You Can Put It Off Forever

I used to procrastinate, just like any other kid, when there was weeding to do in the garden, or laundry to fold, or asparagus looking at me from the dinner plate…or especially in the winter-time, when it meant sliding out of the warm nest of blankets in our chilly bedroom upstairs and hurrying into my clothes for the day. It wasn’t that I thought anything would change while I put it off– I was just stuck in the moment of dreading it and couldn’t get past that feeling, and it was like a mountain I couldn’t climb over.

But there are causes and effects in life, and if you are stuck in the moment there is no way to get past it to something better. I found out soon enough that the chores just pile up one on top of another, along with Mother’s consequences…and asparagus just keeps getting worse the longer it sits there…and those moments of freezing cold transition are still waiting for you while the getting-ready-for-school minutes are inexorably ticking away. If you want to get over that mountain of resistance, you have to just do it, take the first step… and then the next steps follow much more easily than you thought they would.

Now that we are all grown up the causes and effects are often not as visible as they were back then, and we get fooled into thinking we are in charge of our own lives, and the temptation to put things off lingers…not just the stuff we dread but even good things can get shoved aside for the sake of a more enjoyable Right Now. You can put things off forever if you really want to. Only the issues are more vital and the consequences can last forever if you’re not careful.

And Paul says to those of us Christ-followers who are living on purpose: “Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:16)   We are ambassadors in an unfriendly foreign land, tasked to carry on Christ’s work here (2 Corinthians 5:20); we are soldiers in a war between good and evil (Ephesians 6:12), and there is an Enemy who wants to distract and destroy us (1 Peter 5:8). Why would anyone live for the moment, without thought for the consequences, in a dangerous land or on a battlefield? We are clay being shaped into Christ’s likeness by the Potter (Romans 9:21), and farmers sowing seeds that only God can grow (2 Corinthians 9:6). Who are we to say what is important and what is ours to squander, if our choices are being used by a sovereign God to shape us and others for eternity?

It really depends on what your purpose is, and whether you have found something worth living and dying for, something eternal that calls you to get up and get moving, beyond the pull of what-is-most-comfortable-for-me, and beyond that moment of dread, into the good He is accomplishing. You can put it off forever, but why would you want to?

 

“From [Christ] the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.” (Ephesians 4:16-17)

Just to Make God Smile

It was an innocent enough question, tossed out into the discussion in a small group, half for fun and half out of curiousity….until it was coming around the circle and it was my turn and the question was sticking in my throat: What does God like about you? Not the things you do but who you are, and that’s the problem right there when you know for sure that He loves you but you’ve never even considered that He may actually like you too. I choked out something that may have made sense, about the particular way He has made me, but all I could think of was how those same qualities are things people don’t like about me, so how could I imagine He would?

The question is still reverberating in me…What do You like about me, You who made the many-colored fishes in the deepest sea for Your eyes only, and the giraffe with the graceful neck and the ridiculous eyelashes, and the wombats and the wolverines, the lion king, and the little brown sparrow. Because if you made all of them, so varied and amazing in their differences down to the last detail, purely for Your enjoyment and ours, then You surely delight in all the different people You made too. What do you like about me?

These musings keep coming back to the starting place: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:13-14) So if You made me just because You wanted me, then the details of who I am are all Your idea, Your craftsmanship. Not only loved, but delighted in….wonderful… and made on purpose. Granted, some of your creations are more humorous than noble, and some are downright ugly and strange, but even in them there must be something You enjoy, as they live in Your world and respond to You as Creator.

I wonder how life would change if we could learn not to define ourselves with the opinions of others, not spend so much time trying to be happy and significant, to do our best to measure up just to make it through this world in one piece. If we really had the deep sense that the reason we are here is to delight the heart of our Maker and respond to Him in pure devotion and thanksgiving. If we lived the way He made us… and just to make Him smile.

So what does God like about you?

…your heart of compassion for “the least of these”?
…your sense of humor?
…the way you can focus on a task and complete it well?
…that you love to cook for people and make them feel welcome?
…your willingness to help out wherever needed?
…your boldness to dream big?
…that you see and appreciate the beautiful things He has made?
….or?……..

 

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1)

It’s all about You, Jesus,
And all this is for You,
For Your glory and Your fame,
It’s not about me,
As if You should do things my way;
You alone are God, and I surrender.” (Kari Jobe)

 

Following by Forgiving

Once we make the commitment to follow Christ many things about life become simple and straightforward, much to our relief. Every time we find Christ saying “do this…” it is a signpost along the way, the neon sign we’ve been wanting that says HERE IS YOUR PURPOSE. But rather like Alice’s little notes in Wonderland that seemed clear enough, but led to unusual results, those signposts can become most difficult in everyday life; the thing is, often it’s not that I don’t know what to do, it’s that I’d rather not.

Forgiving is like that, and we ask right along with Peter… cautiously, feeling this matter out, to see just how far we have to take it: “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21) There has to be a limit to this grace-giving, a time when justice wins out over mercy, right? And Jesus, who knows our hearts so well, says “…not seven times, but seventy-seven times” and haven’t you been listening to the story of the shepherd with one-hundred sheep? It was the one who was far away and causing trouble that he went out to find, not the ninety-nine that were right with him. It’s hard work and it is way out of your comfort zone and it keeps happening over and over, but grace has no limits.

So if I am serious about fulfilling my purpose– if I am honestly committed to following Jesus– then I must make the hard choice to forgive and trust God to sort it all out about who deserves what, in the end. Because He does promise that every man will give an account of his life, and He is the Judge of all the earth who will do what is right– which is a very sustaining thought when I am struggling to forgive yet again.

Lord, help me to forgive, because You died for these sins committed against me. I can think of no one better than You to handle the matter fully; forgive me for hanging onto these hurts in my desire to see justice. I know You will hold me accountable as well, and what You want me to do right now is to forgive. I choose again today to follow You, to follow Your directions, for my good and Your glory. Amen

 

“Forgiveness is not something we do for other people. We do it for ourselves– to get well and move on.” (unknown)

“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

What is Your Aim?

Everyone loves the wit of motivational speaker Zig Ziglar’s famous saying, “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.”  That gets a chuckle and maybe a rueful shake of the head even. Maybe it’s one of those sayings we’ve heard often enough that it seems trite, but that doesn’t lessen the truth of it. Those are powerful words, and sad ones if they describe a life, and if you are a Christ-follower they are a warning.

By definition a Christ-follower has a purpose: to follow Christ through life. How that actually plays out in the everyday details might look a little different for each person, but there will be remarkable similarities as well. Obedience. Compassion. Faithfulness. Service. Holiness. Patience. Joy. Self-control. Peace. Love. The apostle Paul chronicled his own walk as a follower: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own.” (Philippians 3:12) We are aiming to be like Him, aiming to carry on His work, aiming to live face-to-face with Him when we are done here….not there yet, but in progress, and we can’t afford to get so caught up in today’s tangles that we forget what we are aiming for.  Paul’s nutshell of a goal: “so that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (v.11)

Press on. There is no aimlessness there, no muddling about waiting for some big thing to happen, only determination to keep going one day at a time, one choice at a time, with the goal in mind. Following Christ through this world is not easy, and so it requires that kind of dedication to make it to the end– the bending of a life to one purpose that matters most, like anyone who is successful in achieving great things. The apostle Paul knew the kind of day-in-day-out attention it took to follow, and not get distracted: “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:27) He understood what was at stake, that we are at war with an Enemy who wants to destroy us all, and how the Adversary sings us to sleep with our eyes wide open to this world. He understood the priceless result of aiming for eternity…“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize! Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25)

So we who are choosing to follow Christ know what to do with our lives. We will follow hard after Him, and listen to every word He says. We will aim for a life worthy of the Beloved One who saved us and calls us His own, and with His help we will set goals and make choices that will hit the mark. The result is a life beautiful, and Heaven waiting.

 

“Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” Romans 8:5

“The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather in a lack of will.”
Vincent T. Lombardi

 

 

 

Every Little Thing

She called me this morning half in tears, having one of those days when everything you touch seems to break and everywhere you look is one more thing that isn’t turning out right. Somehow, when you are trying your best as a woman, days like this carry an edge of blame, feel like a personal label that you are not good enough or capable enough. Or maybe it’s the gnawing worry way down deep that this is not just a random morning of mishap, but the way you really are living your life. Regardless, it’s enough to make a woman wonder.

We talked about how we can’t control the circumstances that come into our lives, and how some of them are due to our choices, but a great many are unpredictable and uncontrollable. And what matters most is not the experiences themselves but how we respond to them, what we learn from them, and how we move on. In Christ the future always offers a fresh start, wisdom for those who seek it, a clean slate of forgiveness– the power to change. I am never stuck where I am in the moment when “it is God who works in [me] to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13)

It reminded me of what we were talking about last night in small group, all those precious women around the table sharing their stories with brimming eyes, how God is working through every experience of our lives, putting together the puzzle pieces to make the picture He has in mind for us. Nothing wasted. Nothing ruined beyond hope. Nothing too dark or lost that it cannot be shaped by His hands and fit into the big picture of our lives. As He promised the prophet: “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten….” (Joel 2:25) Even when the work of years has been stripped bare and ravaged beyond recognition, He promises new growth in the future, says death is not forever. There is nothing He cannot use for His purposes, if we allow Him to shape both the experiences and us through them.

Funny how we look at other women sitting in the pews and assume their lives are simpler, easier than ours, or at least they must be better at coping with it. Easy to see only the outsides shown in public and sometimes we miss entirely the story of their becoming, what brought them to this place, what hidden sorrows they carry. That’s what small groups are for, to take the time to listen and find out you are not alone. And if God can work in those women’s lives to bring help and hope and healing, then it gets a little easier to trust Him to work in our own circumstances, even the ones that might still be too difficult to talk about.

Lord,  this day again we offer every little thing up to You, to use for Your  purposes. This day we choose once more to follow You in obedience, one step at a time. We recognize that You are the Master Craftsman and we will trust You to shape our experiences for our good and Your glory. Amen.

 

 

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:19

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

Give Thanks

I found another of those straightforward statements about God’s purpose for us, laid out in Scripture this week: “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Whatever else you are gifted for, if you are not pouring out thanks every day you are missing something foundational about your purpose. Maybe it’s because thankfulness reminds us of who we are and who God is– it is the only proper response of created things to the Maker. The only right answer to blessings poured out for His own pleasure and glory, just because He chooses to love us.

Practically speaking, thanks-giving is good for my spirit, reminds me Who is really in charge of all this: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God…” (Philippians 4:6). And when I choose to focus on all that is gift– really think about the emptying of Himself for our sakes, who were His enemies– how can I doubt His goodness, or His ability to give what is needed in this situation. right now? “If there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things….”  Thankfulness leads to trust, and hope, and joy, and “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (v.7)

In everything? In all circumstances? We used to read Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day when my children were small, and I always thought no wonder that book was so popular when the adults could relate to the story as easily as the children. But by the time you are an adult those days can pile on top of each other so large they seem to be a way of life, and why would we be thankful then? Gradually I discovered that giving thanks was like a trail of bread crumbs out of the forest, and if I didn’t want to get lost in the dark I needed to lay out that path each day. In all circumstances? Especially then, because that’s when you need reminded most. Of who God is. Of who you are. Of grace. Of good.

At first it might be desperate choice, looking for any small glimpse of grace: a cup of good coffee, a child’s warm body sleeping in your arms, the basket of clean clothes folded neatly. But as your eyes grow accustomed to looking, there is more and more to see: the sun through the leaves, the birds singing at the feeder, the smile of the store clerk, a card in the mail. And after awhile, it becomes second nature, your spirit turned upwards to His to see all the everyday grace He gives, and isn’t that what worship is? — “living life in the conscious awareness of His constant presence” (Jerry Bridges).

We really can’t afford to forget to give thanks. It is God’s will for us who belong to Christ. It is the beginning of trust and peace and joy. It’s a good place to start, when discovering your purpose in life.

 

“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 5:19-20

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom — and the forgetting of the Lord is the beginning of all sin.”  Ann Voskamp

Shine

I keep thinking about us re-connecting with our purpose, when we are made new in Christ– not the whys and hows of it, because that is all His grace and glory, but the everyday application of it. What if our purpose as Christ-followers is simpler than we think, sometimes?  We agonize over finding God’s will for us, looking at our jobs, our decisions, our relationships… and with the right motives to honor Him in those areas, but somehow it is still about all the things that concern Self most.

Maybe His will is right in front of our noses if we back up far enough to see it all in perspective, God’s purposes on a grander scale. What Jesus says is simple and direct: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16, ESV) Shine. In the original language it is houto….give light…like any candle or lamp knows how to do. It just flames steadily, chasing back the darkness wherever it is. That’s what Jesus is calling us to do, to give light. To shine the light of Love and Truth and Righteousness that found you in the darkness and set you free, and now you have a treasure the rest of the world in darkness doesn’t have, doesn’t understand. So flame steadily there, in your own little corner because flame attracts, and warms, and grows; Jesus says this treasure is the light of the world. Our purpose is as simple as the song we sang as children: “This little light of mine, I’m gonna’ let it shine…”

And maybe if I focus on this simple purpose of existence– just give Light– all the other questions of job and decisions and relationship become a good bit clearer as well, because it isn’t about me finding answers any more, but about how to chase back the darkness in this corner where I have been placed. How to burn with the Light and Life of Christ. So shine.

“The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light”. Romans 13:12

“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”  2 Corinthians 4:6

 

What Will You Do?

We laughed in our small group about Eve’s reaction to the walking, talking serpent, wondered how long she listened and discussed the whole idea before she acted on it, trying to peel back the pastel Sunday School picture from the flesh-and-blood reality of our ancestor.  That is always what we want to get down to in these stories, the real people with bodies and minds and hearts like ours, who made choices and lived out their lives in the presence of God. If we can get inside their skins and understand why they chose as they did, for good and ill, we can learn from them.. And if we can see God’s plan of reconciliation working out in the lives of all those messy broken people, we can have faith that He will not give up on us, that our lives have purpose as well. That is why He wrote down their stories, to show us where we came from and the way back to Him.

But the bare bones of the matter are sobering. Eve had to choose who to trust: the awesome glorious God who created her and provided her with everything good, or the fascinating creature who spoke so distractingly about the possibilities she could reach out and take for herself. And someone said it right out last night, that we are faced with the same choice every day. Who will we trust, the all-powerful One who made it all or the desirable stuff of creation all around us that we can grab hold of?

In words like that it seems obvious, but somehow when the choices need to be made it is rarely so clear. Eve was completely deceived– and not quickly or casually, but by a master of cunning, an Enemy undercover in God’s beautiful garden where everything was very good. She had no way of even comprehending the millennia of bondage and brokenness that would spin out from that one choice she made. We should know better ourselves.

We who have been re-created by the Savior and set free to choose every day know firsthand the ugliness of sin, the shame and separation it causes. We who have met the Savior also know firsthand the wonder of being forgiven, the power of the Creator over all things, and His amazingly lavish grace. So Paul reminds us “Let no one deceive you with empty words….Walk as children of light and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:6,8) 

Becoming a woman of purpose means first of all accepting my responsibility for my own choices in the everyday. We joked about saying what we would have done different in Eve’s place– hindsight can be so very wise– but it is a challenge we need to take up each day, because we stand right here and make choices in the moment to trust the Creator or the Deceiver. To be content and comfortable in God’s provision for us or to reach out and grab the distracting stuff of creation that is so appealing to our eyes. To believe that the One who made us knows all our days and can work out His purposes in them or to doubt and fret.

Because we know where we have come from and the great cost that bought our reconciliation to God, let us make good choices this day.

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air…and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ– by grace you have been saved…” (Ephesians 2:1-2, 4)

“It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for.” (Ephesians 1:9 The Message)

Who Am I?

We are born connected, us women, wired for relationships and emotional sensitivity from the very first day. We are children of the first Woman, who was shaped from the stuff of the only other creature like her and named “a Helper corresponding to” him. Like her, we are made to live in relationship to others, and it is in coming alongside others that we find our highest satisfaction and purpose. It is our strength, as women. Maybe that is why we so often define ourselves by those relationships and the roles we fill in the lives of others: daughter, sister, friend, wife, mother, grandmother.  I know who I am in those frameworks, and it makes me feel safe and loved.

Where does that leave me then, when those roles shift and dissolve, relationships grow or fade or get hopelessly tangled with time, as relationships tend to do… how do I find myself in the muddle, or hang onto a sense of Self that is slipping away in the current of changing circumstances?  Who am I, on the inside, when I am alone and quiet at the end of the day– and isn’t it easier just to keep covering up that silent question with shopping and media and rushing around from one thing to the other?

Maybe all that connectivity blinds us to the bigger reality, that man and woman were made to be Image-Bearers, to reflect an invisible God to the rest of creation and rule over it on His behalf.  Before I connected into any  people relationships, or took on any of those roles in their lives, I belonged to the Creator, was fashioned by His own hands and heart. As the Musician-King David wrote, “…You formed my inward parts; You knitted me together in my mother’s womb….my frame was not hidden from You when I was being made in secret.” (Psalm 139:13, 15 ESV) Even more specifically, designed purposefully and skillfully to be in this place at this time in history to do His work here.  David speaks plainly of the Designer’s intentionality: “You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered!” (Psalm 139:16-17 NLT)

So where else would I discover who I really am, except from the One who made me and knows me best?  I am His craftsmanship– it is He who decided everything from the color of my hair to the details of my personality. When I look at others to tell me who I am, to define me and give my life meaning, am I not putting their perspectives above His? Superimposing the definitions and values of the Created over the blueprint of the Creator King? How easily the strengths we have been given as women can slide down into simple idolatry.

We are born connected to others and the world around us, true.  But we are born to become connected to the God who loves us and names us His, and it is in Him we find out who we are– who we were made to be– and who we are becoming as we follow Him “who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began…” (2 Tim.1:89-10 ESV)

 

“Hungry, I come to you
For I know You satisfy
I am empty, but I know
Your love does not run dry

So I wait for You
So I wait for You
I’m falling on my knees
Offering all of me
Jesus, You’re all this heart is living for

Broken, I run to You
For Your arms are open wide
I am weary, but I know
Your touch restores my life
So I wait for You…” (Hungry, Kathryn Scott)

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10 NLT)