Tag Archives: perspective

Shepherds gather, wolves scatter.

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wolves-and-sheep

The Bible doesn’t have a lot of nice things to say about wolves – or more precisely, people who are described as wolves.

 

Zephaniah and Ezekiel both describe Israel in her stubborn, defiant rebellion as being like wolves who devour and leave nothing behind.

 

Isaiah describes them as inhabiting the desolate places with jackals and hyenas.

 

Jesus told his disciples to be on guard because he was sending his disciples out like lambs among wolves – and we all know what happens to little lambs in the clenching jaws of wolves.

 

The people who are wolves in our lives have voracious appetites to destroy.  They don’t just want to take us out of commission.  Their desire is not to make us simply limp, or waver, or even just to shut us up.  They want to take us out completely.

 

And the first thing that happens with every wolf attack is that he (or she) bounds into and scatters the flock seeking out the target and going for blood.

 

Such a lovely picture, eh?

 

So why would I be thinking about wolves on New Year’s Day?

 

Because they’re everywhere, and if Jesus thought it was important to warn his disciples against them, then it must be important to remind every generation about them, too.

 

Most of us are pretty naturally on the lookout for the wolves “out there.”  We are on guard against the atheist aunty to loves to come to family gatherings and openly mock our faith.  We pray for wisdom and discernment in dealing with the militant co-worker who wants to goad us into a religious argument just to try to make us look like the racist-homophobic-intolerant-judgmental-bigot he’s already declared all believers to be.  We are even on guard against the Hollywood machine that wants to pound your faith into the ground with production after production of buffoonish portrayals of weak-minded “Christians” who are idiotic in their approach to…everything.

 

Those things are real, and we need to guard against them, but I don’t really think they are the wolves in our lives.  Those are the things meant to embarrass, insult, and maybe even injure – but they don’t destroy.  If anything, they (hopefully!) sharpen our defense of the hope that is within us and motivate us to live above the fray in a manner worthy of our callings – worthy of the Name by whic we are called.  “Christians” mean we belong to Jesus the Christ after all.

 

But wolves are much more dangerous than any of these things.  Wolves are malicious, calculating, and cruel.

 

Wolves destroy marriages, friendships, mother-child bonds. Wolves split churches and denominations. Wolves tear down and never build up.  Wolves target godly reputations, fruitful ministries, and long records of good works to twist and distort them by making them appear prideful or weak or wanton.  Wolves target the good and want to rip it to shreds.  

 

We’ve all seen it happen and so we might be duped into thinking that we would quickly recognize when a wolf has crept into our sheepfold, but we don’t.

 

There is another passage that is chilling when you know how brutal wolves can be.

 

Matthew 7:15 states, “Beware the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

 

They’re in the sheep pen folks.  They look like sheep and sound like sheep.  They quote Scripture and tell testimonies and teach your Sunday School classes.  They are not the cartoonish wolf with a sheepskin badly slung over it’s back with wolf claws and jaws sticking out so you can immediately sound the alarm bells and put everyone on high alert.  They’re good at looking like sheep.

 

In fact, they’re so good at it that Jesus then gives us instruction for how to recognize them – he says, “you will recognize them by their fruits.”  Thorn bushes don’t grow grapes and thistles don’t grow figs.  And ultimately, though they might fake it for a good long while, wolves don’t grow love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, or self-control.  Only the Holy Spirit can produce that kind of fruit.  Wolves seek to destroy all that.

 

The remainder of Matthew 7 describes other ways that we will be able to recognize those wolves who pretend to be sheep – they will produce diseased fruit, they will do many things, “in Jesus’ name,” and they will be fools who build on shifting foundations.

 

It is often very, very difficult to recognize a wolf.  It is especially difficult because each and every one of us can have wolf-like fangs of sinfulness that we bear if we feel threatened or claws that take swipes at our fellow sheep.  Knowing the difference between a sheep behaving badly and a true wolf is exceedingly difficult, but Jesus told us to beware of them so it must also be true that he will give us the wise discernment we need to learn to do tell the difference.

 

In recent years I’ve had my spiritual eyes opened a bit to this and have begun to learn what it means to “beware the wolves among you.”  A few patterns have emerged, and in my observations, it has been particularly helpful to note the stark contrast between wolves and shepherds.  Jesus, our ultimate Good Shepherd, is also our ultimate standard.  Of course, no earthly shepherd is as all-Good as Jesus, but in general terms, the shepherds among us demonstrate some characteristics that are in notable opposition to those of wolves.  Comparing the truly good with the truly evil makes the differences easier to see and recognize.

 

So here are ten comparisons that have been particularly helpful to me:

 

  1. Wolves tend to themselves – Shepherds tend to the flock.  
  2. Wolves use people for their own purposes – Shepherds use themselves up for the good of others.
  3. Wolves make much of their willingness to stand against evil – Shepherds make much of God and how He enables them to stand against it, especially through their weakness.
  4. Wolves like to keep things secret and in the dark – Shepherds know that the light of truth clears away the darkness.
  5. Wolves call goodness, truth, and beauty into question – Shepherds praise these things.
  6. Wolves impugn motives without knowing enough – Shepherds are slow to judge motives, knowing that they usually don’t know enough.
  7. Wolves say harsh things to cut down and destroy – Shepherds say hard things in order to build up and restore.
  8. Wolves seek attention, praise, and status even at the cost of others – Shepherds deflect attention, praise, and status especially to bless others.
  9. Wolves skillfully gossip, malign, and covertly discuss the situations of others – Shepherds hold confidences even at great cost to themselves.
  10. Wolves drive people apart – Shepherds draw people together.

 

Again, any one of us can display wolf-like sinfulness.  But these wolf-characteristics cannot be generally true of a sheep.  The two cannot co-exist in one person.  In short, Shepherds gather, wolves scatter.

 

Near the end of Matthew 7 Jesus says that the wise man will be able to withstand the storms and the floods and the wind that seek to destroy because his foundation is Jesus – the rock.  It doesn’t take a theologian to figure out that the wolves he spoke of in the previous verses might be some of the storms and floods and wind.

 

As this new year emerges it presents us with untold billions of things to be talking to God about.  One major theme in all of these is the increased persecution of the church around the world.  Those persecutions could take the form of mass executions, imprisonments, or torture.  Or it could come walking into our fellowships – our sacred families of believers – and sit down among us and eat with us and pray with us and then seek to devour and utterly destroy everything good it can sink its greedy jaws into.
Beware the wolves among us, but don’t fear them.  Because the Good Shepherd continues to care for his sheep and has already laid down his life for them!  Ultimately, we can rest in the knowledge that He will deal justly with the wolves even as He gathers His sheep to Himself.

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You can’t make God any happier with you than He already is…

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So stop trying.

I know – that goes against all the things you think you’ve been taught.

Be good.

Be nice.

Be generous.

Be compassionate.

Be better.

And the implied message at the end of all those directives is, “so you make (or keep) God happy with you.”

The trouble is – it’s all wrong.  It’s a big fat lie that we actually seem to like telling ourselves and one another.

One of the most helpful pieces of advice I’ve ever received was this:  “You can’t make God any happier with you than He already is…”

If you are a believer – a follower of Jesus who knows for certain that you’ve been forgiven – lifted out of a filthy ocean of disgusting sin that you not only dug for yourself but filled bucket by bucket and were hopelessly flailing about in with no hope of getting yourself out of much less cleaned up from – then God is already as happy with you as he can possibly be.

If you are a disciple of the Son of God – a sinner who has repented and hates not only the sinful storehouse you built but also the fact that you are prone to building it again – then God is already as happy with you as he can possibly be.

If you are aching to know God better and love Him more because he put the desire into your heart of stone-turned-to-flesh – then God is already as happy with you as he can possibly be.

Did you catch that?  God is already as happy with you as he can possibly be!

The real question each of us must face when considering our mortality is not, “Am I at peace with God?”  Rather, it is this:  “Is God at peace with me?”

And if you’ve seen your hopeless condition and run to Jesus for rescue, because you know that his life and his death and his resurrection have satisfied all the demands God has made on us that we couldn’t satisfy – and that it has been offered to you freely – then God is at peace with you.  He is happy with you and cannot be made happier.

His delight has been made free to you – though it was enormously costly to Him – and He is happy to offer it to you.

And the glorious irony is that God is happy with us precisely because of the offer.  For when he sees you and me – sinners rescued from the miry pits of our own making, saved from destruction and an endless eternity of heartache and despair – he sees his beloved Jesus.  Period.

The exchange was so utterly complete that when Jesus became sin for us, he filled us up with himself – and that is all God sees.  Perfect, complete, clean, pure.

God is already as happy with you as He can be, because when he sees you, if you belong to him, he sees his Son in you perfectly reflected and shining in beautiful glory.

You can’t make God any happier with you than He already is, because when He sees you, He sees His Son.

But there was more to the advice.

“You cannot make God any happier with you than He already is.  And indeed, you must not try.”

I can hear you now (because, truthfully, I’ve said the same things).

What?!?  What about following the 10 Commandments?  What about all the Old Testament Commandments – or the New Testament ones??  What about all the places in the Bible that tell us to do this or not do that?  What about all the RULES?!?

Being good is good, and it can reflect that you’ve had your heart changed – but it will not make God any happier with you than He already is.

Being kind is good, and it can be an indication of Who you belong to – but it will not make God any happier with you than He already is.

Giving generously, being compassionate, showing mercy – all good, and definitely character traits of someone who loves well, but… you got it.  They will not make God any happier with you than He already is.

In fact, if that is your motive, you are believing a false Gospel.  You are, in effect, saying, “Thanks Jesus for the death on the cross and all, but I’ve got it from here.  Really.  I’m good.”

For some ridiculous reason we would rather bear the terrible burden of trying to satisfy God ourselves than trust in the freedom that Christ has provided.  How does that make sense?  And yet, I talk with more people than not who claim to know and follow Jesus who are running around trying to make God happy! 

STOP!

Think about it.  If you’re still having to work hard to earn God’s favor – what exactly did you get freed from?  If you really believe that Jesus saved you, why aren’t you living like you’re saved from the crushing burden of trying to do all that God requires?

I’m asking you the same questions I had to ask myself once.  I realized I wasn’t living like I really believed what I said I believed.  I was running around working hard to make God happy.  But you know what – I knew in my heart nothing I did could ever be good enough.  There was always something I could have – should have – done better.  There was always work left undone.  I got lazy or sloppy in my pursuit of perfection and that really messes with this whole happy God thing!  Unbelievably, I had even convinced myself that I could keep starting over with a clean slate – but that’s not true!

If Jesus’ work wasn’t enough, what hope did I have of making God happy?  If Jesus’ death and resurrection was just a starting point, what could I possibly conjure up that was better than what He had already done?

And that, my friends, is precisely the point.  I can’t.  You can’t.  No one can.  We really were hopelessly lost in our own foolish, stupid, selfish, lazy, mean-spirited, ugly, swiftly-filling, ocean-sized pit of sin.  But the rescue has already been completed, and it is spectacularly sufficient and good.  Trying to add anything to it to somehow gain God’s approval would be like doing your laundry in that cess-pool you created and offering it back to God with the hopes that He will somehow like it better than the radiant robes of righteousness that Jesus has already provided.  Just stop.

You cannot make God any happier with you than He already is.  And indeed, you must not try.  For when He sees you He sees His beloved Son, and His work is beautifully sufficient and good.  Jesus has freed you – now go and live in the joy of knowing you are free indeed!

The Collateral Damage of a Parent’s Sin…

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“The wisest of women builds her house, but a fool tears it down with her own hands.” Proverbs 14:1

I watched a movie once called Collateral Damage.  It told the story of the horrifyingly negative effects on a couple’s life of “intervention” into another country’s affairs.  I don’t remember a lot about the story – something to do with oil companies in South America I think –  but I do remember the callous response of those individuals responsible for the mess that had been made.  “Oh well,” they shrugged.  “One has to expect a little collateral damage.”

What?!

This wasn’t even a war zone.  One might possibly come to some kind of terms in the context of war, but this? This was so… ludicrous!

And so is the nature of the collateral damage that we create with our own hands and mouths.  As we look ahead to Mother’s Day in a few weeks, and then Father’s Day beyond that, do your families a favor and think with me on these things.

Yes – I know.  This isn’t one of those cute and happy kinds of Mother’s Day thoughts… But if we can get this right, it is worth far more than the cards or candies or even expensive items that will be exchanged on those days and the lingering effects will last for many years to come.

Recently my husband and I were challenged to come up with a list of at least fifty consequences that happen when we sin.  The parameters were to think of things that happen in our personal, marital, and family lives – but for this post, I’m focusing on the things that happen to our children when we sin against them or in front of them.

To be honest, it was difficult to start this list.  I kind of felt like it was a big dragon that I was trying to capture by the tail.  Where do I start?  How do I get a concept like this down on paper?

So, as I often do when I have a puzzle to solve or problem that seems too big, I brought it to the table and presented it to my kids so they could help me organize this list a little better.  They’re clever people and all adults now (or very close to it) so I figured it was a good discussion to have around the table.

They, too, had some trouble grappling with the largeness of the category at first, but after a little discussion our collective thoughts came up with a few ideas.  We started grouping sins into categories, which was certainly an organized approach, but didn’t turn out to be very helpful in actually answering the question, “What are the consequences when we sin?”  It was all good food for thought, and they were actively engaged in the process, but we still hadn’t come up with a good list of consequences when they had to start leaving for various reasons.

I was alone again with my thoughts.

I tried again, trying to think through the many things swirling around my head.  Then I started to remember some specific times that I had had to go to them and ask for their forgiveness.  Painfully I remembered too many times I had hurt them with my words or accusations or tone.  Ouch.

The list started to flow more easily when I thought of how they felt, and how hard it was after some of those times to rebuild what I had carelessly wrecked.  I realized that I wasn’t talking about consequences like paying a fine when I’m late with a library book.  I was looking square in the face of damage.  I was the one who sinned, but they had suffered because of it.

The list (below) is still growing as I realize more fully how damaging my sin is to them.  Whether I have sinned directly against them, or have sinned in their presence, I do damage.  I create casualties out of my own flesh and blood!

How many adults do you know who are still heavily burdened because of how their parents treated them?  How many adults do you know who find it exceedingly difficult to say, “I’m so sorry I hurt you,” because it was rarely (if ever) said to them?  (Maybe you count yourself among them!)  What restoration could there be if we think about the lasting, hurtful effects we have on our children’s whole lives and change how we interact with them?  What love could we bestow on our grandchildren if we teach our children to quickly seek forgiveness?

This year, as we think about Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, how about if we give the gift of humble repentance to our children?  I can tell you that the fruit is well worth it.  I couldn’t have had this discussion with my kids if I hadn’t first shown them that they could trust me with the brutal truth.  They have long felt the freedom to come to me and lovingly, call me out on my sin.  I usually don’t want to hear what they have to say – not because I don’t want them to tell me, but because I hate that it is true.  But I am so very grateful that they do come.  What a blessing to see them have the courageous love it takes to rebuke a brother – or, in my case, a mother – because they want the relationship restored and whole again.

Their loving rebukes have helped to change me.  It hasn’t always been easy to change some bad habits.  But habits can be changed and rooting out bad habits is worth all the struggle and failure and repentance and trying again and again that it takes.  It’s hard work.  It can be frustrating and wearisome, but the sweetness in the relationships is so very, very worth it!

Part of discipling our kids is modeling being discipled in front of them.  When we show them that we are willing to be humble and go to them when we have wronged them, then our exhortation that they humble themselves before God holds a lot of weight.  If we never do it, they see straight through us as the hypocrites that we are.

Remembering frequently that we are shepherding souls that will live for eternity helps me to keep things like this in the right perspective.   Unfortunately, we don’t take our sin seriously enough in general, and therefore, we don’t consider all that happens when we sin.  Writing a list of the collateral damage of my sin has been very sobering.  But hopefully it will bear much fruit for a long time to come.

You can read my list – but writing your own, and referring to it regularly, will reap the most benefits for you.  Adding to it as you realize the power of your influence in your home will reap rewards for you  – just as it has for me.  Every parent messes up.  Every parent messes up regularly!  The key to preventing it from becoming irrevocable destruction is to quickly go to even the youngest of children and own it.  Get down on their level, look them in the eyes, and say, “I’m so sorry for doing this to you (be specific).  I’ve sinned against you and it was wrong!  I shouldn’t have done it and I wish I had controlled myself so I didn’t hurt you.  I’m really and truly sorry! Can you please forgive me?”

It’s pretty tough for a child to resist the sincerity of a parent as honest as that.

This year, as mothers and fathers, give the gifts to your children.  Give them the gift of adulthood with as little “parental baggage” as possible.  If you have grievances to address – go to them and seek their forgiveness, not expecting anything from them.  Some things are long-standing and messy.  It may take them a long time to trust that you are sincere in your humility.  But do it anyway.  Your gift will be a blessing for generations to come.

 

Collateral Damage of a Parent’s Sin

What happens when we sin against or in front of our children…

  • We are poor role models for how to be godly men or women
  • We teach them to disregard what God says about humbling ourselves and asking for forgiveness because we disregard it
  • We teach them to disregard what we say about the same thing
  • Our home is not a warm, loving place, but a battle ground
  • Our children are afraid, rather than secure
  • They feel alone, rather than protected
  • They feel rejected, rather than loved
  • They are confused because we’ve violated the standards we’ve set before them
  • They are sad
  • They are broken
  • They feel despair
  • We cut down those we love the most rather than build them up
  • We hurt them now and for years to come
  • We communicate that we don’t trust them
  • We communicate that they can’t trust us
  • We communicate clearly that we don’t love them the way Jesus loves us
  • We sow seeds of doubt in their hearts that God is not who he says he is
  • We communicate that we think we are worth more than they are
  • Our selfishness communicates that we value our own desires more than we value them
  • Our indignation communicates that we haven’t given them permission to call us out on our sin
  • We build walls between ourselves rather than relationships
  • We preach a false Gospel to our children – one that worships self rather than God
  • We create an environment of fear and anxiety rather than love and safety
  • We use our position and authority as tools to get what we want rather than as ways to lovingly serve
  • When we put our needs above their needs it teaches them to do the same
  • We teach them to rebel against us rather than submit to loving parents
  • We create dependence on our approval rather than on the approval of God
  • We teach them to doubt that God has their best interests at heart because we don’t
  • We create cripples rather than soldiers fit for spiritual battle
  • We fail to teach them how to humbly and sincerely repent and seek forgiveness
  • Our selfishness begets selfishness – both in ourselves and in our children
  • We teach them that they have to protect themselves because we haven’t
  • We teach them that they have to build walls up to avoid future hurt
  • When we don’t listen well to them, we communicate that we don’t value what they think or feel
  • We create disillusionment in relationships
  • We teach them to doubt everything we’ve ever said about love and forgiveness because we haven’t lived what we’ve preached.

*This is just the beginning of the list… there is more, so much more to be added.  But you can do that with your own children.  Mine are happily helping me add to this one.  Not so they can point out my faults, but because they know they are loved and want to love their own children well.  None of us wants this to be our legacy.  Getting rid of sin together is a joy!

I’m sorry…

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I’m sorry…

Two of the most used, and abused, words in any language.

We’ve all seen it happen:

An offender offers the obligatory “sorry” to their offended – mostly just to get them (or the situation) off their back.

I’ve seen it with children frequently:  We say, “Jenny, tell Johnny you’re sorry for biting him.”  But Jenny is not sorry.  She feels justified because Johnny did (fill in the blank), but we insist.  “It was wrong to bite Johnny.  You owe him an apology.  Now tell him you’re sorry.”  Jenny still isn’t sorry and you have other things to do.  “Jenny!  Tell Johnny you’re sorry for biting him or you will (fill in the blank with some consequence of not saying “sorry”).”  The word “sorry” becomes Jenny’s ticket out of this mess, and getting out of the mess is worth more than maintaining her stance of justification, so she, begrudgingly, complies.  “Sorry for biting you.”

But everyone present knows it’s a sham.

Children are not the only ones who are guilty of this.  And, since I’ve been thinking on this and being more aware of how frequently it happens, we adults don’t seem to grow up and get much better at hiding our contempt or the ruse.

Who hasn’t heard (or been) a couple in the midst of a disagreement (where there really is something to be sorry about) where the guilty party is finally convinced that they need to admit it and do the right thing but end up much like the Jenny and Johnny above?  “OK, I’m sorry,” but we all know that’s a lie.

Or, worse still, there is a shouted, “I’m sorry!” with an expressed or implied, “now can you just drop it!” attached to the communication.

I’m sure we all have stories we could tell where we’ve witnessed it.  But if we’re honest, we must also confess that we’ve been “that” guy (or girl), too.

I ask, dear reader, because I wonder if real forgiveness can ever be offered is there is never real sorrow over our wrongs?

Jenny didn’t simply bite Johnny.  She injured his body, sure, but she also injured his person as well.  She bullied him.  She devalued him.  She placed her wants, her desires, her will above him – which communicates that he is worthless to her.  She violated his right to suffer no undeserved harm.  She abused him.

Can a muttered “sorry for biting you” ever express what really needs to be expressed to him without her realizing that she has done far more to him than leaving teeth marks?  (And yes, parenting a child’s heart is incredibly hard and takes much more time – but it is critically important.)

The same is true in adult situations.  When we offend or hurt someone, can the two words, “I’m sorry” ever really be enough?  Can that phrase convey heartfelt remorse over the wrong and the collateral damage that ensued without some evidence of sorrow?

I think not.

The original meaning of the word “sorry” is overflowing with a very different tone.  Old dictionaries use the following words to define “sorry”:

“distressed, grieved, full of sorrow”

“pained, wretched, worthless, poor”

These words paint a fuller picture of what “I’m sorry” ought to convey.  They get to the heart of the matter, don’t they?  Rather than a “can we get this over with” mentality, or “I’m sorry if you’re upset about this” attitude, “I’m sorry” should convey, “I am grieved and full of sorrow that I hurt you.  I am pained that my wrongdoing has affected you so profoundly.  I wish with all of my heart that I had not done it, because I love you and don’t ever want to see you hurt – least of all by me.”

But we don’t really recognize that our insults are damaging and costly beyond the seconds of time they take to express them.  We don’t acknowledge that our refusal to consider someone else’s needs is hurtful and reckless far beyond inconvenience.  We don’t want to admit that our threats or control or indifference express so, so much more than thoughtlessness or carelessness might excuse.

Instead, we defend our wretched behavior.  Or we justify it by blaming someone or something else.

Why do we do that?

Wouldn’t it be better to say, “No!  I’m not sorry!”?

At least if we did that we wouldn’t be adding deceit to the list of our transgressions.

Shouldn’t we at least be able to acknowledge that until we really are grieved over what we’ve done to the other person – in all its fullness – that what we are really communicating is that we are valuing ourselves – our reasons- our excuses – our justification – our position – our status – as more important and worth more than the other person?

You might ask me why I care about this enough to lay it out here.

I have two reasons:  The first is that more and more I see around me a thousand, maybe ten thousand ways we avoid the “little” conflicts in our lives to our peril.  We ignore the things that we don’t want to deal with for a variety of reasons, but they all boil down to this:  we don’t think the other people in lives are worth rolling up our sleeves and getting messy over.  In this area, we don’t want to spend the time or the energy it takes to try to work things out with someone who has offended us, or whom we’ve offended, so we “let it go.”

But it doesn’t go away – it builds.  It gets added to the next time and the next until we erupt and don’t even know where to begin to try to make things right.  Relationships are destroyed over the building up of a thousand unresolved opportunities to say, “I’m really, truly, honestly sorry for hurting you.”

But the second, and infinitely more important reason is this:

Can forgiveness ever be ours if we do not sorrow over our sins?  Can we possibly expect that an All-Knowing God is fooled by our “sorry if I upset you” words when we all know full well there is no real sorrowful remorse?  Can repentance ever be genuine if there is not also sorrow?

Psalm 51: 16-17 says:

For you will not delight in sacrifice (or an obligatory “sorry”),

or I would give it;

you will not be pleased with a burnt offering (or an, “I’m sorry if this upsets you”).

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;

A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.  (parenthetical statements added)

 

Learn what being sorry means, friends.  Teach your children to understand it as soon as they are able.  And for the sake of the Gospel in your own life and in the lives of those around you, be quick to see the profound and magnificent work that can be wrought through a heart that has learned what it is to be “pained, wretched, distressed, grieved, and full of sorrow.”  All of heaven rejoices over one such as this.

The discomfort of struggle

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“NO!  DON’T TOUCH IT!”  I remember quickly intervening before my four-year old son “helped” a butterfly emerge from its cocoon.

“You have to let it come out by itself,” I instructed.

“But it needs help!” he demanded.

“No, it doesn’t.  It needs to struggle its own way out, or it will die.  It needs to get stronger by working itself out of that cocoon – if it doesn’t, it won’t be strong enough to fly away.”

Obedient, but dissatisfied, he relented and watched the grueling struggle as the wriggling, writhing thing slowly – ever so slowly – finally emerged and spread its wings to dry.  With revelry, he squealed in exaltation when “his” butterfly finally took flight, under its own power, and left the safety of our observation tank.

But there was another butterfly in our collection that had yet to emerge, and I did not catch my son before he gently “helped” the next one out.  That butterfly never spread its wings.  It never flew away.  It never did what butterflies were meant to do.  We found it on the floor of the terrarium, dead, not long after.

I knew what had happened without him confessing, but I asked him if he’d tried to “help” his other butterfly.  Embarrassed, he denied it at first, and then with tears he said, “I just wanted to help him!  He couldn’t get out!”

So many times I am tempted, like my son, to take a short-cut through the struggles in life.

I want to “help” my kids figure things out.

I want to “help” myself by bypassing the hard things.

I want to “help” the friends and loved ones in my life out of the pain and suffering they find themselves in because I don’t want them to struggle.

But when I look back at the times in my life when God has revealed his character to me best and deepest, I can point, without exception, to the painful and difficult struggles I’ve gone through.

I could not have known God the way I know him without them.

Why then do I insist on looking to avoid the uncomfortable struggle of getting through them?  Would I trade knowing God deeply and richly for an easier life?  God forbid that I would ever say so… but isn’t that exactly what we say when we try to escape the hard things?

I know that there is joy when the hard things are over.  And there is a depth of gratitude that comes when seasons of pain are memories and no longer daily realities.  In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis writes, “Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but love cannot cease to will their removal.”

But the joy and the gratitude are impossible without the pain that precedes them.

I would not be able to know how sweet joy can be without knowing the bitterness of bone-grinding difficulties.  And my gratitude grows as deep as the plumbs of my despair when I have suffered loss and seen that God is good.

The struggles we face – and we watch others face – can, indeed, be uncomfortable to watch, to endure.  But there is such beauty ahead if we will wait with patient anticipation of the strength and character he will mold in us through them, if we will just trust Him.

By all means, help when it is necessary – but only when it is absolutely necessary.  And that is likely much later than we are typically comfortable with.

What do you want?

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I asked my two-week old baby that question once.  I know – it’s a dumb question to ask of a two-week old.  But even as I knew the absurdity of asking her, I also knew I had run out of ideas.  I was desperate.  I was exhausted.  I was grasping at straws.  I held all 9 pounds of her up and looked at her eye-to-eye,  and with all the restraint I could muster pleaded, “what do you WANT?!?!”

She kept crying.

I’m not really sure how, but we got through it.  She’s 30 now – and no worse for the question.  At least she doesn’t remember it.

It’s not an entirely bad question, though – really.   (OK, I don’t recommend asking someone who’s only means of communication is crying…)

But we ask it all the time.  What do you want for dinner?  What do you want to do?  What do you want to be?  What do you want to accomplish?  and on it goes…

“What do you want?” can elicit a myriad of responses.  Deep things.  Shallow things.  Immediate things.  Long-range things.  Proper things…

We think about what we want all the time.  From the moment our consciousness transitions from being asleep to being awake what we want drives us.  I want to sleep more so I hit snooze.  I want to get out of the door on time so I get up.  I want to eat something because I’m hungry – or don’t want to be at an inconvenient time.  I want to not eat because it’s “nasty” first thing in the morning (at least that’s what my teens say).  I want to wear this.  I want to go here.  I want to remember that.  I want to finish what’s on my list.  (I want to start what’s on my list!)

All of these wants can race through our minds before our eyelids open, but it continues all through each of our days.

“I want” is almost as much a part of being human as “I think.”  We neither consider nor act without some ‘want’ prompting us.

And yet, when we seriously ask each other the question, “What do you want?” we are often met with the same crazed look my two-week old infant gave me so many years ago.

Aside from wants of the immediacy of the next 10 minutes – or day – what do you really want?  Inherent in the question is, “what is it that you want in your life more than anything?”

What are your goals?  What are your longings?  What are you passionate enough to base your decisions on?  What is so important to you that you would sacrifice other good things for?

What do you really want???

This is a question I’ve been pondering recently as a result of our women’s Bible study.  When I’m thinking through the wants that motivate me, the range of answers is vast:

I want my house clean – and I’d really like it to stay that way for a stretch of time.

I want someone else to make dinner.

I want time to read all the books on my list.

I want to learn French fluently.

I want to lose weight and be in better shape.

I want to have deep friendships.

I want to be appreciated.

I want to love well – and I want to know that I am well-loved.

I want to love God with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength – and I want to know what that really looks like.

I want my kids to love God the same way.

I want to hear, “Well done my good and faithful servant… enter into the joy of your Master.”

What ends up bubbling up to the top of our lists reveals where our hearts are.   The beautiful thing is that God knows we are frail and made of dust – as he was with Abraham, he is patient as we learn to want for our own lives what God wants for them.

I’ve already made some decisions based on the priorities of these things in my life.  I wouldn’t die on the hill of desire to keep my house clean (which, I suppose is why it’s still on the list…), but I would on the one that demands an answer for how to learn how to love God with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength.   I’m pretty hopeful about learning French better – but I’m dogged about teaching my children to love God.  These things motivate me to be sure.

But when I’m really honest about my wants during the course of an ordinary day, lesser wants tend to have a bigger voice amidst all those wants clamoring for first priority.  I want to be lazy sometimes more than I want to be industrious.  I want to be crabby sometimes more than I want to have a joyful heart.  I want to criticize sometimes more than I want to encourage.  I fall short… a lot… of what I really want.

Thankfully, we serve a Great High Priest who intercedes to God the Father on our behalf – who can change our prayers of “I want what I want” into “teach me to want what You have planned for me” by changing our hearts.

Lord, teach me to want what you want.  Teach me to want You.

Do you trust Me? Or do you just say that you do?

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Someone sent me this drawing yesterday.  She is learning the beautiful, but sometimes painful lesson of trust.

This is a lesson God wants us all to learn.  From the time we are aware of God working in our lives until the day we die, we will be asked, “Do you trust Me? Or do you just say that you do?”

As C. S. Lewis so aptly stated:  ”

“If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is not part of the Christian faith.

Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak.

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

It’s not that we want wonderful things that is the problem – it is that the things we want are not wonderful enough!  “I want more” is not a bad desire!

But we hold on to trinkets and dollar-store substitutes rather than all that is Good and Beautiful and True.

I like the little drawing above – I especially liked that the dear soul who sent it to me is doing the hard work of struggling through whether or not she can let go of the cheap substitutes that she has been clinging so tightly to.  But I do have an issue with this portrayal, and that is this: the teddy bear that is being offered to this child is far too small a gift!

Jesus offers us so, so much more than a bigger toy.  He offers us Joy and Peace.  He offers us new dimensions of every single human emotion.  He offers us pressed-down-shaken-together-soul-satisfying fulfillment in ordinary and spectacular ways.  How?  He offers us Himself.  There’s no blind acceptance necessary – he’s clear and honest about what we receive when we receive him as the gift.  We get everything because he paid everything.

If you are afraid that yielding your life over to King Jesus will make you miserable and kill all your fun, ask yourself why you are willing to settle for such shallow, fleeting, temporary substitutes that leave you empty and always wanting more, when Jesus offers you the real thing that fills and quenches and slakes every thirst and desire you could ever have.  Don’t let bad examples of his followers ruin the perception you have of Him.  We’re all in the process of becoming more like him – but we all have such a long way to go.  Look past his children and see Him.

We all need to stop being deceived into thinking that there could be any lasting contentment or peace in anything other than the One who is Everlasting Peace.

So I ask again, “Do you trust God?  Or do you just say that you do?”  The answer makes all the difference.

As always, I welcome your comments.

PS.  I searched and searched for the artist of the above drawing but kept coming up empty-handed.  If you know who the artist is, please let me know so that I can give credit due.  Thanks.