With God in the Wilderness

DSC00024I’ve made peace with my lack of directional sense in daily life, but I am still terrified of getting lost in the wilderness. Since my family hikes a lot, and the majority of us have a great “inner compass”, I try not to voice my “Are you sure we’re going the right way” comment repeatedly.

My walk with God can seem a lot like hiking in the great outdoors. God is a great hiking companion and He never gets lost, so that’s a plus!

I still have one little problem though…… me!

I’ll be walking along, keeping pace with God and enjoying the day. I’ll be watching Him for His subtle cues to slow down, or take that side path, or stop for a second. Then at some point I just seem to get cocky and start heading the way I want to go. The trail seems well-marked and it’s nice and bright outside. Running feels exhilarating!

So off I run.

Yeah, bad idea, but what can I say. I’m forgetful.

Of course, I end up getting lost eventually. Different trails start veering off this way and that way. It’s getting dark outside, and now I’m confronted with my fear – I’m lost. I panic. God, where are you? I can’t see you! Why did you leave me? Emotions rush in…doubt, fear, anger. God has deserted me. I want to blame Him for this place I’m in… yet it was me that ran off.

God never leaves any of us, of course, but neither does He always immediately come to our rescue. I’m understanding that more and more (after doing this hundreds of times.) He’d like me to learn to stick with Him all of the time. He’s a good parent, and good parents teach their children to make better choices. I’m amazed He is so patient with me, but He is. He corrects me of course, but He doesn’t punish me or load guilt and shame on me.

It is quite difficult though, to have to stand here and wait, feeling lost and alone. I’m hoping I’ll learn the lesson and stop doing this already! I know He’ll come get me in whatever timing and way will help me learn to trust Him more and stop being foolish.

Instead of throwing a big fit (um, yeah, done that before too….) I think about how I can handle the next urge I have to go my own way, or run ahead or just plain stop paying as much attention to Him. Would note cards and reminders help? Permanent tattoos all over myself? Probably the best bet is just to talk to God about those feelings when they occur and know He’ll help me do better.

All the other ideas I can come up with have too many negative consequences. I wouldn’t want an injury to keep from running. I wouldn’t want to stop exploring with God. He isn’t much for me tethering myself to him since it limits much of what we must do crossing the rough terrain. He’s happy to carry me for stretches but I like walking, so that’s not a permanent solution I’ve asked him tons of times for the map and he always says no – he’s the map.

God chooses the pace and we need to match it. It’s really not that complicated! (That’s why it’s hard not to feel very foolish that I continue to encounter this problem.) He is such a good God. He has so much more grace and patience for us than we do for ourselves. He will help us get where we need to go. I look forward to seeing what adventures we will be having, TOGETHER, side by side.

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Like Wasps to a Light…

images-1I love nature, but moreso when it is outside of my house. This morning, two wasps were zipping around my kitchen and gave me quite a scare. Before I could decide what to throw at them, they both became obsessed with the kitchen light, and within moments, that was the end of the wasps. The problem was solved without much effort from me. As I watched those wasps, what popped into my head was, “Wow, you’re going to fall for that one?” I did feel bad for them (once they were dead). They gave up so much, their freedom, their wasp families, their wasp things they do. Now they are in the pile of dead bugs in the kitchen light. What a waste.

What “light” might we be obsessing over instead of enjoying our lives as we should?

God has given us so much freedom, as well. We have freedom to explore, purposes to accomplish, adventures to experience. We feel we can give our attention to multiple things, but we can only walk one direction. Will we choose God’s paths and plans, or veer off the path to those other lights? It’s like Gollum’s warning in Lord of the Rings….“This way! Don’t follow the lights!”

Fame?   Wealth?   Power?   Pleasure? What draws us in?

“But, you don’t understand”…is what we say. “My circumstances are different. I really can’t help this situation. And really I deserve it.” We may be complex to ourselves, but we are an open book to God. He knows our hearts, our motives, and our propensity to sin. We aren’t a mystery to Him. He can easily sum us up and I think we’d be surprised how similar our struggles and temptations are.

Jesus, too, was tempted on this earth, and he did remain sinless and therefore can be our substitute, the perfect Lamb of God on which all the Father’s wrath for our sin, was poured. In this sacrifice, our grim future is remedied. An answer was given.

There is a brighter light that attracts us and it is Christ.

Christ far surpasses whatever momentary and partially fulfilling temptations we consider. We run to Him and find forgiveness and satisfaction. We find a new way.

Hebrews 4: 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

I’m not saying it’s easy, it isn’t. It’s a struggle every day to live as God requires. There are lights around us that do capture our attention, but we don’t have to continue staring at them. We choose to look to Jesus for salvation and forgiveness and then ongoing strength and power to live godly lives. He helps blind us to those lesser pursuits and instead focus on living holy and blameless lives as children of God.

Meditation….What Does This Mean to a Christian?

God instructs us many times in the Bible to “meditate” on Him and His Word.

But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. Psalm 1:2 

On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. Psalm 145:5 

Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Joshua 1:8 

N1306P44001CSo how do we meditate? The world uses the term meaning to empty our minds and enter new spiritual states. But, meditation in the Bible is focusing purposefully on the Almighty God and His truths. Sure, we want to empty our minds of distraction, and busy-ness. But, the goal is the filling of our minds and hearts WITH GOD. It’s pondering. It’s asking God for wisdom. It’s admitting we don’t know it all but we love the one that does. And meditation can be peaceful, but isn’t always. God’s holy Word is coming in contact with my selfish heart so at times it can be a pretty jarring experience.

1. Meditating is asking the Holy Spirit to further enlighten us about the Word of God and His plan for us.

The Holy Spirit draws us to become Christians, and the same Holy Spirit enables us to understand God’s Word. Why does one person read the Bible and feel it’s the most boring textbook ever while another can’t put it down? The Holy Spirit.

2. Meditating depends more on heart attitude than time.

We hear about spiritual gurus that spend the entire day or week or year meditating. Is that what God requires? Not many of us have any way of doing that!! Whatever time we give to thinking about and praying about God’s Word, I really believe God will honor. But, what is our heart like, that’s the real question? Are we wanting to hear what God has to say? What if it’s difficult? What if it involves us putting our hopes beneath His? What if He prompts us to say no to something we want?

God is absolutely there and full of mercy. He wants us to be honest and real. I can be upset, angry, torn, fearful, or any other emotion, and it all is ok with Him. I can yell. I can cry. God bids us to come as we are and He is completely able to hear us despite our intense emotions.

What I’ve found is never ok with God is

my refusal to face my pride and bitterness.

We can’t fool God. If you’re at a stand-still, and aren’t sure why, that’s a great place to start. Pride comes in so many forms. We need to seek Him with humility and a willingness to obey when He answers.

3. Meditation allows God’s Word to sink down into our hearts and minds. Many Biblical concepts seem simple at first. Common sense, we think. But, God brings our past, future, fears, hopes, emotions into the picture.

But what do I meditate on, you may ask. A good place to start is with what naturally grabs your attention in any way as you read the Bible. Something that seems so very easy, or upsetting, or basically just wrong to you. What ruffles your feathers? What verses do you just love to read? Meditating is done with our minds, but involves our emotions and beliefs.

Here is an example….

II Cor. 5:15 And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died for them and was raised again.

When I first read this verse I can tell you what popped into my mind was, Wow, that’s harsh. I don’t like hearing that and it feels offensive. It’s my life, why can’t I live it for myself? I can move on or I can continue to meditate on God’s Word.

I realize that I assume I control my life, not God. Sure, I care what God thinks but when my thoughts don’t line up with His, it’s mine I go with. I see that my motives are pretty selfish. God is love and I’m supposed to be wanting to think and act like Him. Am I? God’s truth seeps a bit deeper. I continue to read the verse, pray for God’s wisdom. Read surrounding verses. Look up commentaries other people have made to help them understand it better. I meditate.

Why don’t I want God in control? I’m afraid He will have me do things I don’t want to do. Maybe He’ll take away what I love or make me do something weird or embarrassing. It’s safer for me to be in control. God’s truth seeps a bit deeper. I continue to meditate.

God is good. It is impossible for Him to be anything else. It’s His character. And He is love. He isn’t just loving…He is love. He loved us enough to send His only Son to die for us. He cares deeply for us. He is a good Father that desires to bless His children. Of course, God also disciplines those He loves. He knows what’s best for me and every person. So He knows what things I love that maybe aren’t best for me. So now I’m back to feeling worried again. There’s risk here for sure. More meditating.

God loves me and knows me completely, He knows in the end what is best for me. He knows what will be hard or easy or devastating. I can trust Him.

One thing that makes a lot of difference to me is that I can tell God what I’m thinking and feeling, because He already knows. He can take me voicing my fears about Him, myself, about anything. Ask Him to change your heart and mind and love what He loves. Admit that this area is a horrible struggle but you want to be obedient.

God wants us to have wisdom and He wants us to correctly interpret his words and live by them. He wants us to make good decisions and to forsake ways that are harmful to follow him wholly. But we usually have a long way to go. We aren’t going to get somewhere without taking that first step. A journey starts with one step and so does learning to meditate and hear God. What’s step one…it’s reading God’s Word and asking Him to help me understand it.

God, The Master Builder

When we accept Jesus as Savior and Lord of our lives, we willingly give Him the deed of our lives, our home and property. From that moment on, we can expect Him to be helping us fix up the place, and thankfully He does, because it really needs it!

The house we’ve been building thus far had no great plan behind it. The floor plan is odd, the contents of the place are pretty random and most of it was thrown together haphazardly. Areas have been completely neglected as well.

God gets to work and at first it seems great. He starts cleaning things up, throwing open the curtains, opening windows. Yes, this is going to be good, I think. Can you relate?

But then I notice a dumpster outside. Really? Is that necessary? But yes, there is a lot of junk, so I watch, a little less enthusiastically, as God throws out some nasty items. Perhaps He’s done? But no, some things I actually DO like and use are flying out the window into the dumpster now.

Um, God….those are my things! What are you doing? He points out many are broken and ruined. Some items are just useless. Yeah, I guess that makes sense.

Now He’s starting to sort things into a “keep” pile. Other items continue to fly into the dumpster. “God, no, what are you doing??” I’m trying to keep calm but this is too much!

Do you trust me, He asks. Yes, I trust you. I walk away and pout in the corner.

Now I see construction vehicles pulling up. Not just little Bobcats, but a huge crane with a wrecking ball and all sorts of heavy duty machines. Dread fills my heart. I leave the house before the wrecking ball takes out an entire room. I guess that makes sense…nothing good ever happened in that room, that’s for sure.

Of course, it doesn’t stop there. The whole back porch is smashed to smithereens as well as several other rooms I really liked. I feel the anger building. God, do you really have to do this? This is my house! I liked it as it was!

Do you trust me, He asks. Yes, Lord, I do. But honestly, some doubts are beginning to creep in. I thought God was completely good? He is starting to appear cruel to me. I wander off a ways to cry as I watch my house ripped open and gutted.

At last the vehicles rumble away and I venture back in, hesitantly. What a mess. There’s a small area I can attempt to live in, but at least half of the place is either gone or close to it. I’m angry at God and disappointed. This Christian life is not what I signed up for.

As weeks, months and years go by I start to figure out this relationship with God. He definitely has a plan. Sometimes He shares it, like pointing out the beautiful deck He’s building for us to sit together on and watch the sun set. But other times He does not explain.

I long for this to be done. I get tired of every item and room being reevaluated and possibly discarded or changed. I thought this would have been done years ago.

So where does this leave me? What have I learned? Well. I’ve learned to stop asking when this is going to be done. It seems to be a project spanned over a lifetime. I’m tired of asking and I imagine God may be tired of His usual reply of, when I’m finished.

Secondly, I’ve learned I do have a say in what’s being done and it’s mostly in the area of stopping what God is doing. When I really get upset and get in the way, He won’t force me to move. Sometimes He’ll just move on to another project. Other times He just waits. He is infinitely more patient than I am so I’ve given up outwaiting Him.

I will eventually come back to the realization that His plan is better than mine and apologize for opposing Him. I’ve found He forgives me and doesn’t hold grudges. It’s just hard, you know? I remember being in control and some days I want to be again.

But the third thing I’ve learned is that I do love the things He has changed. Despite my occasional anger and frustration, He has some really amazing ideas. I know for sure He is not cruel, but kind and good. Yet, I’m not privy to every detail. I don’t understand what every room is for.

Last, and most important to me, I’ve learned He really is in this for the long haul. He isn’t going to leave me in a mess of my own making. His plans are for us together and He has wonderful plans for you and Him together as well. He can be trusted with every part of our lives, every plan, every hope, every dream!

Psalm 127:1-4

1Unless the Lord builds the house,

the builders labor in vain.

Unless the Lord watches over the city,

the guards stand watch in vain.

2In vain you rise early

and stay up late,

toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves.

The Truth About Self-Image

A Book Review on “The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness” by Timothy Keller

13579364This is a very small book, so if you have half an hour, just skip my blog and read it!

All of us enter this sinful world on mission to build up our self-worth, our self-image. We are constantly comparing ourselves to one another in hopes of improving our “me resume.” It’s an exhausting and all-consuming way of life.

As Christians, forgiven for our sin, we do not need to continue this pointless endeavor….but most of us do anyway!

Keller says it’s not a problem of countering a high or low self-image, like the world insists. It’s a problem of ego. We are born with a huge ego which keeps me focused on me 24/7. Our ego is basically like a painfully over-inflated organ in our bodies that hurts when it’s too full, hurts when it’s empty, and never is satisfied.

We temporarily satiate our ego by deciding we are MORE than other people. We compare ourselves to others. We constantly judge everyone, including ourselves.

Am I more  _____________ than that person??? (Fill in the blank)

Funny, skinny, muscular, smart, wise, holy, wanted, requested, tall, short, happy, etc. What about my possessions? Are they better than others’ possessions? My job, my spouse, my yard, my book list, my account, my weekend plans, etc.

Sure, one day we may feel happy for a time because we feel we are MORE than others, a success. But the next day it’s a nose dive into despair because I got passed up for that promotion again, or my friend chose to have lunch with someone else, or I wasn’t chosen to head up the serving widows committee, or I look pudgy in this outfit. Today I’m a failure. It’s an ongoing trial we put ourselves in and spend the majority of our energies on.

The truth, says Keller, is that

the trial is over.

Jesus took on God’s wrath for our sin and disobedience. Jesus paid the penalty with His blood so now God can once again look at us and not see creatures of sin and wrath, but see beloved children of God We are covered by the perfect blood of Jesus and therefore are now righteous and accepted. End of story. No need to compare. No need to defend ourselves or justify our actions or spend our lives feeding our egos.

How do we make that transition to a life of freedom?  We get to know God better and we take what He says about us as truth. Keller bases his book on the passage in I Corinthians 3:21 – 4:7. Paul is confronting the believers that are fighting amongst themselves whether it was better to hear the gospel from Paul or Apollos. They are judging, and comparing, tearing one another down. What does it matter, Paul is saying. It’s the Gospel that matters! I Cor. 4:6-7 says, 

Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other.For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?

Don’t be puffed up, Paul says. We are all the same in God’s eyes, beloved children. God showers us with gifts as He sees fit. Don’t boast about what you have or are. Every person is what God made him to be, no more, no less. We should be thankful and humble creatures, living a free and joyful life.

It may not be a quick or easy change though. We’ll need to ask God for wisdom in seeing the many areas we are seeking other’s attention and praise in. We’ll need to filter our speech through God’s Word to find where we are wasting precious time and words impressing others or allowing others opinions to matter more than God’s opinion of us.

Keller assures us that the result is a life of freedom and joy, lessening anxiety about others’ opinions, less concern about our old fears of failure and embarrassment. He feels Paul’s life models one of true contentment and power, joy no matter the circumstance.

Faithful, Yet Unpredictable

raisedhandsGod is absolutely faithful and true to us. He promises He will never leave us or forsake us, and He doesn’t! Deuteronomy 31:6 says, Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” God promises His children that we will one day live eternally with Him in heaven, and we will. But faithful doesn’t always mean predictable. The sun and the seasons and the time and the stars….they are all faithfully predictable. Usually our school and work schedules, activities, friendships…they are faithfully predictable.

We can’t always predict how God will show His faithfulness.

I may feel particularly close to God for a stretch of time and get used to it. I’m sure this is now the new norm and I’ve achieved some new level of closeness with God! His presence is so obvious, almost like a person physically standing next to me. I read the Bible and it’s loaded with insights, so applicable. I get comfortable here, expect this from now on. I get used to feeling this predictable closeness.

Then, out of nowhere, He seems gone. I wake up and open my Bible and it just seems to be empty words that morning. I can’t focus and I think, can you give me something here, God? Hello? Remember me from yesterday?? I’m sure He must be hanging out with someone else, because I feel completely alone. (Thankfully God is omnipresent as well!) I have trouble praying or worshipping. It’s like everything good and spiritual was sucked into a black hole and I’m here to fend for myself. (Now, it certainly is possible there’s a reason for God’s sudden distance. If I am not being obedient or am grieving the Spirit, I’ve known Him to seem pretty distance from me.)  I want to panic! God, did you leave me? Are you upset with me? (And yes, I remind myself a billionth time, He never leaves me or forsakes me.) Where did You go? Why the change?

I’ve heard a few answers to why God seems distance at times, but that doesn’t necessarily make them any easier to bear. Maybe our faith is needing to be exercised and strengthened and that happens when we have to trust God though we don’t feel Him there. I know it brings Him glory when we hold fast to Him and praise Him regardless of our circumstances.

Or maybe it’s just for reasons only God knows, like the book of Job. Job was just going through life being faithful and obedient to God. God pointed him out Satan and then Job is tested by Satan in really every way possible, except directly killing him.

 8 The LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” Job 1:8b 

I struggle a bit with that…but, isn’t it God’s choice how He grows us and how He reveals Himself to us? Since His ways and thoughts are so much higher than ours, shouldn’t we expect He will do things differently than we would guess or imagine, or sometimes even want?

8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.

9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9

The word “predictable” is defined as  “unsurprising, foreseeable, expected”. And I think we all can agree God is not predictable. We’re talking about the God that parted the Red Sea, brought water from rocks, walked on water and sent His only Son to die for sinful people because we were worth that much to Him. Many things God does is excitingly unpredictable and I love that (usually)! Every day is an adventure with God.

But, I also have to give up my desire to control everything because  He knows best how to grow me in my faith and purify me. There’s no syllabus I can look at. There are no patterns God promises, like “for you, we’ll do one happy month, then a week of complete silence. Repeat. Your friend, I think I’ll go with 2 weeks happy, 2 weeks silence.”

It all comes back to trust, AGAIN. Feelings cannot be trusted. They can be very useful and I wouldn’t want to live life without them. But they are also fickle and often way out of proportion. So, I’m working on noticing when I begin to feel anxious or worried because I’m doubting God’s promises. That’s where I need to focus on fact and truth and overrule what my feelings are screaming.

As we trust God and believe His promises, despite our feelings, He grows our faith and peace. The next time we face a similar situation, we can do a little better. Sure, I’ll probably have another panic attack…but even if I’ve lasted one more hour, or day or year in God’s peace, that’s progress! Tomorrow if I get up and can’t “sense” God there, I can say to myself, That’s ok, He’s here and I will praise Him. Nothing has changed on God’s end of things so nothing needs to change on mine either. I trust Him.

When We’re So Tired of Pain….

teddy-bear-bandaid-cheat-sheetAs my kids were heading off the school this morning, one of my sons and I laughed about a movie line from Harry Potter. It’s a line Lord Voldemort hisses as he is about to chastise his not-so-faithful followers. But it’s the style that is makes it a classic to us. In a wonderfully understated, calm and hideous way, he says,

“I confess myself…..disappointed.”

Then he unleashes his wrath upon them.

The morning continued and the kids left for school, but that line remained stuck in my mind and heart. I’m not that surprised anymore how

God uses just about any comment or happening to speak a bit of truth to us.

In that still, small voice, He begins to develop an idea He wants us to understand better about Him and His love for us. Sadly, it is very easy to miss, because more often than not it isn’t easy to hear, though it always is for our good and brings healing into our lives.

I confess myself…….disappointed. “Aren’t you,” I could hear God ask me. So I thought about it a while and decided, yes, He has a point. I am disappointed. Here’s why, it’s taken me a long time to come to peace that the Christian life is not easy, and often is quite hard.

But, why is the Christian life so painful???

Since we are adopted into God’s eternal family, why is it that we spend so much of our lives hurting, and limping and broken-hearted?

When it’s consequences of our own bad choices, I see why. But many, many times, we can see no reason or purpose for our pain and we must figure out how to trust God and His plan in spite of it. And if we never do understand why, not in this life any way, what then?

Perhaps one reason is just that God is often healing so much in our hearts and minds? A wise word from a friend popped into my mind…

“Often healing is painful.”

My friend continued to explain that as she was recuperating, everyone was eager to say, “Hey, I’m praying for healing for you!” Of course getting better is great, she said, but healing, well, it’s often very painful! Yes, healing, definitely! But in God’s timing please! Something I had not thought of before….

Physically, we know the process of healing a wound can be a long, slow and painful process. Antiseptic hurts. Stitches hurt. Shots hurt. Removing splinters hurts. (My kids have vowed to never ask me to remove another splinter. They’d rather deal with the pain I guess.) Surgery hurts and then, physical therapy seems to continue to hurt! Muscles have to get torn to get stronger. We ache and groan as our bodies heal from injury. Is it much different for us emotionally, spiritually, mentally? Probably not. Yet, God does have a purpose for everything in this life, pain included.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:28

So, why is my life, your life, painful today? I don’t know. But, there is a reason, and God knows it. Whether we get to find out in this life or not, I don’t know. Whether He’s doing a work of healing, or changing our views of life and love, or drawing others toward Himself through the hardship, or…..? But, as we wait, we can remind ourselves of some important truths.

God is good and kind.

God does not punish His children for the sin Jesus already died for.

God’s way is best, no matter what it seems like today.

And, God is trustworthy.

These are facts.

Yes, today may be painful and you may be weary of pain and suffering. Tomorrow may look like it will be the same. Maybe years have already been a nightmare and you don’t see it changing ever. But, somewhere in there God is working and we can 100% trust Him.

Regardless of how much pain, and suffering and trials we each have, we are not in them alone. We have a perfect, holy, good God that is working in our lives for good in every situation, whether great or terrible. Not until heaven will we see how our puzzle piece uniquely fits into the whole grand scheme of things. But, it does. And it takes every event in our lives, sorrowful and joyful and everything in between, to shape that piece to its unique and perfect design.