Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Timing is Everything: Part 1

Timing is everything.

In my opinion, that is one of the truest sayings to have ever been said. At some point in my life, I was late for something (...a frequent occurrence). I can't even vaguely remember what it was. I only remember what someone (I don't know who) said to me when I arrived: "You're just in time to be too late!" And it was true. I had arrived at the end. People were putting on coats. I was just in time to be too late.

"Just in time to be too late" is the story of my life. Or at least it's been the perception of my life. If "timing is everything" I think most people can also agree that when you want something "the time is now." But alas, "now" is usually much later than we'd like.

Do you think Sarah laughed like this? Maybe...
I've written blogs before about waiting. For example, the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham and Sarah. A baby at 90 years old? Seems just in time to be too late. Seems like God made her wait too long. Seems kind of rude actually. Right? But for Sarah, it was actually just in time. To her, it was joyous, even though she thought she was past knowing that joy:

Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” - Genesis 21:6

Why couldn't she just have the baby at 35? All I can think is: it wasn't time.

Joseph was a slave in Egypt for 13 years. For nothing. That's how it always looked to me. Joseph wasn't a bad kid. He might have been too loose and free with that "the sun, moon, and stars will bow down to me" speech, but he was just telling them about his dream! That shouldn't land you 13 years as a slave. Seems like a bit much. Seems like God played Joseph. Seems kind of messed up actually. But for Joseph, it all made perfect sense. And it was all perfectly timed:

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Please come closer to me.” And they came closer. And he said, “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life...God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God. - Genesis 45:4-8

There's something about people who realize that there time has come. They say incredible things. INCREDIBLE. What I love about Sarah, is that as a barren woman, she lived almost her entire life with that reproach. And it seems like too long. I said she thought she was past knowing joy. She thought it didn't exist anymore, and God manufactured it. He made laughter for her. I love that saying, because it implies that there was no other source for it. Deep.

Joseph came to the conclusion that Egypt was the endgame for his family. But he had to go first as the forerunner. He had to go set it all up. He was on a different timetable. And he was fine with that. Once his time had come, he fully understood. And he didn't credit his arrival in Egypt to his brothers. He credited God, who knew there was a time for Joseph to be thrown in a pit. And there was a time for him to rise out of it. Deep.
change 12/27 to 12/30...that's how late I am

And so I'm late. My timing is off. This blog should have come about 7 days ago. Or should it have? Initially this thought was in my head for Advent. I was researching the length of time between the first prophecy of the coming of Christ and His arrival (the Christmas story). Theologians say the first prophecy is in Genesis 3:15. Which is at the beginning of the Bible. Like...it's still in the garden! So before Sarah had her baby, and before Joseph was vizier in Egypt...Jesus was in the weather forecast.

I am 1 day from completing my Bible in a Year plan--which was my New Year's Resolution from 2014. And I can tell you, from Genesis 1 to Malachi 4, a lot of really bad stuff happened. Jesus seemed rather late. And with the 400 years of silence between Malachi and Matthew? Late with no phone call! 

 But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. 
- Galatians 4:4 (NLT)

I used the NLT here, because I like that it says "the right time." I also like the NIV because it says "the set time." I even like the NASB because it says "the fullness of time." All of those imply a determination by God. His determination of the correct timing trumps our wishy-washy perception of: "...moving kinda slow there God."

I think it seems slow, until your time has come. Or it seems slow until your faith is right. It's probably more like the latter, but I'm definitely often (if not always) in the former camp. I think it's helpful to simply know that timing is everything. And not my timing. But God's timing.

Jesus came and He left at the right time. I think that's a big deal too. Don't you find it amazing how God works? I mean...it's beyond all comprehension. But it took thousands of years for Him to come. And it only took 33 short years for him to complete His work. Why do I say complete? Well, because Jesus said: "it is finished"  (John 19:30). Thirty-three years and it was time.

Man is like a mere breath; His days are like a passing shadow. - Psalm 144:4

Jesus was here for less than half a breath, and it was enough to conquer sin and death! I've never really thought about that. But the timing was simply right:

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. - Romans 5:6

I think it's important to know (and accept) that nothing is ever overdue. Never delinquent. And it's never too early.

Nothing is ever "just in time to be too late."

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Risk and Rewards

Risk and rewards or "risk and return" is a common thought in the finance/investing world...I think. The last I heard of risk and rewards was in a college classroom. However, it went something like this:

The higher the risk, the higher the potential reward (or return). 

It's a calculation. We like calculations. There is something very comforting about 1+1 = 2. It's absolute. I, personally, love absolutes. I have picked a career that is very rules based, and I've decided it's because I like very clear "right" and very clear "wrong." The right and wrong in accounting changes with the understanding of regulators. A new code comes out and I follow that code. That code gets amended, and I change my understanding based on the amendment.  Everything is in order. 
Explainable. Defensible.

I'm the same way in my personal life. Yesterday, at an outing, I and some other single ladies were talking about our "types." And I said that I didn't have a type, that I was "open." I realize now (I didn't in the moment) that I was lying. There is a list of qualities that I seek. They are in order. They are explainable. Defensible. But when you fall in love everything flies out the window. When you want someone that you weren't looking for, that is out of order, inexplicable, and indefensible...you go out to dinner with him. Smile in his face. Imagine what your children look like. Why? Risk and reward. The risk is that this individual is "off list." The reward: true love (if you believe in that sort of thing). Which is what you wanted in the first place. True love was the goal, but you have another means of reaching it.

In my opinion, the sermon on the mount is very similar. This next part...is sort of crazy, but I do believe it is divinely inspired. It's twisty. It's turny. But stay with me.

The sermon on the mount is a story of risk and reward. I've spent the last million years (or so it feels like to me) talking about the risks. I call them risks, because honestly the more I look at the Beatitudes, the more it seems like it's about throwing yourself away. It's a call to a level of selflessness that is incredible uncomfortable. Just to recap: 
  1.  We have to throw away all our preconceived notions of who we are, and see ourselves and our sin the way God sees it (poverty of spirit and mourning). 
  2. We must humbly present our bodies as "a living sacrifice" to God's will, throwing away our will for our own lives (meekness, hunger/thirst, pure in heart) 
  3. And we must bear with evil for the greater good, with our only weapon being the Word of the Gospel (merciful, peacemaking, persecution).
Risks. All of this is self-denial and self-sacrifice. To what end? Six of the rewards make some sort of sense:
  • Mourn = comforted
  • Meek = inherit the earth
  • Hunger and thirst = satisfaction/fed
  • Merciful = receive mercy
  • Pure in heart = shall see God
  • Peacemakers = shall be called sons of God
But the first reward and the last reward (which are the same) are a little iffy:

"For theirs is the kingdom of heaven"

Upside-down kingdom. What kind of king says "reign with me?" I mean, it would be totally cool/awesome for us to simply be loyal subjects in the Kingdom of our Lord...but that's not what God is going for. Jesus is saying: reign with me. BE LIKE ME.

Why is that a big deal?

Well...because it takes us all the way back to the beginning:

The serpent said to the woman, "You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God - Genesis 3:4

This right here, is where the need for reconciliation began. It wasn't that Eve wanted to eat the fruit so badly, because as she told the serpent, she could eat from any tree in the garden (Genesis 3:3). It's not that she was hungry. It's not even that this was the forbidden fruit. It was the promise of: and you will be like God. What a motivator! 

What's your motivation? And what are you after in life? And how do you think you're supposed to go about getting it? I ask this because Adam and Eve were truly tricked. They had no idea that they were being offered something that was already slated to be theirs!

You don't have to steal it...
Everything that the beatitudes require of you, every thing that the Holy Spirit works in us sums of up to Jesus Christ. It is a work of reconciliation, transforming you into the image of Christ who is what? The express image of the person of God ( Hebrews 1:3). That was always the plan. Reign with me. Be like me.

God is freely allowing us to have the thing Adam and Eve thought they had to steal: to be as He is.

That's the reward. That's the ultimate goal.

How do you plan to get there?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Don't Hurt Me!

I'm wrapping up my eons long review of the Beatitudes. I could probably start all over again and have all new thoughts regarding these biblical truths, but you have to know when to move on. So, I'm moving on right after this one. The final two Beatitudes in my opinion are one:

"Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." 
- Matthew 5:10-12

this is not my t-shirt. Mine was awesome.
Why did I jump right into the scripture? Why didn't I start off with some story about how I've been persecuted? "Once I told someone I loved Jesus...and they punched me in the face!" Nope, that didn't happen. I have not been the victim of religious persecution, and honestly I can't think of a single thing in my life that is analogous to the horrors of religious martyrdom. I want to say that right off.  I can't tell you about "persecution" in pre-school for wearing a Cookie Monster t-shirt every day. That just wasn't for the sake of Christ. I can't tell you about my "persecution" on the school bus in high school for that curly weave. That weave (in hindsight) was a mistake AND not for the sake of Christ. I can't tell those because 1) they are not comparable to the suffering alluded to in Matthew 5, and 2) they hold no value (neither eternally or in those moments). But there is a persecution that is valuable, even if no one wants it.
In every blog, I've juxtaposed the seemingly insane beatitude with the divine help of the Holy Spirit. This one is no different. From a human standpoint, I think persecution is the very LAST thing we ever want to happen to us. If I were a 1st century Jew waiting for a spiritual-political Savior King to rescue me from current persecution and avenge persecutions past, the Sermon on the Mount would be almost insulting. I almost said I would throw rocks...then I realized, that's what first century Jews would do! We're in sync. Persecution = NO.

Yet, I doubt you'll find any other experience advocated as much (in scripture):

Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. - 2 Timothy 3:12

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.." - John 15:18 

...but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.  - 1 Peter 4:13-14

There are tons of scriptures about persecution, all with a positive twist. But I use these three, in conjunction with our main verse (Matt 5:10-12) to demonstrate the three benefits of persecution (that are not it's blatantly stated reward):

Prescription - a prescription is something that is suggested as a way to make something happen. Paul told Timothy that that persecution was the prescription for those desiring godly lives. Is that medicine that you want to take?

Identification - There are two ways to be identified as disciples of Christ; one is loving one another (cf: John 13:35; which strangely, we also seem to take issue with) and the other is listed above: persecution. If you're hated for this gospel, know that it's only because you've continued the already hated work of Christ.

Celebration - The first two are cause for celebration. If you've taken your medicine, and stood with the hated, it means you are a partaker of and with Christ and that God's Spirit rests upon you.

And it's not coincidence that the Spirit of God (i.e. the Holy Spirit) make an appearance here. Wherever the Beatitude is, the Holy Spirit is standing by. As stated before, the Beatitudes are counter to human nature, so you need supernatural intervention. And the fruits of the spirit that (I believe) go with persecution are: gentleness and self-control.
  • Gentleness is acquiescence to authority and consideration of others
  • Self-control is the ability to control one's emotions, behavior, and desires in the face of external demands in order to function in society the kingdom of God. 
The gentleness sounds really easy, but that's hard. I know that I, personally, need the Holy Spirit to work gentleness in me, because I desperately want my own way. Period. The "authority" that we have to give in to isn't "the man", but rather it's God. That bit of knowledge doesn't automatically put down my little rebellions. And other people? Sadly, they rarely enter into my decision-making process. 
Total surrender to God's plans is supernaturally inspired. People often say: "Jesus gladly died for our sins." 

...perhaps we play too fast and loose with the word "gladly." Jesus (based on my reading comprehension), with much pain, acquiesced to the will of the Father in consideration of my (and billion's of others) sins. 

Then He *said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.”And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” - Matthew 26:38-40

Jesus came gently. That's the spirit He imparts to His believers.

Self-control? I think of this as having mastery over one's self in any situation, rather than letting the situation be master over you. I feel like Jesus displayed that. He said "no man takes my life, but I choose to lay it down" (paraphrase of John 10:18). Aside that Jesus says the coolest things, there's something about such a person allowing men to put their hands on Him. The things he allowed...

Persecution is the last step before glorification. I said from the start that the Beatitudes built up. And it started so simply with:

First Beatitude = Poor in Spirit (an attitude towards God)
First Fruit of the Spirit = Love (an attitude we must develop towards God)

It made me thing of the MOST popular scripture in all of Christendom:

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. - John 3:16
Love leads to sacrifice. For God, and for His followers.

The person who starts out recognizing that they had nothing to offer God, in their newfound love for God, ultimately feels led to sacrifice the one thing they can offer: their life. 

And like scripture says: For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it (Matthew 16:25). 

...can you say "paradox?"

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Extreme Transformation

Every year I try to go through some type of transformation. I'll either start working out to change my body. I'll go on a crazy shopping spree to change my fashion style; yet come away more "broke" than "runway." I go on detoxes to free my body of "toxins." In a cyclical manner, I'm always attempting to transform myself into a healthier and more fashionable version of myself. Extreme Makeover: without the help.

I'm not a total failure every time. I lose a few pounds, I buy a few nice pieces at Bloomingdales and Theory, and I drink a couple of glasses of water spiked with organic apple cider, lemon, and cayenne pepper to "re-balance my pH levels." But believe me when I say, I'm not getting Extreme Makeover results. No. Me, personally, I need Chris Powell. But, generally, all people need is a little help. Enter: life coaches, personal trainers, stylists, etc. 

I'll admit, though, even without the help, it's not impossible. There are people who can do amazing things on their own. Out of sheer will, discipline, and determination. People who can put down the sweets and pick up a dumbbell. Transforming from unhealthy to healthy, from trashy dresser to fashionista, and from ALL the toxins to totally "clean" can be done. Unaided. But what about transforming from darkness to light? How does that happen? By sheer will, discipline, and determination?

Interestingly, yesterday at work, I got "Happy Diwali" treats! I was pretty pumped. Free sweets? Yes, please! And though I'm not Hindu, I really like the meaning of Diwali: it spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness.

Light and darkness seem like new age religion. It seems sort of hippy dippy (at least, that's how I have perceived it). However, though not often brought to the forefront of Christian sermons, Christianity also deals in the light vs. darkness spiritual issue:

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” - John 8:12

I like this scripture quite a bit, because it doesn't say that the person who follows Christ will walk in the light. But rather, they will have this light. They possess this light. They will BE this light.

You are the light of the world... - Matthew 5:14

...for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light
 - Ephesians 5:8
What a transformation. Not only did we walk in darkness, we were darkness. We were transformed. Which brings me to the next beatitude:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." - Matthew 5:9

I find this one to be so interesting, because to an extent, at this Beatitude you have "arrived." It's not even the last one. But, in my opinion, the previous Beatitudes were the "journey." This one is the "destination." The beatitude that follows is what you can expect at that destination.  

If we think about people who embody the opposite of the Beatitudes: people who are pridefully arrogant, carefree, stubborn, pleasure seekers, merciless, and kinda two-faced are not generally people who get referred to as "peacemaker." That's just not one of the hats they wear. In fact, such people are often the instigators of strife. But when God is systematically purifying your hearts from such behaviors and attitudes, He's preparing you to make peace.
The more I read the Beatitudes, the more its seems like a message of transformation into the image of Christ, and it's done through the transference of His Spirit. This is how He can say, "I am the Light of the world" one moment, and we're the light of the world the next!

The peacemaker is called to carry on the work of the Prince of Peace, with the reward being the title of "son of God." Who else gets called "Son of God"? It's not hard to figure out what the end-game is here:

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name... - John 1:12


"...but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." - Acts 1:8

The Beatitudes are an Extreme Makover...soul edition. It's not possible based on sheer will, discipline, and determination. I can't wake up and say: "from now on...I'm meek!" Nah. You need that help (that power) for this transformation. On our own, we're the opposite of the Beatitudes. Human nature is the antithesis of the Beatitudes. So it is unlikely that the Beatitudes represent some 8-step self-improvement plan. They're not a rulebook. They are a roadmap to a peculiar destination. And the Holy Spirit is the vehicle by which you reach that destination: Transformation.

From darkness...to light.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

If you were stranded on a deserted island...

"If you were stranded on a deserted island, what three things would you take?" 

This was a question asked on Yahoo! Answers, the place where you can pretty much get an answer to any question from "where do monkeys come from?" to "should I keep my baby?" Ask the internet a question and Yahoo! Answers may have an entertaining (rarely wise) answer for you.

This question came with a link, because the poser of this silly question cataloged the responses in a YouTube video.What a find!

Reading the responses, you can sort of tell what individual people are concerned with:
  • Some responders mentioned "water." These people are concerned with their survival
  • Some responders mentioned food. Specific foods. Unlimited food even. They didn't want the tools with which to hunt, but just somehow an endless supply of chocolate, chicken, and other tasty morsels. These people are concerned with comfort.
  • Some responders mentioned dogs or other people (who thank you for stranding them). These people are concerned with companionship.
  • A small group of responders mentioned items (or persons) that could be used for entertainment, which was also clearly a concern. 
By what responders chose to bring, you could figure out what they really cared about. I have always hated this question for two reasons:
  1. If I'm stranded, isn't it too late for me to take something? 
  2. If I could somehow request items post-stranding, how do you choose just three?! 
What if it was just one? What would it be?

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." - Matthew 5:9
This particular Beatitude is interesting to me, because it requires you to have "just one." Just one what? One want. One desire. ONE. 

"one is the loneliest number"
I've probably said "All I want is this one thing..." regarding dozens of things in my life. Wanting ONE thing is very unnatural. And even if we did want just one thing, after we had it, we might not want it anymore! That's human nature. We want quality and quantity. In other words: we want it all. But "purity" by definition can't include "it all." For something to be pure, it is not mixed with anything else. For something to be pure, it is comprised of one substance.  So Jesus is saying: I need there to be ONE thing in your heart. To which my response is: eek!

There's a scripture that is littered all over this blog. And it is probably used incorrectly as I didn't understand it until recently:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." - Matthew 6:19-21

I thought that God cared about my stuff. Or at least the quality of my stuff. In my mind it went like this:
  • Store up treasures in heaven, because that stuff lasts forever and no one can take it out of your hand! 
  • Don't store up treasure on earth, because that stuff is temporary, wears out, and can be taken!
SMH. God doesn't care about my stuff! He cares about the location of my heart! And He wants me to be aware of where it resides. Locate your treasure. Locate your heart.

So once I locate the many (not even close to one) things that my heart desires, I find out a sad truth:

The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?
 - Jeremiah 17:9

This is what the Bible refers to as the natural state of my heart. It's bad. So, as in the other Beatitude problems, God has to step in with a supernatural remedy: goodness.

I go to a church where the pastor often says: "Jesus doesn't just make bad people good, he brings dead people to life." And I love that. But in Galatians 5:22, we come to know that God can make you "good." A bad heart can be transformed into a good heart (courtesy of the Holy Spirit). A pure heart. By the works of Christ (1 John 1:9, 1 John 3:2-3, Hebrews 1:3, etc.). 

So what does this mean? I can't want anything? I'm not exactly saying that. But if someone asked you: "If you could only have one thing in the whole wide world, what would it be?" How would you answer? 
One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord    and to seek him in his temple.
 - Psalm 27:4

Oh to answer like David, "a man after God's own heart"! 

The Lord is still working on me, but one day...I'll answer like that. Not with my mouth. But it'll be the first thing that pops into my head. It'll be the first words that forms in my heart. Why? Because it's a "good" answer. And God makes us good.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

No Mercy

I can hold a major grudge.

Women's small groups (bible studies) are full of many cyclical conversations, one of which is: when to cut people out of your life.* Sometimes you have to let people go. How have I determined this? Emotions. Is that right? Probs not. However, we have ways of making merciless behavior seem like "the right thing to do" and later (after we've hurt folks) we struggle with the question: "was that the right thing to do?" So, I recently asked myself a new question: Am I merciful?

In truth, mercy is not in my every day vocab.

Mercy - compassionate treatment, especially of those under one's power

...Well, since literally no one is under my power, I should be off the hook! Yay! But mercy is also simply a disposition to be kind and forgiving. That seems applicable. Boo! If I had the other Beatitudes down (which I don't), this is where I'd fall apart. I have a history of cutting people off. I've felt hurt, betrayed and tricked...and said "no more!" And I meant it. It stuck. It was done (regardless of apologies). Am I merciful?

Sometimes I walk past homeless people on the streets, when I'm supposed to self-identify as a beggar--hungering and thirsting after righteousness. Am I merciful?

I'm quick to judge the sins of others and "get all 'remove the evil one from among you'", when I should be mourning my own sins. Am I merciful?

Why does it matter? Do I even have to get an answer to this question?

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy." - Matthew 5:7

I've been following the Bible in a Year plan, and when Matthew starts up...so much has changed since the end of the Old Testament! Except one thing: Jews remain under the domination of a world power. It's been 400 years since the prophecy of Malachi:

“But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall. You will tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing” - Malachi 4:2-3
God wants to upgrade you...like an iPhone

So, if you're them...you're expecting a sermon about trodding down the wicked (i.e. the Romans). That expectation is only natural. Instead they get this mercy speech. What was Jesus getting at? Why these words? I think it's because God wants to supernaturally change every natural thing about you. Everything that is "only natural" needs to be upgraded.

Human beings are not naturally merciful. God is merciful. Naturally, we can all commit acts of kindness. And we can forgive people (depending on what they did). But Jesus is raising the bar above isolated incidents.

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. - Ephesians 4:32

You know what the crazy thing is about God's kindness/mercy? It's self-propagating. David knew this, which is why he always said how it "endured forever"(Psalm 136).  Jeremiah knew it when he said God's mercies were new every morning (Lamentations 3:23).

Ephesians 4:32 commands us to forgive just like God does. How, in the world, do you do something just like God did it?! With the help of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). It's impossible without God replacing the natural with the supernatural.

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be the sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil
- Luke 6:35 

Naturally, showing mercy to the ungrateful and the evil seems "weak", but supernaturally I know that when I am weak...then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:10). Naturally, I'm not a fan of the ungrateful and try to steer pretty clear of the evil. But supernaturally, that person is at the top of my prayer list. Supernaturally, that's who I want to pour myself out for the most. Why? 
  • After recognizing our utter depravity
  • After crying out over our sin and separation from God
  • After being so hungry for His Holiness, which we can only receive by His mercy...

Mercy should be something we 1) recognize ourselves as being a recipient of, and 2) are eager to give out, because 3) we don't want the supply of mercy flowing to us to run out. 

Are you merciful?

*Maybe men's small groups have the same problem, but I wouldn't know.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Satisfaction Guaranteed!

From the time I was a child, I've been hard to satisfy. I have a bad history of Christmas tantrums (some of which were my parents' fault). For example, I think I might have asked for "a He-Man toy." I say "I think" and "I might" and I use quotes because I simply cannot remember a Christmas list from 25 years ago well. However, I'm pretty sure I got Cringer, He-man's tiger...but I'm not sure I even had He-Man! Do you see, the problem here? I was left "unsatisfied."*

Satisfaction - fulfillment of one's wishes, expectations, or needs, or the pleasure derived from this.

That's a HARSH definition. I thought satisfaction would be just like some happy feeling, but the above definition includes so much, that it kind of sounds unattainable.

My Christmas list was representative of my expectations. I expected everything on that list. So if the morning did not go as expected...I went insane.

Now imagine this child has grown up. 

I was talking to my mom about one of my needs this morning: oysters. I've had the biggest oyster craving for the past couple of weeks, but haven't really done anything about it. A couple of days ago I bought tickets to the Oyster Riot. For three hours, I will have unlimited oysters. Twenty-five different types! But that's not until November. And the anticipation is not satisfying. I sit around thinking: how can I guarantee satisfaction (a.k.a. how do I get my money's worth)? And I have this ridiculous plan of subtracting a certain amount for the live music, then divvying up the remaining amount between drinks and oysters. But, how many do I have to eat for it to be satisfying? 70? 50? Definitely no less than 30 right?!

Now, I don't want to jinx my oyster riot and say I'll be underwhelmed when that day comes...but, such has happened before. With McDonald's french fries. Sometimes you really want them. You'll head to Mickie D's, you'll get fries...and it just won't be all you had dreamed. Am I the only one this has happened to?  

Probably not, because when all your wishes, expectations, and needs for an amazing culinary experience rest on a $0.99 fry, things can go terribly wrong! When your wishes, expectations, and needs regarding your life rest on significant others, cars, houses, promotions, and the like...it can be a lot like buying stale fries or (God forbid) getting food poisoning at an oyster riot. Right?
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied." - Matthew 5:6

You know what's amazing about this verse? To me, when I read this I immediately think: what am I hungry for, and I start thinking of all the "stuff" that I want: houses, cars, a man with washboard abs and a smile that gleams, mega millions, etc., etc. But Jesus isn't comparing righteousness to those things. Jesus is talking hunger for FOOD and thirst for WATER. He's talking about life-sustaining elements! Jesus is talking about the necessities of life; if these aren't satisfied, then I'm dead. Not #dead. Really DEAD. Many people have no idea what it means to be life-threateningly hungry. 
I find it amazing how many times I've belittled this scripture to mean so much less. In this same sermon Jesus says: 

Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. - Matthew 6:31-33

How often have you heard this scripture used to tell you to be patient while waiting for the desires of your heart? How many times have you been told to "seek the kingdom first" and all the other unsatisfying items will be added to you? Jesus wasn't even going there. The worries He says to cast aside are so much loftier than "when will I be able to move out of this apartment?" or "when will I get my raise?" These are worries for basic survival! What will I eat? What will I drink? Who will keep me from being naked?! This is serious business, so Jesus is either saying:
  1. Seek ME first (in those situations of hunger, thirst, nakedness), or
  2. He's showing how crucial righteousness is. He's putting in on par with  food and water! Righteousness is a life-sustaining element. If this hunger/thirst isn't satisfied, then I'm dead. Not #dead. Spiritually DEAD. Many people are life-threateningly hungry and have no idea.
Or (gasp!) He's saying both!  Do you see why this sermon is so hard to hear? It was hard to hear 2,000 years ago, when Jews were hungry and thirsty for peace, freedom, and restoration to their land. And it's hard to hear today when we're hungry for romantic love, money/power/position, "happiness", etc. Jesus makes ZERO mention of those things in His sermon. And it's not because those things are bad. Nah, it's because they're not supreme. Jesus is creating a hierarchy of needs that starts with Himself! He wants a people who are focused on the supreme.

Righteousness needs being at the base of the pyramid is problematic, because we don't have any righteousness. But this is part of the build-up: I have nothing to offer (poverty of spirit), I'm a mess (mourning), I need you Lord to guide me (meekness), heck...I need you to survive (hunger and thirst). The awesome thing is: this is a "satisfaction guaranteed" situation. If you're hungry and thirsty for other things...you might come away still hungry. But if you hunger and thirst for righteousness you "will be satisfied."

...Once you get it. All of it. Is this a catch?! Me personally, I want all my satisfaction NOW. But the only way for me to do that, is to get it for myself. But since I'm spiritually impoverished...that won't have the best results. This is why the Holy Spirit gives us the supernatural ability to be patient (the ability to tolerate delays with freaking out). Paul says it best:

 "For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness"- Galatians 5:5

*I actually think I loved that Cringer. I'm not sure about this story...but I know this, I cried nearly every Christmas, so stories like this one occurred.