Can People Trust You?

Trust (noun):

reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.

Trust is something for which most of us long.  We treasure those in our lives that we know speak the same of us when we are not in the room as they do when we are.  We esteem those whose are good for their word.  We understand how rare it is to be surrounded by others who we can put full confidence in their transparency; their support; their faithfulness.

Unfortunately,  I find it more and more common for trust to be as old fashioned as grandma’s party line telephone.  (My grandmother actually had a party line…oh the eavesdropping we did…but that’s a story for another day.)

Why is mistrust such a prevalent theme in life. With all the increased means of communication and visibility (via the internet, primarily), one would think that we would have higher levels of trust.  Yet, it’s not the case.

Do you think it’s because we are all living with so many hiding spots and loopholes?

Think about how many hiding spots exist.  Social networks allow you to create a online personae that can be completely disconnected from your real self.  Who of you will have any idea if what I write about here finds any reality in my life? Hiding spots are more than just staying out of the public eye.  Hiding spots can be self-promotion of exaggerated egos, false humility, feigned friendship, secrets, and undisclosed agendas.

If a hiding spot can’t be found, you can avoid personal authentication through a loophole.  One ramification of living in a litigious society is that we have all learned that no matter the responsibility, a loophole can always be found to avoid ownership.  Nobody has to get pinned with anything.  (Which is really so silly since “I’m sorry” is just not that hard to say.) Common loopholes are blaming, staging, pretending to have not understood and playing the victim.

The problem is that hiding spots and loopholes find a way of seeping down into our personal relationships.  Like foam that rises to the top, our relationships suffer from the weakness of integrity and moral ambiguity that our hiding spots and loopholes nurture. We stop speaking honestly and genuinely.  Hard conversations get avoided because parties understand commitment to relationships are no longer needed.

I’m concerned about what this is doing to our churches.  The early church was marked by their sincere and devoted love to one another.  We still say we do that.  But we’ve made it too easy on ourselves-we let online definitions of ‘love’ and Hollywood superficiality define what the church should be defining for the culture.  How many people in your church can biblically define the love Jesus commanded?  If so, can they point to its substance in their life?

Would you agree that part of the reason the ‘world’ doesn’t trust the Church is because there’s no integrity in the love they espouse?   (And yes this probably includes your church, don’t deceive yourself…I talk to too many people and read too many blogs of those who are see right through many of the slick lines.  People know when they are loved.)

I don’t trust people whose words don’t match their actions. The apostle Paul has a habit in his writings of using the phrase, “here is a trustworthy saying…”  He then goes on to describe the actions of the subject of his writing.   (Usually the subject is Jesus, but one time it is the elders of the church.)

It matters that people trust us. The responsibility of being a trustworthy person falls on you…on me.  We need to be done with our talk (especially our double speak) and we need to start connecting the dots of our beliefs with our everyday, hiding spot free, and loophole absent actions.

Where will you begin?  With whom?

Greater than Our Forgetfulness

I’m prone to forgetfulness.

Mind you, I never forget useless trivia, failures, and disappointments.  These details of life get worn around my heart like tarnished trinkets on a bracelet.

My forgetfulness is much more dangerous.

I forget the words of truth…and those whose speak them, the victories won, and the faith-that-moves-mountain moments.  I forget that I have been “drawn with chords of love.” 

When I do, I falter.  I feel alone.  I feel defeated.  Actually, inside I faint and hide my fear behind screens and excuses.  Profound fear that God will not come through. 

And faith shrivels up a thousand deaths as I let my circumstances condition my convictions about God.

I forget the mighty acts of God in my life.  His voice grows faint behind the thick wall of other’s opinions.  His favor gets lost in the sting of other’s betrayals.  I shove His truth into such a small box that I can’t find where I sat it down. 

I have been camped out in this dangerous wilderness of forgetfulness.  Lost.  I believed I had penetrated the deeps of the forest so no search and rescue could find me.   Yet…you can run from truth, but He will find you.

When He does, He will tell you what you need to remember.  What you must recall to get back on the path.  He will remind you of who you are, what He has done for you, and what He requires you to do.

His remembrances always speak a greater truth to our forgetfulness.  Always. 

“Then the Lord said to me, ‘Arise, proceed on your journey…’  Now, what does the Lord require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and soul, and to keep the LORD’s commandments and His statutes which I am commanding for your good.  Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it.  Yet on your fathers did the LORD set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day…For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the LORD of lords, the great, the mighty, and awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe.  He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.  So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.   You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name.  He is your praise and He is your God, who has done great these great and awesome things for you which your eyes have seen”  (Deuteronomy 10:11-21).

Like a child, my heart shouts, “I know, I know, I know!”  And I do…but I forget. 

Thank you, LORD, for being my remembrance!  Help me to walk out of this foggy forest in the strength of Your truth.

Clarity

I love clarity.

Clarity–(noun)
1. clearness or lucidity as to perception or understanding; freedom from indistinctness or ambiguity.
2. the state or quality of being clear or transparent to the eye; pellucidity: the clarity of pure water.

If ever I become President, my first initiative would be to have mandatory infusions of clarity for every politician, theologian, and organizational leader.  If only such a thing were possible!  Oh, what a beautiful world this would be.

Or would it?

This week for my Parable Bible Study, we explored the Parable of the Seed:

The Parable of the Growing Seed

26 “He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”    (Mark 4:26-29)

The line that gets my heart all contorted is “although he does not know how.”  There’s no clarity in that!

Parables are Jesus’ way of teaching about the kingdom of God.  Just as His disciples wanted to know then, we today want to know:  What is the kingdom of God and how can I belong to it?   This parable in particular reveals that the kingdom of God involves a process. The seed is scattered, there is a time of unseen growth, followed by the seen growth and eventual harvest.  While theories abound as to what the seed and harvest may be, the point of the parable is focused on the process.

It is about the mysterious necessity of faith.  The kingdom of God requires an acceptance of “not knowing how,” but an assurance in the heart that “it does.”

I like my assurances to come with more substance than “I don’t know.” I like plans, especially detailed plans.  I like it when plans are executed accordingly.  But this doesn’t really require much faith, does it?

I don’t like not knowing if my mom will be healed of her cancer.  Or if my sons will walk faithfully in their heritage of spiritual upbringing.  Or what my life is going to look like in three years.  Will God keep my nephew safe in Afghanistan? Will I always have this annoying autoimmune issue?  Will I ever be all that I believe God wants me to be?  Am I where God’s wants me to be, doing what He wants me to do?   I wish I knew these things, and much more.

Think about it:  When are you most apt to have the most faith?  When a crisis hits and you don’t know the solution or its resolve.  Right?   And then when the crisis is “over, we’re so relieved.  We check “exercise faith” of the list of things to do.  I think we get this wrong.  Maybe when we have a  kingdom mindset we can welcome all the questions and unknowns as our way of  participating by faith in the mystery of God’s activity in our life,  even if we can’t see it…yet. If you’ve ever had a doctor give you potentially bad news, or received a foreclosure letter in the mail, or held a pink slip in your hand, or had a spouse walk out for good, then you know exactly what I am talking about.

As I look freshly through this parable, I can see how much for what we ask of God…and expect of Him, really requires very little faith.  So many of us, myself included, want the all-powerful God to act in our lives in such a way that we would scarcely need faith at all. No, none of us want the “night” of unseen growth–we just want God to wave a wand and plant full-grown oak tree.  Righteousness, peace, and joy–all virtues of the kingdom–take time to grow.

Maybe it’s safe to say that in matters of faith, clarity is antithetical to the kingdom mindset. This is discomforting to my flesh, but deeply satisfying to my heart.  How?  I’m not really sure–it just is. “…the seed sprouts and grows, though {she} does not know how.”

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

How about you?  Do you find discomfort in the mysterious ways of God?

(If you’re looking for a scholarly study on the parables, I highly recommend Stories with Intent by Klyne Snodgrass.)

Struggling Not to Struggle: Change is Hard Work

It has been 42 days and twelve hours since I had my last Diet Coke.

…and I still instinctively reach for one at least three times every. single. day.

I gave up Diet Coke for the obvious reasons.  Anything that contains ingredients you can’t pronounce without getting tongue-tied is inevitably going to be bad for you.  As I have spent the last several years trying to get the upper hand on an autoimmune disorder, I was well aware that the three to four cans of Diet Coke I was drinking daily were not helping.

Yet there was another reason I gave up the Diet Coke:  One day it dawned on me that I was not drinking it because I was thirsty, or liked the flavor, or needed a caffeine boost.  I drank it because it was a habit. Around 11:00 every morning I would zombie up myself and stumble for the nearest can I could find. Quite simply, I drank Diet Coke because I had been drinking it for years and the brain was on auto-pilot.

Since trying to awaken myself to a new habit of not drinking that can of obsession, I have spent an inordinate amount of time reflecting on habits, change, and what it takes to be the best version of one self. Where else in my life are bad habits whittling away family relationships, work performance, and most importantly my devotion to Christ?

Through this, I’ve determined if you want to be the best version of you–whether that’s you personally, or you as the representative of a family or organization–it’s going to take hard work to change.  In the development of habits, the ones that are unhealthy are the ones of which you are least aware.  What are the things you find yourself just doing because you do them?  Are those actions contributing toward the person you want to be?

If you are looking to be healthier in your personal world, your work world, or your social world, you will need to take some radical steps in a different direction. Your make-over won’t just happen.  Even if you take a step in the right direction today, you must resolve to take that step every single day. Once is not enough.   You will need all the courage and conviction you had on day one and you will have to exert constant energy toward your goal. If you’re really making a change from old to something new it should feel like you’re rowing up-stream.  Are you struggling to keep pointed in the direction of your goal?  Or are you just floating along with the current of old habits?

It’s so easy to slip right back to where you started.  No difference.  No change.  Just the status quo…no matter how unhealthy that may be.

Where are you needing resolve?  To what are you inclined to slip back into?  My little can of Diet Coke is teaching me what a mighty big challenge change can be. I understand your weariness and frustration.  I get how silly it feels struggling not to struggle.   But don’t give up!  Keep going!  Give it all  you have got!

Advent: The God Who Keeps His Word

Today was a frustrating day.

Something I had invested a lot of time and prayer into was blown out of the water.  The plans and the hopes I had for it crushed under the weight of disappointment.   How quickly dreams can slip away from us. 

It made me think of Mary.  Life was on a pretty good track until all was interrupted by the angel’s news. How quickly everything changed for her.  Instead of enjoying her preparations for marriage, she would harbor an unplanned child and the judgmental scorn of her people. 

Yet Scripture tells us that Mary surrendered herself to God’s interruption.  “I am the Lord’s slave,” said Mary.  “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).   Mary accepted that there would be more to the story than what would be visible to the eye.   

Advent reminds us to take God at His word.  When things don’t go as we planned.  When hope needs to pick itself up off the floor and begin again.  When frustration and disappointment mix up a nasty cocktail of “what could have been.”  Take God at His word:  “For nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). 

I’m needing my heart to cling to this truth.  Something tells me I’m not the only one.

Thanksgiving: Generosity

“But I have trusted in Your faithful love; my heart will rejoice in Your deliverance.  I will sing to the LORD because He has treated me generously” Psalm 13:5-6.

I presume like you, there are many barren places in my life.  Places that stand empty, disappointed, and frustrated.  Places that will remain so, until the Lord inhabits those places with generosity of provision.

Reflecting on what I already have received from the Lord helps me to remain hopeful in the desert places.   I already have so much.  I already have all I truly need.  I have been treated generously.

Last night in my theology class we discussed the nature of man.  We explored the messy stuff: sin, depravity, shame.  And the beautiful reality: Image-bearing, redeemable, glory.  I left sobered…and grateful.

Grateful God has generously given me His image when He created me.  And because He has, I never lack value in His eyes.

Grateful God has generously given me His love.   His love is always pure.  Never stingy.

Grateful God has generously welcomed me into relationship with Him.  He likes me.  He is always happy to see me coming.

Grateful God has generously forgiven me.  I don’t deserve forgiveness.  Yet, I certainly need it.

Grateful God generously instructs me.  No matter how dull a student I may be, He keeps patiently working on me; believing I will become the me I am not yet.

Do you find yourself today in a desert place?  Feeling empty?  Abandoned?  Consider God’s generosity toward you and let it stir up hope in His future, yet unseen, work.

“who not what”

I love a good game plan.  Especially in a time of great need, a solution that holds possibility energizes me to action.

However, a bad strategy… Oh my!  Within seconds I find myself with a knot in my stomach the size of Kansas and a headache more persistent than a precocious five-year old.   It is insufferable to me, especially if I am asked to be a part of it.

I have to think  Moses shared this sentiment when God described His strategy for getting the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus 4).  Having been raised an Egyptian, Moses received the plan with cynicism.  Signs or no signs, Moses most assuredly had seen spectacular signs in the House of Pharoah.   Moses knew that the Egyptians would require more than staff turned to a snake to convince them that he represented a God with whom to reckon.

I easily identify with Moses.  My first response to a call is to wallow in self-doubt (see yesterday’s post), only to overcome it and become overwhelmed by what other’s will think of my call. Will they believe it?  Will they listen to me?  Will I be ignored, discredited, or dismissed?  However, I am most significantly paralyzed by analyzing if something will work.  How many times I’ve concluded it won’t and declared, “Oh no, Lord, send someone else.”

God makes it clear to Moses he is to trust the Sovereign Planner, not the plan, not himself, not another’s response. “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind?  Is it not I, the LORD?” (Exodus 4:11) Simply trust God.   The life of faith is always settled in the “Who?” question, not the “What?” question.   

Many “What now?” questions riddle my life.  Today I will answer them with the”Who?” question.  How about you?

“He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just.  A faithful God who does no wrong.” Deuteronomy 32:4

“stuck”

What do you do when you can’t make a decision? 

Uncertainty has to be the most crippling state of mind for me.  I’m not one who is usually indecisive.  However, right now I’m faced with a decision that makes my brain hurt every time I think about it.  I don’t know what to do.

I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do…prayed, searched the Scriptures, sought good counsel, and made a pros & cons list.  Still no answer.  In fact, I’m not any closer to discerning what to do then I was a year ago when I first brought this situation under consideration.

So now what?

I’ve determined there are only two answers

     1) I don’t care enough about this to risk making a decision.

                                                            or

    2) I care so much I’m terrified of making the wrong decision.

Everyone I’ve talked to tells me to wait…be still and wait until God makes the direction clear.  If I’m being honest here, either of the reasons for my not moving forward ooze with fear.  If I’m afraid to move forward, is my ‘waiting’ just a self-righteous posture for hiding?  If so, that’s makes me feel really lame…lame that I don’t trust God more, lame that I’ve let this thing become such a roadblock, lame that I’ve let fear have so much power in my life.

What I’ve decided today is that fear doesn’t just make feel lame, it really does paralyze and keep us from doing what we were created to do…enjoy (trusting) God!   It’s time for this Gideon to get out of the winepress.  One thing I’m learning is that no matter where your ‘hide out’ is–a winepress, a relationship, a job–they will all suffocate the vitality of faith out of us.  We weren’t created to hide–even though it’s a human condition to do so (see Gen. 3)…hiding is cowardly, no matter how nobly you dress it up.   

So today instead of asking God what should I do, I am going to ask Him how He would like me to enjoy trusting the sufficiency of His plans and purposes!  Today, no hiding.  Only seeking!