I read a blog last night written by an acquaintance that Kevin and I had in TN. He and my brother played football together and he and Kevin did lawn care as side jobs one summer. I'll never forget the afternoon Kevin came home screaming because he and "Bubba" had somehow managed to get caught in a weed that set their skin on fire! We attended church together for a few years, but when our church unfortunately divided so many of us went separate ways. It wasn't until recently that we found out that he had been called to preach and is now a pastor of a church. AMAZING what God does when you aren't looking!!!! I've VERY much enjoyed reading his blog these past several months because I can FEEL his enthusiasm and depth of commitment for his calling.
Last night he wrote about 1 Thessalonians 4:7 and it really resonated deep within me. In my NLT version it says "God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives." The Message words it differently, "God hasn't invited us into a disorderly, unkempt life but into something HOLY and BEAUTIFUL---as beautiful on the inside as the outside."
The first word that jumps out in the Message version is the word unkempt. I can't hear that word without thinking of one of my mentors. On the very first day of Interviewing and Recording Skills with Kim Haynes (social work Jr. Level course teaching you how to interview a client professionally and effectively...UNBELIEVABLE class!), she told us we better NEVER use the word "unkept" as so many students did (especially misused in the south!). That word was not correct and we better NEVER use it to describe our clients. If we wanted to put down a description of a disheveled, unpolished person we BEST use the correct word of UNKEMPT or she would fail us on principal. I loved reading that word last night because it reminded me of that sweet, dear woman that made me REALLY get secure in my faith. You can NOT get through that class without learning WHO you really were, what past situations shaped you, and what motivated your desire to be a social worker. It was INTENSE! Even more special was the role she took on with me OUTSIDE of class. She helped me through an incredibly painful situation and had she not provided me with the tools of healing that I needed, I would have NEVER been open or ready for a relationship with Kevin. I'll never forget the look on her face when I came in with an engagement ring. Her smile forever stays etched in my memory and her words later were confirmation that she knew I had moved beyond "the past". Our friendship really took a different turn a few years down the road when I was diagnosed with lupus and she became my mentor on a totally different level. She was the PRO with all the information when there was very little...for she too suffered from the disease. Unfortunately, she died several years ago from complications brought on by the disease and the severity of which she suffered from it. She left a HUGE place in my heart! God surely placed her in my life at JUST the right time MORE than once!
Anyway, besides reminding me of her, the verse seemed to go deep into my spirit. Between the words Pastor Larry (no longer "Bubba") wrote describing his thoughts on the verse and the Holy Spirit talking to me, it has stuck with me all last night and today. As he pointed out, unkempt can mean not combed, neglected, not cared for, disheveled, messy, unpolished, rude or crude. The verse points out that God doesn't wanted us living that life. He wants us living a holy AND beautiful life. It made me think of all the areas in my own life that aren't measuring up. It made me think of the areas in my life that fall under the disheveled, neglected, "messy" categories. It made me think of the places that are impure in my own heart and actions.
I think it's easy to get caught up in the attitude of "good enough". Our society and many in our own churches have watered down sin to the point that sin just really doesn't matter anymore. The message seems to be that once you ask God to be your savior, the rest doesn't matter as much. Why worry with sin because you're forgiven. God is a loving God, so what does it matter what you do or how you act? That is the message that we are hearing from society around is. Why should I worry about living a pure life, one that is holy and beautiful? I have a simple answer. It's because it DOES matter.
If you want to see me with steam literally coming out of my ears, Kevin just has to make the following statement... "well at least, I don't________ like all the other men I know" or something similar. If we are in the middle of a squabble, those words BEST not come out of his mouth unless he REALLY wants to get me fighting mad! Today I thought about how easy it is for us to say something similar to God, either in actual words or with our actions. "Well, God at least I don't_______. " In essence, our excuse becomes we're better than so and so because we don't do what they do. "Hey God, I don't smoke, drink, curse. I'm faithful to my husband. I don't....etc, etc, etc......and I do etc, etc, etc," and can run down the list. It's pretty easy to get caught up in that. After all, sin doesn't seem to carry the same stigma that it once did. It may be easy to think that, but it's DANGEROUS thinking. Sin IS still SIN. No matter how big or small, sin is sin. I'm guilty. ANYTHING that causes me to have any separation from God is sin.
I'm tarnished and I'm in need of refining. My spiritual appearance is unkempt, disheveled (and so is my physical appearance most days!). I need God's vision of who He wants me to be. I need Him to come in and polish me, straighten me up and give me a makeover. I need him to search every crevice of my being and remove the impurities. I need to be living the life He chose for me. I need to not be neglectful to those areas that keep me from being fully in His presence. I can never be perfect, but I CAN allow myself to be molded more in His image every day.
God does love us and He gives us grace and forgiveness every minute of our lives. However, with sin in our lives we are preventing ourselves from seeing the manifestation of HIS full blessings and power in our lives. Sin, no matter how small, DOES matter because it blocks us from the promises of God. We can't be "dabbling in sin" and receiving His blessings at the same time. Thankfully God can pick us up right where we are and put us RIGHT back in His will and on the right path when we repent and ask for His help. My biggest failures come from not asking for His help and stepping out on my own. Hopefully, He will continue to reveal with HIS VISION and HIS POWER what life He wants for me. I can't imagine what kind of life I have in front of me, if I will fully surrender every aspect of my life to Him and let him continuously remove all of the impurities so I can see the benefits of holy and beautiful living....from both the inside and the outside. What a journey it is going to be!
For a challenge, take the next verse and think about it. Verse 8 says: "Therefore, anyone who refuses to live by these rules is not disobeying human teaching but is rejecting God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you." That's some pretty powerful words right there!!!!!