Monday, December 31, 2012

Clarity Part 2: New Year's Resolutions

This is the one day of the year where, almost universally, people are seeking clarity. Even now, as I lay in bed typing this blog I am overwhelmed. I'm overwhelmed by this desire to change everything in my life. Was 2012 bad? Nope. But 2013 has to be better. That's the product that New Year's Eve is selling: better.

I said in Clarity Part 1, that I couldn't write just one blog about Ruth. Last week I wrote about Ruth's selflessness, and how in looking out for someone else, she obtained a blessing. The second thought comes out of the first few verses of Ruth 1.

In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab.- Ruth 1:1

In the days when the judges ruled

This period begins immediately after the death of Joshua (who saw the Israelites into the Promised Land; see Judges 1:1). That timeframe was characterized by a specific decision-making process: 

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.- Judges 17:6

I was thinking on "in the time of judges" which is characterized by "when men did what was right in their own eyes", a self-centered form of seeking wisdom.

Famine in the Land

Naomi's husband changed destinations. He went where he thought the grass was greener. He left the land of blessing (the literal PROMISED LAND) for a place God had not appointed in search of "better". We do this ALL the time. On December 31st, every year, we start thinking: "there is a famine in the land." And we decide to go looking for better. We'll leave our home churches. We'll quit our jobs. We'll leave our hometowns. We'll leave our significant others. We'll find new friends.  All because it can be better somewhere else, with someone else, while doing something else...or so we think.

There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. - Proverbs 14:12

Ack! That scripture is so scary to me, because I think I'm right all the time. And what I think is right might be dead wrong...literally!

And so it was for Naomi and family. In Moab, Elimelek and his two sons died.  There is no record of him praying or seeking God. There's no record of him seeking godly counsel. I'm sure he didn't just make a rash decision, though. He probably really thought it over. But ultimately, he did "what was right in his own eyes."

This led me to thoughts on meditation, which is all the rage right now. I have NOTHING against meditation as a means of emotional wellness. Clear your mind. Breathe deep. Think on beauty and light (which is totally biblical anyway; see Philippians 4:8); however, the Bible has specific instruction on meditation*:
  • Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. - Joshua 1:8 
  • You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. - Isaiah 26:3
  • My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise.  Psalms 119:148
  • I shall remember the deeds of the Lord; Surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will meditate on all Your work and muse on Your deeds. Psalms 77:11-12
  • Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. - Psalms 119:97-99
I could keep going, but I think about David's prayer "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer"...this makes me think there is unacceptable meditation. I can't identify what exactly is unacceptable, but scripture is full of instruction to meditate on the Lord, and on His works, His promises, and His word. Yet, I OFTEN seek my own counsel. Especially today. As soon as I awoke, I started listing out some things that I think will make my life better in 2013. Already re-worked my budget to include those things. Haven't prayed about any of it yet. SHAME (--pause-- I prayed --unpause--).

So back to Elimelek. If he had prayed and waited on the Lord, things may have turned out differently for him and his two sons. Because it was back in Bethlehem, the place that he left, where Naomi heard God was blessing people. Would he have left if he had meditated on the promises of God? Probably not...b/c who leaves the "Promised Land" if they are thinking of it as such? Would he have left if he had meditated on the mighty works of God? Probs not...not if he was thinking about deliverance out of Egypt, or the manna in the wilderness, or cloud by day/fire by night.

The "perfect peace" Isaiah speaks of is corrupted when I view this day outside the lens of scripture. This day is about lists, resolutions, and new beginnings when I meditate on me. December 31st is reduced to just another day when I meditate on God, because then I know:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”  
- Lamentations 3:22-23

With God every day is new...not just January 1st.

So hold up...Clarity = pray and wait? one wants to hear that either.

*Disclaimer: I'm not saying you can never have non-religious meditation. Do it. Knock yourself out. What I am saying is that meditating on the Lord is the biblical prescription for peace/clarity. I don't think meditation is wrong, worthless or anything like that. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Clarity: into the mind of Ruth

I like Ruth.

It's a book of the Bible, that up until recently, I had never read. I knew basic things about Ruth, but I didn't know her story. This past week, a friend of mine told me that a close friend (not some street psychic) had read her tarot cards and gave her some thoughts/advice on how to conduct her life. Of course, as a Christian I'm adverse to such and kind of dismissed it out of hand. However, it got me to thinking about clarity.

Any time that a person meditates, prays, goes to tarot card reader, consults a psychic, or even just reaches out to their bff for counsel, they are all seeking the same thing: clarity. We all want to know which way to go. What is the road that leads to happiness? Because that's the road that we all want to be on.

And so, I wanted to write a blog about clarity, but I couldn't think of a person in the Bible who sought clarity and found it (except for Gideon and the Fleece, but I wasn't in a Gideon kinda mood). So, I thought: let's see what Ruth has to offer.

It had to offer a lot. So much so, that I'm afraid...truly afraid to only write one blog about it. I'm re-reading chapter 1 thinking: but what's the most important piece?! Where is the clarity?!

I think it's in two scriptures...that aren't even IN Ruth, but that I feel point me to Ruth:

Scripture 1: Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. -James 1:27

Scripture 2: Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?...But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. - Matthew 6:25, 33

In Ruth 1, we find three women at a crossroads: Ruth and Orpah, whose husbands have just died, as well as Naomi, whose husband has been dead for years. They are widows. Nowadays, it sucks to be a widow, but in biblical times the plight of the widow was often one of extreme poverty and desolation. The widow was often paired (as she is in James) with the orphan. She is someone that no one is looking out for.
Three Women? Crossroads? I couldn't resist!

Ruth and Orpah are still young. They can leave Naomi, and either 1) try to go back to their parents, or 2) find new husbands to take care of them (Ruth 1: 8-9). But, strangely, they want to stay with Naomi. Eventually, Naomi convinces Orpah to leave her. But not Ruth. Ruth stays with her, and delivers the touching speech that is the ONLY thing I knew about Ruth before reading it: 

But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried...  - Ruth 1:16-17

We spend a lot of time seeking to make ourselves happy. It's not a criticism, but rather a simple statement of fact. We're all looking for that clarity on "which way do I go." Ruth had two choices, one leads to possibility and one leads to the poverty and desolation we spoke of above. Why did she choose the latter?!

I'm not super selfish, but I'm selfish! And I'm always "looking out for number one!" In this dog-eat-dog world, that's how you have to be sometimes. Or is it? I realize that this mindset is the result of worry: if I don't look out for myself, who will? if I don't do for me, who will?!
God will. 
I doubt that Ruth wasn't acting on her knowledge of God, b/c she was a Moabite. She didn't know God. But God was working in her life, because the first thing she did was show her purity of heart. The pure and undefiled nature of her spirit, which was to care for someone that no one else would care for. This is the work of God's kingdom (see Matthew 25:34-40). So, in my opinion, Ruth was seeking first the kingdom of God, when she chose Naomi over the road to happiness. She took zero care for her own life, but rather esteemed someone else higher than herself (Philippians 2:3). And that mindset determined her path. 
And if you know the know that everything else was indeed added. The things that a widow usually worried about, she didn't have to worry about. 
Maybe the things we worry about, we don't have to worry about either. Maybe the clarity is there? We're looking everywhere except to God. We're seeking everything except His kingdom. God and His kingdom are backburner items...or we treat them with complacency as something already attained. But the clarity is in doing His Will first. And then everything else will fall into place. 
We don't like that kind of clarity. It's simply...not what we're looking for. Tsk. Tsk.   

Friday, December 7, 2012

"Do I Know You?"

I kind of bristle when people say that they "know" me. I also get a little worried when they say that I know them: "you know me, you know I'd never..." I bristle because I think: "I'm far too complex for you to know me!" And I get worried because I think: "No, I actually have no idea what you would do in that situation."

But yet, the very proclamation of "I know you" or "you know me" is an expression of intimacy. And for that, I absolutely love it! But how many people actually know me well? What I mean by "know" is that they are in tune with the thoughts behind my actions. They know what I did and why I did it. They, in fact, knew I was going to do it. They are not shocked. This person knows my likes/dislikes, they know what kind of person annoys me ("'d hate this chick"). They know when and what I'm thinking. They know when I'm mad, even when my face doesn't betray anger. They know how I show love. They know when to leave me alone. They just KNOW.

This type of knowledge is usually reserved for family members and significant others. I, also, have a number of close friends who claim to know me, and maybe they do...but I kind of shy away from telling people that I know them, because putting aside all the stuff I don't know, there's one thing that I do know for certain:

There is always something hidden.

Always. There are entire sections of my friends' lives that are shadows to me, because we've never turned on the lights over there. There are things that are hidden even from myself, and so I wonder: how can you know me? And how, can I know you? This is a quandary for two extremely basic reasons:
  1. Intimacy - In order for me to feel a certain level of intimacy and connection...I need to feel like you know me, and like I know you. We're all looking for someone who "gets us" in that cosmic sense. It is a basic need.
  2. Fear -  What if they knew the "real" me? What if they knew what I was really capable of? Would they still love me? Would they still be my friend?" It is a basic fear.
And isn't this knowledge (or lack thereof) the root of hurt feelings? You think you know someone, and then they do something you didn't expect. Or you thought someone knew you, but they accuse/suspect you of thoughts and actions you wouldn't think or commit in a million years. And so intimacy can be broken/interrupted, and rejection can occur.

So what? 

Well, it got me to thinking of who really knows me. And scripture says that God knows me completely. Completely. From the exact number of hairs of my head (Matthew 10:30), to the thoughts in that head (Matthew 6:8).

And I realized that the two issues (broken intimacy and rejection) that are encountered in human relationships, are in no ways experienced when in relationship with the Divine:

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12

This gets to me so much, because this particular scripture talks about our lack of knowledge, in general. That we only know things pertaining to God, salvation, and even pertaining to ourselves (See Psalms 19:12 and 1 John 3:2) to a point. At a future time, I will know everything fully...but RIGHT NOW, I'm already fully known. As such, intimacy is triggered, because someone gets me in that "cosmic sense":

But what about the rejection? I should be super scared that an all-knowing, all-powerful, holy God is hip to all that is ME, right?


 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? - Romans 8:29-31.

God knew me...and knowing me still decided that I should be conformed to the image of Christ. And since He made that decision he justifies and glorifies this person that he completely KNOWS. And what did He know? That I was an enemy of God (Colossians 1:21). God got to know me, and rejection was warranted; however, that rejection was set aside at the cross. That may be the deepest thing I've ever thought about.

Being known by God is intimacy without fear of rejection, because if God knows me, and is for me...who can be against? And why would I even care?