Monday, October 10, 2016

It's all about the bedrock....

When I was a little girl my mom often challenged me to a game. If we'd come across someone in our day who looked a bit unhappy or stressed, like a shopkeeper or neighbor, we'd do our best to leave that person just a bit happier or more encouraged than the condition we met them in. What a good thing to teach a child---to be aware of the needs of others! Since then I've learned the side lesson that it's not my 'job' to make everyone around me happy all the time (important one for me!) but the lesson of considering what might be going on in the life of everyone that I meet and offering them grace has impacted my whole life.

I'm not sure who first said it but I love the quote:

"Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind always." 

There have been times in my life that I've desperately needed and been on the receiving end of significant kindness.  How could I not pass that on to others?
My acrobatic son Adam jumping for joy. :-) Photo Credit: Solomon Waterhouse

Working in India taught me a lot about kindness as well. I witnessed those in extreme poverty sharing with those around them in sacrificial ways.  They knew through experience that they actually needed each other, and kindness was given and kindness was received. That doesn't mean that a lot of fighting and angst didn't occur as well, after all hurt people tend to hurt people, but at the core when they had a bit more than they needed they would share. A little rice, a vegetable, a spare piece of clothing, tending each other's children, sharing good clean water....

.....what a challenge to those of us that have way too much.

But I have a confession. I have to admit that even after a life of being wired towards kindness (thanks, Mom and other great examples!), I realized the other day that I am a hypocrite.

Big time.

You see, if you are clearly hurting I will expect to give you grace. If you're in need I will do my best to share. If you are nasty I will wonder why and try to be kind anyway. If you are sad I will want to offer you sanctuary. If you are lonely I will try give you my time. But if I, in my vast knowledge and omnipotent wisdom (ha!) cannot discern pain that would then inspire my grace, and if someone is continually and intently choosing to see and point out the negative in others, I will struggle with them. I tend to put them in the 'undeserving' box and shut the lid of my heart. I am judge and jury all rolled into one and someone constantly focusing on the negative is the particular thing I find hard to find grace for.

Oooops, what happened to,"Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind always"? I tend to forget that those who cut down others are usually compensating for feeling lack in themselves. Therefore, hidden hurt. 

Sheesh, I realized that I had prided myself in my love of others and had thought I was doing pretty well, but I'm a hypocrite indeed. Good thing I'm not the Judge of the universe.

I'm sure glad that God has a different perspective on us than we do of ourselves and of others. He consistently in Scripture brings us back to trust in Him and not in ourselves or our ability to be good enough or do enough good. Because no matter how good, how kind, how loving, how generous, how honest we may be----we fail at some point.

Paul addresses this very thing in Romans 9:31-33

"But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded.  Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law instead of by trusting in him.  They stumbled over the great rock in their path. God warned them of this in the Scriptures when he said, 

'I am placing a stone in Jerusalem that makes people stumble, 
a rock that makes them fall.
But anyone who trust in him will never be disgraced.'"

Do you ever feel a strong sense of shame when confronted by the Holiness of God? When you thought you were doing so well but then realize a gap in your armor, a place where you've failed?  I did when I realized my blind spot in loving kindness. Whoops, I failed again

The somewhat painful question to ask ourselves at this point is, "What are we trusting in?" Our self, what we're capable of, what we've done----or God himself plain and simple? Trusting in ourselves is so seductive, because when we do well we receive the glory. But trusting in ourselves is ultimately painful because we were never designed to do it all on our own and we WILL fail.

Paul said this next about the people of Israel, but if we're honest isn't it often easy to apply this to ourselves as Believers today?

"For they don't understand God's way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God's way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law 
(or do good stuff).
 Rom. 10:3

We know in our heads that Christ has already made a way for us to succeed and be right with God and therefore we can do good as well, (vs.4) but practically we live as if it's what we do that matters. And set ourselves up for failure in the process. But there's an answer:

"Anyone who trust in him (God) will never be disgraced."
Rom. 10:11

It's all about focus. When our focus is actually in the One who has already paid the penalty for all of our failures, we may sometimes look like fools but will never actually be disgraced, because all He asks of us is to trust in Him. Follow Him and let Him worry about the rest. 

His ways confound us but they are ultimately wise. They surprise because to us they can seem simplistic or idealistic but they are full of truth and make our paths straight. They may seem difficult but they bring us to the place of realizing that we cannot do it on our own and that He has already provided an answer so full of love that how can we knowingly refuse?

Simply and powerfully trust and you will never be disgraced. And for goodness sake, stop disappointing yourself by trying to be good on your own! And be free......

Friday, April 29, 2016

Little drops of water.....

About six months after my first husband died I decided that it was time to figure out what to do next. The kids and I had left Fiji where they had lived their whole lives and moved to the USA to be near family.  We'd settled into our own house but we hadn't really found our feet there yet. And after 13 years somewhere else, even I was in intense culture shock. Enough time had passed, however, that I felt like I needed a plan forward.  I know, sounds a bit rushed now, but it had been a long six months!

I thought and prayed and thought some more, but had no idea what to do long-term after the abrupt turn around in life events. I had opportunities to go back and keep doing mission work myself in Fiji, but had no idea how I'd be able to juggle that with looking after four hurting kids by myself.  Not that I was doing that terribly well at that point anyway. 

I had no workable ideas and although we had been absolutely totally and miraculously looked after until then, I felt like on that particular point that God was being unnecessarily silent.  I guess I forgot the miracle of what already was and I worked even harder at nagging God for an immediate answer. Kind of like Jacob wrestling all night with the man who turned out to be God. (Gen. 22:22-32) Even though I knew the provision that was there in God's hand, somehow my internal theology was that I was required to 'be strong' and storm the gates of Heaven for a reply.  Now I see that my answer from God at that point was, "Wait," but I pushed myself to the point of a nervous breakdown before I realized that I literally couldn't struggle anymore.  And I found the mercy in letting go and letting God be in charge even if it left me in the dark.

It's often at the times when we're wrestled out and we realize that we can't go on that we find God Himself in the midst of it---and that's really all the answer we need. And I needed to do some rethinking about what I believed it meant to 'seek' God.

Some of my favorites in the Bible about seeking God are these:

"Search for the Lord and for his strength; continually seek him." ~I Chron. 16:11

"The one thing I ask of the Lord--the thing I most seek--is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, delighting in the Lord's perfections and meditating in his Temple."  ~Ps.27: 4

"You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."  ~Jer. 29:13

These verses speak of being wholehearted for God, of using the very best of our time and energy to seek His face.  And I'd always taken them to be verses of strong action.

But what about when you're in a place where you've got nothing more to give? When you can barely lift your head--let alone find forward momentum?

Sometimes all we can manage is to cry out to God that we need him, and that's enough. Often 'seeking' is simply the act of asking for His help, for Him to sort out our tangled minds and help us regain our focus and then moving steadily and intentionally in that improved direction. Because no matter how depleted we feel our focus is still actively on something.....

We are seldom actually passive, we are creatures of motion.  That 'something' that has our focus may be worry, frustration, anger, disappointment, or despondency.  It may be infatuated distraction with something we want. We may feel like there's a dull buzz in our head clouding our thoughts, but something's always going on in our head and heart

I can spend hours looking at jewelry online.  I know, bizarre right? It's not that I want it all, I just like looking at it.  To me it's creativity and art, and since I have a jewelry business I actually do need to look sometimes. But passively spending too much time trolling jewelry sites isn't good for me.  Even through it's 'fun' it can eat up my time and energy and wind up being something that depletes me, partly because of the time it steals from more proactive activity.

I heard an analogy recently (and I can't for the life of me remember where or I'd give them credit!) of our lives as a stream of water.  Streams are made up are a lot of  drops of water. Things we encounter, and experience are the drops of water and some of them are unavoidable. But what we focus on are also drops of water and it's up to us to decide what of those drops we're going to allow in our 'stream.' Are the drops things that feed us or deplete us?  Things that are part of seeking God or mindless (or not so mindless) entertainment? Things that build us up or things that pull us in the wrong direction even if we think they're not influencing us? Discovering lies that we don't even know that we believe through dialog with a wise person or even with a journal and actively replacing them with truth can provide a veritable current of pure water into our streams. And, of course, spending time with the Well-that-never-runs-dry and filling up on the life giving Words that He's given us are invaluable.

I said in my last blog that we're having ongoing health issues with one of our children and I've found myself on edge and spiritually depleted. When I heard this analogy of a stream I was in a cycle of knowing I needed strength from my Father, but since I was tired I was lazily allowing myself too much time in mindless distraction that wasn't actually helping. I wasn't 'feeling' much when I read my Bible or tried to spend time with God, so I was treating it like a chore.  The thought of drops of water feeding my stream, however, inspired me to see things differently.  OK, I may not walk away from time in the Word today feeling like everything's better, but I've fed my stream a few drops of good, clear water and that's got to help.

And it has! My situation hasn't changed and this will probably be a lesson that I need to put on repeat, but my heart has woken up again to His Presence. It reminds me of Jesus' words:

"Anyone [any seeker] who is thirsty may come to me!  Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare 'Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.' "
(John 8:37-38)

Yes, Lord, we're thirsty!

Our streams can be fed by His river of living water straight from the Heart of God.  All we need to do is save the best of our 'seeking' to find more of Him.

"Seek the Kingdom of God above all else."
 (Matt. 6:33)

All else. It's worth avoiding the drops that deplete our stream. There's freedom and peace in this life even if that doesn't seem possible in our present circumstances. Remember these words that are a promise straight from the mouth of Jesus:

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." 
(John 4:27)

And that's a promise you can take straight to the bank.

Photo: Heidi Cook

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Looking for the Miracle

A few months back we got a bird.  Not just a bird that sits in it's cage and tweets, but an Australian Galah (parrot) with a disability where he couldn't perch in the wild. George arrived full of personality, was very interactive, and had a decent vocabulary of English words.

That larger than life personality would have been exactly what we wanted had he decided to spread his relationships throughout the household, but possibly because George came from a home with only two people in it, he narrowed his world in our busy home and decided that I was the only one for him. Flattering, but.....!

Had I lived alone, had I had nothing else that I wanted to do other then hang out with a parrot all day that might have been OK, but the rest of house got tired of his screeching when I wasn't there as well as his sharp bites when he intermittently decided he needed to 'protect' me from them.  And it was taking a large chunk of my time and energy to give him the attention that he needed. Sadly, even though he was wonderfully cute otherwise (really, he was!), we had to find him a new home. And, yes, I shed a few tears.

Sometimes the things that we think we want don't turn out to be what we need.

The children of Israel frequently had this problem, too. When they were hungry in the wilderness God did something amazing: He made food literally fall from the sky!  They didn't have to plant it, water it, hunt it, or even harvest it.  They just had to go out, pick it up off of the ground six days a week and make food that tasted like 'honey' (Ex. 16: 31)  and 'cakes baked with oil.' (Num. 11:8) Yum!  As a gluten intolerant person who often has to miss out on cake, that sounds really, really, super good! It also sounds great to anyone on a low carb diet. Here, have some manna cakes! Since it was food from God's hand, not only was it tasty, but you can be sure it was quite nutritious, too.

After a time, however, the Children of Israel grew tired of manna from heaven, a sad but true insight into the heart of mankind in general, and demanded something else, nearly driving Moses off the deep end in the process. God, who knew that that wasn't actually what was good for them, sent them quail to eat.

A lot of quail. Piles and piles of quail around the edge of the camp up to 90 centimeters high.  Once again, they didn't even have to do much to get it except take a hike and pick it up.  But besides it not being what God knew was best for them at that time, it had been demanded with a really bad attitude and many got sick and even died.  "...There they buried the people that had the craving." (Num. 11: 34)

They followed their cravings and forgot that what they already had was a MIRACLE.

The fact that it was a miracle is obvious to those of us who have never tasted manna, but what about the things that we take for granted every day?  A comfortable home, food in our bellies, a bit in the bank, the security of a locked door, opportunity and options; all absolute miracles to multitudes in the world today.

For those in the wilderness eating manna every day felt like a trial.  What about things that we consider trials as well?

Photo by the talented Harrie Thayre
I don't handle stress as well as I did ten years ago. I used to have high endurance levels for all kinds of stress, the bad kind and the good, but now my body sends clear warning signals that if ignored over a period of time will result in sudden loss of physical health that forces me to dial down, take stock of my heart, and rest.  And I've hated it!

Recently, however, I realized the unwrapped gift in the trial. I used to be able to go for months, even years at a time shouldering things that I was never meant to carry. Impossible things that I unthinkingly took on as my responsibility (like the happiness of people around me), anxieties that I kept 'under control' but let stay alive in my heart, fears that I ignored or even excused and allowed to grow, etc, etc. I felt like I was growing weak, but the truth is that I always wasn't enough on my own.

The gift is that now I must keep shorter accounts in my heart, with others, and with my God. I can't carry a hefty dose of anxiety for too long without it getting too heavy to bear----and why would I want to anyway? That motivation is a gift, it produces freedom in my own mind and heart, and anything that brings me closer to my Father is good.  Maybe that trial will change in the future for me and maybe it won't, but the best case scenario is that I won't need to find out because I've learned to do it right regardless.

Strength comes by choosing to embrace what we think of as a trial because of it's God-allowed purpose in our lives. If we lean into the trial then we embrace His purpose.  We demonstrate trust and find His strength along the way.  And we also don't create our own 'solutions' that, like the quail in the wilderness, might be a short-term distraction, but are not positive in the long run.

For the past several months one of our kids has been sick. A mystery illness that we're shuffle-stepping our way through trying this and that to figure out what's going on. It's kept him from studies and work, left him with limited capacity most days and in pain every single one.  As we've walked beside him through this I've found my prayers changing from, "God please change this," to "God, I sure don't understand why, but please make this count.  Don't waste his suffering. Use this to make him more into the person that you've created him to be. Show him who you are in ways that I can't understand. Let what he's learning now lead on to who he is for eternity."

Are we praying for our son's complete healing? Absolutely. But whether God's answer to our prayers is 'yes,' 'no,' or 'wait a while,' He will still work all things together somehow for good. (Rom. 8:28)

"For the foolishness of God is wiser than men and the weakness of God is stronger than men." 
(1 Cor. 1:25) 

Leaning into the trial is looking for the miracle. What we want is not always what we need. And let's not take for granted who He is and the miracle of what He's already done!

He is the potter and we are the clay. (Is. 64:8) And He's making something beautiful.....


Have a bit more time?  Ponder HIS craftsmanship while you watch THIS

Friday, April 8, 2016

Remembering Grace...

"The Father sent the son to be the savior of the world."  
~1 Jn. 4:14

God is about compassion.  In the Old Testament God doled out justice, because God is just and justice is important--without justice there's no mercy--, but it obviously wasn't what He desired above all. He desired mercy and undeserved reconciliation because, "God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." (John 3:17) He'd already had the opportunity to judge, and show us our need for a Savior. He wanted to extend mercy---so He sent Jesus.

When I was younger and hadn't really experienced much of life yet, I had a friend who had.  While I accepted God's grace, this person was staggered by it.  They often said, "Sometimes you have to know what it is you're being saved from to really appreciate it."  They were right.  The longer I live, the more experiences I've had, the more I realize the capability for darkness that exists in my own heart and soul triggered by the pain of rubbing shoulders with the world around me, the more I am confounded and exceedingly awed by Grace.

It's not, as many assume, that God has a tally sheet in Heaven where He ticks off all the bad things vs. all the good in our lifetime, it's that God responds to the way things already are since the Garden of Eden, when a person (and every person since) succumbed to evil over relationship with God and good. Evil had won until God intervened.

"So why doesn't God just stop evil?" is one of the biggest questions of all time.  Possibly the best explanation of this I've ever heard is by rap artist Lecrae in his song 'Truth':

"Some people say that God ain't real 'cause they don't see how a good God can exist with all this evil in the world. If God is real then He should stop all this evil, 'cause He's all-powerful right? What is evil though man? It's anything that's against God. It's anything morally bad or wrong. It's murder, rape, stealing, lying, cheating. But if we want God to stop evil, do we want Him to stop it all or just a little bit of it? If He stops us from doing evil things, what about lying, or what about our evil thoughts? I mean, where do you stop, the murder level, the lying level, or the thinking level? If we want Him to stop evil, we gotta be consistent, we can't just pick and choose. That means you and I would be eliminated right? Because we think evil stuff. If that's true, we should be eliminated! But thanks be to God that Jesus stepped in to save us from our sin! Christ died for all evilness!" 

God's response to evil is this, He left His Heavenly throne with all of His power, glory and might, and came as a helpless baby to a cesspool of sin, a world filled with destruction and hate counteracted by only the tiny bit of good that mankind was able to create on their own.  Goodness that on a tally sheet would never make up for the bad. To this He willingly came and lived in the mortal body of a human, experiencing all of the sinful triggers of this life that people experience. He came to respond to the way that things already were, not to judge, but a continuation. 

"Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains [state of what already was] in him."  
~John 3:36

So He made Himself, the only One who doesn't deserve ANY judgement to take the ultimate, eternal punishment for us. [That doesn't mean that we don't often experience the short-term, limited consequences of the things that we do wrong here on Earth, but we don't experience them forever.] We have absolution.  We regain perfection. 

Matchless Grace.

We need to stop blaming God for the evil that mankind creates ourselves.  To stop being an example of unholy judgement to the world around us when that's not the Father's heart.  He set the example of coming in love, in forgiveness, in compassion and grace. 

Jesus came to bring freedom in more ways than we can imagine.  Freedom from our inclinations, from our responses, from our thoughts and actions.  There's not a rule book that says we need to do one-thousand-good-deeds for every time we murder or maim someone in our hearts. That's really good news!  Instead we can walk in freedom. "Gosh, I failed today, God, I'm so sorry."  Nek minute*, all things new. 

We have freedom to walk into the next minute and then the next as a fresh start, not bound by heavy chains of the past, but NEW.  

Let us never forget to be staggered by that Grace. Compassionate grace that we receive and then get to pay forward with joyful abandon because we're so infinitely grateful ourselves.

*Urban Dictionary: (Kiwi'ism) 'Next minute' said with an accent. Used to express a sudden dramatic turn of events. Left my scooter outside the dairy. Nek Minute... *destroyed scooter lying on the ground*