It was Sunday afternoon. I was in “my” room. The living room. Looking out the window that spans nearly an entire wall, hypnotically watching a baby squirrel chowing down on the suet in the birdfeeder. I call it “my” room because it’s lined with a 12 foot wide by 7 foot high wall of 12×12 cubby shelves filled with books about God. Theology. Spiritual Growth. Prayer. Suffering. blah. blah. blah.
84 square feet. My own personal little library. That’s a lot of books. A lot of words. I’ve learned a lot from those books. With endless more still to learn.
My husband was chilling out in the adjacent room. Even though we’re visually separated by the wall of books, we never have to raise our voice to hear each other.
The clock ticks.
Me, softly: “I miss the old me.”
FirstHusband: “What do you mean?”
Me: “You don’t notice a difference?”
He knows what I’m talking about.
The clock ticks.
Me: “I miss optimism.”
silence. He’s not ignoring me. He’s waiting. He knows me. I’m not done talking. I’m not done thinking.
(I know, I know. I’m NEVER done thinking.)
The clock ticks.
Me: “I hate that the gate is so narrow.”
FirstHusband: “I know.”
A few years ago, when I experienced the deafening silence and pitch black darkness and seeming cavernous distance from all that I had come to recognize and understand and depend on as the presence of God, I couldn’t understand why He was allowing such intense pain. I wondered then if the separation was temporary or permanent. If it was temporary, I wondered if the other side would prove to be a pruning that led to a more fruitful bounce back to what I had come to know as “normal” or if this season was a “refined by fire” step leading to an altogether new and different relationship with God.
I’m still not sure.
I’m not sure I’m completely done with that season, so it very well may be that it’s premature to be contemplating the “lessons learned” of it all.
“that I have great sorrow and
unceasing anguish in my heart.
For I could wish
that I myself were accursed
and cut off from Christ
for the sake of my brothers,
my kinsmen according to the flesh.”
Romans 9: 2-3 ESV
Paul is saying, “I genuinely grieve for those who don’t know Christ. I would give up eternity with Him, if it meant that they could know Him.”
And just to be clear, me saying I understand Paul better, does NOT mean I share his sentiments about sacrificing my relationship with God so that somebody else could know Him.
I know me. I’m much. much. too selfish for that.
The pain I experienced during my recent separation from Him here on earth is more than enough to tell me that eternal separation would be…
unbearable doesn’t begin to describe it.
But I do understand what Paul is saying.
And the raw truth of it is suppressing optimism. It’s sabotaging Hope.
Not that I don’t know Satan will be defeated in the end, because I know he will. It’s just that the evidence that the earth is Satan’s domain seems to be everywhere I look.
I can’t not see it.
Back in December of 2013, I wrote about asking God to “Break my heart for what breaks Yours.” Here’s an excerpt from that post:
“The next morning, I woke up…brokenhearted. Seriously. It’s the only word that fits. I was literally grieving over how many people HATE God. or even the idea of Him.
Immeasurable grace. Unconditional love the likes of which I will never fully comprehend.
and so often – much too often – the response is arrogant and caustic rejection. vehement acrimonious derision. revulsion. hate.
and then there’s indifference.
God, through the ultimate expression of love, sacrificed Himself on the cross so that ANYone can experience abundant life in Him.
and so many people respond with “meh.” So many people don’t respond at all.
I’m brokenhearted. Not just for people I know and love, but for people I’ve never met.
this is new. and not from me. On my own, I’m incapable of this kind of intuitive compassion.“
Some read those words and thought I was being arrogant. condescending. sanctimonious. I can’t stop them from thinking that. Haters gonna hate.
Some might read them and think I’m an emotionally driven drama queen. Those people obviously don’t know me very well.
The fact is, it’s much easier to live with the knowledge that so many people hate God when you only process the information intellectually. It’s their choice. And the choice has consequences: current and eternal separation from the God who loves them unconditionally. End of story.
But when you genuinely care about someone, and you know they’ve mistaken religion for a restored relationship with God through Jesus, you grieve for their loss.
Again. I can’t stop people from thinking that.
I believe that God, through the ultimate expression of love, sacrificed Himself on the cross so that ANYone can be restored to uninhibited relationship with Him and experience abundant life through Christ, not only for eternity but also now – here on earth. And so. many. people say He doesn’t even exist. So. many people blame Him for Satan’s handiwork. They want Him to intervene and stop “bad” people from hurting “good” people, not thinking through the implications that would have in their own lives if God intervened and stopped them from ever doing anything rebellious.
My acute awareness of how many people live separated from God brings with it the broken heart I prayed for. Not just for people I know and love, but for people I’ve never met.
And I can’t not see it. I can’t not know it.
And so I find myself wrestling with the paradox of personally experiencing the joy of abundant life in Christ and grieving because so many people seem to hate God. And anyone who loves Him.
I wouldn’t change the seeing. or the knowing. It’s good to know.
And a little bit not…
“And who knows
but that you have come
to your royal position
for such a time as this?”
Esther 4:14b (NIV)
I posted only the second part of this verse because these are the words that resonated and stuck with me the instant I read them. I didn’t even try to memorize them. They just took immediate residence in my head. My paraphrase is:
Who knows if you were put here in this particular place, NOW, for a reason?
In Biblical context, the message is specific to Esther. But the first few words are also relevant to us today. Here’s the entire verse:
“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”
Here’s my paraphrase again:
If God has sovereignly placed me in a particular place at a particular time to accomplish something for Him and I remain silent – if I do nothing – He WILL send someone else to accomplish His will.
And I will forfeit the blessing that would come from being obedient. And by blessing, I don’t mean some sort of thank you gift or prosperity tit-for-tat. I’m talking about God’s definition of blessing. I don’t always know what that is. Sometimes, it’s the “You’re NOT gonna beLIEVE what God did!!!!” story I get to share after He does something phenomenal that can’t be explained away or dismissed as coincidence.
This verse and these thoughts came to mind last week after I heard someone say they were “ready to check out.” Discouragement had become too much. Looking from the outside, you’d never guess. They look strong and confident. They are friendly and are genuinely enjoyable company. It was another reminder and confirmation that we are all #justadifferentkindofbroken and that we need to strive to #seepeople. Thankfully, in the pit of discouragement, this person had reached out to someone. Risked vulnerability and rejection. And the friend they reached out to is a Christ-centered believer and immediately responded in full on “Esther” mode.
If you are doubting the the point of you. If you are feeling small. If you are feeling helpless. Unloved and unworthy and irreleveant. I have a message of encouragement for you:
Right where you are.
With what you’ve got.
And all that you lack.
Under yet another spiritual attack of doubt and fear by the ultimate perpetuator of lies.
In defiance of satan with a lower case “s.”
Wholly dependent on the Holy Spirit to equip you in your weakness.
Speak truth in love, not about what others lack, but as a witness to what you’ve FOUND through a living and intimate relationship with Christ through the Holy Spirit who dwells within you.
You are where you are through God’s providence. Wherever that is, you are in a unique position to see someone who is unseen. To look them in the eye and listen to them. To let them know they are seen and genuinely heard.
You are in a unique position to be a WITNESS (that’s a noun, not a verb) to the grace and unconditional love of Jesus Christ.
“A person cannot receive
even one thing
it is given him
John 3:27 (ESV)
I have nothing unless it is given to me from Heaven.
First and foremost,
that means grace.
John 6:44 tells me: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”
I hate the hard truth of this, but I know that if left completely to myself, I would not choose God. If I drill down to the core of each and every sin, I recognize a desire to act independently of God. That desire to choose for myself what is right or wrong, rather than submitting to God’s authority, is sin.
And sin separates me from God.
It’s by grace that my intimate, living, dependent relationship with God is restored through Christ’s sacrifice. Grace that is given to me from heaven.
Secondly, it means everything else:
Of course there’s all the tangible “stuff” like a home, a car, the food in my pantry and fridge, the computer I’m typing on…
but so. much. more. is “given to me from heaven.”
– My husband. My children.
– My health, my strength, the fact that I don’t live with chronic pain and have never faced a life-threatening illness.
– Success in any endeavor, whether it be work, ministry or anything else.
– Financial security.
– My talents. Not only knowledge, but my ability to read and understand and learn.
– My imagination. Any idea I ever come up with.
– My awareness of God’s presence and movement in my life.
– The courage and motivation I find to be obedient when the Holy Spirit prompts me to act or speak.
– The indwelling of the Holy Spirit which equips me beyond my own abilities. Romans 8:9-11
– The confident that is grounded in fact that He is “with me wherever I go.” Joshua 1:9
– The peace that comes from a relentless awareness of his sovereign providence. Job 42:2
– And then there are the harder things that His Word promises He will work for “good” and are meant to “conform me” to the image of Christ.
The trials I don’t understand.
The seasons when He is silent.
The fact that I struggle to submit to His authority. Daily. Sometimes hourly.
I have NOTHING unless it is given me from heaven.
The breath I just took.
I can’t take credit for any of it and I’m not in control of any of it.
Dependent upon the Holy Spirit to remind me, I need to be diligent about remembering all this and being grateful. When I’m mindful and grateful, I’m a better steward of all God blesses me with, and that includes the blessings in disguise.
“Whatever you do,
work at it with all your heart,
as working for the Lord,
not for men”
Colossians 3:23 (NIV)
The first word that jumps into my head when I read this verse is: competence.
I’m not sure when I first figured out that – as someone who professes faith in Christ – everything I do and say reflects on Jesus. There were probably multiple factors involved in coming to that realization:
~ I remember when I was young and first began working in the legal industry, there were multiple highly educated, wealthy people who belittled my faith and spoke condescendingly to me as they expressed that they perceived me to be idealistic and naive because I believed in God and “wasted my time” serving in church. If I listened to the root message under the messages, it was always grounded in the opinion that the only people who believed in God were less educated, less “successful” in the business world and, well…perpetually stuck in a lower socioeconomic class. Those people were sad and underprivileged and believing in God made them feel better. An “opium for the people” kind of a thing.
~ This is really going to date me, but I remember sitting in a hair salon and being simultaneously and intensely challenged by multiple women to defend Christianity in light of the sex scandal involving revivalist evangelist Jimmy Swaggart, a prostitute and a hotel room. It blew me away that, based on his bad behavior, not only was my faith suspect, but Christian faith overall was being attacked and rejected. I realized with much clarity at that moment that Christians were being watched like prey and sometimes attacked for sport.
~ When my kids were little, I remember telling them that no matter where they are or who they are with, when they wear their school uniform, they represent their school. Their words and actions are a reflection on their school. It was a short connection to realize that because the uniform was printed with the name of a Christian school, the kids were described by those watching as “those kids from the Christian school.” The tone of voice was telling as to whether the statement was an indication of approval or disapproval. When the comment expressed approval, it was often spoken with pleasant surprise, while the disapproving comments were more sarcastic and dripping in “it figures” and “what do you expect?”
I’m sure I could think of more examples, but you get the idea. Back then and today, despite the number of Christians with advanced degrees, well-paying careers and lives suffused with gracious words and actions, they are very, very often thought of as uneducated, unskilled, poor, illogical, ignorant, unreasonable, undependable…the list could go on…
Colossians 3:23 reminds me that it’s possible to challenge and even change those perceptions. It’s possible for someone who professes faith in and dependence on Jesus to be viewed as intelligent, competent and dependable. But to intentionally and consistently “work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord,”
I need to:
– as much as I am able,
– as consistently as I am able,
– grounded in an acute awareness of my dependence on the Holy Spirit
to equip me in mind, body and spirit, and
to bless me with determination and stamina and resilience
– regardless of whether the work is directly related to ministry or whether the work is within a secular field.
– by not spreading myself so thin that I can’t come close to a standard of excellence or even achieve “good enough” status in one of my commitments, much less all of them.
2. Choose to speak edifying words – affirming progress as an indication of success, encouraging hope and motivating other people to strive for excellence – instead of
– expending time and effort calling (repeated and/or extended) attention to someone else’s shortcomings and mistakes.
– tearing people down.
And in the process of that striving and choosing, I find that
~ I’m letting go of the white-knuckled grip I have on my right to choose and I’m allowing myself to be conformed (by the Holy Spirit – not only by my own efforts) into the image of the son of God, Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29),
~ I’m being a good steward of the gifts and talents God has blessed me with, (Matthew 25:14-30) and
~ I’m tangibly expressing genuine gratitude to God, for the countless blessings in this abundant life I’m living with Him – regardless of my circumstances. (Colossians 3:17)
I know I’m not the only follower of Jesus who is striving for excellence, extending grace, being conformed, being a good steward and expressing gratitude. My prayer is that every time a Christian hunter, or even just a non-believer, encounters one of us Jesus Freaks, the “with all our hearts” serves as a strong, positive evidence for authentic faith in Jesus Christ.
In my previous blog post, practice God’s presence. forget. remember. repent. (repeat, ad infinitum), I talked about practicing the presence of God by pretending Jesus was physically present with me everywhere I went. I confessed that, despite my sincere intentions to be aware of God’s presence with me throughout my days and my moments, I chronically forgot Jesus was with me. I realized I couldn’t remember on my own.
I needed help.
I was striving – and struggling – and failing – to consistently engage in an intimate, living, dependent relationship with Christ.
Change is difficult, but I’m a firm believer in the old adage “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” I knew that this intimate, living dependent relationship I so desperately wanted wasn’t going to just happen because I wished it.
It requires intention.
It requires discipline.
Intellect says you make time in your life for the things you love.
Reason says that if you want your life to change you’ll have to do something different.
So I had tried intention and discipline. With the best and strongest of intention.
No matter how “hard” I tried, consistency was elusive. To say I was frustrated would be an understatement.
And then, God reminded me of something Paul said:
“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”
Romans 7:15, 18b
My natural inclination is to try harder. But if Paul couldn’t even do it…
My next inclination is to feel guilty about it. Is that What did Paul did? Continuing to read in Romans:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit…
Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.
Romans 8:1, 5, 8-9
Intention is needed, but it is not enough.
Discipline is needed, but it is never going to be enough.
Remembering that Jesus is with me everywhere I go requires a dependence on the Holy Spirit.
I could. not. do. it. on my own.
So instead of trying to remember Jesus was with me all day long, I began to pray that the Holy Spirit would remind me that Jesus was with me all day long.
Sounds like semantics, but oh, what a DIFFERENCE.
I already know the Holy Spirit dwells within me because of my relationship with Christ:
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit,whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
I can’t remember on my own. I can’t do anything on my own. But the Spirit who dwells within me CAN.
Therefore he told me, “These signify the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by strength and not by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD who rules over all.”
So, I stopped “trying” to remember Jesus was with me everywhere I went and I began praying for the Holy Spirit to remind me, again and again and again, of His presence in my life.
Do I forget to ask the Holy Spirit to help me?
to be continued…
In The Fallacy of a ‘Good Christian Life’ (the previous post in this series) I concluded with the statement:
“All in all, I spent over 40 years striving to live a good Christian life. Some of that time was before I became a Christian. Sadly, some of that time was after I became a Christian.”
Until October of 2007. That’s when God led me to two books. Sifting through hundreds of books at a rummage sale, I stumbled upon a worn copy of “The Taste of New Wine” by Keith Miller, published in 1965. Around the same time, I discovered the existence of a short, 112 page book called “The Practice of the Presence of God,” which is a compilation of documented conversations and letters written by a 17th century French monk named Brother Lawrence. As I read these two books, God revealed something I had been missing my entire life. I had never noticed I’d missed it because I never knew it even existed.
An intimate, personal relationship with a living God.
As I affirmed in my last post in this series, I had been in a relationship with Christ since I was 15 years old. It’s just that the relationship had boundaries. After reading these two books, I saw those boundaries clearly for the first time.
Keith Miller was a layperson who wrote about how he had decompartmentalized his life and began to live authentically as a follower of Christ. He took down the barriers between his professional life, his church life, his personal life – everywhere he had segmented himself in an effort to appear as the person he was expected to be in each role in his life. Most people would assume that kind of transparency would make others uncomfortable. That he would be ostracized, alienate friends and lose opportunities for career advancement. That people would be offended when he talked about what God was doing and teaching him in his life. Instead, he found that living authentically and transparently opened respectful dialogs and deepened his relationships with the people God placed in his life.
Brother Lawrence worked in the kitchen and, as the title of the book says, he “practiced the presence of God.” All the time. And by doing so, he epitomized 1 Thessalonians 5:17, which tells us to “pray without ceasing.” I had never understood that verse until I read how Brother Lawrence described it:
“The time of business does not differ with me from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were on my knees.”
Keith Miller and Brother Lawrence had a kind of relationship with God that saturated their lives – their days and their moments, regardless of where they went or who they were with. They experienced an acute awareness of the presence of God in their lives, so much so that they felt like they were never alone. They had the kind of faith that fueled a continuous conversation with God as if He was a tangible person in their lives instead of some abstract entity they couldn’t see.
Once I knew that kind of relationship with God was possible, I wanted it.
I wanted it bad.
Since October of 2007, God has been teaching me and molding me into someone who is determined to pursue that kind of intimate, living, dependent relationship with Him. Over the years, I’ve adopted a number of Biblical discipleship practices which help me decompartmentalize my own life and live authentically and transparently, grounded in my intimate relationship with Him.
Through this series, I hope to share those practices with you.
But there’s a risk.
I find myself between a rock and a hard place when trying to describe core discipleship practices in a way people can absorb and carry with them unless I use short descriptors. Which can easily turn into a list. A kind of “Christian to-do list” which could, if we’re not careful, manifest itself into living “a good Christian life.”
Some might even call it a new law. In The Fallacy of a ‘Good Christian Life, the previous post in this series, I said:
“Satan is the master of distraction, getting us to focus on to-do lists and never-do lists instead of on discipleship and relationship with Christ.”
Helping Satan distract people from a relationship with Jesus is the last thing I want to do. I believe the key to preventing a lapse into a routine of checking off these practices on a to-do list lies in the reasons behind the practices, which have to be put BEFORE the descriptors – in both the explaining and in the striving to live out.
That said, I’m going to introduce the 9 key Biblical discipleship practices I strive to incorporate into my daily life in my pursuit of an intimate, living, dependent relationship with Christ. These 9 discipleship practices are represented by an acrostic using the word “Pragmatic” and in a greater context, they are the foundation of what I call “Pragmatic Communion.”
Pragmatic is my word. I’ve been using it for nearly 20 years, after I read this definition in an old dictionary:
pragmatic adjective \prag-ˈma-tik\
“concerned with causes and effects or with needs and results rather than with ideas or theories.”
Pragmatic. This word fits me like a glove. I don’t want to think about how something works, I want it to work. In this context, I don’t want to think about how to grow closer to Christ, I want to grow closer to Christ.
Communion can be defined as “the sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings.”
Since October of 2007, I’ve continued to grow in my relationship with Christ through a Pragmatic Communion with Him built on these 9 practices, which I’ll be writing about over the next few months.
Read (& Study)
Do I follow these practices all the time?
I wish I could say yes, but no. I don’t.
Because I’m human. And I forget God. People do it all the time. God’s chosen people forgot him. Again and again and again – and I’m no different. Brother Lawrence forgot God, but here’s what was said of him when that happened.
[When Brother Lawrence] “had failed in his duty, he only confessed his fault, saying to God,
‘I shall never do otherwise, if You leave me to myself;
’tis You must hinder my falling,and mend what is amiss.’
That after this, he gave himself no further uneasiness about it.”
That last line is my favorite. He forgot. He repented. He went back. He forgot, He repented. and he went back.
“And he gave himself no further uneasiness about it.”
CLICK HERE to read the next post in this series.
facebook fragments: 5/31/14 – 6/13/14 (fitness milestones, falling curls, FavoriteSon’s birthday & Magic Kingdom)
Saturday, May 31, 2014
I must admit, I was secretly hoping my personal trainer would forget our appointment today, but now that it’s over, I feel MUCH better having made it through. Today’s milestones include two one minute wall squats, the first while doing 23 bicep curls with 10lb dumbbells and the second while doing 22 hammer curls holding 12 lb dumbbells and three sets of 12 push-ups with two 2 minute forearm plank sandwiched in between the push-ups. Did the first 6 push ups wearing a 12 lb weight vest. (what a difference THAT made!)
Monday, May 26, 2014
“I woke up in America for the love of God.
I woke up in America for something bigger than myself.
More than fireworks and fanfare.
More than a star-spangled banner.
You’re still beautiful America”
(Looking back, these facebook posts just don’t seem like the should have been in the same week.)
Prayer warrior friends, please pray for my mother-in-law. She’s been suffering from severe gastroparesis (inability to digest food) for weeks. Every treatment so far has failed. She’s lost over 15 lbs. This evening she’s sitting in an ER waiting on a bed. (since about 5pm) The two remaining treatment options are either an implanted gastric neurostimulators (“stomach pacemaker”) or a feeding tube. Please pray.
facebook fragments: 5/10/14 – 5/16/14 (friends who avoid conflict & evil teachers who assign food projects)
Sunday, May 11, 2014
I was tagged in a facebook post my my daughter:
“So, I’m watching The Little Mermaid and I caught my mommy quoting some of it. #succes #ilovemymother
Happy Mother’s Day Mommy!”
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
If you have a conflict with someone, consider attempting to resolve it, even if it means facing something you regret or are embarrassed about…unless that relationship is one that you actually don’t want in your life anymore. Avoiding conflict, and ultimately the other person, is a surefire way to allow the relationship to fade from your life.
On the flipside, if a relationship is important to you but the other person is avoiding you to avoid working through the conflict, you may have to respect their decision to transition the relationship from friend to acquaintance…or to “someone that I used to know” status.