When God Disappoints

Have you ever done the hard work of obedience only to find that circumstances in your life  went from bad to worse? Today I’m talking about that over at Pick Your Portion.

What are you supposed to do when you follow through on your part of the deal, but God doesn’t show up to seal it? God’s command + Man’s obedience = Where’s the blessing? How’s one supposed to react when God can be so wildly disappointing?

Do you still taste the salt from tears you cried wondering why God didn’t show up in power at a moment ripe for his victory? Do you still feel the flush of embarrassment from the time you walked away shamed and shunned by false accusation while the wrongdoers got off scot-free? Does your heart still have cracks from the tremor of the wicked prospering, while the hard working, integrity-filled were laid-off, over-looked, and defeated?

You can read the rest over at the Pick Your Portion site. Join us there!

L’Engle on Obedience {Quotable}

Aside

For Christmas my niece gave me Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water (Northpoint Press, 1980). This book is L’Engle’s reflection on faith and art. What does it mean to be a “Christian creative”? I’m finding it hard to put the book down. Here is one, of what I believe will become many quotable excerpts for reflection.

Obedience is an unpopular word nowadays, but the artist must be obedient to the work, whether it be a symphony, a painting, or a story for a small child. I believe that each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius, or something very small, comes to the artist and says, “Here I am. Enflesh me. Give birth to me.” And the artist either says, “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” and willingly becomes the bearer of the work, or refuses; but the obedient response is not necessarily a conscious one, and not everyone has the humble, courageous obedience of Mary.

How often do you think about your creative expressions in terms of obedience?

Getting Serious

No one takes a donkey seriously.

This morning I picked up Mark Labberton’s book The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor:  Seeing Others through the Eyes of Jesus (2010).  It was quickly set down to create space for meditation.  Only a few pages in, I was convicted.

Mark recounts his reading of the Triumphal Entry to his young son.  At the conclusion, his boy announced, “Jesus is in my heart.”  The glimmer of fatherly joy and pride was quickly sobered by the boy’s next question, “But where’s the donkey?”

“Trust me, [child], the donkey is there too…the ass is always at hand!”  We may or may not have Jesus in our heart, but even if we do, we also have the donkey (see Romans 7).  We all know the donkey of resistance, of prejudice, of self-absorption.  It’s part of the heart problem we share, and most of the time, it’s not cute, let alone just or life-giving.  ~Labberton

I don’t know a lot about donkeys, but I know that nobody chooses a donkey for something needing serious conviction and execution.  Donkeys are slow, stubborn, and most inefficient.  No, if the situation calls for swift action, you get yourself a war horse, a stead of mighty and swift speed.

I personally believe that there were a number of reasons Jesus rode on a donkey through the streets of Jerusalem, none less important than that He was fulfilling prophecy.  Zech 9:9 “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; he is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.”   The donkey was a symbol of humility, a despised mode of travel.    The donkey was fitting for Jesus—He was humble, and maintained a lowly position.  The donkey He rode for His inaugural parade stood in contrast to the power, pride, and self-promotion of the Roman, and contemporary, leaders.

But, if as Labberton relates, sin is the donkey in our heart today, do we really despise it?  Does our sin humble us?  Do we treasure the gospel greatly enough to let it have its full effect in our lives?  Are we serious about it being driven from the land?  Or are we okay with it slowly, yet persistently having a daily parade?

Our King has come.  Jesus has brought salvation.  He need no longer be placed on a donkey.  He needs to be mounted as warrior, ready to deal decisively with His enemies—the enemies that are hiding out in your heart and mine. 

Will I let Him?  Am I ready for the pounding hooves of conviction to come stampeding through my heart?  I know I desire purity in my inner places; I long to be an instrument of His peace and justice.  Yet I recognize this morning how I can’t bring His peace and justice to others if I tolerate the donkey of violence and injustice in my own heart.

This means I am going to have to get serious about selfishness, pride, and self-righteousness, all of which distract me from the needs of others.  It’s time to war against the notion that I can live with the donkey; that I am doing okay or at least “well-enough.”

There is good news.  We do not war alone.  “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another so that you may not do the things you that you please” Galatians 5:17.  The Spirit helps us.  In fact, He fights for us!

The text in Galatians 5 continues on to describe what the “donkey” of sinfulness looks like (vv. 19-21) and also what the victory of the Spirit over our flesh looks like (vv. 22-23).  Whether we like it or not, we are in the war—on one side or the other.  Maybe today is a good day to take assessment of the battlefield.

One side note:  I love how this Galatians passage puts this war in the context of relationships.  Battles will be won and lost in the way they get expressed in our value of others.  “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another” Galatians 5:13-15.  We cannot know and express God’s heart for others as long as we tolerate the donkey of hate in heart.  Why is this important to note?  The world will not take our “donkey” seriously.  If we want the world to know how great is the love of God, they need to see it really take shape in the way we treat one another.

What will it be for you today?  A war horse or a donkey?   

[Please note:  I have not progressed beyond the introduction of Labberton’s book.  This post is in no way an endorsement of its content—but I hope it soon will be.  It’s off to a good start! ]

Living Hymns

It has occurred to me that part of the difficulty in the church today is that too many of us are singing hymns, but far too few of us are living our lives as one.

Hymns are songs or anthems of praise or adoration. (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/hymn) Is it possible that we’ve narrowed the context down too little, reserving hymns for old-fashioned church services?  What would happen in our homes and communities if we started practicing the virtues we’ve espoused  inside the church building?

I know this is not a new conversation…It’s one I’ve been having with myself for the last, oh say, 20 years of my life.  Most likely, you’ve been having it with yourself too. I just can’t seem to wrap my mind around the incongruent nature of our worship:  We praise God with words on Sunday morning, but curse the NFL ref by mid-afternoon.  We pray for the needs of the community, but walk callously by those we pass on our way home.  We say we want others to know of God’s greatness, but we live in such a way that conveys we’re not wholly convinced.

We need to be reminded that the Psalmist’s exhortation is for us today:

Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth.  Serve the LORD with gladness, come before Him joyful singing.  Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and now we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.  Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise.  Give thanks to Him, bless His name.  For the LORD is good; His lovingkindess is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations”  Psalm 100.

What would change today if I lived as a hymn?

1. I will spend my time thinking about God.

2. My words will be shaped by God’s greatness.

3. My actions will be reflective of His goodness.

4. I won’t grumble and complain.

5. I won’t be judgmental of others.

6. I won’t be proud.

How about you? What will be the theme of your hymn?

Walking With the Lord

My new puppy hates his leash.  

I mean really hates his leash.  It goes on and he goes crazy.  Howling and barking and twisting and turning–attempting everything to break free.

Without the leash, he will have a very boring life.  He’ll never adventure on the horse trails.  Parade around the show ring.  Cheer for his boys at the baseball park.  He will stay home and enjoy the 10 by 4 portion of  yard where we have deemed it safe for him to roam without a leash.

It occurred to me yesterday as I watched the foolishness of his fight against the leash how in so many ways I am no different.

When the Spirit of God attempts to lead me to learn something new, I often grumble and complain and resist and revolt.  Fear of losing my freedom keeps me from being truly free.

Free to enjoy the places of appointment for which God is training me.

By resisting God’s leading, I see how He must then keep me in small, predictable areas for my safety.

This picture of my puppy has helped me to better understand what Paul meant when he said, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” Galatians 5:25.

The Lord has a great adventure for us–trails to explore, show rings in which to shine, and grandstands from which to cheer.  But we must first learn to walk in step with Him–as if on a leash.  This is meant for our good and for God’s glory.

Do you find yourself resisting the Lord’s leading in the very thing in which He is intending for your good?

“obedient as a shadow”

In reading A Testament of Devotion by Thomas R. Kelly, I am turned topsy-turvy by the awareness of how often I shirk off obedience.  Wow!  Those aren’t easy words to write…even harder words to face as my reality.

Kelly describes the surrendered life as “obedient as a shadow.”   A shadow has no solidary path.  It only follows its source.

This forces me to face up to the answers the question begs in my life:  Am I a shadow or a source?  

I want to be a shadow…When pride wells up in me, I want to be the shadow of Christ’s humility (Phil 2).  When hate, masking itself as apathy or criticism, dresses my heart, I want to be the shadow of Christ’s love (I John 3).  When cynicism clouds my vision, I want to be the shadow of Christ’s light and hope (I John 1).    But somehow my wants are not getting me the desires for which I long.  I continually find myself being my own source of all that Christ is not…and it truly bums me out.

I have to believe that the author of Hebrews had our tendency to be our own source in view when he wrote, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured…so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”  (Hebrews 12:2-3)

If I focus my eyes on Christ, I can’t help but be a mere shadow.  One look at Jesus exposes pride for what it really is…idolatry.  It is impossible to treasure an idol when you are intoxicated by the One, True God. 

A shadow is devoted to the greatness of its source.  No one can grab hold of a shadow.  What humility would mark my life if I lived in such a way that when people need to grab hold of something (or Someone) certain I would slip through their fingers and they would grab hold of Christ!   Oh how I long for others to catch a glimpse of my shadow only to encounter my Savior’s love and hope. 

I’m challenged to be a shadow of His light in places where darkness, deception, and double-mindedness prevail.  I am challenged to  shadow His patience when others are exceedingly intolerant with poor service.  (Has anyone else noticed that a declining economy is contributing to worsening customer service?  Hooray!  An opportunity for Christ-followers to stand out!)  I am challenged to shadow His forgiveness and love when coworkers malign or marginlize me.

How about you?  Are you more often a source or a shadow?

Today, consider Him…those two words could turn the world upside down.