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Posted on May 4, 2012 in Devotional | 5 comments

Crime and Punishment

It’s hard for me to think of God as someone who will punish me when I sin.  I like to think of God as loving, kind, and “working things out for my good.”  Surely a kind and loving God won’t punish ME for my sins.  It’s also nice to think that if anyone messes with me, they’ll be punished by God.  I have a protector!  I have a friend!

But what does happen when I sin?  Especially when I don’t repent?

I encountered a situation recently where I discovered sin in my heart.  I hadn’t really taken the time to examine my heart in a while.  I was too busy being in love, planning a wedding, and setting up a new home.  What sin could I commit anyway?  Life was so good.  But God got my attention, returning my mind to something I’d done months ago.  I’d questioned myself at the time of the decision, wondering if it might be wrong, but I was in a hurry and quickly allowed myself to believe a lie.  I wasn’t really cheating; I was receiving a blessing from the Lord.  It’s amazing how quickly we can give in to total deception – convincing ourselves of a lie in the hopes that the sin in our hearts won’t be revealed.

Who was I kidding?  God knew.  And yet I went on for months without facing it.  Until that morning when God would no longer allow me to stick my head in the sand and try to pretend like it hadn’t happened.  And then my knowledge of the sin became so much greater.  What I did was a sin, but the reasons I did it were revealed to me, causing me to hang my head in shame.

I thought I’d conquered that enemy – fear.  I thought I’d stopped making decisions out of fear and had started living my life in total trust and submission to the Lord.  But there was that one hold out, that one decision I had made that highlighted my fear.  In a moment of weakness, I stopped trusting God to provide for me, to protect and keep me, and I grasped what I could get for myself, sacrificing my integrity in the process.  Ugh.

As I repented, understanding for the first time why the men of old tore their clothes and put ashes on their heads, I immediately felt God’s forgiveness.  He does love me.  He is kind.  And most of all, He forgives.

But my sin did not go without punishment.  Because I hadn’t been able to trust God to take care of me and I attempted to take care of myself, I was allowed to have what I had held onto so tightly.  It was meager and small.  God’s gracious blessings are abundant and wild.  He let me have my pathetic treasure, and I believe His heart was sad because I blocked Him from lavishing me with His amazing generosity.

We view God’s punishment as some hammer in the sky, waiting to smash us.  What we don’t realize is that His punishment is often that He simply gives us what we’ve earned for ourselves.  It’s small and meaningless, plastic coins with a coat of glitter.  If we could just learn to trust Him, if I could just learn to trust Him, we’d find treasure beyond our imagination.

Rick is my treasure beyond imagination.  He’s the pure gold coins buried at the bottom of the ocean, just waiting for the right time and place to be found.  He is the perfect example of the way God blesses when we let go and trust Him to provide.  Through his love, God has poured out His wild and lavish love on me.  I stand in awe.

But the small and mean part of my heart is still vulnerable to lies.  I cannot become too confident, too quick to make decisions.  Losing my peace with God, feeling the grief of knowing I missed out on another of His amazing blessings because of my own pride, is not worth it.  I want to see God as kind and loving, but how is that different from the God who loves us so much that He allows us to suffer for a little while in order to understand the fullness of that love?  The suffering, the punishment, gave me greater clarity.  I’m now able to see how much God loves me, how kind He wants to be to me – if I will just stop trying to do things myself, make my own way, and grasp at straws.

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Posted on Jun 21, 2010 in Before Marriage Blog, Spiritual Life | 8 comments

The Need for Speed

The Need for Speed

I love to drive.  I began driving when I was around eight years old.  Rather than going on a family vacation that year, my parents bought us a little four-wheeled all-terrain vehicle (ATV).  We lived out in the country with plenty of land and I made good use of every square inch of it, whizzing around trees and over hills.  The faster I went and the more things I jumped over, the better. 

When I turned fifteen, Mom took me to the DMV in her mini-van to take my driver’s test for a learner’s permit.  Two weeks later, I was eligible for a restricted driver’s license, but Mom and Dad made me wait a while longer.  The wait just about drove me nuts.  I wanted my license so badly.  When Mom finally took me back for the driving test, I was ecstatic.  I walked away with that precious piece of plastic with the horrible picture on it as proud as could be.  I was allowed to operate a vehicle by myself during daylight hours and with an adult after dark.  When I turned sixteen, the after-dark restriction was lifted and I was FREE.

My parents bought me an orange Ford Fiesta that was as old as me.  I was assured by my parents that if I ever got a speeding ticket, my car would immediately be taken away from me.  I was also assured that if my grades weren’t good, if I talked back to them, or if I got into any trouble of any kind, my car would be GONE.  It was a good deterrent to getting into trouble, but I still believed I was invincible and had no intention of driving slow.

I’m not sure how I kept from getting a speeding ticket.  I got pulled over for speeding on a fairly regular basis.  I was used to the four-wheeler, where the point was to go as fast as possible around anything in my path for the thrill of it, and I didn’t realize that wasn’t a good policy for driving a car.  My car was a little orange torpedo!  But somehow, every time I got stopped, I was merely given a warning.  One highway patrol officer who stopped me on the interstate spoke very firmly to me and didn’t let me go until I understood the impact one of those eighteen-wheelers could have on my little tin can of a car.  I’m grateful for that man today.  He really did slow me down quite a bit, at least on the interstate.

I still like to run as close to the maximum speed I can get away with on a daily basis.  If I’m in a hurry, then I push it a little further.  But a few months ago I heard that still, small voice of God whispering in my ear, “Slow down.”  I tried to ignore the feeling, hoping it would pass.  But it was like God’s face got closer to mine, right beside me, and again the whisper came, “Do you trust Me?”  If I turned my head fast enough, I was sure I’d be able to catch a glimpse of Him.  That was how real the voice was to me.  I thought the question of trust was a little odd, considering that we were talking about driving too fast.  But the answer to His question was, “Yes.  I trust You.”  And so I slowed down. 

I often travel on a highway where the speed limit is 55 mph.  Other highways in Nashville have a 70 mph speed limit, but not this one.  I typically run in the left lane, going as fast as the cars in front me will go.  The first time I set my cruise control to 55 mph, everything inside of me rose up, screaming and crying like a two-year old who has been told to take a nap when everyone else is playing games.  Cars were flying by me, practically honking as they passed, totally annoyed by my slowness.  I wanted to scream out the window, “I know!!!”  I tried to go a few miles over the speed limit to be less obnoxious, but the question returned, “Do you trust Me?”  Grr….  So I dropped back down to EXACTLY 55 mph.  Tapping my fingers on the steering wheel, frustrated beyond belief, I poked along.  Inside I was about to boil over in total frustration, but I kept the speed down in obedience. 

I worked through the frustration and irritation and learned a new way to drive.  Rather than looking for the holes in traffic so I could pass everyone else, I learned how to stay out of the way.  I also learned something that totally amazed me:  driving the speed limit didn’t really slow me down much.  I still arrived at my destination in about the same amount of time as when I had driven much faster.  Driving around town that fast might have saved me three or four minutes, and out of town trips might save me a whopping twenty minutes, but not enough to make a big impact.  I also discovered that slowing down saves a huge amount of gas!  The screaming inside me died down and I began to relax as I drove.  Driving that way has probably lowered my blood pressure significantly – once I got over the frustration, that is.

I’ve been driving the speed limit for several months now.  But about a week ago I was really late to teach a class at church, so I hit the gas and sped the whole way, hoping God would understand.  (I was speeding in order to be on time to serve Him, right?)  Oh, the wonderful feeling of driving fast!  I felt like I could breathe again…  And so I fell back into my habit of driving too fast.  I stuck my fingers in my ears and attempted to ignore the prompting to slow down.  God let me have my way for a few days and then He showed up in my car again, face right up next to mine, impossible to ignore, but as usual speaking to me in a loving whisper.  “Why are you speeding?” 

“I really like to drive fast, God.  You’re killing me here.  Can’t You just leave me alone on this one?”  Um, yes…  I was trying to bargain with God.

“Why are you speeding, Kimberly?”  Uh, oh.  He asked the question twice.  God’s about to make a point. 

Why am I speeding?  I was doing so good for several months.  After calming the volcano inside myself down, why am I allowing it to erupt again?  And then the answer came to me so clearly that I nearly stopped the car.  I was driving on a little stretch of road where the speed limit is 30 mph (which is CRAZY) and I was driving 45, right along with everyone else.  Okay, so maybe I was passing everyone else…  But really, 30 mph? 

The answer was, “I’m speeding because at this time in my life, everything is moving so slowly that at least when I drive, I can speed things up a bit.”  And to get really honest, I had to add, “I’m kind of mad at You, God.  You’re taking too long.  You’re moving too slowly.  Could You please move things along a little faster?” 

With that reality smacking me in the face, I slowed down to 30 mph and moved into the right lane.  The speed junkie inside me got all nervous and tried to have it’s fit again, but I told it to shut up.  I finally understood why God had asked me the question, “Do you trust Me?” 

To say that I’ve been frustrated at the speed of my life is a vast understatement.  I fully expected to be married by 24 years old, to have all my children by age 30, and be a rock-star pastor’s wife.  I wanted to run a dynamic ministry, letting my husband preach and play golf with the guys, and take care of the rest of it myself.  I probably would’ve been one of those nightmare pastor’s wives I hear about, but I’m just sharing “The Plan.”  When I wasn’t married at age 28, and saw that my career was not taking off the way it should if you’re still unmarried at age 28, I read all the books and talked to all the successful people about how to jump-start things and at least have a stunning career.  I was told to find my passion, go after it, and then it wouldn’t feel like work and I’d find great satisfaction in what I did.  With that much love and passion for my work, promotions and praise would naturally follow. Plus, a good man would be working alongside me and we’d just match up naturally and marital bliss would follow.  So I followed my heart and went to seminary

Upon graduation, I was hired at my church in Nashville.  I threw myself into the work, passionately pursuing my dream with the highest expectations.  I love my church and support the leaders; however, I did not find the great success and promotion I had dreamed about.  Instead, I felt constantly frustrated and held back.  I believed for a breakthrough, smiled brightly, and pushed ahead.  I just knew that one day my sacrifice would pay off.  I was privately praised by the leaders, received great performance reviews, and felt the anointing of God on my work.  I was called into a meeting where I thought I’d finally receive that promotion, but instead had to wrap my mind around the words I was hearing:  my position was being terminated

And so with frustration building inside me, I began to speed again.  Without even realizing it, I expressed my dissatisfaction with the speed of His timing in a passive-aggressive way.  One of my friends posted a new blog about God’s perfect timing and it was everything I could do not to comment on it, “Yeah, He’s SLOW.” 

“Do you trust Me, Kimberly?” 

As I’ve pondered that question, driving around town without speeding, I’ve had to acknowledge that it’s very hard to trust Him when He isn’t meeting my expectations.  I’ve given my life to serve Him and I think that entitles me to something amazing in life.  If I don’t have a loving husband and babies, then I should at least have a shining career to point to as some greater purpose for my life.  How am I to handle the reality that I’m single, childless, jobless, without a home of my own, and can’t even drive my car as fast as I want to??? 

“Do you trust Me, Kimberly?” 

I’ve comforted myself over the years with the stories from the Bible:  Joseph was taken from prison to the palace in a matter of days; Noah appeared crazy to everyone around him until the rain started; David lived in the wilderness running for his life until he became king; and Peter was a simple fisherman until Jesus decided to make him the rock upon which He built The Church.  But what if ten more years go by and I’m still trying to figure out why some guy I was dating and having a great time with suddenly won’t call me back, and I’m working as a receptionist through a temp agency, and I’m living in someone else’s home because I don’t make enough money to save for a house? 

Well, what if that does happen?  Do I still trust God?  Does God owe me anything for serving Him?  Will that frustration and disappointment of being the most educated receptionist in the world give me the right to drive as fast as I want to? 

As I’ve been reading the One Year Bible, I’ve been confused by the way God seems to randomly allow people to remain in their sin at times, then at other times He strikes them dead.  The kings of Israel (Ahab, for example) were total pagans, but they were allowed to live and reign.  King Herod Agrippa (in Acts) took some credit for God and got worms and died.  As I’ve pondered these things and prayed for God to reveal more of His character to me, I got hit with a profound sense of God’s mercy and compassion.  We ALL deserve to be struck dead, but He gives us chance after chance to do the right thing and serve Him.  He is so merciful and patient with us. 

Rather than question why God allowed these evil things to take place and why He isn’t raining down blessings on my head, I am going to praise Him for His mercy and compassion.   He gave His people chance after chance after chance to serve Him.  He waited for them, as He waits for me.  I get frustrated with how slow God is, but how slow am I?  I cannot honestly say that I understood true submission to God and embraced it until the last year or so.  And now that I have, I demand that He bless me immediately?  Who am I to demand anything of God? 

There’s one more thing He’s teaching me through this slow driving thing.  I’ve really been struggling with bumping up my speed to at least 3 mph over the speed limit, just to keep people from shaking their fists at me as they rush to their next appointment.  God asked me about that one too.  “Why do you care what they think?  Why do you care if you annoy them?  Who are you living your life to please?” 

Yikes!  If I am more concerned about what others think of me than about what God thinks, where does it end?  Does it end with driving a few miles over the speed limit?  What other little compromises will I make out of concern for what others think of me? 

I cannot tell you that it never bugs me to drive slowly.  I cannot tell you that I’m perfectly content to wait for God’s timing on my job situation.  I cannot even say that I’m okay with remaining single indefinitely.  But what I can say with total confidence is that I believe God is working out the details of my life and that it is His great pleasure to bless me.  I’m thankful for the joys that God has allowed me in life.  He has made me rich in friendships, has given me a loving family, and has blessed me with numerous other things that it would be obnoxious to list out here.  If that’s all He ever gives me, I will continue to thank  Him and serve Him.  If He ever chooses to give me more, I will be grateful and give Him all the glory for it.

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Posted on May 18, 2010 in Before Marriage Blog, Spiritual Life | 6 comments

Missing the Point

I’ve spent a lot of time recently trying to figure God out.  What are His plans for my life?  What is He thinking as it relates to my situation?  What in the world is He trying to teach me now??? 

I’m reading Madeleine L’Engle’s book, Penguins and Golden Calves, and what she writes reflects my thoughts on the reading I’ve been doing in the gospel of John.  John emphasizes the fact that Jesus was thoroughly misunderstood by people.  They all had their agendas and tried to figure out how His ministry might help them achieve their own desires or do the things they thought the Messiah should do.  In fact, the only ones who had the right idea were the religious leaders.  They feared He’d replace them or make them irrelevant.  They were correct!  If only they’d become His followers, their lives would’ve radically changed for the better.

But back to my point…  Even Jesus’ closest followers misunderstood Him and tried to get their own way, expecting to become rich and famous (in this world or the next) through their relationship with Him.  He tried to share Himself with them, but they were so busy trying to figure out how His words affected them that they missed the point entirely! 

How often do I do that very thing?  God reveals a little of Himself to me, wanting me to know Him more intimately, and all I can think about is how that information might impact my future.  But maybe He just wants me to know His heart, His desires, and to answer my recent prayer, “Oh, for grace to trust Him more!”  What if this isn’t about ME at all, but about God’s desire for me to know Him?

I write all this because of the emotional roller coaster I’ve been on for the last few months.  God has been changing me, making radical shifts in my heart and mind.  As many of you have noticed, my physical body has begun to reflect those inner changes.  I’ve lost over 50 pounds and have made tremendous changes to my eating habits.  I’ve allowed God to be my Comforter (rather than food), my Protector (rather than my excess weight), and my Provider (rather than trying to provide for myself).  All these things were “head knowledge” before, but now my HEART knows.  I couldn’t hide the change if I wanted to.

So then the obvious question is WHY?  Why now?  What is this transformation for?  Obviously God must have something BIG for me next!  How exciting!

I’ve taken my closest friends and family on an emotional roller coaster with me, trying to “interpret the signs.”  I’ve been all over the map, thinking one day that I’m to become a career missionary to a third world country, the next that I’m to remain right here in Nashville, and every other option in between (at least it’s felt that way).  Which has left my head spinning – especially with the news that my job at my beloved church is ending with a lay off of 25% of the staff.  WHAT????

As I continue my walk with God, I see a choice before me.  I can continue spinning in circles in an attempt to figure it all out, OR I can simply thank God for revealing a little more of HImself to me and drawing me deeper into intimacy with Him.  To know the heart of God and serve Him is my greatest desire.  What else is there?  And to know His heart is to trust Him and to believe that even in the most uncertain times, He is the solid rock of certainty.

I plan to spend the next few weeks praying specifically for what God has laid on my heart – which at this time is that He will miraculously take care of our church’s $12M building debt.  That debt has led to the lay offs and many other challenges.  It is a dark cloud over our heads.  I believe God will do it.  I’m not going to try to figure out what that answered prayer might mean for me.  I’m just going to listen to the heart beat of my Savior and pray as He’s led me to pray.  I’m going to ask Him to reveal to me more of His heart regarding the debt we’ve incurred and how He feels about it.  I’m going to try to get to know God more through this challenge and leave the results up to Him. 

Do you think you ever misunderstand what God is doing in your life?  Maybe if we all followed Him obediently (instead of trying to figure out WHY He’s asking that of us), we’d truly be able to call ourselves the FRIENDS of God.  What do you think?

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