May 27, 2013

A Quick Quote...

"The one misery of man is self will, the one secret of blessedness is the conquest over our own wills.  To yield them up to God is rest and peace.  What disturbs us in this world is not "trouble," but our opposition to trouble.  The true source of all that frets and irritates, and wears away our lives, is not in external things, but in the resistance of our wills to the will of God expressed by external things."

-Alexander Maclaren

May 22, 2013

Good courage

"Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."  -Joshua 1:9 nkjv

These are God's words to Joshua, the budding leader of Israel.  God tells Joshua no less than 3 times in the first chapter of Joshua that he needs to have courage, to not be afraid and to know that God is with him.

Lovely, lovely words.  To us, anyway, because we know how the story plays out.  Joshua kicks so much butt on behalf of Israel that it's not even funny.  By God's help he topples the strongest, most brilliantly designed city walls.  He sees the Jordan river completely dry up under the feet of some priests carrying an ark.  He fought battle after battle and won most of them with a group of ragtag nomadics who had probably the worst fighting technology of their time.  No horses, no chariots, just some clay pots and trumpets and blunt objects for the final go.  Un bloody believable.  But those of us rooting for Joshua are not surprised at these miracles because if we are rooting for him, we probably believe in the same God he did.  Full of power, full of care for His people, full of mysterious miracles is this God that we believe in.

But Joshua hadn't lived all those miracles yet.  He was handed this leadership position after Moses died with God whispering into His mind, "Whatever you do, have courage."  He probably got a little nervous after hearing that.  Comforted, but perhaps asking, "Wait.  If He's telling me to have courage that means there will be situations where I will actually need it... where my reason for having courage will boil down to this thrice spoken command and not the fact that things are going good and I can see a way out of our struggles."

Let me state something obvious: life is hard.  But each time X, Y and/or Z struggles come my way I'm always surprised.  Each time I have to walk myself through an emergency thought process: Quiet down, let it go, turn to God first, try not to keep yourself up at night living off purely and freshly distilled worry.  I suppose I get disappointed that despite trusting in this big, truly wonderful and miracle working God, crappy things still happen.

But God and later Jesus never set us up for this disappointment.  Jesus says quite clearly, "In this world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."  Beautiful, right?  I still don't want to go through it.  That's nice, Cas.  You and every human ever.

So what is the answer?  What is the balance?  It's in having realistic expectations of life and solid, miraculous expectations/beliefs of God.

"Joshua, you must have courage.  I will give your people this land, but it will take some pretty plucky bravery on your part.  You'll actually have to show up to cities and fight wars.  You'll have to see some gruesome battles.  Some people in your company will die.  The land will resist.  But resistance is not defeat.  A delayed victory is not defeat, either.  This is no time for fear, this is the time for trust."

"Cas (or insert your name here), you must have courage.  I will conquer your struggles and take you to the tops of mountains and deliver you from your enemies.  I have and will overcome all these things.  But you need to decide right now that you're not gonna panic.  It's gonna take some nerve.  But you can be brave because I WILL perform what I promise.  I AM with you.  I am your permission to be bold."

I want my troubles to see me and say, "you've got a lot of nerve coming over here to face us."

I want to say from the layers of love and protection criss crossed over me, "Yep.  And I brought a Friend.  God of my heart and the universe, what are you gonna do with these scum-bag-worries of mine."

I want to see my warrior God unleash some epic smack.  I want to see fireworks.  I want to see impossible things happen.

But if I'm too afraid to walk out the door, I (or the people watching me, both to root me on and to see how I may fare) will never have the chance to know that my trust in Him was not ill placed.

If you are a Christ follower, I promise you have seen impossible things happen, starting with the salvation of your impossible-to-save soul.  What's to keep more from happening?  O my goodness, let it not be our attitudes and fear- after all He has promised, please let it not be that.

Be brave, be intrepid, be a lion and a lamb.  Because the only way to be as courageous as a lion is to know down to every depth in that heart of yours that you are only a lamb- dependent, hopeless without help... and that you are a lamb who is doted on by the most perfect, dependable, insanely strong God.  So go get em, lamb chop, because this was never about your strength and it never will be.  It's about His.  And that's enough to give even the weakest heart the realest hope.

May 15, 2013

You will find rest

 Yesterday I was searching.  Frantically looking for rest and for comfort.  For God to grant peace and stillness to me and take my mind off of trouble and stress.

Seems reasonable, right?  Like going to the grocery store.  I'm out of eggs and cheese so I go looking for eggs and cheese and then I buy them.  Logical.  I'm fresh out of patience and grace for the people around me and there is a large chunk of the entire world balanced on a single point right between my shoulder blades.  It's bothersome.  Dear God, I want you to remove it and make me happy and restful and at peace, amen.  In my head I'm doing pretty good because I'm coming to God asking for these things and isn't that what He wants me to do?  I'm not turning to alcohol or people or myself to address my need.  I'm being dependent on Him for my well being and that's what He tells me is a wise thing to do.

But I still feel my backpack full of world-chunk.  I still get raging pissed when the neighbor's yippy dog barks the same rhythmic car alarm bark for hours at nothing.  I still have tense muscles and a bad attitude that betrays me to others like dandelions in a front lawn.  No, you have not been taking care of your lawn.  It's obvious.

We will always, in this life, be strugglers.  We will never attain a perfect state on this planet.  Struggles are OK, for sure, and God is not put off by the fact that we have them every day.  Let's not have unrealistic expectations of how we go about existing on this strange plane between heaven and earth, trying to shed the latter for the former.  But here's where it goes wrong- here is the difference between always feeling wrung out and actually being able to enjoy the rest or comfort from God that He promises quite confidently to us:

It's a simple matter of order of operations.  The verse that I looked to seeking comfort (and have looked to for years) made me realize something completely different about "comfort" yesterday:

"Then Jesus said, "Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you.  Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light."  -Matthew 11:28-30, NLT

Wait.  Slow down.  What is He essentially saying (and He takes the time to say it twice here, by the way)?

1) "Come to me... and I will give you rest."  Ok.  Got it.  Simple.  It looks like, "I need eggs so I go buy eggs."

2) "Take my yoke... Let me teach you... and you will find rest."  Ok, Cas, I can read.  What's the point?

The point is "I need eggs so I go buy eggs" or "I need rest so I go a-looking for rest" is NOT what Jesus is recommending we do here.  There is an order of operations to having a peaceful, restful heart.

Jesus recommends that we come to Him, seeking Him.  Seeking Him, not rest.  Seeking Him and all He has to say with the intent of making Him the object you want to attain- not just what He can give you.  It's true that our feelings of heaviness compel us to seek relief in the first place, but what we are signing up for is bound up in making Him our God first.  And after that, yes, we will experience rest.

Coming to God just to get something out of Him is not what this life is all about.  It's immature to treat God like that and yet I've lived my whole Christ-following life like this.  Good thing He's, like, crazy gracious.  He knows we start out with Him as spiritual infants.  We only scream out when we need or want something.  That's our whole interaction with Him: us coming to Him because we need, need, need.  We are babies in our relationship with Him and it makes sense.  But hopefully later on some sort of growth happens and we start coming to Him because of Him.  Because He's wonderful to be with.  Because His words and His perspective and His leadership is true life.  Because He is God and it is right that we worship Him.  Our God graciously makes worshipping Him awesome- it actually benefits us to worship God.  But benefits are not to make us selfish to where we start regressing and thinking that we can just come to God on an "I need" basis.  It's like calling your mom.  Hopefully you call her to talk to her and see how she's doing, not just to tell her you need money.

"Come to me... take my yoke [ie let me be your God, requiring your surrender]... let me teach you [about the way I designed things to work, about how my economy is different than the system the world has taught you]..."

...and yes, don't worry, you will find the rest that you know you need.  But why do you think that is?  Not because rest is a currency or a cup of something that He doles out because we've been good.  "Let's see... should I give her rest, peace or love... too many choices."  No- because He IS rest.  IS.  The Greek word there for "I will give" in the first part of the verse does not mean "hand out."  It means "to permit one to cease from any movement or labor in order to collect his strength."  It is more of a state that happens to you or a permission, not a thing you receive.  "Come to me and I will rest you.  Calm you."

No doubt looking at God like this takes a little getting used to.  He basically says when you are feeling the oppression of the weight of whatever you're carrying around, it's not rest and relief you need, it's Him.  You need Him.  Alone.  I.E. your priorities probably need a shift and who you are ACTUALLY treating as your God probably needs some readjusting.  I have noticed that my experience as a Christian human is at its most disgusting, not when circumstances are at their worst, but when I have started seeing God as a cosmic Santa Claus and my comfort as the end all (or, to be more blunt, my comfort is the god I'm actually trying to serve).  Conversely, I can remember times when gnarly things were happening but because I decided early on I was gonna let go of my life and be His servant through and despite hard times, that amazing TRUE peace and rest was mine.  That whole "peace that passes understanding" verse is real.  Real if "peace that passes understanding" is a Person that I have a blood bought bond with who promised to never leave me.  If what I have is Him, then yes, I have peace.  "Aim at heaven," C.S. Lewis says, "and you will get earth thrown in."  When I make myself small (and rightfully so) before His greatness and love, everything that I TRULY need (maybe even things that I forgot I needed or didn't realize I needed) comes to me too cleanly and naturally to be mistaken for anything but His care.

April 24, 2013

Grace given

I'm not sure there are very many people immune to this: checking out what, when, how and why everyone else lives and trying to gauge one's own efforts thereby.  It's terrible.  A horrible habit resulting in all of us being exactly the same pent up, weighted down individual as our neighbor.  Forfeiting our creativity and uniqueness for an easier answer- just use someone who appears successful as your standard.  But the neighbor you look to is looking to their neighbor for a life measuring stick.  Blind people lead blind people.  AWESOME.

God has a better, more humane answer and as usual this morning I feel a little more free because of it.  As usual, it has to do with letting go of control.

Paul says we are to think about ourselves, not pridefully, but, "according to the measure of faith that God has assigned... Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them..." -Romans 12:3, 6 ESV, emphasis mine.

"Measure" as in "measure of faith" simply means, "a determined extent, portion measured off, measure or limit."

There is a limit.  Just like the strengths, weaknesses, uglinesses and beauty that you were born with and had no say in, we have been given an allotted portion of faith (faith means, "conviction of the truth of anything").  And initially it might freak us out.  Especially the word "limit."

We don't take to limits well.  Look at how we scrape and twist and pull on how God has made each of our bodies.  Women slather their faces with multicolored powders and creams.  Some die from eating disorders.  A balding man is seen as a bummer.  We couldn't choose our bodies or personalities we were born with but we sure can try to iron fist them into the teeny tiny box our culture has created for them.  Why?  Because we are told if we do that we will be happy.

We are born with brown eyes or black hair or a certain skin hue on the outside and a measuring cup of the ability to believe on the inside.  The reality is we all have been given a different amount of the stuff.  Some get more hair, some get prettier eyes, but ALL have an ability to live a life for God that the rest of us will never understand.  And that't the point.  I will never understand your measuring cup because it's not mine and I can't see it anyway.  It is foolish to judge, whether positively or negatively your measuring cup and I am foolish to want mine to change- to wish I had your giftings, your charisma, your opportunities.  I don't care what colored contact lenses you use, you'll always have blue eyes when you wanted brown.  But the gal you're married to loves your blue eyes.  Who's to say either one is more or less valuable?  I may think I will be happy when I blend in and look a prescribed way, but if I'm honest I remember how every time I just let myself BE and live without thinking about it or worrying about it that I start to taste a little bit of the "happiness" that the world is trying to tell me I can only get from conforming.  Clever world.

It's all part of a grand plan that we literally have no control over.  Some will be martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ, some will live into their 90's and die peacefully surrounded by a gushy glob of 20 grandchildren.  We don't make those choices.  We don't have control.  But I see rest in that rather than alarm.  If I don't have control over what I have in my spirit- "the gifts differing according to the grace given unto us," then why don't I just give in to it and start living the way I, personally and specifically was created to live?  The reason looking at everyone else, faith-wise or physical-wise, is so terrible is because it makes us forget what we already have and neglect using it or honing it.  You've always wanted to lead worship, but what if your part in the grand scheme of faith is taking in strangers and showing them Jesus through THAT method.  You want a super-model-stick-thin body, but curves have been beautiful since the beginning of time and pretty easy to come by.  I always wished I was non-confrontational and non-passionate towards people.  If I could change myself I would stop getting into situations where I made someone feel awkward or angry because I asked too many hard questions and gave too many words into the situation.  Then one day Ian said, "Cas, why are you surprised that you make people upset sometimes?  You're an exhorter."

Duh.  God gave me a measuring cup that doesn't think it's bad or weird to lovingly confront people (although I'm still working on the loving part).  So I'm not gonna think it's bad or weird either.  A mental paradigm shift.  A letting go of control.  That's all it is.

What are your gifts?  What would you do differently if you stopped looking around at everyone else and just decided to be yourself?

March 28, 2013

long time no see

Wow.  I haven't written anything here in forever.  Man, that's what happens when busy-ness shakes your wits out of you.

I'm determined to pick up the dregs of my efforts here and carry on the blogging flag, though.  The time is now.

Nope.  The Busy Monster can't keep me from you, sweet blog.  I will return soon with words from my heart.