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Overcoming Fear

These are some thoughts I recently shared with a friend.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17 In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. – 1 John 4:16-18

From the time I was very young I had a fear of death and dying, and genuinely believed (feared) that I was going to die somehow at a young age – before I was 30, or definitely by the time I was 40.  So here I am at 51 and alive and kicking!  I wouldn’t have believed it as a child.  But God is our protector, and He’s been so faithful in watching over me and protecting me, even from myself, since I can be my own worst enemy sometimes.

I’ve been through numerous situations in my life in which I feared I was going to die.  Most of them were irrational, but they seemed real enough at the time, and so they were still very real fears I had to overcome, even if only in my mind and heart.  I think God used each of those situations to bring me to a point of surrender and trust, to the place in which I learn not to love my life in this world so much, but to love God more, and to trust him.  God used those times to bring me closer to the point where I’m able to say with Paul “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21) and with Job “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15).

Psalm 34:4 says

I sought the Lord, and he answered me;

he delivered me from all my fears.

I’ve taken that to mean not just that God delivered me from the things I was afraid of, but he even delivered me from the fears themselves.  This is true of my life; over the years God has delivered me from so many fears.  I still have fears that need to be overcome, but I’m confident that God is still at work delivering me from those as well.

A passage I’ve come back to over and over again when dealing with fears in my life is 1 John 4:16-18

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17 In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (emphasis added)

I can’t say I’ve fully come to understand or appropriate these verses, but I keep coming back to them when I fear.  John says the root of all our fears is a fear that God is going to punish us.  Deep down we know we deserve to be punished because of our sins.  But elsewhere John reminds us that “we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous [one]. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins….” (1 John 2:1-2).  That word “propitiation” means that Jesus took all the punishment and wrath we deserved for our sins upon Himself.  So the punishment for our wrongdoing has already been completely taken care of.

That means we don’t ever have to be afraid of being punished by God anymore!  “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).  “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).  So 1 John 4:18 invites us to become more deeply rooted and grounded in the love of God.  He says this is the way we overcome fear.  *:) happy

Psalm 91 is also a good scripture passage to meditate on when dealing with fears of death or harm coming to us.  It’s all about how God invites us to dwell in “the secret place” with him, and that as we do so we enter into a place of protection with Him.  The psalm is filled with all kinds of promises of protection for the believer.

These things are true for anyone who is a follower of Christ.  Have you ever asked Christ into your heart?  If not, you can today, and then you can begin to know and experience these truths for yourself as well. 🙂

Some Things to Look For in a Church

A friend sent me an email with an article entitled “7 Things To Look For in a Good Church” and then asked what my list of things to seek in a church would look like if I made one.  After thinking about it, I came up with the following points:

1) A church that fosters loving community and is genuinely welcoming toward newcomers.
2) One in which the worship is genuine and heartfelt, and not just following the latest trends.  It is contemporary in style but also includes traditional elements from time to time, such as hymns or liturgy.  Worship is participatory by the entire congregation as much as possible, and not just those on the platform up front.  (See 1 Cor. 14: 26-33, 39-40)
3) A church in which Scripture is read, taught, explained, and lived in preaching and teaching that speaks to the spirit and not just the mind.  The goal is that faith would be “caught,” not just taught, and to teach people how to live as Christians, not just to give people more head knowledge.  The Bible is seen as infallible and the final authority for all of life.
4) A congregation in which the church and its leadership follows the Holy Spirit’s leading, even if that takes things out of the usual order or sequence of events.  The people are allowed and encouraged to move freely in all the gifts of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit leads, though order is to be maintained (See again 1 Cor. 14: 26-33, 39-40).
5) A church that is led by a group of elders who are all qualified to preach and teach and who share in these responsibilities together.  This board of elders and the church may be led by one or more elders who are pastors. (See Acts 20: 17-18, 28-32 and 1 Peter 5:1-4)
6) A congregation in which the leadership of the church recognizes that God can and often does speak not only to the leaders but to anyone in the church, and structures church life in such a way as to allow people to share with the leaders and the body what God has been saying to them.  (See again 1 Cor. 14: 26-33, 39-40)
7) A church in which when necessary the leadership administers loving discipline to those who stray (see Matthew 18:15-18, Galatians 6:1-5, and James 5:19-20; see also 1 Corinthians 5)
8) A church in which the leadership and the pastor are not lone rangers but are accountable to some higher body outside the church, whether it be a denomination or association of churches.
I’m sure there are other qualities that are important to consider when seeking a church.  What would your list look like?  What would you change about my list or add to it?

A Different Take on Gun Violence

As is typically the case with such events, the terrible shooting in Newtown, Connecticut was followed by a round of outcries in the media expressing shock and bewilderment over how something so tragically and radically evil could happen in America.  Such events are treated as an aberration, as something completely unexpected from everyday people in American society.  Over and over the question is asked, What went so terribly wrong with this man that he chose such an awful and desperate course of action?

I want to suggest, though, that events like the Newtown shooting may not be as much of an aberration as we might think.

I don’t know what your workplace is like, but in most places I’ve ever worked there are petty little hatreds and intrigues perpetrated all day long every day.  Think about how people who work side by side day in and day out secretly plot against each other, stab each other in the back, and talk about each other behind closed doors.  Think how mercilessly people judge strangers and people they don’t know every day.  Think about all the mean things people say about customers when they aren’t listening.  I’ve worked in customer service before, and I know what people say about the customers.  Ever talked with a customer service person who sounds like they couldn’t care less about your problem?  Well, the truth is, they probably couldn’t care less.  But the sad state of customer relations today is a topic for another post.

Maybe your work place is better than that.  I hope so.  But most every place I’ve ever worked has had these petty little intrigues going on constantly.  And isn’t the basis of these intrigues really hatred and anger?  Sure, we don’t want to call it that, because no one likes to think they’re hateful.  We justify it and tell ourselves that it’s okay – we love the people that really matter to us; it’s only the people we don’t know, or the people who really deserve it, who we treat poorly.  But of course, the people who really deserve that kind of treatment are never us.  It’s always someone else.

Yet Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that.   And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:32-36, NIV).  The standard Christ calls for puts us to shame, and reveals our love to be less than it’s cracked up to be.

I used to think I never hated anyone.  I would get angry sometimes, sure, but never hateful – or so I thought.  But then I encountered a person and a situation which seemed so evil to me, and so frustrating, that one day I discovered hatred in my heart for this person and the others involved in perpetrating this evil.  I thought I was above hatred.  But I eventually learned otherwise.

And the worst thing about hatred is that it breeds itself against the unsuspecting.  Hatred can start as what seems like righteous indignation against evil.  But be careful, because that seemingly righteous anger against evil can slowly turn to hatred of those we feel are evil, and before you know it, the evil you were fighting has found a home in your own heart.  Like Ghandi said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”  We can feel justified in fighting evil, only to discover that our anger has turned dark, and suddenly we are mired in evil ourselves.  Our distaste for evil becomes vengeful, and then we’re just perpetuating the cycle.

I want to submit that there’s an undercurrent of anger and hatred constantly brewing just below the surface of American society, and it expresses itself in these petty intrigues that are expressed daily in the workplace, and in the rancor of our politics.  Think how quick we are to demonize the people on the other side of our political disagreements.  We’re certain the enemy is the President and the liberals, or else it’s the “vast right-wing conspiracy,” depending on your point of view.  YetScripture teaches that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12-13, NIV).  Our real enemies aren’t human at all, but spiritual.

I want to suggest that these tragic shootings like the one in Newtown are not an aberration, but rather an expression, or a “flair-up,” if you will, of the anger and hatred that is never very far below the surface in American society.  Consider again the petty back-biting so common in many work places, or even in many school-yards.  Most of us, if we’re blessed enough to grow up in a home where we were shown love through words and actions, then we’ll have the personal resources to let mean acts or unkind words just roll off our backs.  But consider the child who grows up in a home where no love is shown, or who maybe was shuffled about from home to home due to family instability; and this child never learns to see himself as loved.  In this often cruel world, the person who doesn’t learn how to ignore all the teasing and petty criticisms and meanness, the person who never learns to develop a thick skin, is at a grave disadvantage indeed.  If he can’t fend off criticisms and meanness and hatred, but is only able to accept every evil thing that’s every said and done about him in his life, then at some point the pot is going to boil over so to speak.  At some point the pressure is going to explode.  And explode it does in these tragic acts of violence.

Now, I’m not trying to justify the people that do these things.  What I am trying to say is that these radical acts of violence may not be so aberrant after all.  Rather, they’re a physical and violent expression of an anger and rage that is constantly below the surface of American life.  Rather than being a fluke, these outbursts of violence implicate us all, and demand that we search our own hearts in order to see what anger, what hatred, what meanness, what thoughtlessness we may have committed against others.

I want to suggest that the only way to stop gun violence and these tragic shootings in America is by examining our own hearts and our own actions, our own little petty intrigues and hatreds.  How do we treat our families and our loved ones?  What attitudes to we harbor and display toward our coworkers?  Our neighbors?  The strangers we meet on the street?  The people who hold the opposite political view from our own?

We can’t pretend that gun violence is just a problem “out there” for lawmakers and gun owners to deal with.  We can’t assume the problem is just gun owners, and that if we can just get rid of all the guns then our kids will be safe.  No.  When rancor and incivility are the air we breathe, we can’t assume that just taking away guns is going to solve the problem.  As long as our society has a problem with anger and hatred, we will be subject to violence.  So the only real solution is to start by examining our own hearts, our own actions, our attitudes.

And also consider this: In a nation that murders millions of its own young every year through abortion, should we really be surprised that there is other violence against children?  The Bible says we reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7).  Our violence against the unborn has come home to roost.  We can’t turn a blind eye to the murder of millions of innocents and then think our own children are going to be safe.  If you want to help stop the murder of innocent children in American, then take a stand against the murder of innocent children through abortion.

And consider, too: When children and adults see so much violence portrayed daily on TV, in movies, and in video games, should it really surprise us that from time to time people act out this stuff?  Really, I think the fascination with onscreen and virtual violence is another expression of the deep rage in our culture.  Watching violence, and participating in it through video games provides a temporary outlet for the anger, but not one that is ultimately satisfying; it just creates a hunger for more.

Even here, I think the answer still lies inside.  What are we engaged in ourselves?  What motivates us to enjoy watching killing on the screen?  What’s the motive of our hearts?  What are we teaching our kids and allowing them to participate in?  I think the answers to all these questions are part of the solution to gun violence in our nation.

If we look in our hearts and we discover anger, hatred, rage, or just petty little backbiting against others, what do we do?  Only God can change the heart.  The first thing we need to do is take all these things to Him.  The Bible says “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-10, RSV).  When we take our sins and failure to God he not only forgives them, but he cleanses us them, too, and of any ill effects.  We can’t change our own hearts, but God’s Spirit can change us from the inside out, if we will ask Him to come and work in our hearts.

God calls us to let of our anger, and to put it behind us.  Colossians 3:8-17 says:

8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Verse 8 says that we should rid ourselves of anger, rage, malice, and the like.  The wording of some other translations is that we are to “put away” or “put off” these qualities or traits.  This brings to mind the idea of taking off old clothes that don’t fit anymore, or that are too tattered to be worn any longer.

2 Corinthians 5:17 says that those who are in Christ are a new creation.  Colossians 3: 9-10 above alludes to this when it talks about those who have taken off the old self and put on a new self in Christ.  This is the key to overcoming the “dark side” of our nature if you will.  When we give our heart to Christ and ask Him to come live in us, he gives us a new nature.  The apostle Paul is saying that if we are in Christ then we have this new nature, and that anger, rage, malice and the other bad traits he mentions are no longer befitting one who is new in Christ.  Rather, the attitudes and actions which are fitting for one who is made new by Christ are compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, love, and peace.  These Paul instructs us to put on like new clothes.  Elsewhere we’re told that these traits are not something we manufacture ourselves, but are the fruit of the Holy Spirit whom God gives to live in the hearts of those who receive Christ as their Lord and savior (see Galatians 5: 16-26 for more about the fruit of the Spirit).

These attitudes, and especially forgiveness, are the antidote to anger and hatred.  Forgiving those who have wronged us, rather than retaliating, breaks the cycle of hate, and opens the doorway to love, which can heal all wounds and restore all hearts.

To end today’s post, here’s a video of the song “Rest In Peace” by the band Extreme.  I think it makes the point really well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=odz3c68JE1c

Who’s Really On the Front Lines of Ministry?

Many of you may know that in a previous life (lol) I served as a pastor for 9 years.  However, for the last 12 years I’ve worked “regular jobs” just like many of you.

The other day as I was driving home after a hard day at work, a thought struck me in the form of a question: Who’s really on the front lines of spiritual warfare?

Often we think it’s pastors or other church leaders.  They’re the ones who are so visible with respect to spiritual things – they talk about it and demonstrate it through prayers, sermons, and other aspects of spiritual leadership.

But it occurred to me the other day that the people who are really on the front lines of ministry are those who don’t have a “spiritual calling” or work in “full-time ministry” (though IMHO every Christian is called to full-time ministry; but that’s a topic for another blog post, lol).  The people in the spiritual trenches are regular, everyday folk like you and me who work 8 to 5 and face the trials, challenges, and joys of daily life in the so-called “real world” (though the church is part of the real world, too; but that’s also fodder for another post 😉 ).

Those of us who work a regular day job (or night job as the case may be), and are active in the church, may be tempted to think of the challenges of a typical workday as irritants we’d rather avoid.  We might be tempted to wish for some sort of position in ‘full-time ministry’ so we can “really serve God.”  We may struggle not to feel our day job is just a colossal waste of time, while we could be doing something “really worthwhile,” something “really important for God.”
(This can also be true for stay-at-home or work-at-home moms and dads, too.)

But if we find ourselves pining away like this, then we may be missing the point.  We may miss the fact that the problems and difficult people we face in our work are themselves actually opportunities for ministry.  In the marketplace is where we’re most likely to meet lost and hurting souls, and where we’re most likely to encounter the enemy’s schemes to bind and enslave people and to combat the work of God.

In the marketplace we’re on the front lines of the battle for people’s souls, and the battle against God’s work in the world.  Our workplace may be the very place in which we have the opportunity (and challenge) of confronting the very powers and principalities that enslave people and oppose the purposes of God.

So the everyday worker – what we sometimes call “the laity” or “layperson” (though I hate those terms, because I don’t believe God sees a difference between “clergy” and “laity”) – is in the trenches of spiritual warfare.  If we think in terms of a military analogy then pastors and others who work in the church full-time are more like the majors, colonels, and generals who remain behind the front lines, rather than fighting in the trenches.  Pastors and other full-time workers lead, guide, direct, strategize, and equip; but in some ways they aren’t on the front lines in the same way you are if you work in the “secular” marketplace.

Do you see your importance?  So often we think of those in full-time ministry as the ones who are doing the important spiritual work. And what they do is important, I don’t dispute that.  But in the marketplace, where you work and carry out day-to-day business, you have access to people and situations that pastors will usually never see, unless they’re what we call “bi-vocational.”

There are many things I enjoyed about being a pastor, and there are some things about it I miss.  But one aspect of it that I rued was the fact that I couldn’t be on the front lines of daily life and ministry like people can who work in the marketplace.

So the next time you face a really hard day at work, remind yourself that you are on the front lines of the spiritual battle, and that you have opportunities and a sphere of influence that many pastors will never have.  Remind yourself that you may very well be exactly where you’re supposed to be.  Take comfort in the unique role you have the opportunity to play in God’s kingdom.

P.S. Welcome to my new blog.  Here I intend to continue the type of blogging I began on my Blogger blog entitled “Morgan’s Musings” – various reflections on life and faith.  If you’d like to subscribe, look for the “Follow” button to the right.

Note: This blog is still under construction so please bear with me as things about the layout may change (and hopefully improve) in the days to come.

A very relevant prayer

Today I was thinking about everything going on in the world, and I was struck by how much the world needs prayer – specifically intercession, which is praying for others, as opposed to praying for ourselves. As I reflected on this, the Lord’s Prayer came to mind, and I thought, “Duh! A couple millenia ago Jesus gave us a prayer that’s tailor made for the problems we face today!” As I prayed the prayer, I put it in my own words. I thought I’d share my version with you:

Matt 6:9-13 (my paraphrase, based on the NIV)

9 ‘Our Father in heaven,

may your holy name be revered;

10 let your kingdom come,

let your will be done

on earth as it is in heaven.

11 Give us everything we need for this day.

12 Forgive our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.

13 And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil and from the evil one;

for the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours forever.

Amen.’

I invite you to pray the Lord’s Prayer with me for our world.

A brief comment on the Quran burning pastor

Let me begin by affirming that it was wrong of Terry Jones to advocate the burning of the Quran. We who profess the name of Christ do not show our love to Muslims by blaspheming their holy book, nor do we honor our God by doing so. And it is absolutely horrible that Muslims in Afghanistan rose up in an angry response to Jones and killed Americans; it’s tragic that Americans died in the wake of Jones’ action.

However, there’s a distinction I think we need to recognize. Jones did not make the Muslims kill the Americans. As horrible as it is that Jones’ action led to the deaths of Americans, it was not really his burning of the Quran (or intention to do so) that caused their deaths. The Muslims who killed the Americans are adult human beings and responsible for their own actions. They, and they alone, killed innocent Americans, of their own choice. No one held a gun to their heads to make them do it. (That’s a very ironic statement, if you think about it, which contrasts the two actions.) There’s no reason those Muslims had to respond to the Quran burning with the murder of innocent people.

This is what we need to be careful about. Muslim extremists play a mind game with us. They blame *us* for their violent acts. They choose to injure and murder people, and then say it’s our fault. But it’s not. And if we allow them to convince us that we’re somehow responsible for their choices, then they’ve got us just where they want us, right by the balls (pardon the expression, but it’s apt). We need to remember that ultimately they and they alone are responsible for their acts of terrorism.

My Story – the tale of my life in verse

October 28, 2006

When I was a little boy

the big people in my life

handed me a white piece of paper

with pretty pictures on it

and some crayons, and said,

“Here, you can color this in,

but be sure you color between the lines.”

And though I wasn’t very good at coloring

between the lines

I willingly complied

because the big people in my life

smiled and said how good it was that I was trying so hard.

And I always liked it when the big people

smiled, because it made me smile, too.

When I got old enough for school

I went, and the big people there said

“Here is the way to do your lessons.

Do them well and you will get a bright, shiny star!”

So I worked very hard at learning how to do my lessons

just the way the big people told me to do them.

And mostly they were very pleased.

And they smiled, and gave me that bright, shiny star

just like they said, and I wore it proudly.

And I smiled, because it made me happy

when the big people smiled.

Some of the other little people made fun of my star.

They said, “You don’t have to do your lessons

and color in the lines

the way the big people tell you to.

They don’t know anything anyway.

The way they tell you to do them—

that’s not how it works in the real world.”

I didn’t know about this real world.

But in my little world the people that mattered to me most were all big people,

and it sure seemed to me like they knew what they were talking about.

There weren’t any other little people in my family,

and the big people liked it when I colored in the lines,

and when I worked hard on my lessons,

and brought home my bright, shiny stars.

For many years, I worked very hard at my lessons

and I always kept my colors inside the lines.

And the big people gave me lots of happy smiles

and bright, shiny stars.

The other little people sometimes made fun

of my carefully colored pictures

and my bright shiny stars,

but I didn’t pay much attention to them

because the big people seemed happy with

what I was doing, and that was the most

important thing to me.

One day I went to church

and at the church they also handed out crayons

and paper and told us to color between the lines.

They said, “If you color your pictures real nice

that will make God smile

and he’ll be pleased with you.”

And I very much wanted to make God happy

and put a smile on his face,

so I worked very hard to make sure my little

pictures were just so.

And I told the other children to make sure

they stayed inside the lines, too,

so they could make God happy.

In church they gave us a book

and they said

“If you really want to make God happy

be sure and do everything just like this

book tells you. If you don’t,

God will be sad and God will be mad!”

I didn’t want to make God mad or sad,

so I learned everything the book said

and tried real hard to do it just the way it said.

Then one day I was almost all grown up.

I wasn’t a little person anymore;

now I was a big person.

I was so excited!

Now I could be just like all the big people

I had admired so much all my life!

So when the time came,

I went out into the world

and the other big people said

“Here, we need you to draw us a picture.”

But I said, “I don’t know how to draw a picture.

They only taught me how to color the pictures inside the lines.

No one ever said I could make my own picture.

I’m sorry; I don’t know how to do that!”

And I was very sad, and very afraid,

because they wanted me to make my own pictures,

and I didn’t know how to do that!

I never knew you could do that!

I never knew it was OK to make your own!

No one had ever taught me.

I was too afraid to try.

So I went away very sad.

Then I went to another place.

And they said to me,

“We need you to make something for us.

And we have a bunch of problems that need to be solved.

Your job is to solve the problems.”

But when I saw what the problems were,

it was nothing they had ever taught me

in my lessons in school

or at home with the big people.

So I said, “I’ll be happy to

solve your problems if you’ll give me the book

that tells me how to do it.”

They looked at me kind of funny and said,

“What? There’s no book.

We want you to solve the problems.

That’s your job.

That’s why we hired you.”

But no one had ever told me I could

make anything or solve problems myself,

and they never taught me how to solve problems or to make anything.

All they taught me was

how to do my lessons

and how to color inside the lines

and how to repeat what I’d been told.

So I was very sad and very afraid,

and so I went away from there, too.

I wondered what I was going to do—

I had worked so hard to learn my lessons

and color the pictures

but now I was realizing that

The World had no use for the things I had worked so hard to learn.

They wanted me to do things, make things.

No one had ever told me I could make things.

No one had ever taught me how.

I was very sad and afraid and didn’t know what to do.

Then I had an idea.

I said, “The church taught me to color in the lines

and follow the book.

Maybe they will have something I can do

where I can use all the things I’ve been taught!”

So I went to the church.

And they were very happy!

They said, “Oh, we’re so glad to have a young person

here with us. All our little people went away when

they grew up and got big.

So come on in.

Yes, we have work for you to do!!”

So the church people handed me another book

that was almost as big as the first one they had given me.

And they said,

“Learn everything in this book and follow it.

and if you do, everything will be wonderful for you!”

So I worked very hard and learned everything in the new book

the church gave me.

I was so happy! Now I knew what both books said.

And I was very happy that I had found a place

that followed so many of the things I had been taught.

I worked very hard to live by both of the books,

and the older big people were very pleased.

And I was happy again.

I felt safe and secure,

And I worked very hard to teach all the other people

In the church all the rules in the books they had taught me.

After a while, though, something strange happened.

Even though I was doing everything the books said to do

I wasn’t happy.

Neither were the other people in the church

I was trying to teach the rules in the books to,

though they worked hard to act as if they were happy.

Not only that,

but somehow inside I knew that God was not happy either.

In fact, I felt He was sad.

But I was doing everything the people in the church

told me to do! And I was doing it well!

It was supposed to be working!

But deep inside I knew it wasn’t working.

I grew more and more sad.

I started asking the older big people

in the church about this,

but they said,

“You’re just imagining things.

God is happy with you following all the rules in the books,

and if you do it right, the people will be happy too.

You just need to work harder!”

I believed them for a while

but it didn’t work.

I wasn’t happy,

the people weren’t happy,

and God wasn’t happy.

So finally, with a very sad face,

I left there and went back out into the world.

I didn’t know what I was going to do.

The World expected me to make things and solve problems,

but I had never been taught to do these things

and I was afraid.

I wandered around for a long time

with a very sad face.

People tried to cheer me up,

but no one knew what to say to make me smile again.

Finally, one day God spoke to me and said,

“My little one,

Do not be sad, and do not be afraid.

I say to you this day

that it’s alright for you to

make new things, even though

no one ever told you that you could.

I give you permission.

Go ahead and try to draw pictures,

even though no one has ever shown you how.

Try and solve problems.

It’s okay. I gave you a heart and a mind and a will.

I meant for you to use them.

Don’t be afraid.

I won’t judge you or be angry with you

if you fail, only if you don’t try.

And remember, I am right here with you,

always, to help you and guide you.

I will teach you. Listen to me.

Learn from me.

And I will send helpers into your life,

others who can assist you and teach you and show you the way

Only do not be so proud as to refuse their help when they come.

Listen, learn, and try. I only ask that you try.

Trust in me. Look to me. And above all, don’t be too proud

to admit when you need help, and to ask for it.

I love you.”

So now at last

I am beginning to learn the joy

of tiny freedoms:

Of coloring outside the lines

and even venturing to draw my own pictures.

All my life I have depended on boxes,

the safety and security of boxes.

But the boxes have kept me from

being all I was meant to be.

So I’m finding the courage to leave the boxes behind,

because most of them are only in my mind anyway…

And I’m learning to venture off the path on occasion

in order to look at the scenery up close

and discover the beauty and wonder

of this incredible world God made;

or to make new paths when needed

as God leads.