Love Came Down

Today I wanted to bless you with a song. It’s one that God has been using to encourage and comfort me in recent months. I love the youtube link because I feel like I’m in the room with these believers worshiping and experiencing God’s presence.

Please listen. And perhaps there’s someone you know who could use some some hope today so please feel free to share.

I’m so grateful that the eternal God “came down” to demonstrate His love and care for me. He’s still coming down to rescue, comfort, bring hope, redeem and save.

Warmly,

Sheree

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifeJRC5lvhs&feature=player_embedded#!

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Looking For a New Home

Benny and I are starting to look at houses in the area where Redeemer Church was planted early this year. While we live only about thirty minutes away, we want to be in the community to reach out, serve, build relationships and have people into our home.

The home I've come to love (it's not as big as it looks; the right side is a garage...smile.)

The home I’ve come to love (it’s not as big as it looks; the right side is a garage…smile.)

The problem is this: we just purchased the house we’re in less than 2 years ago.

It was quite the process. I wanted a yard that happened to have an older house on it. I’m one of those people that loves multi-year remodeling. I like having and managing projects, and making a home “mine” by doing things like knocking out walls to make the space more open and maintaining a wish list of household projects to save for. I love taking something old with character and turning into a cozy, warm place where family and friends feel welcomed. I also have eleven grandchildren and a lab for backyard romping.

Joey reading a book written by my grandchildren and illustrated by my daughter, Julia. A prized recent birthday gift.

My Benny wanted a pretty house that had a decent yard that wouldn’t take too long to mow. While he has graciously endured my “projects” over the years (including adding a cute little apartment onto our Virginia home for Mom) he hoped for a home where the walls would remain in their place and maintenance would be minimal.

When we first saw the home we are in I was unimpressed. It was too “nice.” And it was painted a perky peach color. I walked around inside trying to picture which walls could be removed but I couldn’t find any. In fact, the only thing I could see that needed to be changed involved paint. (Which, by the picture above, you can see was taken care of first thing!) After numerous visits to yards that happened to have houses on them we made a low offer on the pretty house and it was accepted.

Our family room was the first place Redeemer Church met.

Nearly two years later that house has become home. We’ve celebrated holidays and birthdays here. Because we didn’t have walls to remove our big family can actually all sit down to eat because there’s room to add several folding tables. We’ve laughed and prayed and worshiped and made memories in this house that I didn’t like or want. Now I love it. As I sit here in the family room typing there are tears brimming in my eyes.

Getting ready for granddaughter Amelia’s first birthday party.

Have you ever felt a little “tricked” by God? Have you made a decision or entered into a relationship or accepted a job that wouldn’t have been your preference simply because it seemed like the right thing to do? You see, Benny got the pretty house and I got the yard big enough for all eleven grandchildren and the dog — all for what we could afford! And I got to enjoy a few projects that included painting kitchen cabinets and lime sherbet colored walls and the peachy exterior.

Now I actually like the house and don’t want to move.

Family worship times in our family room are among my fondest memories.

In my mind I know God didn’t trick me into moving into a home I didn’t really like only to make me love it just in time to move again. When we purchased this home He knew that a year later providence would lead us to plant a new church, requiring us to leave.

His sovereign plan is always accompanied by His tender care. Remembering how He moved my heart to love this home is comforting. But what is helping me most today is reminding myself that no place will truly be home until He welcomes me to the place He is preparing for me. What my heart is longing for has not been nor will it ever be found in my lifetime.

I’m longing for a place I won’t find in Florida.

I was made for another place. A place from which I will never move. Never pack boxes. Never cry over leaving. Until then, my life is not my own. I must continue to prize His plans over my preferences and fight for joy in the midst of unwanted change. I’m struggling to fully embrace His will and am asking for strength to once again say, “Yes, Lord.” With a good attitude.

Backyard races with Papa.

His past faithfulness assures me of present and future grace. After nearly 20 years in the same Virginia house where our children were mostly raised (not counting those I spent there with my parents when I was younger) I have moved 3 times in the past 12 years. Each time we’ve made memories and I moved reluctantly.

Maybe there’s a yard in Lake Nona, Florida with a house on it just waiting for someone to knock down its walls. Or a pretty one that Benny will like as soon as we walk in. Maybe I’ll live there long enough to come to love it.

Mostly, I want to love God’s will — whatever that is. What joy to know that “soon and very soon” I’ll see the home He is preparing for me. I won’t care about where the walls are or the size of the yard. Anything He is planning for me will be perfect.

Benny and I will be out again soon looking for a new home…but the search is reminding me that it will once again only be a temporary one.

I’m smiling. Just knowing that makes me a little bit more okay above moving.

Lunch with Mary

Josh and I walked into a local landscaping business this morning to see if we would be a good fit to provide their IT support. It was a typical sales meeting where we tag-teamed to learn about their business, assess their technology needs and see if it would be mutually beneficial to add them to our ProVisionIT family. (Josh started the business nearly seven years ago and it’s become a genuine family business that I help with, mostly from home.)

We sat down with Mary in their modest conference room. She was pleasant, efficient and friendly. It quickly became apparent that our company was well beyond their IT budget, but I watched my son do what he has taught me to do in sales: put the customers needs above company time.

He patiently answered her questions, showed her some cool stuff on his iPad that she could do on her own, and provided her with some professional advice that guys make good consulting money sharing.

As our 30-minute meeting moved toward an hour, I inadvertently called him “Son.” The moment had come. In each sales meeting we attend together it happens. He calls me Mom, I call him Son or someone notices we have the same last name and inquires about our relationship.

In most every case there are smiles, especially when Josh says, “When I was younger I used to resent that she was so involved in my life…now I pay her to be.”

Mary was surprised. She then mentioned her own 20-year-old son and I briefly shared that I was not supposed to have children. “In His mercy, God not only gave me Josh but also his six siblings. Josh and I went through some challenges when he was a teen but now we not only work together, but enjoy it.”

“That’s wonderful,” she responded.  Chuckling, she added, “Josh, maybe you can talk to my son at some point!” Then something special happened. She turned her eyes to me and said, “Would you want to do lunch sometime?”

It’s happened just a few times in my three years of helping Josh with his business. The Holy Spirit makes His presence tangible. One time it was when a client responded to my comments about my infertility by mentioning she had been trying for years to conceive; Josh and I ended up praying with her for a miracle. Another time a potential client’s eyes brimmed with tears when she saw the warmth between my son and me. I later found out she and her young adult daughter were going through some relationally tough times.

I’m about to email Mary to set up lunch. I don’t know that God has in mind. Is she a believer or not? Is her relationship with her son rocky and strained? Is she simply lonely and wanting to spend time with another mom of an adult son? Does she want to further explore us doing business together?

As we walked to our cars Josh said, “That meeting was more about the gospel than it was about business.”

This isn’t Josh and me but a few years ago those faces could have easily been ours. Smile.

Who wouldn’t want to have a boss with that perspective? You see, Josh and I did go through tough times when we both struggled with bitterness toward one another. I remember taking him to a basketball practice shortly before he turned 16. His silence was once again deafening and I ended up tearfully asking, “Son, I know you love me; you kinda have to…but do you like me?  Or do I just get on your nerves too much?” His answer was a telling, “Of course I love you, Mom.” The years following continued to be tough. We both irritated and frustrated each other and I continued to long for my son to like me.

Yesterday we once again experienced the fruit of God’s work in our relationship. We still irritate each other and sometimes have to talk through selfish interactions with one another. But Josh was right: the gospel was on display in our meeting yesterday. Our mutual respect for each other, affectionate interactions and the joy we find in working together isn’t because of who we are or how hard we’ve worked to change. It’s because our need for a Savior didn’t stop when we become believers; He has been busy growing, changing, convicting and empowering this mother and her son for many years.

So, Josh, I know now more than ever how much you love me. You show it in more ways than I can count. You saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself and gave me the chance to both help grow your company and serve your dad by bringing some appreciated funds into our budget. You’ve entrusted your customers to me and given me the opportunity to get into the community to meet the Michele’s out there that I would not have otherwise met.

And maybe you’ve even come to like me.

I can’t wait to have lunch with Mary. Maybe I’ll get to demonstrate the gospel to her in some small way again. Perhaps I’ll get to tell her the difference that having a relationship with Jesus Christ has meant to me and that the offer of that relationship is hers as well.

All because of God’s work in a mother and her firstborn son.

The Gospel in Real Life

Last Sunday Benny preached on 1 Corinthians 3: 1-15 and 4:5. It’s the section that talks about those who followed Paul or Apollos, both of whom God used to plant and water — but “only God gives the growth.”

His point was that God uses ordinary people to make an inordinate (“disproportionately large” according to the dictionary) difference. While human effort is needed and valuable, only God can make something grow.

This was a timely word of encouragement for our new church. Those of you who have frequented my blog since it started this past January know that we started Redeemer Church that month. It’s hard to believe that was over 9 months ago!

A lot has happened since then. God has brought new friends to us; some have stayed to join with us while others haven’t. People are serving heroically each week — unloading sound equipment, chairs and children’s ministry supplies from a truck and quickly making a martial arts studio into a place of worship. And weekly small groups that started meeting just months ago are experiencing depths of biblical fellowship and mutual care that are an answer to our prayers for Him to build a community of grace among us.

Last night we tidied our home (where one of our Community Groups meet) and left to take our 18-year-old daughter out for her birthday. When we came home some of the group members were still munching on snacks. One of the ladies approached me with a hug and said, “This was a really good meeting.”

That could have meant many things. But what I later learned is that the recipient of the care, ministry, compassion, counsel and prayer that night was my oldest son: the group leader…and some of the most meaningful ministry came from his former employee, Tony.

You see, Tony left employment with Josh on not-so-good terms. Both men made mistakes and asked to get with their pastor to work it through. Benny wasn’t needed. They got together, asked forgiveness of one another, then resumed their loving friendship.

That’s the gospel at work in the lives of flawed and broken men who love truth.

The outworking of the gospel in their lives was that last night Josh was hurting. As the group leader, he humbled himself and admitted his need for help and care. And his former employee was there to respond with his own humble and gracious response. This group is learning that leaders are also weak and needy, and that every member of the group is a vessel through whom God can demonstrate His compassion and love.

A group member, touched by this moment, took this pic last night of Tony (left) praying for Josh.

At Redeemer Church we’re learning that God really does use ordinary people to do some pretty amazing things. Even bosses and employees who don’t handle their relationship well and end up parting ways professionally can forgive one another and extend grace during times of need.

Only God can do that.

Benny encouraged us on Sunday that what we’re doing as a young church is “not about our effectiveness to package the truth but our faithfulness to preach it.”  I’m grateful that while we were out celebrating with our daughter, a group of folks were meeting at our house faithfully preaching the hope of the gospel to my son.

What joy to watch God doing His work.  He’s causing our new church to grow — not primarily in numbers but in image-bearing, gospel-saturated love.  He is answering our prayers to become a community of grace where really ordinary people are being used by God to do inordinate stuff.

Celebrating “Little One”

Eighteen years ago was a stifling summer day in Virginia. Yet I could hardly contain my excitement. The baby girl we had been waiting for was on the way!

My life was forever changed on August 23, 1994.

The courage of a young woman for whom I am forever grateful resulted in an adorable bi-racial baby girl being put into my arms — and something wonderful happened. I loved her! Hospital personnel and visitors of other newborns were convinced by our giddiness and photos that this was our first baby. Benny and I enjoyed each surprised look when they heard she was our seventh.

When we rounded the corner onto Rockwell Road the next day six blondes pushed by each other to be the first to see her. They had sufficiently argued over who would hold her first. Jaime won. At 16 she was already the self-proclaimed second mother.

I never imagined it possible to so intensely love a baby to whom I hadn’t given birth. But she had been in our hearts for years. Some 12 years earlier Benny told me he believed God would someday allow us to adopt trans-racially, so we had kinda been “expecting” for over a decade. By the time she came we were eager to embrace this little sweetheart into our hearts and home.

She soon become “Little One” — which Jake and Joey still call her. Some of my favorite memories are coming into the room and seeing her lying asleep on 17-year-old Josh’s chest; watching Jaime load her into the van to take on outings with friends, knowing people would assume she was her mommy; noticing her holding a ten-dollar bill and realizing the man in line in front of us had given her the money she asked for!; watching her brothers tenderly hold, kiss and play with her; and watching her “teach” 7-year-old Janelle how to take care of a baby.

Her relationship with her 2 sisters and 4 brothers remains sweet. And they’ve given her eleven nieces and nephews to babysit; make crafty creations; paint toenails; and play video games. Their first question when they walk into the house is often, “Where’s Aunt Julia?”

Early on, she learned she could talk Daddy into most anything. The little penny candy machines he refused to “waste money on” for the other children became the recipient of his quarters. He smiled over things she said and did for which her siblings were corrected. One friend winsomely exhorted him that our little girl “needed a daddy, not a grandfather.” Their relationship remains one of the joys of my life.

As she grew I wanted to make sure she had a good understanding of her African American heritage. I loved reading black history children’s books to her and drawing to her attention to the many outstanding achievements of African Americans throughout history. And, yes, I wondered what it would be like for her to grow up in the whitest family ever.

When she started teasing us about never getting as tan as her at the beach, calling us “Blondie” when we did stupid things and assuring me she didn’t really need to see the newest documentary on Dr. King I knew she was okay. And then I watched the commentary without her.

One of my heartfelt desires was that she would know that she is loved and cherished. I wanted her to feel as much a part of our family as her sibs and to see the gospel in full view by how grateful we each are to Him for bringing her into our lives. As with all teens, we’ve had some rough waters. Benny and I increasingly realize that even though she’s our 7th we still have a lot to learn about parenting. She’s been patient with us.

The world says that today she becomes an adult. But today and always she is our baby girl. Little One. Recipient of more cash than we had to give to her siblings (yep, we admit it). And the one who always makes sure the house is tidy when we come home from out of town.

Happy Birthday, Julia. You’re not blonde or blue-eyed…but you calling me Mom reminds me of the gift you are to me. I love you!

A Providential Surprise

Yesterday I talked about how delays can turn even good desires into sinful cravings in my heart.

Delay + Desire = Demand.

This simple equation helps me to discern what’s going on in my heart when things don’t happen my way or on my timetable. But why is it that I can sometimes respond to delays with patience and grace, while other times I become irritable, self-pitying or resentful?

My sister-in-law, Jackie, is pictured here with four of my Little People. She started babysitting their Mommy when Jaime was 3 months old! We have really enjoyed our visit with her and my niece and nephews.

Last night my house was full of family and friends visiting with vacationing relatives from Virginia. Two of my grandsons were interacting in the playroom and I heard one say to the other, “Ok, you can have it.” Why was that comment noteworthy to me? Because it was an exchange between Sam and Issac, the brothers whose spirited conflict on vacation resulted in Issac body- slamming his older brother in an angry rage. Their amiable interaction last night reminded me of my own fickle responses to situations: one time I’m kind and self-controlled while a similar circumstance days later finds my heart churning up sin.

This may not be the case with you, but I’m increasingly finding that the difference for me comes back to what desires are influencing my heart.

I was recently praying for someone I love and sensed the Lord nudging me to cultivate more of a heart of servanthood toward her. A couple of days later I had planned to get through some items on my growing task list when she reached out to ask if I could spend the afternoon helping her get ready for an upcoming event. I typically love spontaneity — except when I’ve made made plans that are important to me like crossing things off my task list! I wanted to suggest we wait since the event was over a week away. But God had kindly prepared my heart. I knew the test of obedience to Him would come and when it did I was excited about the opportunity to set aside my plans for her as an expression of my love.

The next day, though, I was complaining to myself about her lack of appreciation. Why didn’t she thank me for spending those unplanned hours serving her? Did my overture of love and sacrifice go completely unnoticed? Wow. Only a really selfish person could be this ungrateful. “I’ll think twice before I set my own plans completely aside if it’s just gonna feed this kind of selfishness,” I humf’d.

What happend to my gratefulness to God for giving me the opportunity to respond to His prompting? Where did my desire to serve and express love go? Why did a situation that started out God and others-centered quickly morph into such me-centeredness?

I found out during the following days that my desire to obey and please God wasn’t as strong as the desire for appreciation. If obeying God had been the stronger motivation I may have noticed the lack of gratitude, but it wouldn’t have grabbed hold of my heart so strongly. Once my mind started focusing on not feeling appreciated rather than on the joy of serving, the desire for gratitude revealed itself as the ruling one in my heart.

I was surprised but grateful.

God revealing this to me didn’t trivialize the genuine joy I experienced in setting aside my plans for someone I love. However, it did alert me to this Delay + Desire = Demand pattern in my heart. A pattern I want to continue to see changed with His help.

One of my weekend activities was a birthday party for the son of my like-a-daughter, Canada. Such a fun day!

Musing over this pattern helped me prepare for a busy weekend that included numerous demands on my time and energy. So far I’m not struggling with feeling unappreciated! I went into the weekend anticipating both the desire and the potential delay of it being met to avoid silently demanding that others fulfill the desire…or incur my unspoken self-pity.  Smile.

Today my heart is full of thanks to God for the wonderful opportunity to serve  so many this weekend. But I’m going to remain on guard to make sure the next delay isn’t my own self-pity.

Aren’t you grateful that God loves flawed and broken people who are still in the process of change? What peace it brings to know that even my Delay + Desire = Demand pattern isn’t too much for Him! The gospel promises that He will complete the work He began when He saved me and that no pattern of sin on my part is greater than His mighty power to continue to save me from myself.

Cows….in My Heart?

This morning I was reading about the Israelites making a golden calf while waiting for Moses to come down from meeting with God on Mt Sinai. I’ve read this story numerous times, but something jumped off the page for me this time.

“When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said,’Up, make us gods who shall go before us'” (verse 1).

These are the same people who had witnessed the stunning plaques in Egypt; who watched Him change Pharoah’s stubborn heart; experienced the unbelievable miracle of watching the waters of the Red Sea split to allow them to walk on dry land (and then to swallow up the Egyptian army!); and were benefiting from God’s daily provision in the desert, even in response to their sinful grumbling (Ex 16: 4-12 and 17: 1-7).

These are the people who had recently responded to the Lord’s commands with, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do” (19:8).

Yet in no time they are insisting that Aaron build a lifeless golden calf because Moses didn’t come back from meeting with God soon enough. This unplanned delay resulted in those who had pledged their loyal devotion to God to turn to idolatry.

Delays are hard. Waiting is always undesirable. I quickly complain when a red light lasts more than a couple of minutes or I have to wait in the driveawy (again…smile) for my teenaged daughter!

But what about waiting on God? That tests much more than my patience; it tests my faith.

As I was reading the passage this morning, I found myself spurning the Israelites. How could they have been so foolish? Disloyal? Ungodly? How could they have witnessed such incredible miracles and provision only to start gathering their gold jewelry to make an earless, voiceless cow to be their god?!?!

Then the Holy Spirit started massaging my heart. I started seeing myself in the Israelites. I have never made a golden cow, but John Calvin’s words started ringing in my ears: “The human heart is a factory of idols.” His broadening of idolatry from created objects to heart cravings has helped me see that I, too, am an idolater. It’s easy to self-righteously condemn the Israelites because their idols were visible. My idols, though, are just as dangerous because they, too, are god replacers.

Recently, the idol that the factory in my heart has produced is an idol of peace. Peace is a fine thing to desire. In fact, a peaceful life is a wonderfully good thing! But an idol is anything I’m willing to sin to get or keep. When my desire for peace becomes a demand for it I’m in trouble. Once it becomes a demand, it has moved from a hoped-for want to a sinful “craving.”

I then begin to forfeit the very thing I desire with my restless, sinful churning because it’s been delayed.

Like last Wednesday. I was tired. I felt I needed and deserved some rest. (Which was probably true.) But just as I was lying down to rest I got a phone call with a timely request from someone I love. I could have said no, but that would have resulted in considerably inconveniencing them. As I was “serving” them, I started grumbling to myself. When Benny came in to ask about my interrupted nap, I provided an eye rolling, martyr-ish explanation. My fatigue was real…but so was my self-pity.

You might think I’m being a little hard on myself. I don’t think so. My desire for peace (and rest, in this case) was fine, but I chose to set that desire aside to serve another. That was my decision. Once that decision was made, the self-pity and resentment that bubbled up in my heart alerted me that what I wanted had moved from desire to demand.

My idol of peace was just as foolish as a golden calf. Why? Because at that moment I was willing to sin to get what I wanted. Peace had become all too important to me: important enough to sin when I didn’t get it.

That day, the delay was rest and quiet. Other days it’s been a new piece of furniture; appreciation from family members; someone doing what they said they would do without reminders; being heard or understood; dinner out. You get the picture. Sometimes those desires being delayed doesn’t result in me sinning. But other times even brief delays squeeze the sponge in my heart and yukky stuff comes out.

Yes, my heart is a factory of idols. How comforting to know this! If my sinful reactions to delays are “just the way I am” there’s no hope. But if they are functional idols they can be destroyed. Moses took the golden calf and “burned it with fire and ground it to powder” (Ex 32:20). My God can do the same for me! Because of His idol-destroying death on the cross I am promised the power to “put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature…which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). No golden calves mentioned here: just real-life temptations…including lust, impurity and greed!

Is having an idol in your heart a new thought? No worries. Many Christians still believe idols are simply statues that sit in religious buildings. But if that’s true, the New Testament wouldn’t talk so much about heart idols. The worst thing we can do when idols in our hearts are exposed is think “that’s just the way I am.” That may be just the way I was but because of Christ’s sinless life, atoning death and resurrection we who are Christians have been given His righteous life in exchange for our sin and idolatry! By His power we can stop worshiping peace or getting new things or feeling appreciated and turn our worship back to the only One who deserves it.

More about desires becoming demands tomorrow….

Spinning Plates

Yesterday I came across a booklet by author and biblical counselor, David Pawlison, called Peace Amid Pressure.  (You can find it here.)

Using Psalm 131 he discussed how to find inner composure in the midst of the stress and busyness of life.

“Oh, Lord,” the psalmist begins, “my heart is not lifted up; my raised are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.”

Any mother who has nursed a baby has a keen understanding of what this psalm means. A nursing child is restless and eager to be fed or comforted. In fact, babies are often more relaxed and content when anyone but Mommy is holding them!

After they’re weaned, though, they sit peacefully on Mommy’s lap or lay quietly on her shoulder. The “oh, you’re the one who feeds me!” attitude is gone. The understandably self-centered baby who looks to Mommy for what she can give often becomes a toddler who likes having her nearby; enjoys talking to and playing with her; and asks her countless questions.  After weaning, the mother-child relationship becomes that…a relationship.

Recently I’ve been under a lot of stress. In fact, it’s taking a considerable toll on me, including elevated cortisol levels, difficulty sleeping and fatigue. When I sit down and think through what’s stressing me, it’s pretty much just normal life stuff: a full schedule; a large family with varying needs and troubles; getting a son off to law school and adjusting to him being gone; practical preparations for my youngest starting college nearby; working part time from home; mid-life changes; serving alongside Benny with our new church; and the daily chores of running a home and serving my family. Nothing abnormal or earth-shattering.

But stressful! Sometimes I feel like the person who is trying to keep plates spinning…while watching some crash to the ground.

I want to have a quiet soul. To sit in my Father’s lap with trusting peace. The psalmist indicates that sinful pride could be at the root of some of my struggles. How much of the stress I’m experiencing is simply because I’m not relying and leaning on God? Am I fretting over things because I somehow think the world is on my shoulders? Do I really think I can effectively keep all the plates spinning around me on my own? When I can’t keep up with everything “perfectly” do I feel I failed and should have done better? Or do I acknowledge my weakness to God and others and run to a throne of grace for fresh strength?

These kinds of questions help me to be honest with my own heart. And that brings conviction, hope and peace. I’ve been running to the throne of grace and finding God’s word to be true: He does help in time of need! The help He extends to the humble (or at least to those who are wanting to be humble!) is promised and given. That alone brings peace.

If you’re experiencing a stressful season in your life, I pray you will join me in seeking to have a still and quiet soul. It’s not something we can do on our own. But God will be faithful to help us! He always does.

Our hope in Him is never misplaced.

Lessons from a Birthday Boy

Yesterday I took my grandson, Issac, out shopping for his 5th birthday. I love to hear Issac talk — he says hilarious things — so I was prepared to ask him several questions.

“Issac,” I began, “tell me about your friends.”

“What do you mean? I don’t know what you’re asking me,” he responded. (I love the honesty of children!)

“Well, just start by telling me their names.”

“Their names are Daddy, Mommy, Samuel and Josiah. Josiah is my cute little baby,” he responded. Glad he introduced Granma to his little brother! (Note: Josiah is not a baby at age two, but compared to Issac, who is quite tall for his age and estimated to grow to about 6’10”, he probably seems like a baby.)

My heart warmed that he so quickly named his family as his friends. Yet I quickly remembered our recent family vacation….

Sam (6) and Danae (their 4-year-old cousin) were playing with Issac in a bedroom near the beach house family room. Suddenly we heard loud screams followed by Sam and Issac tumbling from the bedroom in a fight. Just feet from a group of aunts, uncles and grandparents Issac body slammed his older (but smaller) brother onto the carpet to Sam’s screaming protests.  It took three adults to break up the fight and restrain Issac.

How is it that a little boy who just weeks earlier had erupted in anger toward his brother was now listing him as one of his four best friends? I think Issac knows something grown ups like me need to better understand: love covers a multitude of sin.

Last Sunday Issac’s dad, Jesse, preached at Redeemer Church on becoming a Community of Courage. Using the Hebrews 10:19-25 passage about the importance of encouragement (you can listen to the message here) he made the point that while it’s important that we know that God is for us, others also need to know that we are for them. 

“Nobody is too sinful or immature to handle your faith for them,” Jesse said. These words have been churning around in my mind since Sunday morning.

Issac understands that just because he beats up his brother for hitting him on the head with a wooden spoon, it doesn’t mean they’re not friends. In his young heart he knows that being brothers means that even if the fighting gets ugly you’ll still love each other. Sam hit his brother because Issac pushed their cousin, Danae. While hitting Issac wasn’t the answer, Jesse rightly commended his son for sticking up for a little girl.

Sam (left) and Issac a few months ago.

Even Sam attacking his brother  — resulting in Issac body slamming him in return — didn’t destroy their brotherly love.

Is there a cherished relationship in your life where fighting, hurtful words,  or anger has tempted you to lack faith that God can repair the damage? Do you find yourself wanting to sin back to protect yourself from the painful attacks of someone you love? Have your own anger and bitterness  caused what you think may be irreparable damage to a relationship you’ve worked hard to build? Have you taken up an offense because someone hurt another person you love?

It’s true. No person is too sinful or immature to handle your faith for them. Why? Because “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus didn’t wait until we got cleaned up to die for us. Rather, He demonstrated His love and faith for us while we were dead in sin; unable to love Him back; ungodly and without hope that we could ever have a relationship with holiness.

We weren’t too sinful or immature to be loved by Him.

Rather than retaliate, He loved. Instead of hitting back, He took strike after blood-producing strike so we wouldn’t have to. His own body was slammed onto the cross so we would never be afraid of His vengeful retaliation.

And because He forever made the way for a holy God and sinful people like you and me to have a loving relationship, we can trust Him to do the lesser thing of helping us have faith for even the most sinful, immature people in our lives.

Perhaps the person you’re thinking of right now has hurt you badly. Reconciliation doesn’t always mean restoration. Sometimes sins can be so heinous that the relationship can’t and shouldn’t ever be the same. But for most of us, that’s not the case. Most of my relational challenges are more like Sam and Issac’s. Normal, every day life happens and hurtful words or actions on my part on someone else’s makes us want to lash back.

Issac and his friends

I was challenged by Issac’s words yesterday. You see, I saw the fight. I sat with Issac back in the bedroom talking him through his angry reaction at his brother until Dad and Mom got back to resolve everything.

I want to help create a community of courage where faith and encouragement flow freely to even the most sinful and immature. After all, that’s what God did for me.

Thanks for your example, Issac. And happy birthday!

i.surrender.

When change comes yet again while my heart craves stability and the false security of things remaining the same, I surrender.

As the ground beneath me shifts and I can’t seem to get my footing, I surrender.

When life takes turns I didn’t plan; when I’m disoriented and perplexed and can’t find my bearings, I surrender.

Amid the swirling emotions that cause my heart to faint, my faith to waiver and my lean on Him to increase, I surrender.

When tears come without warning and I find myself longing to transport myself to a familiar past I cherish, I surrender.

As unbelief seeks to choke my heart and find treasonous rest in a bed of uncertainty about embracing God’s sovereignty, I surrender.

When storm clouds gather and I fear pelting rains will destroy embers of childlike faith in my heart, I surrender.

When disappointment looms, courage fails, fear erupts, pride charges, strength weakens and Satan accuses, I surrender.

A life of surrender beckons me to find hope in God’s unchanging character when changes come at every turn and I can’t find immediate relief. Surrendering is risky only when the one requiring it is not safe; trustworthy; wise; loving. Surrender is the response of the lesser to the one with greater strength and power; and the surrender that is required of me is to The One who also holds earth’s vast oceans in the palm of His hand.

Surrender brings peace when He is the object of my trust. And peace quiets my tempting quest to wrestle control from a benevolent Father who knows what is best.

The One who has tenderly led and cared for me thus far will see me through. Through storms and trials of various kinds He has been strong. Invincible. Tender. Faithful. Able. Near. Compassionate. Good.

And He has proven Himself as One to be trusted through it all.

I surrender again. And I will continue to surrender over and over because my life is not my own. I have been bought with a dear price. A price that warrants my full trust…trust that can only happen because the One who deserves it also empowers me to grant it.

He both requires and deserves my surrender. And He will help me once again. He always has and always will. In the end, I love His will because it has always proven His wisdom.

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73: 25-26)