"…for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her." (Proverbs 8:11)
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Light, Love and Lifesavers Candy

When I was four years old, I stole a pack of Lifesavers from the grocery store. I didn’t know at the time that it was stealing. I was shopping with my dad and processing the experience through a four-year-old’s eyes. We went into the store and filled our cart with things we liked to eat. At the checkout, a young man put the food into paper bags while my father spoke with the nice woman behind the conveyor belt. And then we left.

I knew nothing about the exchange of cash for merchandise, and with my short stature, I didn’t see the transaction. So, on this particular trip, I put a roll of Lifesavers in my pocket. That’s what I liked to eat. My father discovered the trespass when we got home and gave me a sound spanking before driving me back to the store so I could return the candy and apologize. The lesson was clear—taking something without paying for it is stealing, and stealing is bad.

I learned right from wrong that day, but I also experienced two profound emotions: fear and shame.

When I was 13, I stole a brooch from a small boutique. Did I know stealing was wrong? Absolutely. Was I afraid of the consequences if I got caught? Yes. But I was more afraid of losing face in the eyes of my friend, Tanya, who had dared me to swipe the jewelry. She reveled in my bravery and rebellion when I showed her the prize. I had won her admiration, but there was no joy. I felt only shame.

My freshman year in college, I stole a candy bar from the student union. Again, the deed was done on a dare. Here I was, entering adulthood and venturing out into the world on my own, yet still doing stupid things because of peer pressure. Five years had passed, but nothing had changed. I was still operating in the same paradigm. I was driven not by the desire to do right, but by the desire to be accepted and avoid the mockery of my peers. The fear and shame that I experienced at four years old colored my thinking far more than the knowledge of the law.

Fear and shame do not inspire change. Love does.

My Facebook feed is filled with the vitriol of friends and acquaintances pointing fingers of judgment at people they have never met but who hold positions of authority and power. They post angry rants about the trespasses of politicians and actors and journalists whose moral failings have been made public. I suppose their finger-wagging gives them a sense of control and bolsters feelings of moral superiority. But it’s all a distraction. I know these people—we have done life together, and they have failings of their own. I know about the binge drinking, the sexual abuse, and those trips to the strip club. I know about the decision to sleep with a married man to stave off the loneliness and self-doubt. I have heard these friends say utterly hateful things about people they care for; witnessed addictions to food, wine and pornography; and mourned their broken relationships and broken homes and broken hearts. I know their stories. I have mine, too. We all do.

Judgment does not inspire change. Love does.

A few years ago, I began doing prison ministry with my husband. Every Wednesday, we drive two hours to a unit in Palestine, Texas, to meet with the 200 men attending a program called Alpha. After a time of praise and worship, someone from our ministry team gives a short teaching related to the current book study. Then, the men circle up in groups for an hour of small group discussion. And things get real.

They talk about their families. They talk about their failings. They talk about knowing right from wrong and making bad decisions anyway—the same bad decisions over and over, that continued to put them back behind bars. And they talk about learning to trust, learning to be authentic, and learning to take accountability. Most importantly, they talk about learning to walk in their identity of who God created them to be, and accepting the love of a Father who is perfect beyond all measure. Through teaching and prayer and fellowship, they discover who they are in Christ. And that changes everything.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us,
that we should be called children of God! (1 John 3:1a)

I have seen hardened felons become kind and compassionate men as they experience God’s love for them. I have witnessed men who committed unspeakable crimes become gifted leaders and teachers, encouraging and edifying their brothers in Christ as they walk out their journey of faith. These are no jailhouse conversions, where the men drop their Bibles at the door as they head home. No, this is lasting change—powerful, soul-quenching change born solely out of love. The majority of men we met behind bars who since have been released are gainfully employed, in committed relationships, reconciled with their families, and actively involved in their local church. They are thriving.

For we are God’s handiwork,
created in Christ Jesus to do good works, 
which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

These men stay on the straight and narrow not out of fear of shame or judgment or consequences, but out of gratitude. Like the prodigal son, they chose to live a life of debauchery, finding only fleeting joy in the sex and drugs and approval of their peers. Feeding their fleshly desires ultimately led to greater despair, but no matter how depraved their actions, God loved them anyway. He loved them so much that He sent His Son to bear the punishment for their sins and welcomed His lost children home with open arms. He did it for me, too.

I have seen broken men transformed through God’s love. I have seen women once cloaked in shame discover their true worth through God’s love. I have seen my own heart transformed and experienced inexplicable peace through God’s love.

We can point the finger of judgment. We can spend our days attending rallies and posting rants about the unspeakable acts of others. Or, we can be the light.

Share happiness. Applaud the peacemakers. Bring encouragement and laughter. And soak in God’s love. When you discover how precious you are in His sight, and how deeply He longs to provide for you, comfort you, protect you and raise you up to great heights, you will know your true identity. You will find your purpose and can guide others to healing. You will be a true changemaker, because you walk in love.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

January 5, 2018   1 Comment

A Father’s Love

Today marks one year since my father passed away. He was only 65, and died of a stealthy cancer that had already taken up camp in his body months before it was finally recognized.

My dad was angry about this, and felt robbed of the comfortable retirement he had neatly planned out. After four decades of teaching at the university level, he was looking forward to taking the first of many ocean cruises with his wife of 28 years, Regina. Instead, he made his first of many visits to the hospital for bloodwork and PET scans and chemotherapy treatments intended to ward off his disease.

I miss my dad with a deep ache in my heart. But I am deeply blessed by the time we spent together during the last year of his life, and the knowledge that we became closer and loved one another more than we ever had before.

You see, my father was something of a stoic. He raised me as a single parent for 11 years before he remarried, and although he loved me deeply, he wasn’t one for outpourings of affection. We were more like roommates, each going about our daily routine and carrying our weight in keeping up the household. He was also a strict disciplinarian, especially when it came to academics, and as a child I regarded him with equal parts adoration and fear.

More importantly, my father was an atheist. And, despite all his best efforts to teach me to be a “free thinker”, I became a born again Christian at age 34.

We never talked about religion, except once several years prior, when I was attending Catholic church. Having never been taught about God at all, Catholicism was a comfortable stepping stone in my journey of faith. It was also anathema to my father, who was raised Jewish and — although he was a theology minor in college — later chose to abstain from any religious doctrine or belief in a higher power. The conversation was laughable, like a child at her First Communion trying to explain the precepts of faith to a Ph.D., when she had only encountered a feltboard Jesus.

We never discussed religion after I was born again, and left the Catholic church in New York for a pentecostal congregation in Dallas, Texas. We never talked about what it meant for me to accept Jesus into my heart, or how the Holy Spirit truly transformed me from the inside out, softening the hard edges and filling me with joy, faith and compassion.

But he saw it.

I flew to North Carolina to visit my father several times during the last two years of his life, knowing — if only in theory — that our time together was suddenly limited. And, although I never witnessed to him or shared the gospel in conversation, I lived it. I demonstrated Christ’s love to him in every way I knew how, which sometimes meant just being there to encourage him with my companionship. I asked him to tell me stories about his accomplishments in high school and college, and I helped him organize the myriad photos, awards and papers that would mark his legacy. I assured him that my husband and I were happy in our marriage and financially secure — two things that mattered deeply to him.

And I told him that I loved him. Whenever I came to visit, and whenever we talked on the phone, I made sure to tell him — and as time went on, I felt it deeper and deeper in my heart. Despite the battles of my youth and our divergent worldviews in my adulthood, I respected and appreciated my father more than ever. Nothing could take away the pain and bitterness of his sickness, but he knew that he was loved, and there is no greater balm.

My husband Craig put together this wonderful video tribute to my father’s life to play at his memorial. I’m adding it here to honor him.

I love you, dad.

Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.

Dr. Jay Rosenberg
1942 – 2008

February 21, 2009   3 Comments