Is This a Test?

I know, my God, that you test the heart, and are pleased with integrity.

1 Chronicles 29:17a

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Summer was coming and we’d just purchased some new patio furniture.  Putting it together was a real chore so we were very preoccupied with our task, but Sheba was underfoot, as if wanting to help.  It didn’t matter how many times we tried to distract or relocate her, there she was again—right in our way.  Trying once again to get her out of the way, we put her in the big cardboard box that the furniture had been packaged in.  To be honest, we did it partly just to see what she would do, and it sure didn’t take very long to find out!  She started scratching away at that cardboard and before we could even run and grab the camera, her head poked through, and then her whole body wriggled right out to freedom.  A circus clown couldn’t have managed a funnier escape act.

Does God ever take pleasure in watching how resourceful I am in overcoming the obstacles in my life?  When I manage to break out of a confining attitude, belief, or action does he laugh like we did when Sheba escaped her box?  I like to imagine him pointing me out to the angels, proud Father that he is, saying, “Look at her—that’s my girl.  Did you notice how well she did that?”

In or Out of the Box?

scan13colorIt is for freedom that Christ has set us free…So if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. Galatians 5:1a & John 8:36

 Sheba has a dog-crate in which she’s often lived for extended periods of time—it’s a place where she is safe, but it’s also a place where her movement is limited. She’s in a box and she reacts in two different ways. Usually she’s content—in fact, she seems to love it, either sleeping peacefully or lazily watching the world go by in front of her. At other times she rebels and wants out; and she makes sure everyone knows it by her continual barking, as well as pawing at the sides of the crate; but regardless of how much she whines, she can only get out if we open the door. Once she’s out, the better-behaved she is, the more freedom she generally has. As an older lady with much better manners than she had as a puppy, Sheba spends very little time in her box—she is usually free to roam around the house as she pleases.

Perhaps we’re very much the same—but the boxes we live in are of our own making—they’re places where we think we’re safe—places with emotional or attitudinal walls that we’ve erected to keep other people out. Like Sheba we may be very content most of the time—sitting back, relaxing and just watching the world go by. But while our boxes may be quite comfortable, they’re also limiting for there’s no challenge; no potential for growth. So there comes a time when we get restless because our needs seem to be unmet, or our hopes and dreams don’t seem to be coming true. But we feel trapped—we can’t get out of our boxes—and there seems to be no way to open the door to freedom.

But our Master can unlock the doors to our self-imposed limitations. God can break down those walls—the barriers that prevent us from being all that we can be, for “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17b)

If we allow him to open the doors and we step out in faith, we can explore, grow, learn and mature. Pretty soon our boxes are no longer necessary. In fact, we may find that they’ve become too small and we no longer fit inside!

A Picture of Forgiveness

 

page15colorHe was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth.  Isaiah 53:7a

Walking barefoot through my bedroom, my foot touched on a wet spot and I reacted quickly in anger toward Sheba.  There she was, as usual, staring up at me with those big, beautiful, innocent-looking brown eyes—but this was no time for me to be forgiving or nice!  I grabbed her and sternly put her outside and closed the door, paying no attention to the confused, “what-did-I-do?” look on her face.  I yelled too—even though she was completely deaf at this stage in her life and couldn’t hear a word I said, I was sure she got the message.

Next, I hurried to grab some towels and dry up the spot on the carpet.  Wait—this spot wasn’t yellow—it didn’t have a bad odor—in fact it smelled nice—what was going on?  Further investigation revealed that a few moments before I had carried a plastic container of wet cleaning wipes through the bedroom—the lid was loose, and some of the scented water sloshed out on the floor.

So, did I feel bad, or what?  I immediately let Sheba back inside, held her and petted her, and apologized profusely (you’d think she could hear me).  And she was so happy to see me—immediately right back at my feet—her curly little pug-tail wriggling with delight—her beautiful big brown eyes sparkling with joy—no grudges or resentment—just pure, unadulterated love; as always.

God is like Sheba—we may hurt him, we may accuse him unjustly; we may shut him out; but when we re-open the door to our life there he is, happily waiting to come back inside, not holding the slightest grudge, for “…there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1)

By God’s Design

 

coverpagecolorFor you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  Psalm 139:14

Pugs have very short airways that result in unusual, and often annoying, breathing patterns.  Typical of her breed, Sheba snores, snorts, sneezes and wheezes; and she does so regardless of where she is or who she’s with—no manners at all! This is just who she is—it’s how God designed her and, in loving her unconditionally, all of those otherwise unattractive qualities become the very things that make her even more special.

Each of us also has qualities that are potentially offensive to others. Perhaps it’s a physical characteristic or mannerism, a personality quirk, or a unique way of thinking or acting—things that have been hard-wired into our DNA by God, things that endear us to our master.

So I ask myself, “How often have I made judgments about people just because I didn’t like some little thing about them? How many divine encounters have I overlooked? How many friendships have I missed? Why don’t I accept and love people as they are, without thinking about how much nicer, or more attractive or pleasant they’d be if they would just do things my way?”

Just as I would never try to make Sheba stop snoring/snorting/sneezing/wheezing, I cannot make others conform to the image of what I think they should be. That’s God’s job! Perhaps those irritating quirks are as essential to their being as my dog’s noisy breathing is to her survival.

My responsibility is to love people unconditionally, just as Jesus loves me. After all, as I’m taught in Psalm 139, “he created my inmost being…[he] knit me together in my mother’s womb…[and] I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

No Greater Love

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The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.     Romans 8:16-18

Dog Lovers—I’m not one in the sense that many people are.  I have friends who consider their dogs as precious as their children—nothing but the best for them—trips to the vet at every little sneeze; homemade meals; expensive toys/clothes/jewelry; anything and everything a dog could desire.  My interest is a little more removed.  I do admire dogs—I think they’re beautiful, cute, cuddly, loveable, or downright-ugly-but-sweet; tiny to humongous; neat or messy. Actually, dogs are a lot like people.  They come in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors, and each has its own personality.  And I do have a dog (Sheba)—and I do love and care for my dog—and my dog is very happy.  However, with apologies to many devoted dog lovers, while my dog does not rate as high on my scale of affection as my child, Sheba is content; she loves me, follows me around everywhere I go, and always wants to be wherever I am.

There are reasons why I’m not a “true” dog person.  Dogs tend to stink; they do bad things on the carpet; they may bark at all hours and annoy the neighbors; they can be very expensive; and they take a tremendous amount of time and effort.  But for Sheba I’ll put up with it all because she’s mine and I love her.

Maybe God’s a bit like that—I’m his and he loves me—in spite of the sin in my life that’s a stench to his nostrils—in spite of the fact that I require time, effort, and patience—none of that matters to God because I belong to him and he loves me.

But, as I think of it, God’s really more of a passionate dog-lover kind of guy.  He not only considers me to be his treasured child and gives me the desires of my heart, but he has made me an heir to his kingdom.  What more could I ask?