Losing Jesus

I’m taking a short vacation from blogging. During this time I’d like to share with you some posts from other people who had interesting and challenging things to say. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. This one comes from a friend, Leura Jones.

I’ve had words spinning in my head for several weeks, thoughts on summer ending and school starting that I thought I needed to put out there and share with my tiny part of the world. I even got most of it written down, just yesterday.

And then today happened. I got a good, stiff slap-in-the-face. I needed it. Thank you, God, I needed it. It came in the form of a message spoken by a man named Jossy Chacko. If you haven’t heard of him, google him and the work he’s doing in India. His message was that we’ve lost Jesus. The church in the United States, in particular, has lost Jesus. He said we’ve lost our focus, our sense of mission. Like Mary and Joseph traveling home from Jerusalem at the end of Luke 2, we’ve gotten distracted by all that encumbers us and we’ve taken our eyes off Jesus, losing Him in the crowd.

(You can read the rest of Leura’s post at: http://turaleura.blogspot.com/2016_08_14_archive.html#3745691219169317991.)

What and How, Not Why?

I can think of better ways to cap a Fourth of July celebration than doing a face plant in a downtown parking lot. However, a face plant is what I did.

It was night. About 90,000 people (real numbers—that’s what the TV reporter said!)  and I were headed to cars after the fireworks show.  I tripped off a curb into a storm drain, and landed on my face. At first I didn’t know if it was gravel in my mouth or teeth. It turned out to be teeth. Mine. Two of  ‘em, shattered into smithereens.

Later that week, after spending many hours and a much of money at the dentist (with follow up scheduled for still more dental work) a friend told me that she was struggling on my behalf. God could have prevented my accident. Why had He allowed it to happen? she wondered.

Now that’s a valid question. I wasn’t surprised by it because it’s one I’ve asked God many times about other hard things that have happened in my life. What surprised me was that the question hadn’t even crossed my mind this time. Why not?

As I thought about it, I realized to my amazement that my primary emotion regarding the accident and its aftermath had been gratitude. Thank You God that I was with friends when this happened! Thank You Lord that my jaw wasn’t dislocated, and no bones were broken. Thank You Father that I have dental insurance to help with some of the cost. Thank You Jesus that the damage to my face is far less than it could have been. Thank You that I didn’t get a concussion. Thank You God that friends care about me. Thank You that I have soft foods to eat.

And then the biggest thank You of all: Thank You, God, for proving to me that You are with me even in the middle of hard and scary things. Thank You for showing me that I can trust You to take care of me, even in the hard stuff I never could have planned for.

Background: the future sometimes seems scary. It’s a common feeling many of us widows share, especially if we don’t have our peeps nearby. God reminds me over and over in His Word that He will be with me in the future, come what may. But my inexplicable gratitude in the midst of this accident (I take no credit for it at all—it’s was the Holy Spirit, trust me!)—classifies as a near miracle.

I pondered some more and recalled the good advice a friend had given me years earlier: Instead of asking God “Why?” he suggested, try asking Him, “What are You doing in this and how do You want me to respond?” I’ve tried to practice that advice over the years. I certainly don’t do it every time, but apparently it is becoming more of an instinct. (Yay, God! Thanks for continuing to do Your good work in me!)

On this occasion, I don’t actually remember specifically asking those questions. Still, I had a clear impression of what God’s presence and purpose in this hard thing. It’s like He was saying, I want you to see that I am with you no matter what. There’s a lot to be grateful here—focus on that. See all the ways I am with you? Can you start to trust that I’ll be with you in the future, too?

And I did! And instead of feeling mistreated or abandoned, I felt loved and cared for. Instead of feeling afraid, I felt faith rise up. And even some joy!

I still don’t know why God allowed the accident to happen. But I’m glad He helped me see what He was doing and how I could be with Him in it. And that might even be better than knowing why!

 

Unpredictable

I generally demonstrate a decent amount of common sense. I often think in fairly logical ways. And I kind of like that. I like being logical and using common sense. It seems smart. Safe. Comfortable.

But the other day God threw me for a loop. When you ask for the “mind of Christ,” [1 Corinthians 2:16] exactly what do you think you are actually asking for?

I pondered His question. I thought about how wise and quick-witted Jesus was. But I also thought about the many times He defied “common sense” and “logic.” Often it seems that the only thing you could predict about Him was His unpredictability.

He touched people with contagious diseases (Matthew 8:1-3).

He commanded His disciples not to take provisions for their journey (Luke 10:4).

He chose as His apprentices men whom most people considered to be losers (Acts 4:13).

He insisted that we have to die in order to live (Matthew 16:25).

He offended important people—and didn’t even seem concerned about it (Matthew 15:12-13).

He preferred the company of prostitutes and crooks to that of important religious people (Matthew 11:19).

He rebuked His devoted friend for sticking up for Him—twice! (Matthew 16:23; John 18:10-11)

So why, when I ask God for the mind of Christ, do I expect that He will make me smart in primarily respectable, prudent, polite, and understandable, ways? Even Jesus’s own family thought He was “out of His mind” (Mark 3:21). Is that the “mind of Christ” I’m signing up for?

Apparently yes.

As you can imagine, I’ve had some interesting conversations with God about this. He has messed with my rational, logical, efficient, common sense thoughts: thoughts about stewardship (see last week’s post), voting (I can’t say anything more—at least not in this crazy election year) talking to strangers, handling interruptions, responding to social invitations, dealing with work situations, accepting criticism.

I’m paying more attention these days to my gut reactions, intuition, emotions, and wild ideas. Not that I run with every one—that’d be crazy! But I’m realizing that ignoring them (as I usually do) might be just as crazy. So I’m trying to take those “less logical” thoughts and feelings and ask God about them. Is that You, God? Are You wanting me to notice something here? Or to act in an out-of the-box way? Then speak, because I’m listening!

So far, it’s promising to be an interesting ride. But why did I ever think having the mind of Christ would be predictable?

 

Joy in the Midst of Obeying

Last week I had an argument with God. (Spoiler alert: He won.)

It took place in the Walmart parking lot, and it had to do with how I responded to the guy who was asking for money for a teen outreach. I didn’t put anything in his donation bucket. I wasn’t convinced it would be good stewardship. I didn’t know his group. It wasn’t ECFA approved. They’d probably spend my donation on junk food or administrative costs.

As I walked to my car, the Holy Spirit nudged me. It was more like a shove, actually.

That young man loves Jesus. But he’s discouraged. Did you see it on his face?

“Well, yes, now that You mention it, I guess he did look discouraged.”

There’s more than one way to think about stewardship. You don’t know that young man’s story . . . the risk he’s taking to stand on the curb outside Walmart and ask people to support a ministry that has changed his life and that he prays will change the lives of others.  Your gift—even if it were used entirely to buy Coke and Hostess cupcakes—would encourage that man and let him see that he is not alone, that I see him. He needs to know that I am with him, that his love for Me and His faith and obedience matter.

I saw the Lord’s point. But I didn’t really want to do donate. It wasn’t about the money. It was about my pride. I felt foolish going back there after turning him down the first time. So I suggested that perhaps I would do something about it the next time. Would that be okay?

I could tell from His silence that I’d not given Him the answer He was looking for. So I asked Him how much, got that amount from my wallet, and went back. As I approached the table again, the young man looked wary. I smiled at him and said simply, “I changed my mind.” Then his face broke into a surprised grin. Our eyes met, and in that moment, I felt joy. I felt deeply connected to the Father and also to this brother in Christ.

***

The next day, I was reading in John 15. Verse 10 jumped out at me: “When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love” (NLT).

Something jumped out that I’d never seen before. Previously, I’d thought of that verse in cause and effect terms: If you clean your room, then you can go play. If you finish your peas, then you can have dessert. If you obey my commandments, then you will experience God’s love.

But what I saw this time gave me new perspective. The remaining in love, the joy, comes as I am obeying. In the midst of doing the kinds of things that Jesus does and wants me to do with Him. It’s not obey first, then experience love, joy, peace, and all God’s good stuff—it’s obey and while I’m obeying, He’s right there with me, filling me with all His that He is.

I like that. I hope that next time, instead of arguing, I’ll jump right in there and receive His command as an invitation to share—and experience—His love and joy. That’s a whole lot better than wrestling with Him in a Walmart parking lot.

 

 

The Problem with YOLO     

YOLO: “You only live once.” It seems like a harmless, possibly helpful motivational slogan. It sounds kind of like an updated version of Carpe Diem, and “Seize the Day.” But YOLO has an insidious underbelly. If you’re not careful, it could wreck your faith.

Two Foundations of Faith

Here’s what I mean. There are two principles that should be grounding, guiding premises of every Christian’s life.

  • First, that God’s kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. As children of God’s kingdom, we live present-future lives. We know that this life is not all there is. In fact, this life is merely preparation for the life-unending. Death is not the end. Disappointment, pain, and suffering do not have the final word (Psalm 145:13; John 11:25; Revelation 21:4).
  • Second, that “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5: 7). Faith, by definition, is “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). In other words, a hopeful, joyful patience—an optimistic ability to delay gratification—should be a basic mindset of believers.

YOLO’s Short-Sightedness

On the other hand, YOLO

  • says that these 80 years (plus or minus) are all we get so there’s no time to waste, not a moment to lose.
  • promotes fear and panic: because you only live once, you must grasp and grab everything you can before you make your final exit.
  • encourages self-centeredness—you deserve to fulfill all your dreams, and you deserve this now (even if you have to push ahead or step over others to get there). *
  • leads to discouragement and despair over lost opportunities and failures because YOLO doesn’t understand or expect redemption. Because we only live once, we must get it right the first time.

I sound like a killjoy, I know. But bear with me. What happens if you really believe in YOLO? How does that affect your hope? Your joy? Your faith?

Abraham didn’t believe YOLO.

If Abraham had believed in YOLO, he wouldn’t have waited 25 years for an heir and then been willing to sacrifice him! But Abraham didn’t believe that we only live once. He “reasoned that God could even raise the dead” (Hebrews 11:19).

If Abraham had believed in YOLO, he wouldn’t have given up his comfortable lifestyle in Ur and wandered around in tents for decades—continuing to believe God’s promise even on his deathbed, even though he never received so much as an inch of the Promised Land in this life. But Hebrews 11:10 says that Abraham “was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God”—Abraham knew that this life isn’t all there is. There’s so much more that lies ahead.

The Benefit of Hindsight

Grandparents pray for their grandchildren for decades, often without seeing results. They sometimes die before seeing their loved ones come to faith or return to the Lord. But haven’t we all been amazed by testimonies from people who attribute their spiritual rescue to the prayers of their faithful grandparents—even after those grandparents had passed on?

Missionaries have sometimes spent their entire lives in foreign lands without seeing fruit from their labors. Yet, God promises that His word will not return to Him void (Isaiah 55:11). Amazing stories have been told about groups of people who have come to the Lord as a result of those faithful ones’ witness—but years after. The missionaries themselves died without knowing. They were like the people in Hebrews who “died in faith, without having received the things they were promised. However, they saw them and welcomed them from afar” (11:13).

People (like me) have prayed earnestly for their loved ones’ healing. They have prayed in faith, believing. They have persevered and not given up. Yet sometimes their loved ones died without receiving that healing. How does that kind of disappointment work in a YOLO world? Isn’t it a faith destroyer? But for those of us who reject YOLO, who believe in an eternal kingdom and life-unending, and possess a faith whose results don’t need to be immediately visible, we can joyfully anticipate the happy day when we will see our loved ones whole again, with perfect bodies, completely restored, body, mind, soul, and spirit.

The Benefit of Future Sight

I need God’s timeless perspective on my life, on my prayers, on my labors. He sees it all from the vantage point of eternity—which looks a whole lot different than my temporal view. He reminds me that for those of us who believe in Jesus, though we die, we shall yet live (John 11:25). He promises that He will make all things new (Revelation 21:5). He proves that He can use the worst circumstances to bring about good (Genesis 50:20). He remembers our work, our prayers, our suffering—and He is will not let it be in vain. If we don’t see it in this life, then we will see it in the next. And then it will be glaringly obvious how mistaken the idea of YOLO really was.

But God

I’m finding it hard to keep from dwelling on all that is wrong in the world these days. I’m not really a nattering nabob of negativity (thanks to my son for teaching me that wonderful descriptor).  But you have to agree that each new day seems to bring news of yet another frightening, sad, or evil thing that is happening in the world—both at home and far away.

Things like . . . Airport bombs in Brussels and Istanbul. Other major terrorist attacks in Nice, Orlando, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. Religious freedoms stripped from Russians. Police murdered in Dallas and Baton Rouge. Great Britain exiting the European Union. Turkey’s government threatened by a coup. Civil war fomenting in South Sudan. Tasteless, corrupt, and scandalous behavior displayed in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.  And everywhere, evil called good and good called evil (see Isaiah 5:20).

I’m not being cranky, I promise. And I’m not pining for the good old days, either—if such days even existed. But these things do weigh me down.

So much so, in fact, that my prayers recently have been more groaning and pleading than praising. And while a lament is therapy for the soul once in a while, I don’t recommend a steady diet of them.

The other day I apologized to God for all the heavy-hearted praying I’ve been doing lately. He responded with two simple words:  But God.

I was a little puzzled. “But God? What do You mean?”

As I pondered, I recalled some of the psalms in which the writer described evils and troubles and then said things like

“But God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish.” (9:18)

“But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself.” (49:15)

“But God will shoot them with his arrows; they will suddenly be struck down.” (64:7)

“But God has surely listened and has heard my prayer.” (66:19)

“But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (73:26)

“But God is my King from long ago; he brings salvation on the earth” (74:12)

I decided to try my own version of “But God.” I grabbed my journal and wrote down everything that was causing me distress. Then, after each, I wrote “But God,” and invited the Holy Spirit to show me what I needed to know about God to bring peace to that concern. My list looked something like this:

The world is full of evil.

But God is righteous and good, and He rules over all.

Governments the world-over seem to be in chaos and panic.

                But God is steady, our Rock and Prince of Peace.

Our nation appears to be unraveling and our leaders are full of pride and deceit.

                But God is our true King, and He reigns forever.

Those who are supposed to lead us justify and promote evil while mocking what is good.

                But God is truth. He is just and merciful and will bring all things right in the end.

Our culture is distracted and indifferent.

                But God sees and knows all and is attentive to our cries.

I am battle-weary and tempted to give up.

But God is my strength and shield. He will defend and uphold me.

This simple “But God” exercise was the re-orientation my soul needed. It redirected my focus to where it needed to be: on God who is the answer to every problem that faces our troubled, broken world.

I wish I could say I did this exercise once and everything was all better. Not so. I need to keep going back to it. But that’s okay. I doubt very much that God is bothered if every day—or even multiple times each day—I have to take the time to refocus on who He is and return my attention to Him.

 

 

 

Alone, But Not Lonely

Does the following seem like a paradox to you?

“If we are unable to be alone, we will be more lonely. And if we don’t’ teach our children to be alone, they will only know how to be lonely.”*

That idea was certainly a paradox to me—until a few years ago.

Although I’m an introvert, I was really lonely after my husband passed away. Our son had already left the nest and settled into his own adult life, and now, with both of them gone, I was completely on my own. I was 46. I couldn’t imagine going on for decades like this.

So you can imagine my dismay when someone I respected made what seemed like a really insensitive suggestion: “I think the spiritual disciplines of silence and solitude would help you.” He was completely earnest.

Outwardly, I maintained calm—but inwardly, I was shrieking! Had he heard me? My husband had died. My nest was empty. I worked from home–alone. I had no housemates. My closest family lived 2,000 miles away.

Solitude? You could hardly find anyone who had more of it than I did!

He gave an explanation—I don’t remember it now—but it wasn’t much help. To me, silence and solitude was the last thing I needed. But, perhaps in deference to this older man’s wisdom, I actually tried to take his advice to heart. I made an intentional choice to avoid filling my days with noise and activity, including media—though it was very tempting.

I didn’t become a hermit—I still did things with friends, participated in church activities, and occasionally invited people in. But I did probably 80 percent of my life in silent solitude.

Somewhere during that deafeningly quiet season, the Holy Spirit directed me to John 14:23:

“Jesus replied, ‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.’”

I’d read the verse countless times before, but this time was an arrow straight to my heart. God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—wanted to make their home with me! They wanted to fill the quiet and solitude with themselves!   They wanted to share their life with me and have me share my life with them.

As I meditated on their invitation, I realized that if I’d filled my life up with activity, I might not have heard the invitation. I might have been too busy or distracted to notice God reaching out to me. But the silence and solitude had prepared my heart to be wide-open and hungry, ready for them to move in and occupy my home, my life, with me.

It’s not that the Trinity wasn’t with me before. It’s just that when my life was full of people, sound, and activity, I wasn’t as tuned in. I wasn’t as aware of my need. I didn’t reach out as much or notice God reaching out to me.

But as I started living into this awareness, I found myself engaging with God. Thanking Him, out loud, for little things. Asking Him for help with things my husband used to do for me. Talking over problems and decisions and taking enough time to hear His response. Letting Him know when I was lonely or discouraged and asking Him to meet me there. Sometimes I even went out to a restaurant alone with God. Or on a weekend away in the mountains.

It didn’t happen overnight, but eventually, I realized that there had been a shift. I wasn’t lonely as much. The weekends didn’t seem so long and empty. I was more aware of God’s presence. I wasn’t lonely, although I was alone.

 

*Sherry Turkle in Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age. Turkle writes from a secular perspective, but her thoughts about what we lose when we are constantly connected to technology should be thought-provoking for any Christian sees the need for making intentional space for God.