Faith Defiant

Faith Defiant

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I love the Psalms. Scripture is full of the external view of faith; what faith looks like on the outside, men and women who, in faith, see God part the Red Sea and raise their loved ones from the dead, who watch Jesus make water into wine and speak the seas into submission.

But the Psalms is a view of salvation, of faith, from inside a person. It is a written account of what it’s like, day to day, to experience the living, active God in the visceral world. It’s raw. No depth of despair, no venomous anger, no disappointment is left out. But the faith in the Psalms? It’s fierce. 

Take this little Psalm – Psalm 13 – for example. It opens in a desperate cry from one who feels forgotten. Beaten. Out of time. Hopeless and anguished.

And it ends with this defiance: “I will sing to the LORD because he is good to me.”

That declaration of faith downright defies circumstance. It is stubborn and fierce and refuses to budge in the face of appearances and the subsequent flood of emotions. It holds firm to its hope and will not give it up. It knows that when all looks hopeless and lost, God isn’t.

God isn’t hopeless. God isn’t lost. God is good. And I trust Him.

HUZZAH.

A faith defiant.

I love the Psalms!

Wor-ry-ship: Time to Seek the Lord

 

Anxiety has rewritten who I am for most of my life. Most people do not know me as I am without it because all they have ever seen is the anxiety that clings to me like a staticky dress. It feels like that first moment you realize you have fallen and there is nothing to stop you before you hit the ground: your heart shoots sky high and a shock goes out from it all the way through your fingertips. And why? Who knows! Maybe because you caught someone’s eye. Maybe because you said, or you didn’t say, or you should have, or you should not have, or you might, or you might not – everything you do or might do all day long, be it wave to a neighbor or do a load of laundry or say “I do” to your own just-right. Or maybe you don’t know why, and trying to figure it out sets off the rest of the alarms in your head. Almost never have I ever lived through a major moment of my life without it clawing at my heart; the moment itself passes quickly, but I have lived it three ways. I have worried before, I have been anxious through, and I have scrutinized in agony every inch of it after – “I can’t believe I [fill in the blank].”

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I have coped with my anxiety in so many ways; it’s like the wind that’s always blowing, and I am constantly turning this way and that way, first with it blowing in my face so I don’t have to eat my hair, and then with it at my back so I can open my eyes and so it won’t rip things out of my hands, and then to the side to see if I get the best or worst of both. Sometimes I stare straight into the things that make me anxious and run toward them, and other times I turn my back on dreams and loves and hopes because I just can’t stand it anymore. I have let things go, wonderful things, irreplaceable things, because I was simply too tired of battling. (If you are one of those things, I regret you most of all. Please know – when I ran away from moments with you, it was never because of you.) I have put my best days behind me, forgotten things on purpose, just to be rid of the clawing. Most days, I would just rather hide somewhere safe, somewhere out of the wind.

Oh yes. I know what anxiety is. Anxiety is that evil thing that takes all the most beautiful, most astounding, most profound and life-giving moments in life, big and small, and steals them, and stains them, and breaks them, and disfigures them beyond repair. It is a killjoy, the killjoy – the thief.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, but I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10

I have battled anxiety in so many ways, and often, I have lost. But that is because I am foolish and forgetful; I have beaten it, really won, once or twice, and if I would remember, I do know how. I found it a long time ago, a secret that is painted on the sky every morning and night and sung by the birds all day long. The only weapon that beats the anxiety in me is worship.

Most Christians who hear the word “worship” think of singing a set of songs in church every Sunday, or perhaps singing those same songs at home or in their car throughout the week. Stick on some Hillsong and sing along, right?

To tell you the truth, I love to sing. My children can both attest – I stick on some Hillsong and I sing (and dance)(and grab them to dance) along enthusiastically. There can certainly be worship in song.

But I am going to meddle and challenge what we typically call worship, only because I mean to be precise. Plenty of the songs we call “worship” are profoundly self-focused, and it turns out, that’s pretty weak on the real worship. Real worship is utterly and helplessly selfless; it is so fixated on its Worshipped that there is simply no room to think of anything else.

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.

Philippians 4:8

What is true? “Let God be true, and every man a liar.”(Romans 3:4) What is noble? “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” (Mark 10:18) What is right, and what is pure? “Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can even a strong man be more pure than His Maker?” (Job 4:17) What is admirable? “Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you – majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (Exodus 15:11)  What is excellent or praiseworthy? “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.” (Psalm 145:3)

Think about God. Meditate on who He is, and forget, for a moment, about myself. 

There it is. The Rock that breaks the constant wind of worry in my life. Sometimes, when I am wise, I choose to think it, to speak it, to write it, to sing it, to live it – the goodness of God. I hide inside the Rock and I find peace, calm.

From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the Rock that is higher than I. For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. I long to dwell in your house forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.

Psalm 61:2-4

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I have a bookmark that I got years ago with the names of God on it; God is called the Provider, the Almighty, the Master, the Creator, the Holy One, the Healer, the Redeemer, and many, many other names, and each of them tells us something about His character. I pull it out and read them and meditate on the Scriptures that call Him that. I pull out the Psalms and I read what others have said about Him. I look throughout my own life, and I remember times when He provided, or healed, or created, or mastered, or redeemed, and I worship Him for that.

“Count your blessings, name them one by one. Count your blessings, see what God has done!”

I take my eyes for however long it takes and turn them on Jesus, and like He did for Peter, He reaches out and takes hold of me.

When my eyes fix on the eternal – He who was, and is, and will be – the winds die down in awe of Him. Something quiet and still comes into me instead: “He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul.” (Psalm 23:2ish-3ish)

I am beginning to wonder if that’s why “worry” and “worship” start out the same; is one the world’s illness, the other the Healer’s cure?

God alone understands the human heart, and He alone can say for certain. But this I have read, that God encourages us to lean on Him for our courage as He did Joshua, and He commands us, again and again, to remember Him and to worship Him. Maybe, just maybe, He has a reason for that. Or many. 🙂

Anxiety is a condition more than it is an illness; it is chronic, and so to be effective, its cure must be habitual. What would my heart, what would my life look like, if I were in a habit of meditating on and worshipping the character of God instead of my own?

I don’t know exactly – but I think I would like to. There’s no time like the present for me; I am in the thick of it, losing again to that darn wind. Here’s to growing, and to peace! 🙂

Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; it is time to seek the Lord, until He comes and showers His righteousness on you.

Hosea 10:12

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The Mighty Wife, Part Five

From Proverbs 31:10-31

Let’s review:

  1. Woman who fears the Lord, you’re awesome! (BIG fan. HUGE.)
  2. Woman who fears the Lord, you’re a force to be reckoned with!
  3. Woman who fears the Lord, you fear the Lord – that’s why you’re WORTH it.
  4. Woman who fears the Lord, God sees all the millions of “little” things you do! (And He thinks it’s pretty big of you…) Like this:
    1. Clothing your loved ones appropriately for the weather
    2. Grocery shopping
    3. Getting your loves ones out the door ready for the day
    4. Working
    5. Doing your job well
    6. Getting good deals
    7. Paying the bills
    8. Having and using your skills faithfully
    9. Sharing
    10. Making your loved ones wear their coats
    11. Making your home comfortable
    12. Dressing appropriately for the weather
    13. Supporting your husband(/employer)
    14. Contributing to the economy
    15. Trusting God
    16. Teaching kids wisdom and truth
    17. Working super hard to take care of yourself and others

We’ve discussed a little about where all this comes from, and at the risk of irritating those who don’t like to be told a thousand times, I’ll say it again: This comes from her relationship with the Lord.

How so? How does a relationship with the Lord end up looking a lot like working really hard for other people? And is that what we really want? Wait a second…it’s a TRAP!

Goodness gracious no, it’s not a trap. It’s called love. Or, more accurately, being loved.

Yes. I said that right.

“We love because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

This woman has a secret: it is not what she does, but what is done to her. Someone loves her. She is secure in that love.

Her needs are met.

What would you do if your needs were met?

No, no. No, no. Back up. Read it again. And think for a while. Answer the question. What if your needs – for attention, affection, security, and appreciation – were all met, for good? What if you had nothing more to worry about – what if you were completely satisfied? What would you do then?

Well, when you’ve had enough attention, you can stop performing. When you’ve had enough affection, you can stop pandering. When you’ve had enough appreciation, you can stop perfecting. And when you’ve had enough security (food, shelter, love, that sort of thing), you can stop worrying.

So, then, what would be left?

If you had nothing more to do for you, what would you do?

Think about it for a while. Doesn’t it make you feel free?

Look at what God says He wants for us:

“The LORD will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” Isaiah 58:11

“The LORD is my Shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He refreshes my soul.” Psalm 23:1-3a

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17b-19

“I am the good Shepherd; I know My sheep and My sheep know Me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down My life for My sheep.” John 10:14-15

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” Galatians 5:1

This is the woman’s secret! Her needs are met. She has given them over to God, her Shepherd, and she is free! She no longer has to do anything; so what’s left? Well, whatever she so chooses.

So what does she choose?

She chooses to love, as she has been loved, because when you don’t have to do anything, there is nothing better to do in the world.

God has spent His life for her, and she chooses to spend hers for others.

Here’s the thing: She’s not doing it because she wants God to do something for her; that would be the need for security, which God has already met (“I lack nothing.”) She’s not doing it because she wants other people to notice, to see her; that would be that need for attention, which God has already met (“I know my sheep…”). She’s not doing it because she wants her family to depend on her, to need her, and so in some twisted, self-loving way, to love her; that would be the need for affection, which God has already met (“how wide and long and high and deep…”). And she’s not doing it because she feels obligated by the gift God has given her or like she owes Him or He won’t love her anymore; that would be that need to feel appreciated, to feel worth something, which God has already met – by going so far as to send His Son for her, because she’s worth that much to Him.

She is doing it all with no strings attached.

Proverbs 31 is a poem – a song – an exultation – about a woman who is free. She is the most beautiful, powerful thing in all the world – rarer, and more valuable, than many, many rubies.

She is you, my love. She is you in Christ.

“31What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us,who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”[j]

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[k] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:31-39

The Mighty Wife, Part Four

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From Proverbs 31:10-31

Okay, let’s sum up The Mighty Wife so far:

  1. Woman who fears the Lord, good job! Your family (employer/whoever you work hard for) is lucky to have you! <standing ovation from husband and/or children and/or whoever else should> (Proverbs 31:10-12, 28-31)
  2. Woman who fears the Lord, thou art STRONG! (Roar!) (Proverbs 31:10)
  3. Woman who fears the Lord, you are valuable for Whom you have believed. (Proverbs 31:30)

So, we’ve done a pretty good job looking at the beginning and the end of this passage, yeah? All right. Now the middle. <gulp>

Before we dig into what this woman does, let’s remind ourselves quickly WHY she does it. All that this woman does comes from what she believes. What does she believe? Well, actually, the better question is Who. She believes God. She fears Him. She puts her trust in Him. She relies on Him, as it says in Isaiah 50:10:

“Who is among you that fears the Lord,
That obeys the voice of His servant,
That walks in darkness and has no light?
Let him trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God.”

So in all these things that you read, remember from where she draws her strength. She does not have to rely on herself for any of this; she does not have to somehow produce it from her own human heart. This comes from her reliance on God, from her faith and trust in Him. Let’s take a closer look to see how, exactly, this reliance on God influences every tiny detail of her life, because when we look closely, we’ll see that THAT is what this passage is about.

But wait. We’re not quite there yet. First things first.

Now, when we read this, it’s going to sound a bit like this woman is a wax display at a pioneer museum, so I think it will be helpful to translate bits here and there into our modern day so we understand (I’ve summed them all up briefly; if you’d like further explanations, see the P.S.s at the very end). Because the first thing she does is this (huh, what?):

“13 She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.”

And it just means she goes shopping and buys her family clothes for all seasons.

(See P.S. #1)
“14 She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.”

She goes grocery shopping.

(See P.S. #2)

So let’s sum up so far: she goes grocery shopping and clothes shopping so her family can be fed and clothed. Funny, she sounds like a mom.
“15 She gets up while it is still night;”

<groan> WHY, woman, WHY? <p.s. see below>
she provides food for her family
and portions for her female servants.

She gets up early to make sure everyone’s got something to eat for breakfast before the activities of the day begin. Hmm. She sounds…like…a mom.

(see P.S. #3)
“16 She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.”

Whoa, nelly, wait a minute. Her earnings? You mean this woman WORKS? <gasp!> That is SO unbiblical. She is so far ahead of her time! <note the sarcasm>

Yes. She does work. She works, and then she invests her profit. This woman is a business woman.
“17 She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.”

Look at her WORKING! This woman doesn’t just work, she WORKS. Know what I mean? She is GOOD at her job. And she’s strong!

“18 She sees that her trading is profitable,”

She gets good prices.
“and her lamp does not go out at night.”

Because she pays the electric bill on time.

(See P.S. #4)
“19 In her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.”

She has skills. She uses them.
“20 She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.”

She shares.
“21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.”

Her kids have coats. Good ones.
“22 She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.”

She makes her home comfortable. She wears clothing appropriate for the weather.

“23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.”

Everyone’s like, “Whoa, tell us your secrets, man!” because they think her husband is awesome. Really, he’s just a guy who doesn’t have to worry about extra stuff and can focus on what he’s doing because his wife is awesome. (And he’s probably pretty awesome, too. I mean, she did marry him. And there are some pretty awesome men in the world. I married one, too.)
“24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.”

She markets her skills. The economy flourishes.
“25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.”

She trusts God.
“26 She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.”

She raises her kids. She teaches them what they need to know. Mostly, to fear God. And to brush their teeth.
“27 She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.”

She works. She pays bills. She keeps her family fed and clothed. She shares. She raises her kids to fear the Lord. And that’s a STINKIN’ lot of work, people! (Can I get an “AMEN!”?) (P.S. Nowhere does it say she does all this in a day, by the way. This is the summary of a lifestyle, lived out over the course of a lifetime. Remember that.)

That’s why it ends the way it does:

28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
    her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
    but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
    and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

In other words: WOW, what a woman!

And you know what the best part is? I actually know A LOT of women like this.  ❤

Now let’s take a few steps back and remember where all this awesomeness comes from, yes? Great. Next post.

To be continued…

 

P.S. #1  Wool and flax were the two primary raw ingredients for fabrics of the day – wool for cold weather, flax (for linen) for hot. So when it says “she selects wool and flax,” darlings, it means she goes shopping.

Umm, this woman is praised for how great she is at shopping. Yep. (Put down those credit cards, ladies. Let’s not get TOO excited.)

But also, it means her family is clothed. Because she shops. (Now, she had to make the clothes herself, too – these days it’s actually more expensive to do that sometimes!) But the point is, clothes. Her family has clothes. Kind of important.

P.S. #2 In other words, she looks far and wide for the best food for her family. She includes variety in their diet, bringing her food “from afar.” Like oranges from Texas. Or blueberries from Maine. Avocados from Mexico. That sort of thing.

P.S. #3 Oh, and she has servants. Just saying. (Today we might call them employees, but same same – they are people. Who do work. For her.) (What are you waiting for, woman? Break out those chore charts and feel no guilt!)

P.S. #4   About that “lamp doesn’t go out at night” thing:

Okay, now, listen. This one. This one I have heard  people say means she stays up all night. Not only is that not possible, it is not healthy, and it is not productive, two things this woman clearly is. And it fails to consider history.

We’ll look to the very same book, the Bible, to explain this one to us: think about the parable of the 10 virgins. These were young women invited to a wedding. They had brought oil lamps and were sitting outside a gate waiting for the bridegroom to come; some of them brought extra oil in case he was a long time coming, and some of them did not. ALL of them fell asleep. When they woke up, those who brought extra oil found their lamps still burning, trimmed them, and went in with the bridegroom. Those who had not had to go to town to buy more, missed the bridegroom, and were not allowed in. What light does this shed (hehe) on the Proverbs 31 woman?

This may seem obvious, but in those days, there was no electricity. SO, if for any reason you had to get up in the middle of the night (bathroom break, baby crying, late night medical emergency, visitor who arrives a little later than expected, etc.), you could not just flip and switch and voila! Let there be light.

Nope. SO, you had to keep a lamp close by so you could grab it and take it with you. The thing is it is REALLY, REALLY hard to light one of those in the pitch black dark. SO, what you did instead was keep it burning low all night long, and then when you woke up, you turned it up. (Or something like that – my grasp of exactly how oil lamps work is…tenuous.)

Now, I do know that in those days, the lamps ran on oil. So you had to make sure you had enough oil to get through any situation you might have at night. (Hence the virgins.)

In modern words, you had to make sure when you flipped the switch, something would happen. Or, to put it plainly, you had to pay the electric bill.

Yep. “Good job, woman! You pay the electric bill! You are so prepared!”

The Mighty Wife, Part Three

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Let’s continue on reading this passage with our new perspective of praise. “She is worth far more than rubies,” verse 10 continues. Let me ask you this: from where, exactly, does this woman’s value come? From where, exactly, does all women’s value come?

I can see your Bible-educated, culture-educated, and self-educated wheels churning out the expected answers like a factory line of machines. But stop – I want you to seriously, deeply consider this question. This is not a touchy-feely-make-sure-you-feel-good-about-yourself question like we’ve been led to believe, ladies. This is important. This is enormous. Do you know that the way you truly answer this question – the deepest held conviction of your heart about this particular truth – is written all over your life from top to bottom? From where does YOUR value come?

If you want to know the real answer, look at how you spend your time, what you choose to grow and cultivate in your own soul – what you are trying to be. It usually takes me all of five minutes with you to know where you think your value comes from.

And I cannot express to you how grieved I am at the lies women believe about this.

Because at the top of the list – pounded by the media, embedded in human cultures all throughout the world, what I believe to be the devil’s most effective weapon for the oppression of women everywhere – is that a woman’s worth comes from her sex appeal.

Let me get something straight: I am not some sort of Victorian prude. I am not pressing for the removal of sex from our lives, or insinuating that I feel that women are not sexual creatures, too. And I like to look good, and I like turning my husband’s head, and I don’t find anything wrong in making an effort to do so. But it is a favorite pastime of this world to deprive from women the right to be anything else but a mindless, soulless toy for men. And women – you are so much more. The good men know that.

But look around you next time you’re at the mall, or the movie theater, or the beach. Tell me if anything – anything – else a woman can be is praised so highly as this one thing, sexy.

In pursuit of this one kind of value, millions of women neglect to become anything else – and beauty is fleeting! If you want to know how many women derive their value from beauty in this country, visit a hair stylist and ask her how many of her customers chose not to cover up their gray.

And here’s another thing: women work so much harder than they need to. Ladies, seriously, you have no idea how easy it is to turn a man’s head. SERIOUSLY. Lighten up, you look gorgeous! Stop wasting your time working on something that’s already done.

Sub-truth #1: Woman, you are beautiful, and so much more.

But that is not where your value comes from.

Then where?

Despite culture’s best attempts, there are still plenty of gorgeous, strong women who do not accept this view of themselves as a sex object and nothing more. For a long time, I have been one of them. But finding our value in beauty is not the only trap women face; our world has many more traps for those who escape the first. Charm, or that winsome personality. Physical strength. A successful career. Creating beautiful things. Taking good care of husbands and children. Having friends. Being popular. Even cooking well. Women value themselves for all kinds of different things. For me, it is intelligence, and ‘success’ as the world defines it, prestige. The desire to prove myself smarter than others is one that is being quite patiently and diligently removed by God a little more every day – and let me tell you, it is wedged in there tight. See, for years, almost my whole life, I have valued myself based on my intelligence, because I’m pretty smart, or so the tests say, and so it is quite a paradigm shift to see that God does not view human ‘intelligence’ as such a valuable thing. “Claiming to be wise, they became fools,” (Rom. 1:22) He says, and “the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” 1 Cor. 1:19 That’s about what He thinks of human ‘intelligence.’ What I have valued myself for my whole life – spent myself on at times – is just as futile and probably three times as dangerous as beauty for looking “safe.”

Now, this woman in Proverbs is praised for being wise, strong, and kind, and she is a very capable, very successful woman. She has a head full of brains and shoes full of feet, as Dr. Seuss would say. But that is not where her value comes from.

Her success does not arise from her intelligence, but her diligence. Her diligence arises from her character. And her character? Her character was formed on one premise alone: “A woman who fears the Lord.

That is what makes her mighty.

So what does it mean, then, to fear the Lord?

It’s a phrase thrown around frequently in the Old Testament, and makes a particular show of force in Proverbs, which begins with the assertion that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,” (Proverbs 1:7) preceded by a father’s urgent plea to his son to seek after wisdom and knowledge above all else. Clearly this thing is important.

I had a Bible teacher once tell me that “it’s not really fear as much as respect,” with which I will respectfully disagree. The more I learn about God, the more He terrifies me. Not in the way that makes me run from Him, but run to Him, because only through Him do I have any chance at all!

Think of this: Do you not realize, broken, faulty soul, that He is perfect? Do you not realize that He does not live in contradiction to Himself – that He is perfectly consistent even to His deepest parts, the depths of Him no one else can understand? Do you not realize that in this perfection, in this consistency,He perfectly and consistently loves every soul you have ever harmed (and you have harmed souls, whether you intended to or not), and He will not stand for your crime, but will have justice for them all? Think of a person who has deeply hurt someone you love – and does not the same love in you that God has for them burn in anger?

Do you not realize He knows every way to cause you pain, the way you have done to others? Do you not realize He has the ability to dismantle the atoms of your body, and the building blocks of your soul as well? Every person you have ever harmed, intentionally or not, He loves. He has spoken you into existence, and He can speak you out of it.

Hebrews 10:30-31 puts it (much better) this way: “For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is mine, I WILL repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

And do you not realize that the only thing that keeps Him from doing so – is Himself?

Because after all you have done, His love for you is great enough to offer you redemption by the blood of one who never sinned, His own Son. This is the God you say you believe is real, and my dears, He is – He is terribly real. Oh, yes, fear Him! Then, and then alone, will you begin to really know the truth. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…”

That is what the fear of the Lord means – as Jonathon Edwards put it, that we are “sinners in the hands of an angry God,” and without His Son, we are hopeless.

But we are not hopeless – so long as our hope is in Him.

That is what the woman in Proverbs 31 knows to be true. That is what makes this Proverbs 31 woman who she is. She fears God – and because she fears Him, she seeks Him, because her hope is in Him, not in herself. Everything she does – everything for which she is praised in this passage – it’s all just the evidence. It is the outward trail of an inward journey into the heart of God. It’s only the runoff of an overflowing heart. Her life is the overflow of her faith.

And the funny thing is, this is the one thing about ourselves we tend to neglect the most. Not just women, of course, but people; there are too, too many people in this world who do not know what they believe, or who.

Now, women of God, you who believe Him – that is why you deserve praise.

Let everything else fall away. Everything you run after – Your beauty. Your success. Your clean house and well-behaved children. Your dreamy marriage. Your perfect hair. Let it all fall away.

Let your value rest on whom you have believed, and you will have begun to be this Proverbs 31 woman.

It’s that much easier to be her than you could have ever dreamed.

Oh – and, er, well – that much harder. But that’s a post for a different day.

Truth #2: Woman, your value comes from what you seek – or more accurately, Whom you seek.

 

The Mighty Wife, Part Two

The Mighty Wife Part 2

The Mighty Wife

From Proverbs 31:10-31

<cue woefully inadequate Julie Andrews imitation> “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start…”

First of all, let’s clarify something: according to every teacher who’s ever endeavored to teach me this delightful passage, and according to the words and heading of the Bible translation I possess, this passage is about “The Wife of Noble Character.”

So, what the heck does that mean?

Here’s something fascinating that I just learned that nobody’s ever told me before: the Hebrew word translated “noble character” here, hayil? It means mighty. Like, as in, it is most often used in reference to military might. It is related to the word heyl, which literally means military fortification, or army. Hayil means: “Might, strength, power; able, valiant, virtuous; army host, forces; riches, substance, wealth. Primarily signifies military might.” (From my Key Word Study Bible)

Why do I find this so fascinating? Well, my background is in English literature. One of the things you’re taught when you are taught to analyze English literature is that there is a difference between a word’s denotation (what the dictionary says it means) and it’s connotation (what it implies, or, actually means).

This word for “noble character” is used to connote all things mighty.

This passage is not about the “noble” wife who stares down her nose at people and wears fancy schmancy gowns bought by the blood, sweat, and tears of the servants she oppresses (which, by the way, is not what “noble” originally meant, either, hence the translator’s choice of words. Perfect example of denotation vs. connotation). This woman is not some holier version of Cinderella’s stepmother, folks, “noble woman” though she may have been called.

Neither is she some pushover, weak-willed, soft-gripped woman, either, which is how noble has often come to be used today.

No, no. This passage, my dears, is about the Mighty Wife. <cue bicep flex>

A couple years ago, one of my cousin’s wives said something to me that I found profoundly life changing. I was admiring her ability to carry a toddler on her back and a baby on her front walking uphill in the blistering heat (might as well have been both ways), and she just shrugged and said, “Women are strong,” as if everybody knew that.

But, wait – do we know that?

Men are strong. Right? Well, of course they are. Physiologically speaking, men are stronger than women, just because. I mean, their testosterone levels make them literally grow muscles in their sleep. <cue Fezzik voice> “It’s not my fault that I’m the biggest and the strongest. I don’t even exercise.” Not that I’m bitter or anything.

Granted, men are stronger than women. In our minds, though, which are taught to think in opposites, that naturally makes women weak. My dears, men may be stronger – but women are still strong. You are strong. Remember that. This Proverbs 31 chick? She’s a beast – the most beautiful kind. The passage specifically praises her strength – more than once!

So here’s a lie that our culture (not our Bible!) has taught us: The Bible says women are weak. <cue objections> Yes, yes, yes, it does say women are the “weaker vessel.” Emphasis on the er. Remember how stronger didn’t mean not strong? Well guess what. Weaker, fellas, weaker. We, none of us, are strong vessels without Christ. But I digress.

The Bible, God’s living and active Word, Proverbs 31, says women are STRONG.

Time and time again, my own observations confirm this truth. And I don’t just mean physically, although women have tremendous potential to be physically strong and many of us are, but strong in personality, strong in conviction, strong in adversity, strong in integrity, strong in love. The first verse of this infamous passage, verse 10, calls this woman a “wife of <mighty> character,” (added emphasis etc.). I don’t think I’m the only one who can look around and see women who fit this bill.

Truth #1: Woman who fears the Lord, thou art strong.

The Mighty Wife, Part One

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From Proverbs 31:10-31

The Mighty Wife, Part 1

<Groan> Here. We go. Again. ANOTHER exhortation from Proverbs 31. Prepare heads for sound thumping!

Ladies, raise your hand if you have ever felt this way about this particular passage of Scripture. <raises both hands>

All right, I may err on the dramatic side. But seriously, though, I have heard SO many sermons and read SO many articles and SO many books and even gone to SO MANY classes about this FREAKING PROVERBS 31…woman, I was going to say woman. <Ahem>. And every time I do I get about. Six. Inches. Smaller. <Thump> <Thump> <Thump>

Here’s the thing that gets me: that’s not what it’s for. I mean the Word of God – that’s not what it’s for!

Yes, God’s Word is “for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” (2 Timothy 3:16), but not so we can feel fit for nothing but the trash pile before God’s hardly even begun His great work in us! (See God’s Trash, Part 1). No, no. What does that verse say? “so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:17)

So, before we even talk about what Proverbs 31 says, let’s talk about what it’s for. What is this passage – what is any of Scripture – for? According to Timothy, it’s for equipping. Well, what does that mean?

Militarily, it means not sending your troops out to meet gunfire with pitchforks.

Astronautically, it means not sending your astronaut to walk on the moon in a swimsuit.

Antarctically, it means you stinkin’ BUNDLE UP.

My dear, Scripture is God putting the tools in your hands for the job you have to do. He’s not sending you out to life to meet defeat, all right? (Sidenote: We’re talking about His plan, not yours…big difference sometimes. HUGE. More on that some other time.) He’s not throwing you – you who trust Him alone to save you – to the sharks so He can watch them tear you apart for the fun of it. That’s NOT God. God does not desire your defeat in the tasks He’s given you. Enjoy that truth.

God’s Words are for building us up, strengthening us, making us feel His love for us, feel His strength and His joy and His power by which we “soar on wings like eagles!” (Isaiah 40:31) And yes, sometimes His words tell us we’ve done it wrong (again) and that hurts – but it should hurt in the growing kind of way, not the shrinking.

Because ultimately, God’s Word is a tool – God’s tool – for building. Building us, to be specific – building us up into all He has planned for us to be: “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:32)

Now you see why it gets me when I’m taught about a passage of Scripture in a way that makes me feel defeated. And not just defeated in one small way – defeated as a woman, as the very essence of who – of what – I am. No, no, no! That is NOT what it’s for.

Well, then, what is Proverbs 31 for?

My husband told me something very interesting a while back, which I have been steeping in my mind ever since; he told me that he’d discussed this passage with a Jewish rabbi, who told him that in Jewish teaching, this passage is not considered a “thou shalt” list for women, but rather considered an exhortation to husbands to praise their wives. <psh> Where on earth did they get THAT idea?

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.” Proverbs 31:30-31.

OH.

So in other words, “Hey husbands! Appreciate your wives! Tell her you love her and think she’s just dandy!”

So, ladies, you know all those things you’ve done for others that you thought no one saw because no one ever bothered to say thank you? All the underwear you washed and nasty refrigerators you cleaned out and invisible ‘ow’ies you kissed and toys you picked up – several times a day – and healthy dinners you carefully made that EVERYONE complained about and all this even though you’ve got other stuff you could do with your time?

You know how no one ever seems to see what you do?

God saw.

In Proverbs 31, He says thank you. He even nudges your husband and kids, too, and is like, “Hey, say thank you to your amazing wife and mom ‘cuz she DESERVES it.”

WHOA NELLY, that BUILDS. ME. UP.

Go ahead and read the passage again in the light of someone telling a woman how amazing she is. Does that change it for you? Good. Now we have somewhere to start.

40 Years in Midian

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(This is not a picture of Midian. This is a picture of Colorado. Because Colorado is pretty.)

Moses was, arguably, the most honored man to have ever lived. He alone was invited into the Almighty’s presence and called His friend; he experienced a kind of intimacy with God that, if we are honest with ourselves, both inspires and terrifies most of us. He was God’s friend. But he didn’t start that way! His eventual success in fulfilling God’s whole plan for his life is encouraging – inspiring – overwhelmingly full of hope to me, but not because he succeeded. It is all these things because he failed.

Can you imagine being born into Moses’ circumstances? Intended for death from the first breath of life, spared by the courage of a mother and the protection of God, hand-delivered by God into the palace of the very people who ordered your death – and spared, and spared, and spared again. Given back to the courageous mother for a little while, long enough for her to tell you over and over again what a miracle you are, then taken back to the palace to be told you were a gift from the gods, used as leverage, pampered and educated and prepared to be one of the greatest men in the world. By the age of 40, he had clearly decided who he was going to be. Maybe his birth mother told him it was his purpose; maybe his mother or a mentor had suggested it was his fate (believing he would use the Israelites to stage a mutiny and rule Egypt, perhaps?); or maybe the circumstances of his life convinced him, but he knew. He was Israel’s deliverer. He would save them.

Now the bigger problem: they did not know this was his intention. Whose side was he really on, anyway? Would he ally himself with the Egyptians who had raised him, or the Israelites who had birthed him? To save them, he needed their allegiance; for their allegiance, he needed their trust; for their trust, he needed to do something – anything – to help them. So he killed a man, an Egyptian man, a man who abused them.

And thus began his failure.

First of all, he killed the coward’s way. He waited until the man was alone, until no one would see, and buried his body in the sand while he thought no one was watching. And he learned immediately what all cowards must learn eventually; someone is always watching.

(For the record, I’m not condemning cowards; understand, I am one. That’s what’s so exciting to me about all this.)

The rumor must have made it to the palace fairly soon. There were plenty of people seeking Pharaoh’s favor, and to be the messenger delivering the news of the black sheep’s misdeeds, the Hebrew prince, well, that would surely be rewarded, no? Moses did not have the courage to find out.

He ran. He ran from everything – the confrontation, the consequences, the expectations of his mothers, the failure – his failure, his failure to be anything extraordinary at all. He ran to Midian. For forty years he hid tending sheep and soaking in his failure, like meat in a marinade, pulling it into himself until it saturated him with disillusionment and belief in his inadequacy. He pulled together what little hope for a fulfilling life he had left – a wife, children, a job that put food on the table – and he just gave up.

Moses gave up. MOSES gave UP! Can I get a hallelujah? I am not the only one who’s ever felt this way, folks. PRAISE THE LORD.

God let him wallow there for FORTY YEARS. Forty! I tell you what, you know if he’d had any hope left at the beginning, he certainly didn’t by the end.

Now I don’t know about you, but forty years would be long enough to convince me that if God even had saved me for a purpose, He must’ve given up on me, too. And then, when Moses was so thick with his failure and shame that he could have never gone back, he met someone.

One part relief from the burden of saving Israel, ninety-nine parts shame and disappointment, wallowing out in the desert just trying to forget, and then there he stood, in front of a flame-filled bush that was not burning up, hearing a voice he thought would never have a reason speak to him now. A whole lifetime had gone by – the man was 80 years old – and there he was, making his excuses to the Most High God, telling Him all the things he had told himself for forty years in the desert: You don’t want me. I am not good enough for You.

But God did want him. Not someone like him, but him exactly, and not him forty-one years ago, puffed up with his own importance and driving after his own glory, but him now, filled with his own insignificance, resigned to spend the rest of his life herding sheep.

Somehow, that made him ready to lead arguably the greatest event in Israel’s history (barring the birth of the Messiah): the Exodus.

There must be something about herding sheep that uniquely qualifies a man to lead a nation. Israel’s two greatest leaders, David and Moses, were both trained this way. Maybe it’s because sheep are so stupid. Maybe it’s because they’re so stubborn and wayward, and maybe those are all the same thing. Or maybe it’s because they all look alike to everyone except their shepherd, who recognizes them as individual, gentle creatures who only need a little guidance, care, and protection to be peaceful and happy and devoted and free.

Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because sheep can so quietly be abused: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” (Luke 16:10) A shepherd spends most of his days alone, with no one to hold him accountable if he doesn’t try his hardest to fight off that lion or that bear. It’s not his fault if he wasn’t fast enough to kill the wolf, or if he didn’t see the sneaky little lamb who wandered away from the flock. He had ninety-nine others to watch, after all.

But the good shepherd does notice the missing lamb. The good shepherd never says, “better a few sheep than me” when a wolf attacks. Why? Because a good shepherd knows the differences in all of their faces, and it’s not just a few sheep. It’s Black-Eyed Susie and Fluffy and Mary-Lou, who nuzzles his hand every morning and curls up on his lap at night. He loves them all differently and fully like you or I would if we had a hundred dogs, and he’d miss Fluffy’s bleating-before-the-sun-is-up every morning no matter how much it annoys him. So he’d step between them and take the wolf down.

In sum, a good shepherd is selfless, generous, gentle, protective, full of integrity, and wise. Hey, I would vote for him. Wouldn’t you?

Apparently God agrees. And more than that – everything that had happened in those forty years in Midian while Moses was wallowing in his worthlessness – every little sheep he hunted down and every hungry wolf he fought – it all had its purpose. PRAISE. THE. LORD. Because most days, I feel like I’m all alone out there in the desert, tending sheep.

His time in Midian did mold Moses into exactly the man God wanted him to be. It gave Moses the two-ears, one-mouth kind of wisdom that the Israelites desperately needed in their escape. It stripped from him reverence for his own importance, and replaced it with reverence for the God by whom he was important. It turned his eyes above him so he did not even see if his feet touched the ground because it didn’t matter; God could make him fly. (He didn’t, but He could have. I’m just making a point, people.)

It made him a friend. Of GOD.

Maybe, just maybe, after all my failures, I can still be one, too.

Maybe God hasn’t given up on me.

HALLELUJAH!

 

 

 

 

 

God’s Trash, Part 2

Trash Part Two“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1-2

Let’s sum up Part One: YOU are NOT God’s trash! You read all about this in the previous post, yes?

Great.

Now for the less comfortable part: next time you go to church, look around you. Find a face that said an unkind word, or a person who flaked when you really needed them to come through. Find that person who makes you feel six inches tall and the one who always flies off the handle over nothing. In short, find me, and all my counterparts. And hear what that verse has to say:

They are not God’s trash.

Let this one sink in, my dears.

They are NOT God’s trash.

Stop trying to throw them away!

You’re right. You’re right, okay? They’re broken. Every last one of them, and yes, their brokenness has affected you (and others!) in unpleasant ways. They hurt you, and that was wrong. That is wrong. You’re right! There is something wrong with them.

That’s why they’re here.

Take a look at the rest of them, too, the ones you haven’t tried to throw away yet, and understand, if you stick with them long enough, their broken parts will hurt you too. That’s why they’re here, too – that’s why we’re all here. We’re here for Jesus because we desperately want to be healed, to be fixed. 

I would like to insert a little aside here, just so we’re clear: not everyone who walks through the doors of a church belongs to Christ. Not even everyone who serves on a deacon board or plays guitar on the stage or gives large amounts of money to the church belongs to Christ. The verse says, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” God knows who is who. Jesus told us how we can know, too: “ A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. …Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:18&20, for full context read Matthew 7:15-20, or just Matthew 5-7. It’s, you know, pretty really good.)

An aside to my aside: when I say “fruit,” I don’t mean “works.” I don’t mean you will know who they are by how many starving children they support (a good thing to do, don’t get me wrong). I’m talking Galatians 5:16-26, fruit of the flesh vs. fruit of the Spirit. Read it. Memorize it. It’s how you’ll know.

Now, what I’m saying applies to people who, when you examine their whole lives (and not just their broken pieces and sour moments), show growth in things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. Not perfection, mind you. Growth. However small it might be – and it might be smaller in some than others!

Now I know that sometimes church leaders have to make really, really hard decisions to ask particularly abusive or caustic people to leave the local church, and that is biblical. Don’t hear me say it isn’t. But asking a person to leave the local body for a time is different than trying to throw them away for eternity, ya feel me? And since most of us are NOT called by God to be those church leaders at present, what say we let those who ARE called handle it, no? God bless them with His wisdom.

Two steps back to the main path, and, go! Back to what I was saying.

…What was I saying?

Oh, yes. Why we’re here, etc, etc. Folks, we’re here for Jesus. In the end, that’s all. Okay? That’s all. “‘Sir…we would like to see Jesus.'” (John 12:21)

When someone from church hurts one of us, instead of getting all bitter and surly about it, let’s all try this: praise God. Praise the Almighty, Eternal, All-knowing God for His perfect wisdom in wooing those hurtful people to church so He can have a talk with them. Let me tell you, honey, they’re in the right place. Pray they’ll listen, and then answer their prayers by listening yourself. And praise God again, because He knows what each of us needs.

Romans 14:4 says it like this: “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.”

PRAISE. THE. LORD.

Let’s decide, as the body of Christ, to let God throw away His own trash. I think He’s big enough to handle it. Let’s let the artist decide if the brush has lost too many bristles to be useful, no? The fact of the matter is that God has decided to keep us – all of us. He went to the greatest possible lengths to recover us from the dump so He could save us forever, and He’s been meticulously restoring us ever since. He sent His Son, then His Spirit. Glory, hallelujah! Praise the Lord, we are redeemed.

Praise the Lord.

God’s Trash, Part One

God Trash

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1-2

I heard this verse in a sermon a couple weeks ago, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it ever since. The pastor who was teaching just kind of skimmed over it, since he had plenty of other things to say and this particular verse can be a little “old news” to many of us.

Now, I’ve heard this verse a time or two in my life. By “a time or two,” of course, I mean somewhere in the thousands upon thousands of times. I was made to memorize it, once, so it’s one of those that has played on loop in my brain.

For some reason, though, this time it didn’t slip by unnoticed as it usually does. This time, it began to loop again, and I started thinking: what exactly is condemnation, anyway?

We all know, don’t we. Don’t we? It’s a word we use a lot, so we ought to, I suppose. It’s one of those words like integrity and holiness that forms what some have dubbed “Christianese” because you hardly hear them outside of a religious or moral context. If, like me, you’ve grown up hearing these words and speak them natively whether you really understand them or not, you probably feel (as I did) that you’ve got a pretty good grasp.

I find it helpful, though, to pause sometimes and look for words outside their biblical context. As the pastor continued to teach on other parts of the passage, my (confession alert) attention…er…drifted a bit, and instead I pondered the meaning of “condemn” outside of moral meaning.

The meaning that stuck out to me most was this: we “condemn” old buildings that are no longer worth what it would cost to fix them. They are no longer fit for the task for which they were made, so we demolish them. We turn them to rubble. We throw them away.

To throw away. Simply put, that is what condemn means. It means something is no longer valuable enough to save, so it is simply discarded. Abandoned. Left to rot, and eventually, pass away. It’s trash.

Put into the context of this verse, then, this is what I heard it say:

To you who choose Jesus as your Savior: You are not God’s trash.

Are you hearing this? I don’t think you heard what I just heard. Listen again:

YOU are NOT God’s trash.

BELOVED OF GOD, STOP TRYING TO THROW YOURSELF AWAY!

I just about jumped out of my skin when I heard that. We do, though, don’t we? We all get into these doldrums where we think, “I fail so much. I’m too broken. God just can’t use me anymore.” And what is His answer? Stop trying to take out my trash!

Here’s the truth, folks: we’re right. We are broken. In any but the Master’s hands, we are useless. But as it turns out, it’s not the tool that does the work; it’s the craftsman. And God is so good, He can even use tools as broken as we are. He is so intelligent, He can even find ways to use our broken parts to do His bidding.

I had a professor in college who was burdened with the arduous task of teaching me technical theater, a.k.a how to use tools. Poor fellow. Anyway. One of the topics in his class was painting sets, and for it he had us help him paint a particular set he was working on. Now, folks, understand – I am now twenty-nine years old, and I still can’t quite color in the lines. Again, poor fellow. Anyway. The reason I bring this up is that he had an old paintbrush that had lived long enough to be missing most of its bristles. One might think, then, that is was nearly worthless to him, hence it would make an excellent training brush for us newbies who might destroy it. This was not the case. That brush was his prized possession, the trick of his trade. That brush could paint irregular, natural looking lines that perfectly mimicked wood grain, or the bark on a tree, etc., like no other brush could. He didn’t let us touch it.

See where I’m going with this?

What if – let’s just say what if – God can use broken tools, too?

What if He really is that good?

What if God is such a perfect craftsman that He can not only use you in spite of your brokenness – oh, here’s a thought – but because of it?

Let’s talk Moses for a moment (more on him later – what a fellow!). Moses gave God the same speech you and I’ve been delivering, and whad’ya’know, he was even kind enough to write down God’s answer. It went something like this (from Exodus 3:10-4:17, dramatically and somewhat irreverantly paraphrased for full understanding. Read the original first. It’s better.):

God: Go tell Pharaoh to let my people go.

Moses: What, me? I’m a nobody!

God: That’s okay, I’m coming with you.

Moses: Who are you?

God: I’m THE somebody!

Moses: Cool…but they’re never going to believe I met You.

God: Watch this! (performs crazy miracles) See? Trust me, they’ll believe you.

Moses: Okay, fine, that’s pretty cool, but I’m not eloquent enough. I talk slow.

God: Seriously? Who do you think made your mouth, man? Hint: I DID. Do what I say and I’ll make sure you say it right.

Moses (whining): PLEASE send someone else!

God (losing it a little)(understandably): FINE! Your brother will speak, but only what you tell him to say, all right? I’ll tell you, and you tell him.

[End scene]

If Moses was a paintbrush, he’d be telling God he’s lost too many bristles, and God would be telling him that’s perfect. See, when the tool is broken, it makes it all the more obvious that it’s the ARTIST doing the work. That’s what God was trying to make Moses see – it was never about Moses and what he could do. Moses kept saying, “But God, I can’t!” And God just kept saying, “I know you can’t, but I CAN!”

It was never about Moses. It’s not about you, either.

So here’s an idea: what if you stop telling God all the ways He can’t use you because you’re just too broken (frankly, dear, He knows), and listen to how, in His brilliance, He can use you instead?

Hmm. Really think about that.

YOU are NOT God’s trash.

If you believed that, how might the world change?