoots them in the spiritual foot, keeping them insecure with little sense of power. But when you feel powerless, all you have to rely on is a life-style of little threats, which only bring little (or big) threats in return. Then you wonder where all the blessedness is, perhaps concluding that it only comes after you die.

The great power of Christianity is its offer of steady escape and freedom. When Scripture talks about ransoming slaves, setting captives free, or freedom in Christ, it’s talking about this very sort of thing. It offers divine guidance and modeling, and puts you squarely in control of your attitude and reactions. As we “grab hold” of new, transforming life, it also offers grace when we stumble from time to time over old, dying habits.

(3) Perhaps the greatest mark of well-practiced Christ-followers (to which I aspire) is that their behavior, will, and attitude/spirit/heart have nothing to do with what others do or say. All the NT writers made self-control fairly obvious. And they didn’t have any advantage that we don’t have, including Christ’s personal presence and teaching.

Don’t return insult for insult. Bless those who curse you. Love your enemies, because if you love only your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Let your Yes be yes and your No be no. Etcetera.

That’s power. It simply isn’t vulnerable to the whims of others. So I don’t want people dictating my reactions, thank you very much. Who wants to be dragged all over the place by other people’s randomness?

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????????????????????????????Well, I’ve been flying under the radar for longer than the few weeks I predicted when I last wrote in July. But I have a great excuse. My daughter and fiancé moved their wedding date up to Oct. 19 (yes, this year), so she’s now a Mrs. and I’m blessed with a new son-in-law!

Needless to say, this induced a full-time scramble to shape tons of details into something elegant, fun, and unique for a hundred guests. Miraculously, we found a lovely venue that was available with an unbeatably-priced package.

A friend and I made the centerpieces and bouquets and did all the decorating with help from family. The invitations, cake, DJ, photography, videography, flower girls’ dresses, and I-don’t-remember-what-else were offered affordably by other friends. Through everyone’s time and generosity, we pulled off a fairy-tale wedding—complete with a horse and carriage—in just three months.

Our purple and orange Victorian-ish affair sparkled with crystal garland, antique silver, lace and pearls, tall floral centerpieces, and a stunning gown fit for any princess who also happens to love motorcycles. And her dashing prince, whom she met on Christian Mingle, and who loves fishing, happens to ride a Harley.

Me arranging the Harley vaseSo as a tribute, we tucked among the flowers of each glowing centerpiece a tiny Christian fish charm dangling from miniature fishing poles. On an old silver platter from a historic home, we parked a little Matchbox Harley beside a tiny, crystal, horse-drawn carriage. In addition to dancing, a guest photo area with silly wigs and props was a big hit, especially after a few rounds of champagne. Elegant. Fun. Totally unique!

And what is your point, Wilson? Well, I had a few reasons to waste those months all stressed out, but I didn’t. I confess that my initial reaction was panicked delight. Out-of-town family would have to sleep on couches and air mattresses; and I’d have to somehow make room for a growing collection of flowers, ribbon, vases, and such.

Moreover, my husband is a Federal worker and our income had already taken a hit from the sequester furloughs. The government eventually shut down completely until just days before the Big Day.

Really? A wedding? Now?

I write often about exercising our God-given will and freedom to choose. I had a choice. I could easily have turned it into a “this-is-just-a-big-expensive-pain-in-the-butt” thing. But I have only one daughter and one shot at a first wedding, which I knew would be over in a flash. I refused to be robbed, left with nothing but a sour memory.

Christian fish on a fishing poleSo we rolled with it and had fun in organized chaos. I invited God into the planning. And it may sound strange, but I think He had fun, too. (Is He not the ultimate wedding planner?)

There were a few glitches and not everything came off perfectly. But I think—I hope—I did a decent job of not becoming Mom-zilla, imposing all my ideas and getting huffy when some were rejected. Love isn’t easily offended, doesn’t insist on having its way, and doesn’t have to try real hard to find joy.

So I’ve been off the grid, but accomplished a lot since I last wrote. I did read the books I wanted to. I did rest and relax with no agenda on our lake get-away. Good thing, too! My house filled with family we hadn’t seen in years and I got to be part of something amazing. Now I have a dear son-in-law, a grin that won’t quit, and feet that are still numb (no lie!) because it had been so long since I last wore high heels. Who could complain?

*          *          *

For readers local to Northern Virginia, I recommend Virginia Oaks Golf Club as the best-kept secret in the area for weddings. I’ve never experienced such stellar customer service! Virginia Oaks Golf Club

Also, a huge shout-out to Harmon’s Carriages. Thank you for the magic, and on such short notice. carriage[1]

Lastly, to our daughter’s wonderful new parents-in-law, thank you for the rehearsal dinner and killer honeymoon you provided. What a blessing you’ve been and continue to be!

English: Bratislava; New Year 2005; FireWorks

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Sometimes, “God loves you” can sound patronizing and meaningless because, in my experience, Christian culture often seems to be on a mission to minimize human value.

For example, suppose you increase sales at work, or write a fantastic term paper, or run a great Sunday school class. Some would say that you had nothing to do with it, that it’s simply “Christ living in you.” Any other response brings accusations of pride and embezzling God’s glory—except when things go wrong. Then it’s all you.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” is the mantra of many Christians. But I rarely hear the rest of that verse in the same breath. “…and [all] are justified freely by his grace” through Christ (Rom. 3:23-24). So it’s easy to conclude that humanity has little value or anything worth celebrating in God’s eyes.

Yet Scripture consistently reaffirms human value, even when we sin. Jesus’ earthly mission was to restore to mankind God’s vision of worth and to give his own life to defend it by abolishing spiritual Death.

You can tell what’s valuable by what people celebrate or the way they behave when something’s lost. What do you do when you can’t find your keys or wallet? Likewise, you can tell what God values. In Luke 15, Jesus illustrates this with three consecutive parables, so it must be an important point. (more…)

Sunset Silouette

Neighbors (Photo credit: davepatten)

God invites us into His epic saga where a collective body of mankind passes from spiritual death to life one life at a time. In this adventure, He gives us relationships.

Everyone has neighbors, and everyone is a neighbor to everyone else. Neighbors include spouses and family, friends and acquaintances, co-workers and classmates, and even strangers we’ve never met. Some are kind, some are hostile, and some are indifferent.

Because this body of neighbors is lost and broken, we’ve all been hurt and we all hurt others to one degree or another. Collectively, we’re the walking wounded because we’re like children with live grenades. We don’t understand how to lovingly exercise the power of free thought, will, and behavior.

Without joining God’s adventure, perhaps the best we can manage of life is to get whatever we can without too much damage to self and neighbors. The worst we can do is to inflict as much harm on as many people as possible, including ourselves. Either way, it’s no way to live.

The Healing Connection

Multitudes of the walking wounded have experienced nothing but rejection or abuse at the hands of others. They’ve never experienced any sense of belonging, of love, or so much as a whiff of community in any body of neighbors. People thus deprived simply shrivel and die inside.

As neighbors, you and I are designed to be connected, not detached from one other. Yet it isn’t good to depend primarily on one another. This might surprise some readers.

Using a body analogy, many Christians teach that God designed us specifically to be dependent on one another. They’ll explain that the kidneys, for example, depend on the lungs, and the lungs depend on the stomach, and so on. In conclusion, they’ll say, “Imagine if kidneys and lungs didn’t do their jobs. In the same way, God wants us to depend on each other.”

It sounds good until you realize that a thriving body depends primarily on each part’s connection to the brain, not between its parts. So, the kidneys don’t do their job because of the lungs, but because of the brain.

Likewise, thriving neighbor relationships rely on connection to Christ. Even when it’s established for only one of the persons, it’s no longer vital to be “treated right” by the other. For example, if you insult, judge, or reject me, I’m not devastated and therefore feel no need to retaliate. I can wish you good will because my well-being doesn’t depend on you.

If I’m extremely well-practiced in this, (which I’m not yet) as the original Christians were, nothing you can do to me will harm me, including murder. My well-being simply doesn’t depend on you, and doesn’t even depend on me remaining in my physical body. This independence is Jesus’ “secret” behind turning the other cheek, praying for enemies, and blessing those who curse you. In other words, neighbor love.

But it’s rarely taught to today’s Christians. Instead, we attempt turning-the-other-cheek behavior simply because “the Bible says so,” neither understanding the sequence behind it nor building up the independent, Christ-like strength to do it. The blind lead the blind right into a minefield.

As strange as it sounds, you can’t love your neighbors until you get free of them. This doesn’t mean to reject neighbors or be indifferent to their needs. It simply means that in surrendering to God, we rely less and less on people nurturing us. Although He may bring nurturing people into our lives (and some who make life difficult), dependence on God puts us in a better position to foster and serve relationships without abusing people or falling victim to them.

Practice: Re-establish Connection to the Head

Study the two instructive commands that Jesus gave, which, according to him, summarize God’s primary message of eternal life. (1.) Love God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul. (2.) Love your neighbor as yourself.

Then ask God to help you understand it. First, ponder whether the message of love might still be primary, or whether Jesus put it on the back burner or abolished it altogether. Consider what love might have to do with abundant life and well-being with God, now and always.

Second, note that these two commands address the relationship between mankind and God, and that mankind can be understood as “yourself” and everyone else—“neighbor.” Command #1 covers God and self; command #2 covers self and everyone else.

Third, note the sequence of building love as Jesus presented it. To love your neighbor as yourself assumes that one already loves one’s self—not in a prideful, human way, but in a healthy, Godly way. Self-love is a pre-requisite for neighbor love. To use a house analogy, Christ is the foundation, self is the walls, and neighbors are the roof.

Now, compare this sequence to the popular JOY acronym that you may have been taught: Jesus, Others, You, in that order. Which would seem to put you in a position of strength, good will, staying power, and joy? Which might likely build exhaustion or resentment over time?

To me, Jesus’  order is much wiser because it motivates human nature to work with God, as opposed to keeping human nature always at odds with His ways.

 

Fork in road
Fork in road (Photo credit: creativelenna)

Have you ever considered that even un-regenerated people are made in God’s image? Everyone is born with the capacity to create and originate things and events, and the freedom to choose.

That’s an extraordinary thing when you consider what power that is. And when you consider man’s fall, it’s an almost unthinkable power because it means we can choose evil or good. We can also reject either one.

Which brings us to the will. To me, this is the most God-like aspect of His image that you and I are endowed with. I often say that even the nastiest person to walk this earth is more like God, in this respect, than anything else on the planet.

Will is the same as heart or spirit. It’s the core of personhood, the center of the soul. The sort of person you are and the way you speak and behave emanate from here. The heart is the wellspring of life (Pro. 4:23). It’s also wicked and beyond its own cure (Jer. 17:9), but not incurable.

As central as it is, will/heart/spirit can’t be separated from the other elements of the self (soul)—mind, body, behavior, and social relationships. You can single it out when you want to discuss it, as Scripture does, but the will doesn’t operate independently. It’s profoundly shaped by thought, feeling, physical bodily systems, environment, routines and habits, and other people. (more…)