What are you looking forward to?

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“Well what d’ya expect from him!” my cynical friend spit out after waiting yet again for a habitually late friend to show up.

Humans let others down.  Partly due to our sinful and selfish nature and partly due to how God designed us.  Creatures have limits.  Only God is limitless, perfect and consistent.

Expectations about others tend always to leave us disappointed.  As David Zahl, pastor of an Episcopal Church in Charlottesville says, “expectations are planned resentments.”

What if we were to change the WHAT or WHOM we place our expectations?  What if we were to place our hope in what is 100% guaranteed?  That’s a no brainer; if we did so, we would avoid disappointment.

I read just this morning about Joseph of Arimathea, one of Jesus’ rich disciples who according to Mark 15:43 was “a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God”;

What does that tidbit about his focus communicate?  Nothing short of the direction of his life!

After Jesus announced, “It is finished!” and died on that Friday outside of Jerusalem, this courageous man Joseph, along with the well-known Pharisee Nicodemus, took the bold step of requesting THAT AFTERNOON an audience before Pontius Pilate.  What they did was risky.

Their lives and their reputations at stake, the two sought permission to take Jesus down off the cross and bury Him.

That account is the last written about them, but not the end of their story.  I have no doubt that they are present with the Jesus they hoped in and staked all on.  No disappointments there.

So as this first month of the new year approaches the end, you might feel disappointed already:

  • with yourself and your lack of ability to keep up a resolution
  • with a friend or family member who has let you down, again!
  • with a job or activity you hoped would satisfy
  • with the way an organization acts

I’m learning that every created being or thing in this world on this side of the Cross will let me down, most especially me!  The path to peace and joy is to place our expectations in the only Person who doesn’t disappoint – Jesus Christ and His Kingdom.

I ask again: What are YOU expecting and looking for?

 

The danger of NOT being needy

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A friend unburdened herself to me last month that she was scared to find herself in the midst of a dry spell with God.  She doesn’t sense His presence any more.  He seems distant.   When she reads her Bible, she feels nothing.  She once felt alive to God, close to Him.

Now she finds herself going through the motions.  When I gently probed about what brought on this change, she didn’t know.  She couldn’t pinpoint exactly when her intimacy with God, her excitement of belonging to Him had waned.  She had woken up one day, all of a sudden aware that He ‘was gone’, as she explained it.

She asked me what she could do to get the old feelings back.  We talked about the external behaviors of Christian discipleship such as prayer, worshipping with other believers, thanking God, regular Bible reading, journeying.  She admitted that although she still attended church most Sundays, she had stopped both reading her Bible on a daily basis and pursuing regular time with God in prayer.  She felt hypocritical and mechanical in doing them.  Doubt about the efficacy of our prayers had crept into her mind.

As we were brainstorming and thinking about the practices of believers, God suddenly brought to mind what I think is the key to a close relationship with God.  Neediness.

I feel needy EVERY DAY and many times throughout the day.  I could chalk it up to my age and growing awareness of the fragility and incertitude of life’s circumstances. Or maybe I simply have no more qualms in admitting that in my own strength and resources I can’t do much of anything well, I’m just plain NEEDY!

Stop a moment!  Isn’t ‘neediness’ the very essence of being a created being?  But God as Creator, what does He need?  Not one thing!   To be God is to be self-sufficient.  To be creature is to be needy.

O, the happiness of being in want! That neediness keeps me begging God, scouring my Bible for His sure promises of provision, guidance and wisdom.  Daily, I journal about what I find in Scripture.  Likewise, I talk about the truth of God with my husband, other family and many friends.  I pepper emails with encouragement from God because when I point to God and His greatness, I FEEL renewed and strengthened.  All through the day, I thank Him as I see His provision.  When I start to dread tomorrow, I’m learning to rehearse why I don’t need to be afraid.  When I catch myself worrying, I repent of my unbelief and ask my husband to pray for me to trust God. I’m in constant dialogue with God because I live out of the insufficiency of Maria.

Yes, His mercies are new every morning, because my needs are new every morning!

Financial and health needs, relationship challenges, work problems, decision conundrums and other suffering have turned out to be God’s greatest gifts to me. I knew that at one level. But listening to all my friend is suffering and trying to DO to regain her once close relationship with the happy Triune, all-powerful God of the universe scares me.  I don’t EVER want to lose that.

Nothing compares to knowing God.

Where I used to begrudge any circumstance of neediness, I now THANK Him specifically.

Here’s how I have reworded Paul’s description in 2 Cor 12:10

Original: For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

My version:  For the sake of a close relationship with Christ, then, I am content and thankful to be given weaknesses, neediness, hardships and problems.  For when I am needy, I am strong in the Lord.

For…..The fear of (losing) God is the beginning of wisdom” Proverbs 9:10

I’m a Friday person with my eye on Sunday

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I recently changed my ‘business card’.  For God has been weaning me from my dependence on merit badges or self-promoting tag lines. For years I felt the need to trumpet how great I am because I do XYZ. In my case – I teach French and many people have ‘oohed and aaahed’ appropriately upon learning that.

In the stripping away or burnishing off the tarnish, I have gone to a simple card that communicates my name, email, blog links and one verse.

Selecting just one God truth or promise as representative of what I believe challenged me.  I settled on:

  • sorrowful, yet always rejoicing from 2 Cor 6:10

Christians and non-believers look at life through different lenses – either via God and His good sovereign control over every molecule or via the haphazard, random circumstances of life.  This divide even extends to how we view the days of the week.

‘Worldlings’** or non-Christians live in the fog of Monday, but live for foggy Friday, which the world sells as the best day of the week.

Christians live in the Friday of this world (remembering the Cross) – that is they acknowledge that life on earth before Jesus returns is primarily one of suffering and sin, punctuated by joy and glimpses of beauty and goodness all the while bounded by God’s grace.

But Christians live for Sunday. For a restored and resurrected, categorically new and different heaven and earth.

Why am I writing about such heavy matters one week into the New Year?  For one, I am a happy realist.  The Bible has made me that way.  I’m learning, slowly, that through the school of neediness and suffering, our good Father blesses me.  In a recent broadcast (26 Dec 2016) Joni Eareckson Tada mentioned that very truth, a truth universal to Christians who rely on a Biblical lens to make sense of life. She explained Jesus’ challenge to His followers….

  • ….whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  Matthew 16:24 

….as an invitation to know Him through suffering.  That’s it in a nutshell:  the only path to know the 2nd person of our Triune God in an intimate, satisfying, joy-producing way is to walk yoked with Him in what has been named the Via Dolorosa, or ‘Pain Street’.

But our pain is NOT meaningless pain.  God’s directed hardships have many purposes. I give thanks for how they keep me desperate for Him.

I’m slowly learning the futility of trying to duck or avoid His purposeful pain.  I’m acquiescing to the fact that it’s easier, safer and quicker to cling gratefully to Jesus.

If you dipped into my blog posts from 2016 I think you’ll notice that I am growing to embrace this truth:

  • My neediness is God’s best gift to me.

Unable to handle life on my own (and willing to proclaim that truth to anyone who cared to listen) has taught me to call constantly on God.  And He always comes through.  This inability to live independently of my Heavenly Dad also keeps me glued to what He has to say to me in His inspired Word. I HAVE to meet with Him each morning, just like I HAVE to eat.

So ‘clingy’ to Jesus have I now grown, that wanting to advertise THAT central fact about Maria is what I want people to know about me.  In this area, I rejoice to see some progress, growing more like my Uncle Paul.

  • As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Galatians 6:14

 

**worldling

noun

1. a person who is primarily concerned with worldly matters or material things
Modern Language Association (MLA):
“worldling”. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 28 Dec. 2016. <Dictionary.com http://www.dictionary.com/browse/worldling>.

Use your imagination!

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Do you know how to worry?

Then you are an expert imaginer.

According to Malcolm Gladwell, it takes 10,000 hours of practice to reach expert level in any skill.  So how many hours do you think you have invested in your worry habit?  Let’s do the math.

  • Let’s assume you didn’t start worrying until you reached 7th grade, age 12
  • Assume also that you have worried only 10 minutes a day ever since then
  • Add in a ‘day off’ per week from worrying and you will have racked up an hour a week

At that rate, it’ll take you 192 years to become an expert.

But is there a possibility that you have invested more than 10 minutes a day into this skill?

In an informal poll with ‘the man on the street’ regarding time invested in anxious thoughts, I heard 5-6 hours per day as a possibility.

That seeming a bit high, I checked Google and found the average to be 1 hour and 50 minutes a day. 

Let’s round that number up to 2 hours a day.  That’s equivalent to 730 hours a year.  At this rate, you’ll reach ‘expert’ status in only 13.7 years.  For the twelve-year old novice, he can reasonably expect to reach ‘success’ at age 25 1/2.

Of course if our hypothetical boy or girl is truly motivated and invests MORE than 2 hours a day, he’ll arrive at his goal sooner.  So maybe those represented by my informal poll, the ones who throughout the day and night practice imagining their fears make up the ELITE worriers, expert by the age of 17. It probably also helps to have grown up in a household of skilled practitioners who daily performed the liturgy of anxiety.

Back to what the practice of worrying requires – imagination.

Here’s the rub.  God has not given us the blessing of a fertile imagination for the sake of becoming a fantastic ‘fretter’!  He’s blessed us with a mind that WE can direct.  What we think about matters.

In Hebrews 3:1, God exhorts us through the writer to think about Jesus:

Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, set your minds on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.

What can help us focus on Jesus?  God, who wants us to know Him, has given us the written Word so we can read and SEE with Spirit-empowered eyes who Jesus is. We who are believers have been given ‘the mind of Christ’ (1 Cor 2:16).  We CAN know and receive power from what He did and what He has promised.

But habits are hard to change!!!  Yes…..,so what?  Plenty of things are hard.

It’s a fact – bad habits are difficult to break.  But our kind Father has given us a Helper, the Divine Spirit, the third person of the Triune God.  Paul tells us that this Spirit is not one that brandishes unending, peace-robbing ‘what-ifs’ as a tool (think Satan, the father of lies).

Au contraire, this Spirit is by definition POWER, LOVE and INTEGRATED SOUND THINKING. (look up 2 Thessalonians 1:7)

With Him planted permanently inside of us, we CAN stop feeding the worry habit with imagined fears.

With Him, we CAN change and start feeding the happy habit of focusing our imagination on all that Jesus has done and is for us.  Where’s the food?  God’s Word!  There’s more than enough nourishment in the Bible.  Feed on Him and not just 3 times a day. But snack continuously.  In fact God challenges us to move from little kid food to grownup food. He intends for us to mature in Christian practices.  And that takes intentionality and time on task.  Habits begin in the mind.  So we have to feed our minds, conforming them to Jesus.

There are so many benefits to using our imagination for this reason.

We won’t get fat, feasting on spiritual food.

And we’ll be a lot happier, more like our older Brother Jesus who was anointed with gladness:

You love justice and hate evil. Therefore, O God, your God has anointed you, pouring out the oil of joy on you more than on anyone else. Hebrews 1:9

Now THERE’s a New Year’s Resolution worth taking up. And one with a powerful promise of supernatural help.

 

 

 

 

Downton Abbey and Why Jesus Came

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downton-final-season  Mike and I just finished watching this series.  You have to understand how we ‘do movies’.  Thirty minutes at a time, while enjoying supper on trays.  So we have have moved through Seasons 4, 5 and 6 (with a break of several years) at a enjoyably slow pace, savoring each scene as well as imagining what would happen next.

After our hiatus, we noticed a shift from what seemed like an intentional soap operatic purpose of shocking the viewer TO a peppering of events with grace.

We could be mistaken in assigning a perceptible shift in the screenwriting of Julian Fellowes.   It could be that over the years we have grown both more desperate for and in love with God’s Grace, so that we spot it wherever its fragrance wafts.

One dramatic category of this Grace pervaded that final show.  All the broken relationships were healed.

Yes, some might call this contrivance, a tying up with a pretty bow this microcosm named Downton Abbey.

But we loved it!  Reconciliation between humans is a powerful, supernatural and divine blessing.  God has so wired each of us with the need and longing to be ‘right’ with each other and ultimately with God Himself.

  • Deep calls to deep……Psalm 42:7

I’m not ashamed to admit this: we sobbed, both of us.  Tears painted with the recognition of this holy ache planted deep inside.

Realistically, we all know that harmony doesn’t last, at least in this world. Edith’s parents, Robert and Cora Crawley, articulated as much. But the desire for it and the joy that sweeps into our hearts when we are made right with one another point to a world where that kind of peace will be its warp and woof.  That life exists.  Jesus’ birth is proof.

This is one meaning of Christmas.  Creator and Father God intruded into our broken world as the God-Man Jesus to provide the one and only way for us sinful creatures to be reconciled to Him.  And being reconciled to Him, we have hope for harmony at the horizontal level.

By the time you read this, Christmas day will be waning or already past.  Invariably, if you are older than 7, your expectations have not been met.  The hype, YOUR hopes for a mystical, otherworldly taste or experience of Joy bigger than you were not met.  Either in the gifts or in the relationships.

Tomorrow looms as another cold-water, ordinary or even painful day.  But cheer up, reality is actually better than we imagine.  Because of Jesus, Christmas’ promises will neither disappoint nor fade away.

Jesus really did come at that point in history, when Augustus demanded a registration of all his subjects.  And His predicted death and resurrection are the evidence you need to safely trust His words about your future.

There is a new earth and new heavens awaiting Christians, one where true reconciliation with God and with each other will be played out forever.

Downton Abbey gives us a glimpse of what we long for and what is possible.  Thank you, Julian Fellowes!

Why do we dread events?

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Deut 7:21 – You shall not be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is in your midst, a great and awesome God.

  • The doctor’s appointment
  • The confrontation
  • The all-important exam or presentation
  • The looming busy week with one event after another
  • Going to bed and the potential of another sleepless night

I sometimes find myself dreading what is next in the week or in my day.  Why is that?

I’ve been chewing on this for a while.  The days when not a single dread-laden happening threatens are days I anticipate with relief. As if I could predict the future?

I seem to gravitate toward this illusion of ease because I prefer to cruise on neutral.

The truth is, my idols are comfort and success.  We all know that the nature of idols is that they take the place of God.

Hebrews 13: 5b to 6 – …..be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” 6 So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

If God is ALL THE TIME with me, and I value His presence more than anything else, then comfort, time, success, money, work, country, family, friends, health – all those arenas in which the tides move in and out, don’t matter as much as what I already have.  Him.

And the other feature of dread (or happy neutrality) is the baseless assumption that I know what is going to happen in my day!  I am  not omniscient.  Thank you, Father!  For what I might fear, why do I act as though God has not already planned and stockpiled mercies and provisioning grace?

thermometer   Maybe dread is actually a helpful alarm or indicator that I’m worshipping a false God.  That I’m loving and treasuring something MORE than the God.

Paul prays for believers in Colosse that they will GROW in the knowledge of the true God.

Col 1:9-11   For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience.

Who is this true and living God?  Only the One who left perfect fellowship to live in a human body and experience my pain.  Only the One who chose to live and die FOR me so I could experience and enjoy intimate fellowship with the most loving and happy triune personal God. When I talk myself into how bad something might be, I am blind to this God.  That’s why I need to preach Gospel truth to myself daily.

You wanna change your life?

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Here’s how:  change your narrative.

I think it is that simple.

A friend recently updated me on her warmer relationship with a formerly  (almost) estranged daughter.  This adult daughter repeatedly wanted to rehash childhood pain, assigning blame to her mom.  She maintained that only by revisiting those times could she and her mom reach a healthy place.

My friend decided to ‘change the narrative’.  She practiced a piece of Shakespeare’s advice fleshed out in Hamlet.  You’ve probably heard the adage, ‘assume a virtue and it’ll become yours’.  Here’s the context in this excerpt:

Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 4, Page 7

Good night—but go not to mine uncle’s bed.
Assume a virtue if you have it not.
That monster, custom, who all sense doth eat,
Of habits devil, is angel yet in this:
That to the use of actions fair and good
He likewise gives a frock or livery
That aptly is put on. Refrain tonight,
And that shall lend a kind of easiness
To the next abstinence, the next more easy.
How did she do it?  By ASSUMING that she and her daughter already had a healthy relationship and then proceeding from there.  In that way, she actually influences the conversations and her daughter has warmed to approach.  Their interactions have grown more frequent and enjoyable to both.
Jesus actually set this precedent long before Shakespeare.  I’ve often read the Upper Room Discourse in John 17 where Jesus makes this outlandish statement to His Father in verse 6:
“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.”
The disciples kept God’s word???? Really?  What about Peter’s denial or James and John vying for the premier cabinet positions in the new kingdom?
But should we be so surprised when the Bible is replete with bold promises that for those who are in union with Christ, God sees them as pure and righteous.  We are told that the Father loves us, His adopted kids, just like He loves His beloved Son, Jesus.
And maybe that is the key to behaving better, to assume that it is true what Jesus says, what the Father says and act the part.
What if in a marriage locked in an impasse, one partner chose to treat his or her partner tenderly,  as though they were worthy of love and respect?
What if like the Jews carted off to Babylon, they started to treat their new pagan neighbors as though they were just as worthy of love and respect as their own race?
To bring it closer to home?  What if I dropped the narrative built up in reaction to the pain of my first years in my current school?  What if I started to ‘channel’:  God has so blessed me by giving me this job here!  What might change?
I can think of many applications of this principle of rewriting the script to break the logjam of negativity and failure.
I can hear someone say, “But it is not true!”
My one-word quick answer:  ….YET!!!!”
Lookit….if Jesus can describe his wobbly disciples as those who have KEPT His Word, then we are in good company if we treat others with grace (including ourselves) and interact with them as though they were ALREADY mature….loving….kind.
One further scriptural support.  Consider the grammar of verse 6 in the second chapter of Ephesians.  The verbs are in the PAST tense, meaning the action has been completed. God through Paul informs us that we are already sitting with Jesus in heaven:
For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus.

 

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