Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Looking for Perfect?

"Allow life's imperfections to become what they were always meant to be - everyday signs that point you to Jesus. Use them as cue that can encourage you to look up from the annoyances of earthly life and see Him. The only One who truly satisfies." (Priscilla Shirer, Awaken Devotional, Day 22)

Somehow it always seems like the imperfections in life are more pronounced at this time of year. They're always there, but we notice them more at Christ,as. At least, I do.

Finding the perfect Christmas tree.
Decorating it perfectly.
Selecting the perfect outfit to wear to the Christmas party.
Choosing the perfect family picture to put with the Christmas letter that talks about all the highlights, the perfect moments, of the last year, but often ignore the other stuff.
Buying the perfect gift for everyone on your list.
Preparing the perfect meal for all around the table.
It can get exhausting.

Yet, in the midst of our search for "perfect" our longings never seem to be satisfied. Something is still missing. And, maybe at this time of year, those unmet longings never seem to be satisfied. So, we increase our pursuit of perfect, in hopes of finally finding satisfaction, only to find we never achieve it.

What if those longings we're so desperately looking to satisfy weren't meant to be met in anything on earth?
What if, instead of increasing the desperation of our search for perfect, they were meant to point us toward something other?
What if they were meant to cause us to lift our eyes?

When I take a moment to read it again, it quickly becomes clear that the original Christmas story was anything but perfect from an earthly perspective:

  • Mary was not married when she became pregnant.
  • Joseph was asked to believe the impossible and still become Mary's husband, even with the scandal.
  • Joseph and Mary had to make a long journey when the time of Jesus' birth was near - not a comfortable time to travel.
  • There was no room for them to stay in, so Jesus was born in a stable.
  • The first visitors they received were shepherds - the lowest in society.
  • When King Herod found out about his birth, they had to flee to Egypt.

The story of the birth of the long-awaited Messiah was imperfect. Nothing about it was as expected.

But Mary's response to this struck me this year. She didn't caught up in trying to find perfect.

Luke 2:19 says, "But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." In the midst of the imperfect, Mary saw the treasures and held onto them. In Luke 1:46-55, Mary turned her eyes from the imperfect and worshiped God. She lifted her eyes from the imperfect around her, to the only perfect One.

How do you respond in the imperfect? In the midst of unmet longings?

It can be tempting to desperately search for perfect satisfaction on earth. Especially in a season where perfect seems to be the focus.

What would it look like if we instead allowed the imperfect to turn our eyes to Jesus and find the satisfaction we're looking for in Him - the only place it can truly be found?

"Allow life's imperfections to become what they were always meant to be - everyday signs the point you to Jesus. Use them as cues that can encouraeg you to look up from the annoyances of earthly life and see Him. The only One who truly satisfies." (Priscilla Shirer)

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A New Name

What is your name?
What are you called by those who know you?
What is the name others would be introduced to you by?

Isaiah 62 is an intriguing chapter to me. It's all about names and about God changing the name His people are known by. Isaiah 62:2 says, ". . . you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow." The same chapter ends with words declaring what God's people would now be called:
"They will be called the Holy People,
     the Redeemed of the Lord;
and you will be called Sought After,
     the City no Longer Deserted."

As I read and reflected on this chapter, I was struck by the power of names - the names we believe about ourselves, the names others call us, the names God gives us. What we're called really matters. It can change everything.

The power of names is so evident in our society. People regularly live up to or down to the names they've been called, by themselves or others. People can be completely destroyed by the names they're called,. People can also be lifted up by the names they're called.

We need to pay attention to the names we believe about ourselves. They may be names we gave ourselves or names that others gave us. But, these can become a part of how we live and act and talk, so we have to pay attention.

When we discover names that are destructive to us, names that are not in line with God's names for us, we need to ask for His truth to replace that. We need to take those lies to God so He can speak the truth over us. God wants to give us names that speak to the reason why He has placed us here, that speak to who He see us as. As we allow Him to speak these names over us, they become what we live and that changes everything. That's how powerful names are in our lives.

Revelation 2:17 says:
"I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it."
This is the ending to the letter to the church in Pergamum in the letters to the seven churches that begin Revelation. This church was commended for not falling to the culture around them that was full of evil. But, they still had allowed some false teaching to enter their lives and were being called to turn back to the truth. These words are the encouragement to those who stand firm and are victorious.

Reading these words to the church in Pergamum seems to also speak well to the church today, we need to heed the same call. We're also told that our faithfulness to God will be rewarded. We will have in intimate relationship with God where He teaches us ("gives us some of the hidden manna" Revelation 2:16) and where we receive a new name. A name that speaks to who God created us to be and what He created us to do.

This is the same thing God was promising to Israel in Isaiah 62. When they turned to Him, He would give them a new name that spoke God's truth over them.

What are the names you've been believing about yourself that are lies that you need to allow God to replace with His truth?
What is the name God has given you?

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Changing How we See Other People

What are the stories that influence how you see other people and their situations?
What are the narratives that your opinions are based on?
Are you even aware of what these are?
Are you willing to discover what they are?
Are you willing to allow them to be changed, even if it's uncomfortable to do so?

These are some tough questions I've been wrestling with lately. They're not questions with quick or easy answers.

One of the speakers at the Global Leadership Summit this year spoke about this topic and started me thinking this way. He was talking about how we have to be willing to get uncomfortable by getting close to those who are suffering to lead well. We can't effectively lead, or care for people, if we keep distance between us.

These words were coming from someone who was living what he was talking about. He willingly chooses to get until some uncomfortable situations to help those in need. He knows the challenges of doing this.

Most of us, have at least some places where the narrative we tell ourselves that informs our actions is in need of changing. Maybe we've inherited is from others in our lives. Or society, or a segment of society, tells us that's the way it is. Or we've had experiences ourselves that wrote it that way.

Are we willing to have those narratives challenged by choosing to engage with people we normally wouldn't? Are we willing to get close to those who are suffering and those we tend to look down on or see as different than us, and really hear their stories and let them challenge the narrative we're been telling ourselves about "those" people?

The more I'm challenged on this is my own life, the more I'm realizing that this is what Jesus was all about when He walked this earth. Three of the gospel accounts record Jesus telling His listeners that "it's not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick" (Luke 5:31, Matthew 9:12, Mark 2:17). And Jesus' example was one of regularly coming alongside the suffering, the vulnerable, the sick, the outcasts of society, and really listening to them and loving them.

James 1:27 says this:
"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after widows and orphans in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."
God's laws included provision for looking after the poor among them.

If Scripture is this clear, then my only conclusion can be that if God cares about the poor and the vulnerable, I should too as His follower. If there's something that is keeping me from doing that, I need to figure out what it is and take the necessary steps to change it.

So, I leave you with the questions I opened this post with and that I'm still wrestling with in my life.

What are the stories that influence how you see other people and their situations?
What are the narratives that your opinions are based on?
Are you even aware of what those are?
Are you willing to discover what they are?
Are you willing to allow them to be changed, even if it's uncomfortable to do so?

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Hope that Doesn't Disappoint

'. . . those who hope in Me will not be disappointed."
                                                       -Isaiah 49:23

Usually when I start a post with a Bible verse, I'm looking at the larger context of the verse in trying to understand it. I know that context is important when talking about Scripture, but this time, my thoughts are specific to these 9 words of this one verse. I believe the concept I'm talking about is supported by the whole of Scripture.

We all hope in something. Whether we realize it or not, we've all placed our hope in something or in many things. The reality is that we could probably all list a few things we are currently, or have in the past, put our hope in.

As we've probably all realized at one point or another, the thing(s) we're placed our hope in does disappoint and we discover that our hope was misplaced. Anything or any person we place our hope in on earth will disappoint us eventually. Any circumstance we place our hope in will disappoint us.

It's only when we put our hope in God that we won't be disappointed.

But, how do we reconcile the times we feel disappointed with our hope being placed in a God Who says, if we hope in Him we'll never be disappointed?

I don't think we can guarantee we'll never be disappointed about something, even when we're choosing to place our hope in God. I think, the difference comes in how we handle those feelings of disappointment. We can feel disappointed, but we're not lost in despair because it's not where we ultimately place our hope.

Even when things go wrong.
Even when things aren't happening the way we think they should
Even when we're longing for something that hasn't happened yet

We feel disappointed over these things, but when our hope isn't placed in them, we know that's not the end. The disappointment lasts only a moment, because that's not where we have placed our hope.

Where have you placed your hope?

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Roots

Deep roots
Able to stand strong
Rushing waters
Cannot destroy

Shallow roots
Unable to stand
Rushing waters
Leave no trace behind

Deep roots
Seeking sustenance
That won't run dry
That's always there

Shallow roots
Grabbing at the surface
All that quickly fades
Leaving nothing behind

Deep roots
Resistant to the drought
Finding the water
Deep below the surface

Shallow roots
Destroyed by drought
No water there to find
On hard, cracked dirt