Should a Christian have a bucket list?

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bucket list

2 Cor 2: 8-9 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,”What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”

Bucket lists – those impressive lists that both trumpet to the world what we deem important (Can’t die until I have done X, Y, Z) as well as showcase our time, money and wherewithal to make IT happen.

I mention this because a gal at church attributed her several-week absence to checking another item off her bucket list, a cruise to Alaska.

I didn’t think much about this until I read a comment that reminded me of the mind boggling, spectacular splendor that awaits believers in heaven.

What are we Christians doing, acting like the ‘pagans’ for whom this one life on earth is as good as it is going to get? If this is as close to heaven that non-believers will ever come, then maybe THEY have reason to pursue these recreational dreams. After all, the ‘pursuit of happiness’ is woven into the American fabric.

But as Christians, the very idea of a bucket list of

  • exotic places to visit or
  • exploits to accomplish or
  • adventures to taste

as a guide for what we do in retirement (or even earlier!) doesn’t line up theologically with God’s call on our lives.

Not that God is against His children taking joy in His good gifts, such as natural beauty, or trips with family and friends, or even His distribution of interest, talent and grit to hone skills. No, God is NOT a killjoy. It’s just that ALL THAT and MORE is promised believers for later.

For now, God has set us on Earth to reflect HIS glory (not ours) through our day-to-day lives. In our ordinary work and communities, we are to showcase the magnificence and worth of God primarily in two ways:

  • by treasuring and loving Him and
  • by serving and loving our neighbor

…..NOT in our own natural strength, but in humble dependence on the indwelling Holy Spirit. As flawed men and women, we are bent inward. It takes SUPER-natural strength to focus outside ourselves, whether we look up at God or horizontally at our fellow human beings.

So a bucket list is inherently self-centering. Let’s be real – we’re talking about a list of what I want to do. This is so 21st century-ish, so indicative of a Western culture awash with money and leisure. If you’re wondering where the idea of a ‘before I die’ set, chosen from the catalog of possible dreams, slate.com attributes the initial usage to:

“the book Unfair & Unbalanced: The Lunatic Magniloquence of Henry E. Panky, by Patrick M. Carlisle. That work includes the sentences, “So, anyway, a Great Man, in his querulous twilight years, who doesn’t want to go gently into that blacky black night. He wants to cut loose, dance on the razor’s edge, pry the lid off his bucket list!”  Quote taken from this site

Don’t worry, dear brothers and sisters. We HAVE an eternal REAL ‘bucket’ filled with fascinating and splendid activities and pleasures to enjoy all guaranteed to each of us who is in union with Christ.

I’m reminded of that famous C.S. Lewis quote contrasting mud pies with a seaside holiday from his essay, The Weight of Glory:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

I’ll leave you with 2 further resources:

  1. the poem below
  2. a Christian pastor’s version of a bucket list.

A portion of John Piper’s poem, “Justified for Evermore,” found in his book, Future Grace: The Purifying Power of the Promises of God, rev. ed. (Multnomah, 2012), 379-82. (Taken from this website – Blog post by Justin Taylor

And as I knelt beside the brook
To drink eternal life, I took
A glance across the golden grass,
And saw my dog, old Blackie, fast
As she could come. She leaped the stream –
Almost-and what a happy gleam
Was in her eye. I knelt to drink,
And knew that I was on the brink
Of endless joy. And everywhere
I turned and saw a wonder there.
A big man running on the lawn:
That’s old John Younge with both legs on.
The blind can see a bird on wing,
The dumb can lift their voice to sing.
The diabetic eats at will,
The coronary runs uphill.

The lame can walk, the deaf can hear,
The cancer-ridden bone is clear.
Arthritic joints are lithe and free,
And every pain has ceased to be.
And every sorrow deep within,
And every trace of lingering sin
Is gone. And all that’s left is joy,
And endless ages to employ
The mind and heart, and understand,
And love the sovereign Lord who planned
That it should take eternity
To lavish all his grace on me.

A Christian version of a bucket list

It’s good to be a sheep

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sheep

 

 

Psalm 23:1, 3  The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want……He restores my soul. 

What peace and grounding there is to be found in the first psalm I ever remember learning.  Thank you, Cousin Terry, for reminding me of the rest and assurance that is available to all believers!

We were catching up over the phone.  In response to my question of how she was doing financially (she lives on a fixed income), she confidently recited verse 1, that she lacked and desired nothing due to our shepherding Lord.

After we hung up, I savored recalling each truth and promise packed into those six verses of the 23rd psalm.

Here are my take-aways from just one and a half verses:

From verse 1 –

  • I’m a sheep.  As a simple beast, I don’t have the vision or the wisdom to know where to find green fields and clean, refreshing waters.  I need a GOOD shepherd.  Yet most of the time I operate as though I know what is best for me and where I should head.
  • The shepherd knows me well.  After all, He is MY shepherd.  That means I am HIS little sheep.  I belong to him.  And Jesus knows best how to take care of me.  I act like a foolish beast when I don’t trust Him and His provision.
  • If I don’t have the thing I think I need or want, then that something is not what I should have at the moment. In fact, I will NEVER not have what my maker knows I need.

From  verse 3 –

  • Restoration is a big deal.  The Hebrew word shuwb (#7725 Strongs) refers to life-giving actions that my Shepherd performs, namely….RETURNS, REFRESHES, STRENGTHENS, REPAIRS, CONVERTS.  So often I’m scattered, distracted, worried, headed off on an unhealthy tangent or plan.  I NEED a wise and good shepherd who knows best and doesn’t hesitate to perform holy restoration/restauration.

feeding 4000

 

 

 

  • What Jesus, my Shepherd, repairs and restores is what the Old Testament calls the soul, or nephesh (#5315 Strongs). For the Hebrews, nephesh represents the entire YOU.   Your immaterial feelings, thoughts, pleasures, desires and dreams as well as your material or physical self.

Does that include my disappointments?  what about my ‘yet-to-be-realized dreams’? And my shame?  YES!

Does that include my energy and desires, my ‘get-up-and-go’ as my Dad used to call it? In a word, YES!

This master shepherd CAN and DOES guide, provide, love, encourage, feed, console, motivate and protect me in just the right amounts and combinations at the most kairos or propitious of times.

So with just 1 verse and a fragment, the Psalmist answers my anxiety.  God is always communicating a message of rest, of peace, of provision.  My life is not as complicated as I make it out to be.  And I bet yours isn’t either.  After all, if we are Christians, we know we are just sheep, senseless and stubborn at times, but well taken care of.  Aren’t you glad our Shepherd is committed to us?

Resting in Doctrine – God’s in charge!

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Job 14:5A person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.

Psalm 139:16Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all my days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began.

News of a recent hostage death has caused me to think through whether God is in charge or not.  What we believe about God is called doctrine and doctrines DO matter.  They affect our thoughts, which influence our feelings.  These rational and emotional aspects reside at different layers within us, some conscious and others beyond our conscious awareness.  It’s apparent to me that we are guided by thoughts and feelings originating in both camps, whether we know it or not.  Who hasn’t been appalled at a choice comment that slipped out before we could filter it: ‘Where did THAT come from?” we genuinely exclaim in horror.

Garbage in, Garbage out: ‘right’ thinking about God matters.  So what is ‘right’ thinking or doctrine when it comes to whether God is in control of all that happens in our universe? The Bible, the definitive source of doctrine, affirms that He is in fact the first cause* for all that happens. The term for that 100% authority and rule that belongs to God’s is His Sovereignty.

If a king is sovereign over his lands, then what he says is the law of the land.  How much more is it with God who is the author (hence – authority) and creator of all that IS.  And if He is sovereign, by definition then, that quality of being in charge includes the notion of having and exercising all power.  There is no such thing as impotent sovereignty.

Back to the hostage who died.  My heart goes out to the family who is dealing with pain and loss. If they are followers of God, there is one comfort that should hold them up in their grief:

God’s plan for their dear one was not thwarted.  Therefore, they need not take on all the piercing, painful ‘what ifs’ that often assault survivors.  Rescue attempts did not succeed because God sovereignly ordained the day the hostage would die.

This is NOT fatalism because that would mean that it doesn’t matter what one does, that regardless of our actions, the outcome is the same. God’s sovereignty is different because He chooses to carry out His will in our lives through both our human actions and His divine workings.  Rescue attempts ARE appropriate because they might be the means God uses to save lives.

We have an example of God sovereignly determining different outcomes with two of Jesus’ apostles.  James, son of Zebedee,  was the first to be murdered by the Romans.  Wasn’t anyone praying for his rescue?  Undoubtedly!  Then there was Peter, also imprisoned by the Romans.  This time similar prayers led to his miraculous rescue from jail. What made the difference?  God and His sovereign will!

So, why is this doctrine so important?  For one, it is PEACE-producing.  We don’t need to beat ourselves up with the ‘what-ifs’.  That self-inflicted torture implies our actions are sovereign.

So sweet is this aspect of God!  His unchanging character guarantees that His sovereign decrees will always be done.  This in turn lifts the immobilizing burden of possible mistakes off of me.

  • What if I make a wrong decision?
  • What if I should have known better than to make that trip to the Holy Land and fall prey to a terrorist attack?
  • What if I had taken a different route to the bank?
  • What if I had chosen a different spouse, a different job?
  • What if I hadn’t indulged in that immoral behavior?

I can easily wallow in regrets, if I start thinking that I am in charge of my life.

Jesus breathes comfort and peace into our troubled minds:

  • John 14:27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

*Although God is the First Cause of all that happens, there are other doctrines that exclude Him from being charged with the evil we do. Even though God is sovereign, we are still guilty for bad stuff we do. That’s a complex theological discussion that I cannot take up here.

 

Not wearing that letter “A” any more!

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Scarlet Letter

James 4: 4 You adulterers!  Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? 

 

What a relief!  To come clean and admit that you have betrayed the one who loves you best.  With the ‘worst’ out in the open, there is nothing more to hide.  And in that public knowledge lives freedom.

But do we wear our branding of ‘unfaithful to God’ or do we cover it up, disguise it by good works, competence, religious behavior, helpfulness or talent?

Last week I was wrestling with the wrong kind of fear, the dread of others thinking poorly of me or less of me. But as I let God’s Word guide me in distinguishing fear of man from that ‘AWE-full’ thrilling though cautious respect of God, I found safety again and open spaces.

This week William Gurnall, my current 17th century author of choice, has given me a renewed appreciation for my God-given clothing.

His most famous book is a compilation of sermons he delivered teaching his flock about the reality of warfare in this life and the spiritual tools we are to use to be both safe AND useful as redeemed children of the Father.

500 Old Cabin Cove taken from Blue Ridge Pkwy

So each morning, as I tread up and down the gravel road in our cove, I pray for God’s help to pull together all the scattered thoughts of the previous day and submit them to God.  I mentally and almost physically tighten that first piece of spiritual clothing Paul describes in his exhortation to the Christians at Ephesus:  the belt of truth.

Belt of truth

Which truth? – the truth about who Jesus is and who I am since He bought and freed me.  What others might consider an accessory today is what literally holds us together.  Without that boundary line separating truth from confusion, we come apart.  So tighten your belt, friends!

Next I ready my feet, not with my own planned-out, agenda-bound shoes.  I don God’s sandals that are directed at bringing to those I encounter this day the counter-intuitive message of ‘How to find peace with God’.

Shoes of peace

Everyone is seeking it, though many don’t know that ‘being right’ with the God of the Universe is their biggest need.  But I have to remind myself before I leave the Cove for school that I’m not off to fulfill my plans, but God’s.  After all, I do work for Him.

Since I can’t face the world just with my belt and my shoes on, what is my basic uniform for the day? Certainly not that Scarlet letter of Shame: the Father has replaced that temporary tattoo with a permanent Blood-Stained R for Jesus’ righteousness.

Letter R

What the Romans wore as effective protection for the heart and other organs, God calls our breastplate.  It’s both armor AND an advertisement to the spiritual world of whose we are.  So front and center stamped permanently on me is Jesus’ earned and validated righteousness.

To round off  my equipment, I gather my helmet to protect and SAVE my mind from misleading thoughts and grip my shield to block the doubts and fears and what-ifs that are aimed straight at my heart and head and eyes that day.

By now my morning sweat and lactic acid producing walk accompanied by this mental spiritual dressing has brought me back up to our cabin.  I thankfully pour some coffee, fix a quick breakfast and sit down to sharpen my sword for the day. You know the only offensive weapon our Father gives us is the ensemble of truths and promises written down in the Bible.  I am so thankful for the time to fill up my mind with powerful fuel for the day.  Funny how all those insights that held me firm yesterday have drained away.   But why is that so strange?  After all, we take in physical food several times a day and expect it to tide us over only a few hours. Why should spiritual nourishment be any different?

So I eat with gusto and head out for the day.  Another page in the life of a thankful ambassador reporting for duty to her rebel outpost in that dark place called the World.

Question:  How have you personalized one or more of the pieces of spiritual armor?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shaky assumption for what will make me happy

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The King was a praying man, after all hadn’t Zechariah mentored him well from God’s word?  And as long as he prayed for favor in Judah’s battles against the Philistines, the Arabs and the Meunim, his armies prevailed.  His and Judah’s successes became the talk of the world that even the Ammonites paid tribute, aka protection money, rather than fight.

But then…..Uzziah grew complacent and tired of having to ask God daily for this and that.  As the writer of the book of 2 Chronicles explains,

16 But when [King Uzziah] was strong, he became proud to his destruction; and he trespassed against the Lord his God, for he went into the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense.

Uzziah

The rest of the story is pretty dramatic.  The priest in charge, Azariah, confronted the King, reminding him with a strong rebuke, that God forbade anyone but the priests from burning incense in the temple.  As King Uzziah exploded into rage, incriminating censor in his hand, leprosy broke out on his forehead.  In hindsight, it would have been better for Uzziah to continue in his daily dependence on God’s strength, rather than crave his own strength.  His desired independence, what he thought would make him happy, led to his downfall.

I’ve been thinking a lot about some of my assumptions when I pray.  At the bottom often of my anxiety is the fear that God is going to withhold what I want, what I know/think will make me happy.

Isn’t there always something we are asking God for, something that will make us more content, happy, complete, and peaceful?   But what if we are wrong in our assumptions?

Mike and I have started watching Frank Capra’s classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. 

In this 1946 Christmas movie, George Bailey has finally earned enough money to take the trip of his dreams.It's a wonderful life

 

 

He longs to break out of the claustrophobia of his small hometown, positive that the wide world holds what he wants.  But the unfortunate timing of his dad’s death delays the trip. One set of unexpected circumstances leads to another, until he is maneuvered into staying put in Bedford Falls, the very future he worked hard to avoid.

His unrealized dream of travel, to be followed by college and then a profession of building modern structures never materializes.  He had always projected certainty that his version of the future was best for him.  Apparently his dad had repeatedly expressed hope that George, as oldest son, would accept his offer to take over the family’s Building and Loan Association.  In an offhand remark that wounds his dad, George dismisses 40 years of laborious efforts to secure loans for many of Bedford Falls’ working class families.  This is not the career or the life that George wants.

You can watch the movie again, if you have forgotten what George learns in the end.  But what I realized in thinking about King Uzziah and George Bailey was that often our assumptions about what will make us happy are not correct.

My thinking seems to go like this:

  • I want X (for example, a different job)
  • Why?  Because when I think about X, I picture a more content Maria.
  • But I’m afraid that God won’t allow X to happen.  There’s no guarantee that He will bring about X, even if I pray fervently in faith. (might I be……trying to manipulate God???)
  • If God does not grant X, then I won’t be happy

But what if the TRUE scenario is this:

  • God alone knows what will make me happy/content/’better off’ as He defines it.
  • What if what I THINK will make me happy, my X, actually is bad, dangerous, painful or somehow disastrous for me?
  • After all, isn’t God omni– good/loving/knowing/powerful/wise/holy/giving…..
  • Why should I think that I know best?  that what I think I want IS best?

So, are we not to pray for what we want?  Are we just supposed to resign ourselves to….being miserable?

That’s bifurcation, the fallacy of a false dilemma.  It’s not an either/or situation – My will = happiness versus God’s will= misery

(Could that false idea come from Satan?)

When I get scared that maybe God WON’T give me what I want, here’s the promise I fall back onto:

Psalm 84:11

“No good thing does the Lord withhold from those whose way is upright.

  • good = pleasant/excellent/valuable/appropriate,  Hebrew word Towb
  • upright = authentic (with integrity),  Hebrew word Tamiym

When I think of how to be upright, I picture myself looking UP at God, and not at what I want.  I don’t have enough information to know what is best for me.

upright

I’ll still ask God and pray for what I want, but I’m learning to hold those requests loosely.

What is your experience in wanting something really badly and then finding out it was NOT what you thought or (worse yet) it turned out to be harmful?

 

 

 

 

How Prayer and Trust relate

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Call on me in the Day of Trouble

 

 

 

As Paul Miller says, we all think we stink at prayer!

I would imagine that this assessment is a plot of the devil and his evil pals.  If they can get us NOT to pray, then God won’t accomplish much.  At least this is what the Satan thinks, thus laboring steadily to dissuade us from spending the time and energy and getting our hopes up!

But God….(two powerful words that introduce HOPE)…is ALWAYS at work so we should keep on stumbling through prayer by faith and trust He’ll help us grow in this area.

*

I’ve been reading an encouraging book on prayer.

Link to the book

Power of Prayer - Samuel Prime

 

 

 

 

 

If you purchase this account of the New York revival of 1858, chapters 16, 17 and the final one are worth the price of the book.  They made me WANT to pray.

Here is my take-away after spending a month in these pages. Picture thick ice that covers a lake in winter. ice on a lake

 

 

 

When you trust in the efficacy of the ice to sustain your weight, you venture out.  The degree of faith in that ice has NO effect on whether the ice is sufficient to bear your weight. Whether you timidly step out onto the ice (a little bit of faith) or you stride out boldly (strong faith), the ice’s ability to hold you up is not effected one whit.

The promises of God are like the ice.  When God says in HIS WORD that He will do this or that, we can be sure that He will!   Why? – because He is a perfect God who never changes.  His character, the sum-total of His attributes, is consistently above-reproach.  If He is ever or even one time good, He is ALWAYS good. If He is faithful once, He is ALWAYS faithful.  If He does what is right one time (act with righteousness and justice), then He will ALWAYS do what is righteous and just.  Why?  because His character  is on the line at all times. His primary motivation is for the glory or reputation of His name

Closely intertwined with His character are His promises.  What He says He will do is as good as done.  It’s money in the bank, as some would say.  His character is the foundation for His Word.

So, when you step out onto the solid ice-covered lake of His Word, it’s NOT

  • the strength or quality or purity of your faith
  • nor is it even your goodness, aka faithfulness
  • nor the quality of your past few quiet times
  • nor how committed you are THIS time to do…

It’s ALL Him.  And that is good news.

To sum up, here is my analogy –

Throwing up a prayer to God and then resting in the PERFECT assurance that He will hear that prayer and use it and take care of the situation/desire/need as HE best sees fit, is akin to stepping out on the ice-covered lake and having confidence that it will hold you up so you can play to your heart’s content.

Taking that worry back for yourself is like running in off the lake before you even crossed over to the other side or played a game.

Here’s what we have to remember:

Once we pray, and when our mind STILL returns to the need/concern/situation/desire, we must remind ourselves that the ice WILL hold.  God WILL take care of “it”.  His character and His word are our guarantee.  If we have to remind ourselves twelve times in 2 hours to leave the need in His hands, that’s okay.  No shame – we can do it!  It’s part of our learning curve in trust.

So I ask – what do you have to lose besides your old friend – the worry habit?

Question: Which worry or need are you willing to risk losing, by discharging it on Him? 

How do you know if you are ‘saved’?

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Assurance of Salvation

1 Cor 1:18 – For the message about the cross is nonsense to those who are being destroyed, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved.

I understand that it is a very unsettling place to be, not to know for sure if you are going to spend eternity with God or away from Him.

I am writing this post to simplify the issue and to communicate that if you want to know whether you can count on heaven with the Biblical God, there is ample written evidence from God to settle that issue, once and for all.

It seems to me that there are several categories of people:

  • those who give no thought to life after the expected 70+ years (Psalm 90:10 The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years….)
  • those who are adherents of false religions that teach and encourage practitioners to DO THIS or THAT to reach heaven
  • those who are true Biblical Christians but still live with uncertainty about their ultimate destination
  • those who are NOT Christians but think they are and might assume they are headed for heaven
  • those who are Christians and anticipate with growing desire and delight their future in God’s favorable presence in the renewed creation

Marraige Supper of the Lamb

In truth, there are only 2 categories of people: those God has elected and those He has not.  There are no degrees of election or a pathway TO election from non-election. You’re either ALL in or ALL out.

If God doesn’t plant within us new, unnatural desires, we will never understand Him or see Him as beautiful and valuable.

Here’s the simplest way to know if you are a true Christian (and it has nothing to do with how ‘good’ you are or what you do):

Do you see the Biblical Jesus and how one is saved from God’s wrath as an amazing gift? as treasure beyond imagination?

Or do you see Jesus and His teachings as stupid and boring, even to the point of being non-sensical? 

The key, though, is to know and understand the REAL Jesus, as the Bible presents.  Be warned!  Many self-proclaimed Christians, as well as atheists, share a mythical, made-up idea of God.  They invent a Father God and a God-Man Jesus to their liking, for whatever reasons.  I suppose it follows that if you INVENT God, then you can CREATE the pathway to heaven.

John 8:31-32   He said to the Jews who believed, “If you keep and obey My Word, then you are My followers for sure. You will know the truth and the truth will make you free.

Stay within the boundaries of God’s Word; understand the text, given its style (poetry, narrative, history, parables, advice for living)  and context.  The Bible is written so that even uneducated people can be taught Truth.

And if what the text says and means doesn’t make sense to you, then pray to God and ask for His help.  He promises to give light and understanding to all who seek Him earnestly, sincerely. Pray also for those around you, that God would kindly open their eyes to His nature, what is at stake and His offer of forgiveness.

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