Nuggets: What were you expecting?

So, my hubby comes out of the field for (what feels like) the 100th time today. This excursion was only a couple nights, but a quick glance back at the month of October and I realize the heavy toll I’m feeling is grounded in the fact that we scarcely had a single weekend together last month.

I’m sitting comfortably at my kitchen table, enjoying quiet time with Jesus and waiting for Eve to wake. He texts me and suddenly my mind is off, thinking about what our evening will hold, happy that he has tomorrow off and conjuring up a myriad of expectations for our window of time together:

I want him to enjoy Eve … I want to feel intimate and close to him … I want physical affection … I want a chance to talk to him … I want him to express an achy “I missed you guys” too … I want him to tell me about what happened out there and how things went … I want to talk to him about some ideas rumbling around in my head … I want to make fun plans for this coming weekend since he’ll finally be home …

Quickly, (thankfully) God stopped my musings.

Haven’t we talked about this before?

This single greatest danger I have allowed to enter our marriage through my own weaknesses is expectation. Expectation of another fallen human being is doomed for failure, reaps disappointment and breeds discontentment and ultimately bitterness.

Psalm 62:5 says, “My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him.”

My expectations have no place but in God. There is no one else who will meet them every single time. There is no one else in whom they are safe. There’s honestly no one else who can handle them and no one else who can comfort me when they go unmet.

Where are your expectations today? What are you going to do when someone lets you down?

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Nuggets: How to Rest

Most of us know we’re sleep deprived, or at least over worked and stressed out. (Come on, it’s the modern curse that this is actually a badge of honor!) At the same time, most Christians are fully aware of God’s call to rest. If nothing else, in the 10 Commandments, we learn that God modeled a Sabbath rest for us.

Wouldn’t you like to take a rest?

It requires more than you think. Resting is costly.

Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”… Matthew 11:29

The prerequisite for rest, for truly letting your guard down, giving up control and walking with the Spirit is ultimate humility.

Yep. Rest might cost you your reputation, your wealth, your esteem, your drive and more.

True rest is found beneath the yoke of Christ. Look at Him. He tells us to learn from Him about rest and He certainly wasn’t taking a lot of long naps!

No, spirit-deep rest is found in surrender, gentleness and humility. But I have a feeling, that when we learn these traits from Jesus, we’ll find a supernatural rest that even affects us physically and mentally.

 

When Seasons Collide

Dead leaves on bench

It’s the collision of the seasons.

Here I stand on the precipice of my favorite season–autumn. Summer is merging with colder air, the leaves are giving up their green and their death grip on brittle branches. I’ve already broken out the jeans (still paired with flip flops), and I’m reticent to recall shorts.

All this exquisite splendor is the harbinger of time well spent with loved ones and favorite people in front of the fireplace, with a good book, cuddled on the couch, over a good cup of coffee (or a deliciously dark beer!)

And so, my soul is singing with anticipation, but I’m sad too, my heart is a little wounded and my hopes are fragile. It’s strange for me, this mix of opposing feelings. But I suppose it’s good–that tears are mitigated by laughter and disappointment with excitement. 

I’m not sure how much time I’ll get to spend with my husband this fall. Yes, last year about this time he was leaving for Africa, so count my blessings (more on that later) he’s safe here in the states. But, we have suddenly launched into a season of such intense training and planning that I scarcely see him for a half hour a day. And waiting in the wings are a few weeks where they will work straight through the weekends–at least 21 days in a row.

And this sadness, I might have shared earlier, but I wasn’t ready–a couple months ago, I miscarried the baby my husband I never thought we could never have.

We never planned or risked the hope of getting pregnant. So when we learned in late July (with utter shock!) that I was expecting, we were floored. Just as surprising was the joy that overtook us! We couldn’t wait to hold our baby! But that wasn’t God’s plan. Somehow, our little one lived a purposeful life, and filled the purpose of his life in just 11 short weeks.

We survived that.

But now, the pain is refreshed each month. We’ve dared to think we can try now. We’ve dared to step into the realm of miracles only God can do–and to hope. And that’s scary.

So, as you can see, my emotions (fragile as they are), are swirling like the autumn leaves shimmying to the ground. And it’s tempting to complain to God–a lot. It’s easy right now, to form all “prayer requests” around the little phrase, “God please!!”

God, please give us a baby. God please give us more time together. God please give my husband a day off. God please help me to be kind and compassionate and understanding …

You know, I think all that is okay. Today I was scrounging for peace–the peace that God promises in Philippians when we present our requests to God:

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

And suddenly, it dawned on me. There were prerequisites for that peace. I’ve met one prerequisite by simply praying, the second one is harder–with thanksgiving. 

I can’t have this unbelievable peace as long as my prayers sound like whiny pleas. Of course, I still believe God will answer those prayers, but I’m sabotaging my own peace if I insist on whimpering and repelling His peace with self-imposed anxiety, even as I pray. My attitude, even my emotions, is my responsibility.

So, I changed my prayer:

God, thank you for your marvelous plan of blessing and deepening our marriage in this season. Thank you for balancing the sorrow of this season with nature’s beauty. Thank you for giving us a baby, for making us parents. Thank you for teaching me your own faithfulness through pain. Thank you. Yes, thank you.

Deflating the Misery Index

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy … “ Romans 15:13

Statistics show that you are miserable—albeit less miserable than you were last year.

Did you know that there’s such a thing as the Misery Index? In the 1970s, Arthur Okun, created a simple formula to measure the happiness of the average American. The equation is the unemployment rate plus the inflation rate, and as of February of 2015, the number is the lowest it’s been since the mid-1950s.

But, Americans still express a dismal outlook about the next six months. A recent article on NPR suggests that the formula is just too simple for today’s economy. They factor wage growth and consumer debt into the equation and surmise that the economy is still the culprit for our misery.

But what if there’s more to it? St. Augustine said, “”You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” And God’s own Word tells us, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).

Even those who deny the deity of Christ or shun His saving sacrifice, understand the need for hope, joy and peace. It is the lack of those things that inflates our misery index—not simply empty pockets. As Christians, we possess the antibody to the world’s misery. In the grip of Christ, misery is indeed foreign to us; the love of Christ has dispelled it.

As we brave the world today, let’s flavor our witness with joy. The world is ripe for it.

 

Clean Forever

river-scene-2-1413837-mHow often do you take a shower? Hopefully more than once in a lifetime.

How often do you cleanse yourself from sin? How do you do that anyway?

There are some pretty scary verses in the Bible that demand that we be cleansed from sin. According to 2 Corinthians 6:17 and 7:1, unless we are cleansed from sin, we cannot take full advantage of God’s awesome promises. In 2 Corinthians 6:16,18 Paul spells out several of God’s promises, enough to us really excited:

I will live among them

I will walk among them

I will be their God

They will be my people

I will welcome you

I will be your Father

You will be my sons and daughters

Sounds great right? Until you turn the page and find the caveat at the beginning of chapter seven: “Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God.”

It’s that little word cleanse that scares me. I know that God is holy; how can I ever be pure enough, clean enough, pure and virtuous enough to lay hold of those awesome promises? I want to know God as Father, to be welcomed by Him and to walk and talk with Him. But even if I’m good and clean enough for one day, what about tomorrow when I mess up again?

I wonder if ancient Israel dealt with such fears and guilt under the sacrificial system. After all, the priest constantly offered sacrifices and burnt offerings. Every Israelite knew they would break God’s law again, but they also knew there would always be one more lamb slaughtered for their sins. Day after day, week after week, year after year, they could walk away from the temple confident that they had cleansed themselves from sin in the blood of a lamb. God washed away their filth in an animal’s blood and once again they walked in God’s favor. All of God’s promises for protection, deliverance, health and provision were theirs.

So what about now? How do we cleanse ourselves? How can we be comforted in knowing that today’s sin and tomorrow’s sin is washed away as completely as yesterday’s sin, so that we can claim the sweet and precious promises of God?

As a whole, in the modern church, we act as if we are cleansed at salvation—that glorious, single moment when we prayed and accepted Christ’s payment for our sins. But then, we must keep ourselves clean. We stand from our knees determined to be better, purer, more God-honoring, cleaner people with set-apart lives. But uh-oh, merely 30 seconds later, or maybe it’s 30 minutes or 30 days—but sooner or later we feel filthy, tarnished and unfit all over again. For us, there’s no behavior, no lamb or other sacrifice or ritual we can perform to make us feel clean again. Are we doomed?

The word cleanse in 2 Corinthians 7:1 is katharizo. It means “to clean, cure, free from sin and guilt; to purify.” It is actually used over and over again throughout the Bible and many times in the Gospels.

The interesting thing about the use of the word katharizo in the Gospels is that it nearly always refers to something Jesus did. Specifically, this is the word used when Jesus healed lepers. Cleansing is an action performed by Jesus Christ. 

So how then can we “cleanse ourselves” as 2 Corinthians instructs, since we are obviously hopeless to keep ourselves clean? We cleanse ourselves from earthly things and sins, just as the ancient Hebrews did: we come again with the Lamb to the Father’s throne. No, Jesus doesn’t die again, His sacrifice was once for all, supremely more powerful than the blood of bulls and goats. (Hebrews 10:1-10)

When we come to the throne with Christ, the once-for-all sacrifice, the Father again—and over and over again for all our past, present and future failures—sees Christ’s sacrifice and deems us clean. The only way we do this, when we fail, is to anchor ourselves again in the knowledge that we ARE clean, because of Jesus.

We cleanse ourselves not by working to “stay clean” but by repeatedly coming, grateful and humble to the cleaner.

Below are several more verses that bear this out. I encourage you to look them up, dig The Word yourself and discover your ever-compete cleanliness.

Revelation 7:14, 1 Corinthians 6:11, Hebrews 9:12-14, Ephesians 1:7, Ephesians 5:26,

Titus 2:14, Hebrews 9:14, 1 John 1:7, 9

The Fruit of Fretting

Most of you know, my husband is currently deployed. This article was written several months ago, but I find it again relevant–even to me, the author.

We recently talked  on LASTing Peace, about fear being idolatry. This article explains another way that fear, also known as fretting, can sabotage our Christian lives.

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He started it.

Yes, he snapped at me first, but you’d think I could’ve held my tongue and finished with a “win”. Especially after all my praying lately.

Just two days ago, I even sent my husband a text message telling him that I prayed to be a Proverbs 31 wife to him: “Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.”

With all my heart I want to learn to control my tongue; to face temptation and make the right choice—not to sin. In that moment, just before I retaliated, I saw the choice, clear as an angel and a devil perched persuasively on my shoulders. I saw it, and in the split second that it takes to activate one’s vocal chords thoughtlessly, I snapped right back. And just as James says, I set a fire.

“The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” James 3:6

After his harsh words, my husband apologized immediately. He came toward me to give me a hug. With self-righteous flare, I turned my back on him. “No, I don’t want it. You’re not sincere, you’re just trying to make me stop being angry.”

He dropped the fight. That’s one thing I simultaneously admire and hate about my man. He  can simply drop his arms, turn around and let the whole argument go. All the while, the heat of anger and bitterness simmers in my chest. He settled into the couch with his computer, but a fire had already broken loose in me.

Tearful, I huffed into the bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed. “God, why? Why is he so heartless and uncaring? Why doesn’t he care about making up? Why doesn’t he notice that I’m really hurt?”

I don’t know who I was more angry with—myself or my husband. Yes, Patrick’s words were hurtful and the capstone to my mounting frustration as I played second fiddle to his computer games all weekend. But still, when the opportunity to express forgiveness, to respond with abundant joy that rests on Jesus and not on my husband’s behavior—when the opportunity to engage the Scripture I’ve been memorizing presented itself, I glanced away from the proverbial “angel” and bored full ahead into my husband with a devilish piety.

God says His Word never returns void. So true. Even as I sat there, sulking over my hurt and groveling in my shame, my newest memory verse came to mind. Psalm 37:8 says, “Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.”

That morning, in my quiet time, I had examined a couple of those words in the Hebrew. Fret means “to be incensed, to get hot”—in American vernacular think of “smoldering anger” or “fuming”. The most poignant definition of the word evil is “to shatter”.

As the evening waned, I sat in the darkening corner of my bedroom and listened to my Heavenly Father. Gently, without accusation, He prodded my heart with the truth: I could choose to fret and be angry. But if I did, I was playing an active role in shattering my relationship with my husband, to say nothing of my own peace.

Often we are told that fretting or worrying is pointless. We are reminded that being angry or bitter hurts us more than the person at whom it is directed. But God’s Word takes it even further. To simmer, steam or be hot and angry tends only to shatter—relationships, peace of mind and communion with our Heavenly Father.

I wish I could say I came out of my room right away with a glowing countenance and words of restoration. No, I sat there a while longer and wrestled with God. In fact, it took me until the following morning to face my husband and humbly ask his forgiveness. When I did, I saw the fruit of God’s Word bloom. Proverbs 12:25 says, “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.”

The wonderful thing about knowing Jesus is that even when things are shattered, He is our healer. He can restore all things, even relationships and a peaceful heart.

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Ps. 147:3

It Is Telos!

It Is Telos!

Why do you think Jesus died?

Let me give you a hint—I’m not looking for the Sunday school answer.

To discover the truth, you have to go way back before the Gospels. You have to go back about 700 years before Jesus was even born.

Isaiah 53:3-5 says,
“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (ESV)

Did you catch it?

Of course Jesus died for our sins. Of course, it is through His substitutional payment that we are forgiven by God and enjoy full freedom now, and eternal life forever. That’s what we learned in Sunday school and it’s absolutely true. But did anyone ever point out that Jesus bore your grief and sorrow? Did you notice that his punishment entitles you to peace and healing?

The word for sorrow here is ma’kob in the Hebrew. It means both physical and mental pain. And the word for healed is rapha’, which means many things. It can refer to the restoration of nations, a restoration of favor, the healing of national hurts and personal distress.

I don’t mean to minimize the truth that Jesus’ death on the cross paid for our iniquities and transgressions. (Those are big words for rebellion, perversity, depravity, iniquity and guilt.) Every single person on earth needs to be rescued from those things; no one is innocent of them, and each one must be paid for.

However, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was complete in so many more ways than we recognize in our annual skim through the last few chapters of the Gospels. There’s a recurring word in the final chapters of John that points to the all-inclusive, all-encompassing, all-surpassing, finished work of Jesus. It is the word telos. Telos means: the end of an act, that by which a thing is finished, the aim or purpose.

The first Scripture that I’m referring to is John 13:1. The Bible says that Jesus “loved [His own] to the end”, or telos.

Next, in John 19:28, as Jesus hung on the cross, moments before He spoke His last words, the Bible gives us a peek into His mind. “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished…”.

Finally, Christ’s last words, “It is finished,” in John 19:30.

I think the word telos in each of these verses bears more weight than we ascribe. Throughout His ministry, Jesus said that He came to give us many things—far beyond our Sunday school answer of eternal life and heaven. Jesus said that He came to heal the sick, to bind up the broken hearted, to bring us abundant life and complete joy. (Matthew 9:12, Luke 4:18, John 10:10, John 15:11)

Where would we be without this Savior? Of course we would be alienated from God, dead in our sins, condemned for eternity. When we believe on Jesus Christ, according to John 3:16, we are saved. Then that it gets better than we ever imagined! We receive all good things from the bounty of our generous Heavenly Father’s riches.

“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32, NIV)

Yes, thank Him for salvation! But may we fall to our knees with wonder and gratitude for all that He has given us—far beyond eternal life. Jesus came for our sorrows and sickness. He came to bring healing, joy and life.

There is nothing that we need or desire that remains undone. Believer—It is Telos!