On Expectations…

Expectations.

They get us in trouble, don’t they?

I expect to be treated a certain way by my loved ones.  But then they do that thing or say those words that hurt me and I am devastated.

I expect my vacation to go a certain way.  But then the traffic was snarled on the way there, the hotel wasn’t as nice as the pictures and the beach was too crowded.

I expect my day to go the way I planned.  But then the to-do list gets blown to smithereens by constant interruptions, my coworkers drop the ball, or I discover that I have dropped multiple balls.

I expect God to act a certain way.  But then the bottom drops out of my world; the answer to my prayer is “no”; the unthinkable happens and there is pain.

Expectations.

When people don’t act the way I think they should.

When circumstances don’t line up the way I want them to.

When God seems to have failed – or at least to have turned His back.

John the Baptist had expectations – with good reason!

He knew the circumstances of his miraculous birth to aging parents who had given up hope.

He knew the calling of God on his life to prepare the way for his cousin, the Messiah.

He knew what he had seen, what he had experienced with Jesus – the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus while the Father declared His pleasure.

And he even was wise enough to get out of God’s way.  He said about Jesus, “He must increase while I must decrease.” (John 3)

 

But then the unthinkable happened.

He was jailed for doing the right thing.

He called sin, sin.

He did that all the time.

But when he did it to King Herod – called him out on his sin of killing his brother so he could have his wife – he got thrown in prison.

Expectations blown.

Smashed to smithereens.

 

And he was honest with Jesus in the midst of his disappointment.

He sent a message. From his jail cell.

“Um, Jesus?  Did we get this right?  Did I understand correctly?  You are the Messiah, right?  Or should we look for someone else?”

In other words, “Jesus, you are not meeting my expectations!  I don’t deserve this.  This isn’t fair.  Are you sure you are God?  Because God wouldn’t act this way!”

 

And I love what Jesus did NOT do.

He did not rebuke him.

“Oh, suck it up, buttercup!  After all, one of us is going to bear the sin of the whole world.  And guess what – that is not you!”

He didn’t shake his head and chastise him.

“Oh, John, John, John.  What am I going to do with you?  You need to manage those expectations better, my friend.”

He didn’t get angry.

“Hey, Bucko!  I am God and you are not.  Get over it!”

 

Instead, he sent back a message to John that said, “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen—  the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.  And tell him, ‘God blesses those who do not turn away because of me.’” (Matthew 11, NLT)

 

In other words, Jesus said, “Look at the BIG picture, John.  I am the one who was prophesied about.  Just like it says in Isaiah 61, the blind are seeing, the lame are walking, the sick are being healed, the dead are being raised.  I am at work because I am The I AM.  And I know that you don’t understand what is happening in your life – but you will be blessed if you hang in there with me.  Take a step back, take it all in, and choose to believe the best about Me.  It will all be worth it in the end.”

Verse 6 in other translations:

“And blessed[joyful, favored by God] is he who does not take offense at Me [accepting Me as the Messiah and trusting confidently in My message of salvation].”  (Amplified Version)

“Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” (NIV)

“And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.” (KJV)

When people do not meet my expectations, I have choices.  I can be offended and then choose to forgive.  Or I can be offended and then choose not to forgive (which, of course, would be sin).  Or, I can choose to not be offended at all, remembering that we are all flawed sinners and choosing to believe the best about that person.  (And yes, sometimes I have to call the other person on their behavior – but most of the time the offense committed falls under, “Love covers a multitude of sins.”  But that is a topic for another day.)

But when GOD does not meet my expectations, I have only one correct choice.

And that is to trust Him.

To believe that He has the big picture in mind.

To remember that this world is incredibly temporary.

To “set my mind on things above” (Colossians 3), remembering that in the not too distant future, I will be at Home with him and all of these troubles will be what Paul calls them – “light and momentary” (2 Corinthians 4).

To believe He is for me and not against me.  (Romans 8)

To remember that He is Sovereign over all things. (Colossians 1)

And to choose to recall that this life is about Him, not me.

Because, as CS Lewis wrote about God when he wrote about Aslan, the picture of Christ in the Chronicles of Narnia, “He is not a tame lion – but He is good.”

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I believe…don’t I?

My belief determines my action – or inaction.
I am firm believer in gravity.
And that belief determines my actions.
For example, I don’t take a step off of a tall edifice because I believe that gravity works.
I believe it is real – and that belief determines my actions.

I say that I believe that God is real.
I say a lot of things about Him.
He is good.
Everything He does is right.
He is Sovereign, the Most High God, in complete control.
He is worthy of all my praise.
He is a good, good Father and He loves me.
He hates sin – all sin.
He loves people – all people.
He is the Creator and as such, gets to set the rules. All of the rules.

But do these beliefs even inform my actions – let alone determine them?

I say, “I believe that God is good and everything He does is right.”
But then something goes wrong and I immediately doubt His love for me.
Or something goes wrong and I immediately go into fix-it mode, without stopping to pray or even to think about what His Word might say on this matter.
Or something goes wrong and I outwardly smile but inwardly start to fret about how it.

So do I really believe that “God is good and everything He does is right”? Or is it lip-service?

I say, “I believe that God hates sin.”
But then I find a way to justify my “little” sins.
I find a way to ignore my conscience and the Holy Spirit when they try to tell me I am wrong.
I compare myself to others, saying, “Well, I might be wrong, but he is worse.”
I do that instead of making the only comparison that is valid – myself to God and the standard He set as Creator.

So do I really believe that “God hates sin”? Or do I just believe that God hates the sins of others?

And one step further.

I say, “I believe that God loves people. They were all created in His image with intrinsic worth.”
But then I quickly plunk them into categories and treat them as their established-by-me category dictates. “With me” or “against me”. “Good people” vs. “bad people”. Or “worth my time” vs. “not worth my time”. Or “enemy” vs. “friend”. I once again justify my actions by comparing. Surely this person – the one in the “good” category – is worth more to God than that person. I may not say that aloud – but my actions scream it. There is a time and a place to call sin, sin. But there is never a time or a place to call the sinner better or worse than me. We are both created by God. Both loved by Him. Both sinners. Both in need of a Savior. Both held to the same standard of a Holy, Righteous, Just God – and both found wanting.

So do I really believe that “God loves people”? Or does He only love the people I like – or the people who are like me?

Last one. Because my toes are hurting from me stepping all over them.

I say, “I believe that God loves me.”
But then I look in the mirror and stick out my tongue because my reflection isn’t what I want it to be. I guard my own self-interests at all costs because I have to look out for myself. I wallow in self-pity because I am not loved by someone else the way I think they should love me. I evaluate my worth on how much I perceive the acceptance and love of other people. “Do they like me? Do they really like me?” I worry about what others think with barely a passing thought of what God thinks. I take the cross for granted. And I ignore God calling me to talk to Him, spend time with Him, sit with Him, share a meal with Him.

So do I really believe that “God loves me”?

And more than that, do I really believe that I love Him?

My beliefs – the real ones – determine my actions.

The good news? I don’t have to strain and struggle to manufacture real belief or its natural byproduct, godly actions.

Jesus had a conversation in Mark 9 with the father of a demon-possessed child. Here is how the conversation went:
“How long has this been happening?” Jesus asked the boy’s father.
He replied, “Since he was a little boy. The spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.”
“What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.”
The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”
When Jesus saw that the crowd of onlookers was growing, he rebuked the evil spirit. “Listen, you spirit that makes this boy unable to hear and speak,” he said. “I command you to come out of this child and never enter him again!”
Then the spirit screamed and threw the boy into another violent convulsion and left him. The boy appeared to be dead. A murmur ran through the crowd as people said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and helped him to his feet, and he stood up.

Did you notice??? What Jesus did NOT say is as important as what He did say. Jesus did not chastise the father of the demon-possessed child who said, “I believe – help my unbelief.” He did the opposite – he honored his honesty and his heart by healing his son. My main job is not to conjure up more belief – my job is to be honest with God, just as this father was. Teresa of Avila lived in Spain in the 1500’s. She once said, “Oh God, I don’t love you, I don’t even want to love you, but I want to want to love you!” An honest cry of an honest heart. I recognize that my actions – and even my thoughts — show my true beliefs. And so, when my actions or my thoughts speak louder than my words, I have a choice. I can continue to live in denial, saying I believe one thing and doing another. Or I can cry out to My Help in Time of Need with an honest heart. “I want to want to love You. I want to want to love others. I want to want to be fully Yours – in my words and my actions. I believe – help my unbelief!”

King David knew this all too well. His lack of belief led him to commit adultery with Bathsheba – and then to have her husband killed to cover up the resulting pregnancy. When the prophet Nathan confronted David, he repented. And part of his repentance is recorded in Psalm 51 where he says to God, “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, you, God, will not despise.” When I recognize that I am not really trusting God; when I become aware that my actions do not line up with my so-called beliefs; when I blow it, I need to follow David’s example and bring to God a humble heart, asking Him to make it new again. And David was right – God does not despise it. Instead, He “opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”. (I Peter 5)

So that is my prayer today and daily: “I believe – help my unbelief.” And may my real beliefs lead to real godliness today.

A Story of the Kingdom…

There once was a King who owned vast holdings. In fact, He owned everything! He was a good, wise and gracious King, kind and merciful to all who submitted to his authority. In His wisdom, he chose to divide His kingdom among many, many stewards. To each He gave a certain portion of responsibility, in keeping with their individual talents, abilities and tastes. Some of these stewards did very well in their assigned portion of the Kingdom. They took the gifts the King gave and used them wisely and well. Others did not – but that is a tale for another time.

When the stewards used the King’s gifts wisely, their particular corner of the Kingdom would thrive. But even in the midst of the most Kingdom-successful pockets of the Kingdom, there were problems. Very often these problem were of the stewards’ own making. They would forget to follow the King’s simple rules. And when they forgot, they would miss the target of the standards that the King had set. (By the way – these standards were set for their own good, to bring about abundant living because the King was all-wise. But that, too, is a tale for another day.) When the stewards messed up (as they often did), the King was gracious and kind, always forgiving when they asked. Unfortunately, however, problems and challenges would arise because of the wrong choices of the stewards – natural consequences of their actions.

But sometimes, the stewards had problems that were not of their making. The King had an enemy, a rival who thought he could be a better king. This rivalry began long ago and had already been resolved by the King’s beloved son, the Prince of Peace. However, the enemy still had limited time and limited power – his death sentence had yet to be imposed – and he used it to mess with the stewards of the King. The enemy and his henchmen worked hard to cause problems for the stewards – because the enemy knew how much the King loved and valued each one of the stewards. His favorite strategy was to make them question whether or not the King was really a good King, the best King. He knew that one of the biggest problems these stewards faced was their own forgetfulness. With the very best intent and all sorts of energy, they would zealously work their corner of the Kingdom. But in all their busyness with business, they would forget that their King was still The King. They would forget that He ruled over all. And they would forget that they had His power, protection and provision backing them as His chosen stewards.

So when a problem would arise, the stewards would take different approaches to the issues.

Some of them would put their heads down, take a deep breath and tackle the problem with all their might, without consulting the King or even thinking about His Kingdom agenda. They figured, “The King helps those who help themselves!” – although He had never said that. Instead, He had said, “Watch Me and do as I do. Watch my Prince of Peace and learn His ways. Learn from Me and I will teach you how to be a good steward. In this world, you will have problems. But I am bigger than this world and all of its problems.”

Others would quickly throw up their hands and take a seat in a corner, rocking back and forth, moaning about the problem to all who would listen. They would even go so far as to say, “Well, obviously the King has forgotten about me. After all, He is so busy with His whole Kingdom and I am just a little steward. No one cares – and especially not the King! After all, if He cared about me, I wouldn’t have problems to overcome.” What they forgot was that the King was all wise. He knew his enemy and had control over what problems He allowed the enemy to cause. Because, you see, the King had a deeper and wiser plan than the enemy. He knew that each problem the enemy caused could be a precious lesson for the steward, a way to help his or her corner of the Kingdom thrive. And He had already promised that to the stewards – “Whatever the enemy intends for evil, I will work together for good for you because you are a steward of my Kingdom. And even the problems you bring on yourself – even those, I will bring something beautiful from, if you will let me.”

Still other stewards would say “Let’s talk to the King about this problem” and would send a brief message to Him – but then would act as if He never got the message (although He always did!) They would use Kingdom-speak about the problem but they still secretly fretted about it, stewing over it, losing sleep, and constantly wondering if the King would really come through on this one.

And some stewards would work hard at making it look like they had no problems, because they were more concerned about what the other stewards thought of them than they were of the King’s good opinion. Everything they did in relation to the problem was image-management. But inwardly, they were dying. Working hard, doing all the right things, trying desperately to look “together” in front of the other stewards. But they forgot that the King could see beyond what the other stewards could see – the King could see their hearts. They were not fooling Him – and really, not anyone else, either.

But a few – a very few – wise stewards would remember this Truth. They would say to themselves, “As a steward of the King, this situation falls under my purview. It is my assigned corner of the Kingdom and I am responsible for what the King has entrusted to me. But, while this is under my purview, it is the King’s problem. I know He has all the resources in the world at His disposal. So I will send him messages about my problem, pouring out my heart before Him. And then I will wait to see how He directs. Perhaps he will fix what is wrong without my help. After all, His is the King of Kings! Perhaps He will send a message back about the problem through one of His messengers. Or perhaps He will use one of the writings He has already provided to guide me. After all, I have the riches of His wisdom at my disposal through His writings. And there are other wise stewards around me who He may send to help. Or, perhaps He will give me an idea of how I can fix this problem – a new insight into this situation. But, regardless of how the King chooses to address this problem, I will choose to do two things. First, I will send the messages. And then I will joyfully wait on the King, resting in His goodness and greatness. Because this may fall under my purview, but it is His problem.”

These stewards were choosing to not just know the King’s words but to actually live them out. He had told all of the stewards, “If you will put yourself under my authority in ALL things – every problem, every interaction with other stewards, every battle with my enemy, every battle with yourself – ALL things – then I will honor you. You will see me do amazing things on your behalf. Because when you humble yourself before me, the King of Kings, you honor My Kingdom and you honor Me. Wait for me, even when it feels like I am coming late. Trust in me, even when you cannot tell what I am doing. Honor me with your words – but more than that, honor me with your heart. When the enemy whispers lies in your ear, tell him the Truth about me – and about who you are in Me. Choose to learn My ways. Because My ways are the only way to real life – eternal life – abundant life. Study My teaching. And trust My power. But most of all, trust My heart for you. I am for you and not against you. It will be alright in the end. My Kingdom will prevail.” And the stewards that actually did this lived happily ever after – not just in their heavenly reward, but in the “Kingdom that has come on earth as it is in heaven” as a result of their choice to trust the King.

The moral of the story:
My challenges, whatever they may be, fall under my purview, but they are God’s problem.

I recently hung out with a four-year old friend. We were at a local park and the day was gorgeous. She rather quickly discovered that I am also a four-year old in a much larger, much older body. I am willing to push swings, climb on play structures and facilitate general silliness. Apparently, this was news to my friend but she reveled in it. Very quickly she began leading me by the hand – or a handful of my shorts pocket – all over the playground. Eventually my 40-something body caught up with my 4-year old spirit and I had to sit down. Instead of going back to the playground, my friend affixed herself to me. We continued to be silly – ok, true confessions, I continued to be silly – and we delighted in each other’s company for quite a while.

This morning as I spent time with God, I was reflecting on the simple joy of hanging out with my four-year old friend. All she wanted was for me to be near her, to engage with her in whatever she was doing. And she was delighted, no matter what we did. And as I thought about that joy, that delight, that simply being together, God whispered to me, “That is how I feel about you. I delight in being with you – no matter what you are doing. You are my little girl and I love hanging out with you.”

Tears.
Happy tears.

I am God’s girl and He delights in me.
That’s grace.
Unmerited favor.

I don’t deserve to be God’s girl.
And I don’t deserve His unmerited favor.
I am not always delightful. Ask anyone who knows me well.
And God knows me better than anyone.

I know that my choices are not always delightful to Him.
In fact, the Bible is very clear that sin is abhorrent to God – it literally makes Him sick.
So when I choose to turn away and willfully do my own thing, He hates the choice that I made.
And it puts a barrier between us.
Not because He has rejected me.
But because I have rejected Him.
I have to turn back to Him – hopefully, a little more quickly each time – and say, “I’m sorry, Daddy. I blew it. Please forgive me.”
And He always, always does.
I don’t have to restore my salvation – that is a done deal.
But I do need to restore the joy of my salvation by confessing my sin. (Psalm 51)

But even at my worst, He always delights in me.
Because He chooses to do so.

Just like my 4-year old friend, He simply wants to be with me.
And He is always with me. (Hebrews 13).

But I am not always with Him.
I forget that He is right here.
Loving me.
Enjoying me.
Wanting to spend time with me.
Seeking my heart.
Painting rainbows, sunsets, and flowers for my enjoyment.
Providing sweet treats for my taste buds and my soul.
Willing to listen every moment.
Willing to guide every decision I make.
Willing to give me all I need, all the time.
Thankfully, His presence is not based on my remembrance of Him.
He is there whether I see Him or not.

And there is no wear-out factor.
He never shakes His head and says, “Enough of you. You are too loud. Too caught up in worry. Too selfish. Not trusting enough. Too much.”
He never walks away.

Sometimes I cannot trace His hand.
Sometimes it feels like He is not there.
Sometimes I wonder how He could love me.
Sometimes my circumstances seem bigger than Him.

But neither my feelings nor my circumstances are Truth.
And they do not change the facts:
He chose me. (Ephesians 1)
He called me out of the kingdom of darkness and into the Kingdom of His dear Son. (Colossians 1)
He has saved me by His grace and His grace alone. I cannot earn His love. I have never been good enough – and I never will be good enough. (Ephesians 2)
But He loves me. (I John 3:1)
And He calls me His beloved child. (I John 3:1)
He delights in every detail of my life. (Psalm 34)

Those facts are true about you, too, if you have accepted the free gift of salvation He offers.
He wants to spend time with you throughout your day.
He longs for you to long for Him.
To reach out for His hand as you go through the day.
To talk to Him as things happen. The good. The bad. The ugly.
A “Thanks, God” here.
A “What do you think, God?” there.
A “Help, please!” as needed.
Perhaps a “You do great work, God” when you see something beautiful.

To enjoy His presence as He enjoys yours.
He longs to be your everything.
My everything.
Will we let Him be that today?