Tuesday, August 31, 2010

God, Grant Me the Serenity...

I received more news this week that I can't wrap my head around. I don't know what to do with this information. I'm unclear about where my responsibility begins and ends. Emotionally, I'm having a hard time accepting it.

This is not a new feeling for me. I've been through things like this so many times, but it never gets any easier. Just when I think I've got life figured out, someone throws me another curve ball. Just when I think I've solved all my problems, another one comes firing at me. I know I'm not alone. And I know someone is facing tougher things than I'm facing now, but I just want to do the right thing. I don't want to shirk my responsibility, but I don't even know what it is! God, help me. I'm not copping out, God, but I'm putting the ball in your court. I will listen for your whisper, your still small voice, and I will continue to pray the Serenity Prayer. Just help me not to miss it this time. I have not missed it every time, but I have missed some of your direction, and the consequences have been significant, maybe not for me, but for someone.

So please... Grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Blessed Are the Poor In Spirit

Sometimes this faith journey feels so paradoxical, so confusing, so hard...

Jesus calls us to be poor in spirit. But the moment that I recognize my poverty of spirit, I become rich in my spiritual poverty and I've missed the mark. Jesus calls me to be humble, but the second I realize my goal of humility, it vanishes because I've become proud of it.

Oswald Chambers says, "I can be so rich in poverty, so rich in consciousness that I am nobody, that I shall never be a disciple of Jesus; and I can be so rich in the consciousness that I am somebody that I shall never be a disciple. Am I willing to be destitute of the sense that I am destitute?"

"But what if nobody notices that I'm poor in spirit? I must point it out to them!" No! I must not! The title of one of Oswald Chambers' devotionals is "The Ministry of the Unnoticed." Do I want to be involved in the ministry of the unnoticed? My whole life I've been trying to get noticed! I talk loudly, and I talk alot. I'm animated when I talk--arms flailing, head bobbing. I'm always trying to be funny--trying to get a laugh. I am always trying to get noticed.

This is one of the dark areas of my life that Jesus wants to clean up. I can be of no use to him if my goal is to be noticed. There's a band I like called, "Take No Glory." When I read that name, I was humbled. I realized that, in my quest to get noticed, sometimes I try to steal God's glory. That is something He will not stand for. God will NOT share his glory. In fact, that was what caused the fall of Lucifer! Yikes!

O.C. says, "The true character of the loveliness that tells for God is always unconscious. Conscious influence is priggish and un-Christian. If I say--I wonder if I am of any use--I instantly lose the bloom of the touch of the Lord." So I'm striving for a goal that I can never reach because as soon as I do, I fall all the way back to the beginning. I don't get to "pass Go" I don't get to "collect $200." What I need to do is keep plodding along, being obedient to God, never asking if I've succeeded because obedience is the goal, not success.

So, I need to keep Matthew 5:3 in front of my eyes... "Blessed are the poor in spirit..."

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

It's All About THE Relationship

I am writing today as a discipline. I am anxious to get moving. I have lots to do today and I want to get marching on my "To Do" list. But more than that, I want to stay true to my commitment to allow Jesus to sift through the junk in my heart and mind. I don't want to be "all about the task" today. I want to be "all about the relationship." So, here goes...

So I am supposed to be disillusioned with the people in my life? Really? Oswald Chambers says I must be... that it's a discipline... that if I'm not, I risk becoming "cynical, unkindly severe in my judgement of others." Ouch again, Oswald! You hit me where it hurts so often. Have you been living in my head? I try so hard to hide this kind of thing!

Chambers tells me that, "disillusionment which comes from God brings us to the place where we see men and women as they really are, and yet there is no cynicism, we have no stinging, bitter things to say." What a relief that would be for me as well as the people in my life! Chambers says that many of the cruel things in life spring from the fact that we suffer from illusions... our ideas of one another. It's like I have this picture in my head of what a person is or should be and when they don't live up to that image, I get hurt, angry, cynical, bitter. O.C. says it this way, "If we love a human being and do not love God, we demand of him every perfection and every rectitude, and when we do not get it we become cruel and vindictive; we are demanding from a human that which he or she cannot give." Ouch again! So when I don't suffer from disillusionment, it shows my lack of love for God. Ugh, just when I thought I was becoming a mature Christian!

"There is only One Being Who can satisfy the last aching abyss of the human heart and that is the Lord Jesus Christ," says Chambers. I can't expect my friends, coworkers, family members or even my dog to satisfy that deep dark emptiness in my soul. That is a space that only my savior can fill. And if He is not filling it, all my relationships will be out of balance.

"Our Lord trusted no man..." Wow, I'm to trust not one? Not like I trust Jesus. People can only walk so far with me. I can only trust them to a certain extent.

"...yet He was never suspicious, never bitter... he despaired of no one." If I trust God like I'm supposed to, allowing Him to fill my brokenness like only He can, I free the people in my life! I not longer hold them hostage by my expectations of them--my expectations of completeness. They cannot complete me. They come and go--sometimes they move away, sometimes they move on, and sometimes they die. Sometimes they're consumed with their own pain. They were not created to complete me. They were not created to affirm me. They were not created to fix me or make my life worthwhile. Every now and then those things happen, but they cannot be the foundation of my life. I cannot and must not depend on them for my everyday motivation.

Only Jesus can fill the gaping abyss in my soul. Only He can be my reason for living. Only He can be My Unswerving Hope.

Monday, August 9, 2010

He Comes in the Clouds

A quick look in my Bible's concordance shows a definite correlation between clouds and the presence of the Lord. In Exodus 13:21, the pillar of cloud guided the Israelites; in Isaiah 19:1, He rides on a swift cloud; in Luke 21:27, we will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power; and finally, in Revelation 1:7, Look, He is coming with the clouds! I also seem to remember a mist in the Holy of Holies where God dwelled in the old testament. There may be more, but that's what I found in just a few minutes.

So what do the clouds mean? My daily companion of 2010, Oswald Chambers, says that the clouds that Jesus comes in are "sorrows or sufferings or Providences... which seem to dispute the rule of God." Things like losing a daughter in a car accident, or a son to addiction and homelessness, or seeing my own granddaughter stuck in foster care for over a year while we worked diligently to bring her home with us. Oswald tells me that "It is by those very clouds that the Spirit of God is teaching us how to walk by faith." He goes on... "If there were no clouds, we'd have no faith." (We wouldn't need it!) "The clouds are but the dust of our Father's feet. The clouds are a sign that He is here... God cannot come near without clouds. He does not come in clear shining."

Wow, that rings so true in my life. The times that I have sensed the nearness of God the most have been the most brutal, gut-wrenching, heart-breaking moments of my life that I mentioned above. Oh, there were moments when I sinned and shook my fist in God's face during those times, but He was so gracious and forgiving, so understanding and gentle. When I would finish my ranting and raving, His presence would come so sweetly. He would touch me and heal me and set me on my feet and push me out into the world and say, "Go now and live and love and tell people about me and the hope you have."

Oswald says that "Unless we can look the darkest, blackest fact full in the face without damaging God's character, we do not yet know Him." Ouch! I have looked at some dark, black facts and I have come close to damaging God's character. I've been so angry at him for allowing me to hurt so badly. And yet, he has been so faithful not to strike me dead like the Israelites who complained about the food God provided them. His presence has been so sweet as He has carried me, sometimes kicking and screaming, through the clouds of my life. He has been so loving and kind and near. I don't deserve Him. My Heavenly Father loves me in a way that I don't understand, but I am so grateful. I have come to know Him because of the clouds. I have seen Him in the clouds. And only by His grace have I not damaged His character in my mind and in the minds of others. God, thank you for your grace... And yes, thank You for the clouds.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Obedience, Not Success, is the Goal

Oh Oswald, you never cease to stretch me... to make me uncomfortable with what I've always believed to be true... You never let me rest in the cushy comfort of my denial. On July 28, you ask what comes after obedience. Then you tell me that it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter?!

But in my self-centered, self-focused, self-absorbed mind, the reason for obeying is the success, the affirmation, the good results that come from obedience. Why else would I obey? I'm trying to avoid pain at all cost, and I thought obedience would accomplish that goal. Now you're telling me that's not true?!

You're telling me that raising my kids right won't guarantee that they will continue to give me warm fuzzies all the days of my life? That working hard at my job won't guarantee promotions and pay raises? That paying my taxes and obeying the law doesn't always guarantee a roof over my head, a full stomach and my every need met? That endlessly pouring myself out in ministry won't guarantee that everyone will rally around me, scrambling to help?

"NO!" says Oswald Chambers. Even after obedience, there is no guarantee of success. Success is not the goal, obedience is. Wow, I need to hear that again... Success is not the goal, obedience is. Chambers says, "God is not working towards a particular finish, His end is the process--that I see Him walking on the waves, no shore in sight, no success, no goal, just the absolute certainty that it is all right because I see Him walking on the sea." But I want closure! I can't stand the tension of not knowing how things will turn out. How will I know, Jesus, that you will make it? That you won't sink?

Chambers continues, "God's end is to enable me to see that He can walk on the chaos of my life just now." (Oh, there's plenty of that!) He tells me that if I have anything further in view, I won't pay enough attention to what a miraculous thing it is that God is walking on the chaos of my life! I'll miss it. I'll miss the whole point because I'm looking for his successful landing. I'm looking so desperately for closure that I miss the miracle. He says that if I see obedience as the end, the goal, then each moment as it comes will be precious.

Oh, how many precious moments have I missed because I was so anxious to know how the chapter ends. How many have I missed because I was seeking so desperately for a shred of success... some redeeming moment that would make the obedience worthwhile? How much have I missed because I didn't know that the obedience is worthwhile all on its own?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Obedience to the Call, Not the Law

Oh, my blog, I have missed you. It's funny how you don't realize how much you miss someone or something until you see them. That's the way I'm feeling about my journal and my blog. I try never to write in my blog unless I really have something to share. I've not had anything to share because I've not allowed Jesus to speak much lately.

You see, I have this ongoing problem... I like to be busy. As long as I'm busy, I don't have to deal with my junk. I like to make it look like I don't have any junk, but we all know better. I'm sure I'm not as good at hiding my junk as I like to think I am. People who know me see right through me. Probably people who don't know me see through me too.

But Jesus is calling me to obedience. In fact, I've been feeling that "obedience" is my new "hope." "Hope" has been my word for 6 years. I don't know that "obedience" will fully take it's place, but I need to slow down and look at it.

So what is obedience? What is my obedience to? Is it to a set of rules and regulations? Oswald Chambers says no. He says that no man can make himself pure by obeying laws. So what am I to obey?

According to O.C., "Jesus says--If you are MY disciple you must be right not only in your living... but in the recesses of your mind." Oohhhh, the recesses of my mind... the dark, shadowy recesses of my mind. Those places that I work so diligently to hide, to cover up, to gloss over... those places where I hide my junk.

I feel Jesus calling me to come and dine. Come and dine with him in the recesses of my mind. You mean I'm going to sit with the originator of the universe in the cesspool of my mind and have a meal? That we will sit and discuss in detail, each disgusting piece of garbage piled around us? In the same way that I recently cleaned out my basement, creating a "keep" pile, a"sell" pile, a "give away" pile, and the largest pile of all--the "burn" pile, Jesus wants to sift through the recesses of my mind with me. Can't He just do it without me as I run around doing ministry? No. I must be present. I must face my junk, make a decision about each piece, label it, and deal with it. Will I put it in a Rubbermaid tote and replace it? Will I pass it along to someone else who needs it more than I? Or will I burn it? Oh, I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

So, Jesus, help me. My selfishness is big and it's ugly. This will take time and it will cause pain. Jesus tells me that I will be so disappointed with myself, that I'll want to give up. But He assures me that we'll only tackle a little bit at a time. I must caution myself not to get so wrapped up in "fixing myself" that I lose my outward focus. However, I also need to not get so wrapped up in my outward focus that I neglect the hard work of walking with Jesus through those dark, shadowy recesses of my mind.

It will be an ongoing process that will need to be maintained. We will never be "finished" until I get to heaven. It's still like my basement. Even though I just cleaned it out, if I don't maintain it, it will end up just like it was... filled with crumbling cardboard boxes, filled with worthless junk that means nothing to anybody and is of no good use, taking up space that could be used for great things... sapping resources that could be used by someone else.

So Jesus, by Your grace, I will come and dine. I will feel the pain and disappointment, and I will keep going when I want to quit. But I will not completely lose my outward focus. There is still much to do. But I can't do it and keep up the charade of covering up my junk. I place my hope in you as I endeavor to obey your call today.