Wednesday, February 18, 2015
As I imagined Jesus and I sharing a chuckle over something silly, my heart truly longed for that. The kind of relationship we have with good friends that is easy and comfortable and pleasant. I reflected that those moments are possible because of the depth of the underlying relationship. We cannot be light and easy if things are difficult. A married couple with a troubled relationship has few instances of play and laughter. If there is a history of disloyalty, betrayal, constant criticism, infidelity or even abuse, those things weigh down a relationship, and there are very few opportunities for giggles.
In thinking those thoughts (in a flash--much faster than it takes to write them down), it came to me that God has taken care of all the big heavy things in our relationship. The betrayal and unfaithfulness are all on my side, as well as my indifference and neglect toward Him. Yet He has covered all that--no, He has removed it all with the blood of His Son, so that our friendship has a clean slate. He doesn't remember each slight I have shown Him, every time I chose lesser things over Him, or even the willful wickedness of my dark and depraved heart. The Bible says He delights in me. That brings images of laughter and smiles and "inside jokes" and easiness in each other's presence.
I remember times when my Father and I shared a good laugh over something, or when I would "catch His eye" over private thoughts that only He knew, but understood perfectly. I wish I had those times more often, and I can, if I pursue a genuine relationship that doesn't allow sin and neglect to weigh it down.
The joy of the Gospel is that God took care of all the Big Things--salvation, redemption, justification, sanctification, etc.--so that I can share a chuckle and a cup of tea with Him. The deep things of God lay the foundation for those light moments when He and I can just enjoy one another's presence. And when that's good, frankly, there's no one's company I prefer to keep.
Thinking about this, I pictured a branch being pruned. It is not cut off at the trunk, but rather the dead, dry tips are cut off so that the living, fruitful interior branches will grow fuller.
Often, my doubts come from unfulfilled expectations, or disappointments with God. I have found that if I allow the Holy Spirit to provide insight into the situation, sometimes it is my expectation that is misguided. Of course, God usually has His own reasons for not "coming through" according to my hopes and prayers, but sometimes it has opened my eyes to a bigger picture.
Let me return to the tree branch. Great truths about God sometimes develop in my mind into assumptions that may or may not be true.
God is good > He will do good things in my life > He wants me to be happy and healthy > He will make my life easy and comfortable
Now, the beginning premise is a foundational truth about the very nature of God. If I do not see the final conclusion as reality in my life, it makes me doubt the truthfulness of the original idea, and I am tempted to lop off the whole limb and think that God isn't really good after all, but a mean despot who can bring me good or evil on a whim.
But if we recognize that perhaps there is room for new growth in our thinking, we can allow our assumptions (selfish and immature as they often are) to be pruned away to see a deeper, fuller, more fruitful truth that is waiting to develop. At what point in our "branch" of thought did we become infested with the blight of our own fleshly "wishful thinking" and disconnected from the True Vine? Just because my life is not easy and comfortable, does that mean God is not good?
I love truth. It is solid, dependable, unchanging. I don't want to tie my tire swing to a branch that will break under the weight of use, but rather one that will support the back-and-forth of my daily life.
Upon further reflection, and the revelation of the Spirit, my "branch" might now look like this:
God is good > He will do good things in my life > He wants me to be strong and faithful > He will use circumstances to bring about a Christ-like character in me > He is faithful even when life is hard
Pruning back my dead assumptions and expectations allows me to see God more clearly, and deepen my relationship with Him. He is far more complex than my formulaic thinking would like, yet so much better than my surface and shallow preferences. I have found a God who is not an ATM, dispensing blessings when I put in the correct PIN, but a loving Father who will stop at nothing to bring me back to Him and to lovingly cultivate a Christ-like character in me. To assume He will give me everything I want is just going out on a limb.
Wednesday, January 07, 2015
I was remembering that as I reflected that God has given me everything--all that I could possible offer to Him--so that I can choose to give it back to Him. The coins in the hanky were not mine; I hadn't earned them. They weren't discretionary, but had a designated use. I tend to think of my life as an allowance--my time, my money, my talents and gifts--and I can spend them as I wish. But just as if I had kept my handkerchief offering in my pocket, it would have been stealing. Furthermore, since I couldn't unwrap it, it would have been useless to me and would have deprived those to whom it would have been useful.
The Bible says we "rob God" when we withhold our tithes and offerings. But truly, all that we have, all that we do, all that we are--it all was His from the start. So am I robbing God when I choose convenience over hospitality? When I waste night after night on mindless entertainment instead of investing time in my marriage and family? When I use my gifts and abilities to earn a good living but not to benefit the body of Christ?
My whole life is really just a few coins in a hanky. May I be willing to hand them over when the opportunity comes.
Monday, January 14, 2013
I never guessed would speak to me." Psalm 81 MSG
God does speak to us. We are His beloved, after all. How often we miss His gentle whispers. We look for the grand gesture--the thunder, the miracle, the trumpet. When these things don't materialize, we think He is silent, when all the time He longs to draw us close with gentle whispers.
I'm beginning to think that those times we feel that God has withdrawn from us, that He is silent, are just times when we need to learn to hear differently. God never changes, or moves, or forsakes us. Therefore, it is not that He has stopped speaking but that we have stopped hearing. Like a radio station that signs off the air, we need to change the dial and tune in to a different frequency. It is teaching our ears to discern the rare bird's song amidst the twittering of sparrows and the cawing of crows. To sharpen our focus to see the orchid among a crowded garden of petunias. Like a bloodhound, sorting through the myriad scents to find the one trail we must follow.
God sent Him who was most precious to His heart to redeem us and bring us into relationship with Him. Although we receive great blessing from His actions, they are not for our benefit alone. He wants to have intimacy with us, to share life with us. Why would He withhold Himself from us when He has paid the highest price possible to adopt us into His family? This God, who sees each tear we cry and saves them in a bottle, Who has promised never to leave or forsake us, Who know the number of the hairs on our head--this God would give us the cold shoulder? No.
First and foremost, He is a Father, not a miracle-worker with flashy signs and wonders nor a grandiose king who interacts with His subjects based on His moods or whims. He is both a miracle-worker and king, but His highest relationship with us is as a Father, an intimate, relational, day-to-day interaction between a parent and child. He has much to say if we can learn to hear.
Monday, July 16, 2012
It's almost like Antiques Roadshow. Someone brings in an old artifact--an ugly dish, a weird figurine, a rusty tool. In their eyes it is distasteful and useless. But once the expert explains its value and purpose, the object becomes a treasure.
I believe when we pray for our enemies, the difficult people in our lives--those who mistreat and abuse us--we allow God to show us that person in a new light. Not as a thorn in our side or a source of pain, but as a broken, damaged individual. Although they may hurt us, frustrate us and make our lives more difficult, God's mercy and compassion can begin to flow through us. Praying for our enemies opens that conduit for the Holy Spirit to soften our hearts and renew our minds.
We usually pray for God to remove the hard things in our lives, but God has higher purposes than our comfort and convenience. If we truly want to be a part of God's kingdom work; if we truly believe that our enemy is not of flesh and blood; when we recognize that the spiritual armor we are to put on includes being clothed in humility (not demanding my rights--picture Jesus), then God can truly transform our lives in ways we can't begin to fathom.
Difficult people are not our problem; they are opportunities for God to change us as well as being part of His plan to change them. But we can only be God's instruments when we see them through God's eyes and let the Holy Spirit guide us.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. But he said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid." Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going. (ESV)
My first thought upon reading this paragraph was, "Why did they just leave Jesus and sail off without him?" I still don't really get that, but I do know that I am at least as guilty of leaving Him behind and pursuing my own interests, pass-times, etc. so I can't really be too hard on the disciples.
But what stood out to me in this short passage was that the seas were rough, they were having a hard time of rowing across, and then they see Jesus walking on the water. And it freaks them out (understandably!). And Jesus tells them, "Don't worry, it's me." And then "they were glad."
How often have I been in a tough place - situations that I didn't understand; long, hard circumstances that I was struggling to get through. Things happen that cause me to be confused or anxious. What if I had heard Jesus say, "Don't worry. It's me. You may not see or understand, but I am behind these circumstances, working all things for your good. I have deliberately led you here for my purposes, and everything is going to be all right. In fact, better than all right."
I wonder if Jesus intentionally stayed away long enough, knowing the disciples would sail off without him. What if he set this up? Too often, I just react to life as it occurs, but God isn't like me. He knows it all - the beginning to the end - and sovereignly rules over everything. What if God lets the wind pick up, the seas get rough, my own methods and plans fall apart, just so He can show me that His ways are better, and that I can trust Him? What if, unlike the disciples, I am too afraid or stubborn to let Jesus in the boat? His admittance to the boat greatly shortened their journey; they were immediately at their destination. How often have I made the journey longer and more difficult because I won't let God take over?
I love that Jesus addresses them so simply and intimately. Not some great pronouncement or rebuke for leaving him high and dry (no pun intended). Just a simple "Don't worry. It's me." I need to stop listening to the wind and watching the waves and be on the lookout for Someone taking a detour that might be better than my regular route.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
I hate death. I hate the separation from loved ones, the words unspoken, the unfinished business, the permanence. I hate how it looms over us, making us wonder if we’ll live to old age or if some tragedy or disease will shrink our horizon. I hate the hole it leaves behind. I am glad that God hates death, too, and has conquered it on our behalf. But that seems like a far-off reality sometimes, not a present truth.
Yesterday we had to put our 10-year-old German Shepherd, Lita, to sleep. She had a condition called degenerative myelopathy, which causes the spinal cord to disintegrate over time. At first her tail stopped wagging, then slowly she lost the ability to control her back legs. Fortunately, because the nature of the condition is gradual paralysis, she wasn’t in pain. Her back end was just going numb. She was still able to walk, more or less, but her legs would slip out from under her easily. She had to pull herself up stairs with her front legs. It was time to do the right thing, and I am convinced it was the right thing at the right time. She was losing her spark and getting frustrated and depressed that she could no longer chase the ball or jump on the couch. She was losing that part of her that made her “Lita.”
I cannot yet write about the details of the joys that she brought to my life. That will take some time to get to that point. The wound is still fresh; the gaping hole is still raw. My husband is grieving as much as I am, and that does bring some comfort. Someone else who feels exactly what I am feeling, who knew her as I did. But I was thinking this morning that when you suffer a pain as deep as this, it feels like the whole bookcase of loss, betrayal and sorrow comes tumbling down, and past hurts and losses are scattered around. I keep tripping on these and it is an odd experience. I have been thinking about my dad a lot lately. This morning I made it almost all the way to work without crying, until I started grieving for my only brother. I never knew Ronnie; he died as an infant over a decade before I was born. He was the only male child my mother bore. I cried over that loss, that I didn’t get to experience having a big brother. I even thought that now, at my age, when he would be in his sixties, it would be nice to have him to talk to. Of course, he might have turned out to be a crotchety, complaining, alcoholic miser, but I’ll never know. Since that life is a blank slate, I was choosing to fill it in with what I most wanted.
A friend recently sent me an article about not comparing your pain to someone else’s. That has helped me not to minimize what I’m feeling by dismissing Lita as “just a dog.” She was my dog and a part of my family—my everyday, waking up, around the house, bedtime ritual family—and now she is gone. I don’t need to justify my grief. God still cares that I am hurting and offers me His comfort. Grief is grief and pain is pain and the world is full of both. It doesn’t come in sizes, but it is universal. This is my cup for now, and for perhaps the first time I am willing to drink it instead of burying it or distracting myself until it is lukewarm. When I pray for God to heal my emotions, I must take the bad with the good. Pain is the price of loving, whether it is the pain of separation, or disappointment, or betrayal, or death. And really, in the grand scheme of things, a few days or even weeks of pain is worth the years of love and joy that Lita brought me.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
So the next morning during my quiet time I was thinking about that, as well as the hymn “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” which some friends and I had been discussing recently. Especially the “prone to wander” part of the last verse. And I remembered a song by Chris Rice that has a chorus that says, “How can I be so prone to wander, so prone to leave You, so prone to die? And how can You be so full of mercy – You race to meet me and bring me back to life.” And I realized that it wasn’t that God was equipping me for some coming trial, but that my heart toward Him had been lukewarm, and He was pursuing me to bring me back to Him. Oh how He loves us! I was sitting there during my quiet time just amazed at how personally and individually the God of all creation woos us, drawing us close to Him. Even though I was not rebellious, or wayward, or bitter, my heart had gradually turned from Him, and He so desired intimacy with me that He used other people to get my attention.
I flipped thru my CD’s, looking for that Chris Rice CD, but could only find one with hymns on it. Fortunately, “Come Thou Fount” was on it, so I decided to listen to that instead. After that song was over, I just left the CD on. I couldn’t believe it when the next song was “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go.” I’m not even that familiar with that hymn, so I looked it up in a hymnal. Isn’t that just like God to MAKE SURE I got the message of His pursuing love? If He would allow His own Son to be crucified in order to reconcile us to Himself, would He not make sure we knew how much He loves us? If we have ears to hear, eyes to see and a heart that truly desires Him over all else, I believe He WILL speak to us. Every believer ought to have an inner "photo album," or maybe scrapbook is a better term, for the mementos God has given us along our earthly journey to remind us how abundantly, how deeply, how personally He loves each one of us.
Maybe that's why I call this blog, Postcards from the Journey, to share some of my mementos of God's faithfulness, wisdom and love!