Friday, January 29, 2016

It's Not the Doing

Recently I've been challenged with how much of life is being, not doing. Who I am--when the difficult times come, when frustration mounts and plans are shattered--who I am cannot be controlled or contained. I am who I am. The difficulty doesn't create anger, fear, doubt, bitterness and resentment; it reveals what's already there, in my heart. I can only hide revulsion for so long. It's bound to explode under pressure. I may ignore fear and cover it with false confidence, but it will sink deep teeth into my heart when situations race out of control.

What I say and do in the unexpected moments of life is nothing more than what (or who) I am. If I am humiliated by my response, that is the least of my worries. What others think of my outbursts or tendency to run and hide matters very little--because the root issue is my sin. It's the heart that seeks its own way, that demands independence and makes self-righteous claims. Such a heart offends the Great God of the Universe. How often do we get caught up in pleasing others and wanting our way (all at the same time), failing to consider how we--how I've--spit in the face of my Savior.  In that moment I am no different than those who walked past Him that fateful crucifixion day. I am more concerned with my agenda, saving face in public, my accomplishing my goals than offending the God who took on humanity, lived a humble life and died that I might know Him and live.

The snake on the pole--Jesus--the "Look and live!"--has been cast aside. Disregarded. In self-deception and a desire to "do," I have failed to "be." Until the inner me surrenders and is voluntarily overcome with Christ, who would live in and through me, I will fail without hope. I will cry without relief. I will wrestle without victory.

So this has become my mantra, "Not I, but Christ." When I fail and fall and sin--not I, but Christ. I am forgiven. I am redeemed, I am re-purposed. I can confess and move forward in faith. When I experience victory and blessing--not I, but Christ. He is the blessing-Giver, He is the Rewarder, the Provider. In every situation, in every relationship, in every conviction or success, in loss or gain--not I, but Christ. Why? Because it is not in the doing. It's in the Be-ing.

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

When Disappointment Strikes

It's not life or death. It's not the end of the world. But in that moment, it feels like it.

You looked forward to, anticipated, set expectations--but it's out of your control. Faster than you could grab and hold it, stronger than your grip, it rips away forever. Well, the forever of right now. This moment will never come again. The opportunity, for this time, with these people, is over and gone.

How do you deal with disappointment? In the book, Good Mood, Bad Mood, Dr. Charles Hodges says, "If you want to take the measure of someone’s character, the most direct route I can think of is to tell him no." (p. 137)

Disappointment can be small, but intense. A few years ago a young passenger, maybe 8 years old, rode with me in the grain cart during harvest. We returned to the bins to unload the grain, but the tractor door jammed. We were stuck inside. After a few failed attempts, we prayed and I tried again. Still stuck. "Well," my little friend said, "God says, 'No.'" "He may say, 'No,'" I answered, "but I still have to go to the bathroom!" I thought about climbing out the back window, tried the door again, and it opened.

How do you respond when God says, "No?"

This week we had plans to join extended family at a resort in Cancun. We spent 19 hours traveling and sitting in crowded O'Hare and ended up back home in icy Iowa. God said, "No."

I don't have it perfected--and don't expect to--but here are some things that I've learned in dealing with disappointment:

1) Dwelling on the "could-have-been" makes it worse. The more I think about what I'm missing, what I should have had (i.e. am entitled to), the more sad, disheartened and bitter I become.

2) Ask the question, "Why are you disappointed?" It's okay to be sad. Grieving is normal. It's even a God-like characteristic. When we've lost something important to us, we grieve and want it back. Process the sadness and grief, the why's (not the what-if's) and shed a few tears. Even the psalmist asked, "Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?" (Ps. 42:5)

3) Compare your desire to God's desire for you. I wanted to be in Cancun with family--soaking up sun, sand, jokes, stimulating conversation, and fresh guacamole. But when I came downstairs to the kitchen the next morning (to make my own coffee!) what did the Scripture above the sink say?
One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple. (Ps. 27:4)
That's not quite what I had in mind. But is it true? If I only wanted one thing from the Lord, would it really be Mexico? I hope not. He's so much bigger and better. Could I really want just His presence? Is He enough for me?

4) Ask for help. I have some great friends who texted this when they heard the news: "I pray you will see God's plan in this...." "Bummer news, praying for a restful and relaxing week." Along with other thoughtful comments on Facebook to examine my heart and look to the Lord--He knows and He has a better plan (although I can't imagine it's better).

5) Trust God. I was reminded in one of my classes yesterday that "hope is the result of trust." Hope does not come from simply wishing or wanting. Hope only happens when I actively place my trust and full-weight on the Lord.
"Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
    my hope comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
    he is my fortress, I will not be shaken." (Ps. 62:5-6)

6) Move forward; look outward. God has given me what is best for today--and He has not hidden His plan. He desires that I love Him with all my heart, mind, soul and strength and that I love my neighbor as myself. So, in this day, I am called to rejoice, to rest, to praise, and to serve others. As my mind is taken off my self and any residual pity it is moved to the needs of others and I am blessed.  The apostle Paul said, "In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” (Acts 20:35).

So for today, in this moment, I'm working my way through grief and disappointment. Some moments are better than others. Some moments grief and despair creep in and I have to start over but isn't that the way of life in this sin-cursed world with frail, finite, sin-cursed bodies?

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:22-39 NIV)

Saturday, December 26, 2015

When the Most Wonderful Time of the Year is Over and Done

It's the day after Christmas. You would think the "Most Wonderful Time of Year" is over and done.!/format/jpg/quality/85/

After all:
There're no kids jingle belling
And no one is telling you "Be of good cheer"

Done with holiday greetings and gay happy meetings
When friends come to call

No more parties for hosting
Marshmallows for toasting
And caroling out in the snow

Done with scary ghost stories
And tales of the glories of
Christmases long, long ago.

And on and on it goes. We could almost start to feel sorry for ourselves--if that's the way it was--or worse, if it never happened in the first place. Maybe the hap-happiest season of all didn't hap-happen at all.

Regardless of the funfare and hype of the Christmas holiday, I disagree with the whole premise of the song. I love Christmas. I love Christmas music and lights and the smell of chocolate. But as I listened to this old, old song after leaving church last Sunday I realized the most wonderful time of the year is nothing without hope.

A person could have incredible experiences. The "stars may be aligned" for good fortune and all my dreams could come true, but if there is no hope, no future, no purpose, it's empty. It could happen again and again and it would never be the most wonderful time of the year.

But inject Jesus into the picture. Bring God--the eternal Creator of heaven and earth--into human existence to live the life of man, to offer Himself as the perfect substitute for the sin of the world--and you have an entirely new situation. Be the individual who cries out to Him for mercy and forgiveness, who desires to live life to the fullest and experience eternity on earth through His presence and Spirit. When that is the case, the most wonderful time of the year comes at different times, in different ways. It comes in that moment when I ask forgiveness for impatience and unkindness. It happens when I listen to my children pray, when I receive an unexpected gift or generous answer to prayer.

And when there is hope, the beauty and fun of the little things is magnified. I enjoy "much mistletoeing; And heart that is glowing When loved ones are near----.

"It's the most wonderful time of the year!"

And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said:

“Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace,
According to Your word;
For my eyes have seen Your salvation
Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples,
A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of Your people Israel.”

And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him. (Luke 2:25-33)

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. (Romans 5:1-11)