By Lori Freeland –
“For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name” (Luke 1:49 NIV).
Some life lessons come harder than others. Being good is one of them.
While I’ve struggled with various temptations and issues as a child, teen, daughter, friend, wife, and mother, I’ve always understood one truth.
Without the Lord in my life, I am nothing. Nothing good anyway.
Left on my own, I tend to cross the line, dabble in what pleases me, explore areas of life better left unknown.
Yes, I might manage to hang onto to a husband, produce little people that grow up to be functioning members of society, and enjoy a few close friendships.
I may have more happy days than sad. When you look at me, you might think I have it all together, that I’ve figured life out, that I’m sure about my path. That I am a good person.
But you would be wrong.
Inside, where it counts, I could never claim to be innately good.
I do what’s expected. Cover feelings considered unacceptable. Bite back words I know shouldn’t say. Work hard to fit in. Smile and frown on cue. Move forward. Juggle life. Deal with some issues. Bury others.
But anything truly good, anything right, anything pure does not originate in me. Because inside, I hide anti-good behaviors and thoughts. Inside, I squelch desires I know I shouldn’t have. Inside, I am a completely different person.
Although on the outside it may look like we’ve become better people as adults, sometimes we’ve just become better at masking our flaws and insecurities. Emotions like jealousy, hate, and anger never completely disappear just because we age and develop a few wrinkles.
Some days maturity has more to do with what I censor and harness inside my head than how much I’ve really grown and changed.
Sad, but true.
But hiding is not what God has asked of me. He doesn’t want me to conceal who I really am. He wants to change what’s inside me to reflect what’s inside Him.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8 NIV).
Those are the qualities God asks me to seek.
And so I do. With His help. Hoping one day, what He wants for me will be what I am.
He wants me to be honest. Stop hiding. Quit covering. Be real. Change inside and out. Permanently. He wants a new me. A renewed me. He wants the best for me.
“Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Colossians 3:9,10 NIV).
Thankfully, it is in His strength that I find the best things, put them on, and offer them back to Him.
For in my strength alone, I will always remain helpless, insecure, and eons from innately good.
Lord, help me put on the new today. Help me look to You for the things You want for me. Change me in a way that means I can never go back to the old.
By Lori Freeland –
“But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield” (Psalm 5:11-12 NIV).
Today I’m glad God never sleeps.
Last night when I came home from writer’s group, the garage door wouldn’t go down. I asked Pat to check it.
He forgot. And went to bed.
I assumed he put the door down. And I went to bed.
So the garage gaped open all night—a beacon of vulnerability to anyone who drove down my street. Worse? The door to the house remained unlocked. While my kids slept upstairs.
When I woke up and realized anyone could have walked in my house, that thought shot me three quarters of the way to a coronary. I always check every door. Three times. Paranoia and safety top my priority list. I’m not one of those people who doesn’t worry about the what-if’s.
I play with what-if all day.
What if someone is stalking my children in a large, white, windowless van? What if my eleven-year-old daughter goes to the restroom in the Taco Bell and never comes out? What if there’s a fire in the middle of the night and we don’t wake up? What if my son falls asleep driving home from college late at night?
What if? What if? What it?
Then a great big wave of peace rolled across my heart and slowed the racing beats. That peace reminded of how often the Lord protects me when I don’t even see what He’s done.
Today I’m glad God never sleeps.
I’m glad He watches over me, whether I remember to ask Him or not. I’m glad He never misses anything as crucial as a deadbolt turned the wrong way. I’m glad He catches all the details I miss.
If I can trust Him to protect me when I don’t know I need protection, how much more should I trust Him when I do?
Yet, I have trouble giving my fears over.
How will we pay for college times three? Will my son pass the pre-nursing exam? Will he pass his yearly oncology screen? Will my fifteen-year-old finish chemistry and get the required credit to graduate? Will he figure out what he wants to do with his life? Will my daughter survive adolescence? Will I survive her adolescence? Will my husband’s job be safe? Will we be able to retire? Pay our bills? Will I accomplish everything I need to in the time I don’ t have?
And the list of will’s goes on. We all have a list. A list of concerns, needs, wants, fears and stumbling blocks. Some of us also tack on a list of what-if’s. And all that stress is enough to send any of us into a full-blown coronary.
Here’s a world shaker. What if I’ve opened my arms and invited all that stress? Embraced it. Breathed it in. Let the tension and fear lock me down.
For no reason at all.
Because God says:
“For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does” (Psalm 33:4).
If I believe the Word, and the Word says He is faithful in all He does, I need to believe He is faithful in all He does. Even when I forget to ask Him. He knows what I need. He even knows what I want. And sometimes His blessings include things I never imagined.
That’s the most comforting feeling in the world.
And so much safer than seven deadbolts and a steel-reinforced garage door.
Thank you, Lord, for being there for me. Even when I don’t know I need You.
By Lori Freeland –
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (I Corinthians 13: 4-8).
I’ve read I Corinthians 13 a hundred times, trying to digest and mirror the model of perfect love. I used this verse in my wedding. I used this verse in my grandmother’s eulogy. I used this verse when I became a mother.
But in striving for an understanding of what love is I’ve never twisted the words to think about what love isn’t.
Thinking about what love isn’t offers me a fresh way to view how I treat the important people in my life. Or how I should be treating my spouse, my kids, my family, and my friends. Thinking about what love isn’t helps me to see where I need to make changes in my relationships and in the way I show others I care about them.
Love isn’t rushed.
Time is a commodity of which I own very little. Most days, giving up my minutes and hours can be a greater sacrifice than writing a check. I’m guilty of giving a gift card in place of a homemade meal when a care calendar rolls around. I’ve been known to pick up a Kroger rotisserie chicken and steak potatoes after one of my friends has a new baby. But, I can’t remember the last time I’ve spent the afternoon preparing a homemade meal to bring to someone. Time shouts love so much louder than money. Time is precious. Time hurts to give. Love takes time.
Love isn’t cruel.
Why would I hurt someone I love? But I do. More often than I’d like. Isn’t love supposed to be about putting the other person first? Taking their needs into account above my own? So why do I let those harsh, destructive words fly from my mouth uncensored? Why do I put selfish desires over the ones I care about the most? Why do I forget that it takes ten good words to replace an ugly one? Love takes patience.
Love isn’t keeping score.
What have you done for me lately? I’m guilty of this in attitude, if not in words. Like a scoreboard, if I do something nice for my husband, somewhere in the back of my mind, I expect him to do something nice back. Real love gives to give. No expectations. Love rips down the scoreboard. Love doesn’t keep a tally.
Love isn’t hopeless.
Some days my emotions jump all over the place. I take what people say, or don’t say, out of perspective and I don’t feel loved. How many times have I been the cause of that feeling of worthlessness in another person? How many times have I brushed off a moment to bring hope and encouragement to those I care about? How many times have I missed the signs of need in those around me and made them feel unloved? Love brings hope.
Loving those around us is hard. Even when the bonds and the feelings run deep in relationships we’ve cultivated. We’re human. With all the shortcomings that brings. Thank goodness we have the model of ultimate love in Jesus to rely on when we can’t be what others need us to be on our own.
By Lori Freeland –
Everyone owns both. Combined, they can be quite unattractive. My sins plus my past? Definitely ugly. Certain periods of my life intertwine with blemishes I can’t scrub off. They feel dirty. Repulsive. Shameful.
Can you relate?
Whether I color my past transgressions white, gray, black or some palette of all three, a sin is a sin is a sin. God doesn’t differentiate between my white and my black. He doesn’t measure the gray and deem me good or bad. Acceptable or unacceptable. Fit or unfit.
“We have all fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NIV).
Some of my bad choices I’d rather not relive. Rather not reflect upon. Rather not revisit. I’d rather bury them in a hole under twelve feet of dirt, six feet of cement, and a semi.
But that’s not always my choice.
What if one day, tomorrow or many tomorrows down the road, a few of those mistakes come rapping on my door and no longer afford me the choice to stuff them down in denial? Do I pay for them over and over? Do I live in bondage to my past? Should I punish myself forever? Forever can be a really long time.
Sins burden. They’re heavy. They’re draining. They pilfer joy and generate fear.
Maybe we all have at least one or two skeletons we’d like to keep locked in the cellar. Things that bring us shame, humiliation, or terror if another person were to discover just what kind of life we’ve led. Maybe we’ve worked hard to keep them buried under that dirt and cement.
Fear and oppression are harsh places to live. They color your heart, your world, your perspective.
Is there alternative to the shame sin drops at our doorstep?
I don’t have to live in slavery to my former choices. To my past. No matter what I’ve done. Are there consequences for my actions? Yes. Will I have to live with those? Maybe. But not in fear and not in bondage. What is brought into the light can no longer hold darkness.
“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Ephesians 1:7).
Yes. God offers me freedom. Like an over exuberant charge card rampage, when the debt comes due, He writes the check. He even covers the interest. His blood covers everything.
The white lies. The muddy fabrications. The unpure choices. The murderous thoughts. The cruel words. All of it. Gone. And I’m left with a choice to seek forgiveness complete with a clean, white slate.
“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25).
And if God doesn’t remember my sins, why should I? What an amazing gift. One I don’t want to blow.
What this gift offers me isn’t free reign to sin some more and come back begging an apology each time. What have I learned then? Nothing of value. What this gift does offer is a way to be different. To move into God’s light and make better choices so I can leave my past in the past, where it belongs.
Will I still continue to make mistakes? Of course. But I won’t live in bondage to those mistakes. I will do my best to forge ahead and, “…sin no more…” (John 8:11 KJV) knowing He will help me walk the path He’s designed. Resting in the knowledge that when I veer, His arms are always open.
By Lori Freeland –
Mistakes. Poor judgment calls. Transgressions. Errors. Veering off the path. Blunders. Slip-ups. Oversights. Lapses. Misunderstandings.
The thesaurus holds many words for sin.
And no matter what the label, everyone sins.
We can’t help it. We’re human. No matter how hard I try, I will always mess up somewhere along the journey, whether in thought or deed or motivation.
Never going to happen. God knows that about me. I can’t hide from Him—even though some days I want to bury what I’ve done or thought or said.
“I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (Romans 7:18 NIV).
That should be my life verse. I try and try and try and never reach the bar. I never will.
Yet God demands perfection because He is holy and righteous and perfect. Those magnificent attributes render Him unable to stand any of my sins—or whatever label I choose to slap on my transgressions.
“He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4).
Do I give up? Or try harder? Find a mentor? Lock myself away? Promise to be better?
Thankfully, none of those things. My answer lies in redemption.
Redemption, “the act of saving something or somebody from a declined, dilapidated, or corrupted state and restoring it, him, or her to a better condition” (Encarta Dictionary) is not mine to reach for or attain.
Redemption comes from the Lord and His sacrifice. His atonement for what I’ll never be. A free gift to me that cost Him everything.
“For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17).
If I choose to accept this gift of righteousness, is there a limit on the number of sins blanketed by His blood? Are there sins too large, too deep, too ugly that will show through black no matter how much white He paints over me?
No. Because He doesn’t paint over my sins at all, He wipes them clean.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). From all unrighteousness. All.
Bottom line. I screw up. He forgives. And the more He forgives, the more He loves, the more He coats me in His redemptive blood, the less I sin. And not because of anything I’ve done. Anything good in me belongs to Him alone.
What better time than the Christmas season, when Jesus came to be our atonement, to meditate on the True Gift of redemption.
All that is required of me is acceptance. I have to lift The Gift from His outstretched hands and claim His atonement. It’s like winning the life lottery. The ticket does me no good until I cash in the winning numbers. I need to trade my sin for His perfection.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16, 17).
Picture me, holding up this banner. Not at a football game, but at the game that is your life and mine.
Now, what will you do with it?