Lent 2015

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon The Words and find myself drawn repeatedly to them, mesmerized by them, hungry for them….challenged by them.

I’ve not yet read all of the words – at least not in this format.

I’ve chosen to do so during Lent.

Here is my reading for today.

Blessed are you who hear the word of God and follow it where it leads. In doing so, you will be like the servant who, when the master comes, is found doing right.

Blessed are you, who put your whole trust in God. Yours is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you, who are acquainted with sorrow, for you will be appointed great comfort and courage. Blessed are you, who with humility recognize your need of God. The whole earth will be yours. Blessed are you, who hunger and thirst after righteousness. You will be satisfied and filled. Blessed are you, who are merciful. You will receive mercy in return. Blessed are you, who are pure in heart. You will see God.
Blessed are you peacemakers, for you will be called the children of God. Blessed are you, who pursue salvation. You will become the citizens of the kingdom of God. Blessed are you when you suffer blame and are spoken of evilly for doing my will. Rejoice! Leap for joy! Great is your reward in heaven. In a similar manner, they persecuted the prophets before your time.  (The Blessings)

 

Seeking Glory From God

Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. (John 12:42, 43 ESV)

Sad, isn’t it?

One would think that the glory that comes from God would be in such high demand that people would give up all they have and are to obtain it.

But, it wasn’t so when Jesus walked as light in a dark world.  And, it isn’t so now, even in a world basking in the glow of Easter week. The celebration of Easter Sonrise was only two days hence…how quickly we slip back into life as we live it.

We consider ourselves enlightened. But, in truth, I wonder if the light is within us at all…within me.  My thoughts and actions seem so dark at times….  Is it possible that those dark moments come because I’ve taken my attention from God (Light) and placed it on myself or on others?

After 6.5 weeks of Lenten focus on seeking God’s approval and not man’s, one would think I have moved beyond giving a flip about the approval of others and become contentedly eager to seek the approval of God alone.

One would think….

Ultimately it matters only what God thinks.

And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. 45 And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. 46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. 47 If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. 49 For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” (John 12:44-50 ESV)

May it be so with me – without fear, without apology, without wavering, without concern, without the approval of others –  “What I say, I say as the Father has told me.”

Final Day of Lent 2014

“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:10 (NIV)

Six and a half weeks ago I began my blog post with Galatians 1:10, just as I’ve begun this one.

It was the first day of Lent and a long journey stretched before me.

Galatians 1:10 was the platform from which I launched my 2014 Lenten journey.

This journey has taken me into myself and beyond – into the mind and heart of Jesus.  And, it has revealed much about both. Some…I knew already.  Other things…I thought I knew but was mistaken about.  And, much…well…I had/have a lot yet to learn.

Today marks the final day of my Lenten “fast” where I “gave up” seeking the approval of others.

How have I done?

Ha!

Let’s just say this journey doesn’t end with Easter’s sunrise.

Easter simply marks the beginning of the next stretch of my journey into becoming someone who seeks God’s approval above all and chooses to live above and beyond the noise and clatter of the demands for the approval of those around me.

May God give me the strength, the courage, the wisdom, and the foresight to speak, the to refrain from speaking, to act, to love, to live in truth, seeking only God’s approval even if that means I let the chips fall where they may and those around me wag their heads in disapproval and misunderstanding.

Resurrection morning is coming and with it, the power of Spirit Living.

40 Days of Lent – Today

I’ve one week to go in my Lenten journey.  Choosing to do my own thing, I’ve not taken Sunday off (as is the custom of some).  That means I’m on day 40 and have 7 more days to go.

This journey has been a difficult one – a struggle in which victory seems beyond reach.

I am easily overcome…overwhelmed…by the expectations of others.  I want to please Jesus and live confidently into who I am, what I am, and who I am becoming – but I find myself drawn again and again into the old habit of pleasing people.

I want to celebrate Christ in me and embrace who God (Father, Son, Spirit) is growing me to be. I want to move beyond all that clutters and distracts and free myself to live fully a life that is pleasing to God. But, I’ll be honest – some days I am so wrapped up in the expectations of others that I don’t even give a thought to what God expects of me.

A minimalistic lifestyle – that sounds so good to me. But, instead of less I find more being piled upon me.

The expectations of others clutter my life, my thoughts, my hopes and dreams.  They create static that blurs the reception of those things Gods desires, expects, hopes, dreams of me and for me.

As I look around me, I see the desires and expectations of others oh so evident – in my life, in my thoughts, in my emotions, in my struggles, in my time invested, in my house, in this room….

Two things are evident to me as I share my thoughts.

My attention to the static from others interferes with my ability to see plainly the way of Jesus and to walk confidently.

Note that I said “My attention to” not “the static from others” – the problem is that I’m allowing the expectations of others to affect me…bury me…conquer me…run-over me…overcome me…prevent me from…overwhelm me.

The problem is MY ATTENTION to the expectations of others.

I need to become indifferent…unflappable…unconcerned…unmoved…unbothered by the desires and expectations that others place on me.  .

But how do I accomplish that?  And, what do I do with the negative feedback that I will receive from those who expect me to be otherwise? (Vicious cycle, isn’t it.)

My focus must be on the desires and expectations that God has for me as a follower of the Way of Jesus.

And, the only way that I know to do that is two-fold:

  1. Get rid of everything that others expect me to have, to hold, to take care of, to be, to do, to be a part of (a good place to begin would be with a big box – maybe several of them – and just place everything that I don’t care for or didn’t invite/want in my life in it, or that no longer fits who I am or who I am becoming).
  2. Immerse myself in God’s Word and in prayer, seeking above all to know and to follow the Way of Jesus and lean hard into living a life that seeks God’s approval and not that of people – becoming who God has and is creating me to be.

I’ve 7 more days of Lent.

Do I expect to emerge Easter morning a new creation?  I’ll admit…I’d hoped I would.

No. This ugly caterpillar is going to require more than just 47 days for her transformation to take place.  Morphing into a beautiful butterfly might be possible if I could isolate myself  and live in a cocoon for the duration…40 days in the proverbial wilderness…and emerge changed…new…different.

But, one thing I do know…when I placed my faith in Jesus and began my journey in the Way of Jesus, I became that new creature – old things passed away and all things became new.

The problem is, I keep going back to that old way…it seems so…natural and familiar.

And, complicated and cluttered and frustrating and consuming and….

Stupid of me, isn’t it.

Today is Palm Sunday – the beginning of the walk that leads to the cross.

The cross…that’s where my focus needs to be these next 7 days.

34 Days into Lent

I’ll be honest – life got in the way last week and shoved Lent aside.

Did I live into pleasing God and not people? I don’t know. I lived and loved and leaned hard into what each day presented me.  Without pausing to consider whether a thing was done with the purpose of pleasing God or people, I acted and sometimes I reacted.

As I pause to reflect on last week, I can see that there were times when my actions reflected change that has come about due to my Lenten journey.  And, I can see frustrations that came about because I opted to do what would please others and not seek first to please God.

Had I sought first to do that which would honor and please God, I would have been honest with myself and with others and wouldn’t have found myself mired down in frustrating situations.

It’s hard to unlearn…to retrain…to begin again. It’s like trying to be left-handed when all I know is right-handedness.

But, I know this is not all up to me.  God’s Spirit is within me as Guide, Teacher, Comforter, Convicter, Encourager….

As I think back on last week, I can see where God’s Spirit checked me several times.  It’s a comfort to know that even when I’m not aware, God’s Spirit is.  And, even when I forget, God’s Spirit remembers…stays on task…is ever working to bring out God’s best in me and through me.

34 days into Lent I find myself wishing I could scroll back time and begin anew with all this Lenten knowledge and experience intact.  I can’t do that, of course, but I can continue on from this moment forward leaning into loving God supremely and acting on that love in such a way that honors God, those around me, and myself as well.

Pearls before Swine

24 days into Lent – the farther in I go, the more I realize how far I have to yet to go.

40 days is not going to be enough time.  I don’t think 80 would.

I’m not even sure 40 years would be enough time.

Choosing that which pleases and honors God (instead of others/myself) should be an easy thing.  But old habits die hard.

Perhaps if I could take these 40 days of Lent and go off by myself to meditate uninterruptedly and away from life as I know it…perhaps then….

No…I doubt even then.

My mind and my life seem so cluttered with inconsequential thoughts and things.  These occupy more time than they should and distract me when focus should be on more important things.

Scripture says …cast not pearls before swine….

Pearls before swine….

I wonder if I’m casting my pearls before swine.  Ha – before I asked the question I knew the answer was “YES!”

Maybe there’s more to this verse* than is immediately implied by the context – don’t give what’s holy to dogs or cast your pearls before swine or they will trample them underfoot and turn and tear you to pieces.

Pearls before swine.

What would I consider my pearls?  And, what would be “swine” in my life?

Pearls would be that which is truly precious and of value to me and to others…that which has the power/ability to do the greatest good and accomplish the most to benefit self and others.

What about swine?  What piggy things do I focus on that gulp my time and resources and leave me hurting/anxious/messed up in some way?

Perhaps I need to make a list of my pearls (precious/valuable/worthy of the time and effort devoted) and a list of the swine (time wasters, emotion gobblers, resource devourers) in my life.

Jesus said that we are not to cast our pearls before swine.  He also said why – they will trample our pearls underfoot with no appreciation for what’s offered and then they will turn on us in attack…tearing us apart.

Swine don’t appreciate the value of what’s given or understand the sacrifice of what’s offered.  They see no good in it (can’t eat it) or benefit to themselves, so they turn on the giver in an attack that seeks to destroy and devour.

Hmm….

Do you feel fragmented…scattered…torn into pieces…ragged…frustrated…? Do you find that there are “swine” in your life that eat up your resources and offer you little, if anything, in return?

Perhaps, like me, it’s PBS (Pearls Before Swine) related.

  • Define your pearls.
  • Define the swine.
  • Figure out what’s tearing you apart and stop casting your pearls there.
  • Let your priority be: pearls before swine.  Take care of the important things first, those that move you forward, that add value to your life and meaning to your actions.
  • Understand that swine, IF you allow them to be a part of your life, are there for a reason and one reason only – to benefit you in some way…bacon, pork chops, ham, BBQ….

Take care of pearls before swine and make certain you don’t cast any pearls their way.  It’s a total waste of good you, if you do.

Jesus said so.

 

*Matthew 7:6

 

 

23 Days into Lent = Fail

Here it is…5 a.m. and I’m up and on the computer well before my usual time.

Driven from bed by a mind that wouldn’t quiet once awakened, I welcome the solitude of an alone awakening.

I need this opportunity to be silent before God and to reflect upon where I am and why I am…and how I got here.

My jaw clenches and I am unaware until a dull ache begins in my left ear and extends along my jaw, toward my chin.

I’m angry.  Tense. Stressed. Tired.

Here I am 23 days into Lent and I find myself off track…way off track.  Hey, I’ll be honest – I’ve jumped track.

I’m supposed to be seeking to please God and not people.  I’ve got the “not people” thing down as far as “other” people go.  But, I’ve slipped into pleasing myself…doing what seems right in my own eyes instead of doing what is right in God’s eyes.

Wow.  There’s only one word to describe my Lenten experience at this moment.

FAIL

I’m halfway into Lent and I’ve run myself off track and about as far away from the goal as I could possibly be.  I’ve turned from God’s way to my own.

In my boundary setting, I allowed myself the luxury of anger.  It was easy to adopt a “serves them right” attitude as I took steps to distance myself from negative, stress-filled, idiotic situations and the people who perpetrate and perpetuate them.

Pleasing myself became more important than pausing to see what would please God.

I would be the master of my destiny, the ruler of my kingdom. Forget what people thought…or if they even liked my thoughts, words, or me. They would respect me and would not dare encroach upon me or mine with their stupidity…. I would rule.

What an angry, self-centered ruler I am.

For the past week my focus has been on pleasing myself.  How did I get so far afield…?

Perhaps I focused on what I felt instead of what I should be feeling.

Perhaps I focused on self and not on God.

For whatever reason(s), I went astray.

All we like sheep have gone astray.  We have turned – every one – to his own way. But, the Lord has laid on him the iniquity (sins) of us all. Isaiah 53:6.

This morning, as I sat up in bed and swung my feet over the edge, my mind cried out for relief.

“I want to let go of it!” she cried out in the darkness.

I’m tired…tense…stressed…angry…confused and uncertain.  So much is coming at me that I cannot process it before the next surge.  I feel like a child caught in the surf.  One wave hits and knocks me off balance and then before I can right myself and get my footing, another comes along and takes me down. And, while I’m down, another pounds down upon me….

My focus is so intent on all that’s swirling around me…all the concerns I carry…that I cannot still myself and focus on the One I need to see.

Anger is my reaction.  Love should be my action.

Forgive me, Father, for my righteous indignation.  You alone are righteous and you alone have the right to become indignant. Forgive me for my anger and for seeking my will and not Yours. Forgive my anxious thoughts and my lack of faith. Bless me with Your forgiveness…Your peace, for I have sinned against you…I know this and I am deeply sorry and repent.

Repent – that means to turn around and go the other way.

Peace – that was our pastor’s sermon Sunday.  God’s peace. I took copious notes…wonderful notes and watched in dismay as my ipad deleted them .  I need those notes this morning.

I need God’s peace.

Wait…I have God’s Spirit within me.  God’s Spirit – the Comforter – the Teacher who brings all things we’ve learned of God and from His word to mind.

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6,7 NLT)

God’s peace begins at the cross of Jesus.

Setting Boundaries – Day 17 of Lent

God set boundaries.

Don’t believe me?  Go to the coast and mark how far the waves wash inland.  God said this far and no farther. (Job 38)

And, God expects us to set boundaries as well.

This is not a new concept to me.  As a child, I knew where the boundaries were.  They kept me safe and others safe from me.

A hedge row that encircled our yard marked the end of my domain and the beginning of my parent’s.

Within boundaries, certain things are allowed.  And, within those same boundaries certain things are not allowed.

Boundaries are good.

Boundaries define.

Boundaries defend.

Boundaries delineate.

Without boundaries anything goes. Confusion reigns. Drama prevails. There is no you / me…it’s all we. And, we become entangled in whatever pull is strongest at the moment…whatever cry is loudest…whatever need seems greatest….

In yesterday’s post, a section of Philippians 2 was shared.  Here’s an abbreviated portion.

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4)

Please note – it does not say look only to the interests of others.  It says “look…also to the interests of others.”  ALSO implies I’m to look at my own interests first – in fact the first part of the verse says “look not only” to your own interests.

I’ve not looked to my own interests…I’ve neglected them.  My focus has been fully on the needs and interests of others.  That’s not God honoring or God pleasing.

Boundaries.

I set some last week and even more this week. For my own sanity, peace of mind and personal health I said, “this far and no more.”

Some boundaries are set for temporary purposes (like barriers set up for parades) and others with more permanent intention.

If you bump up against a boundary that you didn’t expect or didn’t see the last time you entered the area known as “me” don’t take it personally…it isn’t intended as a personal affront. Take it as an indication of love – for you and for myself, too.

For, you see…I know me better than you know me and I know where my boundaries need to lie in this moment in my journey.

And, my Lenten journey is not about pleasing you, it’s about pleasing God.

16 Days into Lent

This Lenten journey has been unlike my first and only other.

The first (2013) changed me in a way I didn’t expect.  Well, actually, I expected NO real change to occur.  I thought I might come out of Lent feeling stronger and more capable of self control but that was all I thought could happen from my experience.

What did happen is that my taste changed. Ketchup now tastes dirty…nasty…disagreeable to me.

This Lenten journey, much more is at play than a simple ketchup fast. In some ways I wish it were as simple.

Living my life in a manner that seeks the approval of God rather than that of people around me is a stretch that I thought I could easily make (with God’s help, of course). But, I am finding that seeking the approval of people is something I automatically do…have done since childhood. It’s what I’ve been taught…trained…coached to do – and to be.

Home, church, school, play…pleasing people and keeping them happy made life seem easier and if I could do so within the bounds God set, then it was a win-win. Or, so I thought.

I suppose in some ways it’s what’s kept me on the straight and narrow path of conformity to what’s expected of me.

All too often I ask myself:

  • Will my actions offend so and so?
  • What will they think of me?
  • Will they understand where I’m coming from?
  • Should I explain myself…my intentions?
  • Do I need to share why I didn’t…?
  • How should I approach them?
  • How should I phrase my words?
  • What if they don’t like me anymore?
  • What if I’m misunderstood?

What I should ask myself is:

  • Will my actions please God?
  • What will God think of what I do?
  • Am I bringing honor to God’s name?
  • Are my words bringing glory to God?
  • Am I creating a path that others can follow to God?
  • Do my actions and attitudes prevent others from finding God?

What I need is a new mindset. (Note in particular that which is underlined.)

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  (Philippians 2:1-11 ESV)

Hmm….

Paul also said:

…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life…. (Philippians 2:12b-16a)

With this in mind I head back into living life and embracing more fully what God has for me this Lenten season.

Halfway Through

March is half gone.  How did the first half pass so quickly?

Here we are, halfway through March, and I find myself wanting to call a screeching halt to the progression of time and the advance of the month.

With the arrival of Spring comes an increase in responsibilities as life around me awakens after Winter’s slumber.

After the first burst of activity, the yards (ours and Mom’s) will be ready to greet the coming warm days and the rapid growth of all things green.  The gardens will be prepared to receive the appointed seeds, limbs will be cropped, flowerbeds cleaned, mower serviced, dead and dying wood cut away….

Nothing I’ve cut, cleaned out, cropped, pulled up or cut away has complained.  And, not one thing has told me “no” or prevented me from performing the task at hand.  Nothing said to me, “No, that’s not the way I want to be.”  I did as I willed…as I saw best…as I knew things needed to be.

I worked with an eye to the future and a plan that extended beyond the immediate.

My will – revealed through each clump of grass dug out, each limb cut away, every fallen limb picked up….

Ah…my will is flawed.  My knowledge and wisdom are finite.  I act as I see and know and understand.  The results are not perfect – after all, I’m only human.

Only human…why do I defy God’s attempt to dig out clumps of weeds, clear rubbish, remove dead wood, pluck out unsightly brambles…in my life?

Surely God, in His infinite wisdom and perfect knowledge, understands best what needs to be done in my life and how best to go about accomplishing His will for me.

Why do I struggle so hard against and complain so much about the tools He uses to shape me onto who and what I need to be?

I’m not yet halfway through Lent – thank God for that.  This is only day 12 of a 40+ day journey.

Now, if I can just take a lesson from nature around me and be at peace and patient as God has His way with and in my life…taking each thing that comes as from His hand, knowing that His eye is on my future and His desire is for my best.

And, I’ll be honest – after this past week, that’s a hard thing to do.  I want to control…be in control…be at the ready…be prepared for anything that may happen…have everything done, up to date, ready to go should I need to….

That’s an exhausting way to live…and it’s not God honoring.

Relax. Rest. Be at peace and free from care…stress-free. Realize God is in control and I can let down my guard and trust Him with my life and that of those in my care.

Whew….