Things Aren’t What They Seem To Be

Play it safe.

Don’t push too far.

Be careful.

Should we chose to follow all safety precautions on every product we buy or activity we take part in, there are still bound to be unforeseen, unplanned, and unexpected complications that will meet us along the way. We simply can’t avoid trouble, it comes with the territory of life.

I’ve said it many times and still hold to this: the safest place to be is in God’s will. There, I find protection, provision, joy, and comfort. There’s nothing that can reach me there; I’m in His pocket ( 1 Sam. 25:29) as it were, close to His heartbeat. From that place, I hear what stirs His heart and I find the courage to reach for things I never dreamt of before, because things aren’t what they seem to be when you’re in the will of God.

John 14:27 ESV “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

It would appear that Jesus was coaching His disciples to really open their eyes to the possibility of things not being as they would appear when He said, “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” At the time being described above in John 14, Jesus had entered into Jerusalem and was preparing His followers to understand that in the days to come, events would unfold that would appear to say, “It’s over.”

The crucifixion was on the horizon, Jesus knew it – but He also knew that the Resurrection was soon to follow on the heels of what would appear to be His end. He knew things weren’t going to be at all as they seemed. Jesus also knew everyone would flee and that He would be left alone to face the cross, yet He did it anyway. Why would He suffer and die when all would leave Him? He also knew that after His Resurrection, no one would believe in Him right away. It took quite a bit of work after He rose to convince those who had fled, that He was really alive. If it had been me making the choice at that juncture, those who had fled would not have been in the running for those chosen to be the leaders of the early church. Yet, by grace, Jesus chose to look beyond what the rest of us would call “the obvious” because He knew that nothing in His Kingdom is as it seems. Jesus knew that those who had fled weren’t at all as they appeared. They were born for something more, they were meant to turn the world “upside down.”

Acts 17:6 ESV “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also.”

I see a pattern throughout Scripture where those who dared to live close to the Father’s heartbeat never played it safe. They understood that being led where God took them was the only truly safe place to be – even if that path lead them to a place where it would seem their end was imminent.

Daniel chose the lions.

Paul chose to go to Rome.

Joseph chose to take Mary.

Each one (and many others) could have chosen to follow an easier route, but they didn’t. They knew the worst that could happen would have meant losing their lives, which would only put them in the presence of God; where would the the loss in that have been? They chose His safe place, and as they did, they lived amazing lives of adventure, seeing impossible dreams come true that they didn’t even know they had.

This life and all of its trimmings would have us to believe that living a life of adventure for God is unsafe, unreasonable, and even foolish. For those who don’t know the Father, I can understand those feelings. Still, there’s a thirst in me to see more than a life colored safely in the lines of what seems to be safe places, for in reality nothing is safe apart from God.

My choice is to live far from what seems to be safe; I want to live close to Him and far from things as they seem to be.

“The worship of God is not a rule of safety; it’s an adventure of the spirit.” Alfred North Whitehead

The Harshest of Teachers

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I’m all for preparation.

We need to prepare ingredients to bake a cake.

We need to prepare for the first day of school by purchasing school supplies.

We need to prepare for life by choosing a career path.

Preparation is simply part and parcel of life and a wise person does his/her best to prepare for life as it happens. However, there are some things we can’t prepare enough for.

No one is prepared to face the death of a loved one. Even if plans have been laid out for years and the person who has passed away is well advance in years and had a full life, the emotions that are stirred up when facing death are unexpectedly intense and surprising to even the strongest among us.

No one is ever adequately prepared for marriage. While I highly recommend marriage counseling and a thorough “vetting” of a relationship prior to marriage, the emotional and financial responsibilities that come with marriage can only be fully faced when married.

No one is ever adequately prepared to have children. It is wisdom to save money and do what you can to prepare for having children – but once the children come, it becomes painfully obvious that no amount of preparation really prepares one for parenthood.

When the call came for us to work overseas, I wasn’t prepared for what was waiting for me in lands unknown. The harshest of teachers, experience, was (and is) my mentor. First experiences are unforgiving, unkind, and unfeeling. What I felt when I first landed in Africa with my then 18 month old son on my lap, could not have been prepared for; I could only experience it in the moment and I had to decide in that moment how to react.

After landing and settling into our home, nothing prepared me for the loneliness I would feel as the only young mother among the few missionaries serving with us. I had to live it, I had to experience it, and I had to learn how to navigate the waters of solitude. In our Western culture, we place a high priority on having a circle of friends to lean on and support us in seasons of difficulty. That was taken away from me in a moment of time and I had no choice but to learn how to survive (and eventually thrive).

These experiences, and many more, have come at a high price. My entire thought and faith process had to change when I faced the unexpected. Initially, I was tempted to become bitter and point my finger heavenwards and say (with great indignation), “I obeyed the call! I did what You wanted and now this?” Honestly, I went through a period when I did exactly that; I expected God to roll out the red carpet for me. I expected that all would be prepared. Wasn’t God grateful for my obedience? What I didn’t understand then is that God wasn’t impressed by my answering the call. As much as I praised myself for daring to move far from family and friends, God wasn’t asking something of me that He had not asked of His own Son.

In this “line of work” there is little we can do to prepare for the unseen as what is unseen here is far beyond what we can imagine. Someone coined the phrase, “where truth is stranger than fiction” when trying to describe the challenges we face on the continent of Africa.

How can we prepare for a sudden devaluation of the currency? One day in 2011, we lost $500.00 due to a sudden and unannounced devaluation of local currency.

How can we prepare for an unexpected lack of cement in the stores when we’re in the middle of building?

How can we prepare for all forms of communication with the outside world being cut during a coup-d-état?

Through all of these years and experiences (many of them painful) there is one lesson that I can’t put a price on. This lesson has cost me my entire life to learn but I would gladly pay it again as this lesson has kept me time and again through the harshest of seasons. I have learned that I have a Father Who keeps His eye on me and not only understands but also walks with me through the most difficult moments. He has taught me that I’m never alone, never without His care, and that He is always pleased with me. He has walked with me through the fire as well as on top of the mountain – and He has always made sure there was enough to care for me and my own.

So, in some way, I’m more prepared than many for what “might” happen and I’m not afraid. I’m still answering the call, still facing the unknown, and all I can say is, “What’s next Dad?”

Luke 22:35 ESV “And He said to them, ‘When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?’ They said, ‘Nothing.’…”

Cling Wrap, Sore Knuckles, and The Kingdom

plastic wrap

Cling wrap.

Try as I might I cannot get a grip on how to properly use the stuff. It comes in a nice long rectangular box with an oh-so-fine serrated edge that, in theory, is supposed to help tear the cling wrap in nice, even pieces that I can use to cover food containers in the refrigerator. Try as I might, in all my years and work in the kitchen, rarely have I ever been able to tear off a perfect piece of cling wrap to cover a dish.

Following directions, this scenario repeats itself nearly every time I dare to brave to enter the world of cling wrap:

  • Set dish that needs to be covered on the counter.
  • Open box of cling wrap.
  • Find edge of cling wrap. This is a feat of major proportions as the edge of the plastic is nearly invisible; usually resulting in unevenly tearing of the cling wrap.
  • Frustration begins to bubble beneath the surface.
  • Pull desired amount of cling wrap, with bunched edges, over the dish.
  • As instructed on the box, gently pull on one side of the cling wrap to tear the end of the wrap off.
  • Wrap does not tear, apply more pressure.
  • Cling wrap begins to bunch up, stretch, and will not tear evenly. My knuckles are torn against the fine serrated edge – the serrated edge seems to tear my skin better than it does the plastic wrap.
  • Rinse and repeat until successful or knuckles are too sore to try again.
  • Get another dish with its own cover and give up.

Who ever invented this stuff? I’ve even tried the perforated cling wrap with nearly the same results – except my knuckles don’t bleed which is a big plus.

I keep telling myself I need to purchase more storage containers with lids. The problem with buying more storage containers with lids is that nearly every time I have purchased containers here (Malawi), the lids don’t stay on and I find myself returning to the violent world of cling wrap.

Like cling wrap that seems to cling to everything besides that it is intended for, I find in myself times that I cling to things other than what I’m created for.

In Matthew 16:13-20 Jesus had a conversation with His disciples. He asked them who people thought He was; after hearing their replies, He asked, “Who do you say I am?” Famously, Peter declares that Jesus is the Christ. In verse 17 Jesus calls Peter, “Blessed” for his revelation of Who He was.

Peter had an idea of who he thought Jesus was and what that looked like; he was correct in saying that Jesus was the Christ – but he had no idea of what that meant. Immediately after Peter’s statement, Jesus began telling His disciples (Matthew 16:21-28) that He was going to suffer and die and then rise from the dead. That same Peter who was called blessed just a few verses earlier, was told in verse 23, “Get behind me Satan!” Peter was clinging to his own ideas of how things were meant to be.

Jesus was passionate, He clung to His assignment. At the same time, He told His disciples (and we who follow Him today) that the assignment we are to cling to is to be likened to a cross.

Matthew 16:24 NLT“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.”

Our own ideas of what our faith is supposed to look like, much like Peter’s, won’t mirror what taking up our crosses is meant to be.

This morning I was reading in Luke 17 where Jesus describes the work of a servant:

Luke 17:10 ESV“So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

Often we make the mistake of living our lives from day-to-day, giving a nod to God when we read our Bible and pray, giving Him another nod when we make it to church, and believe that we are living lives of profitable servants. If we only live to fulfill duty, we’ve not yet entered into the realm of being profitable for the Kingdom. Being profitable means going above and beyond the call of duty and entering a place of actually adding value (touching souls) to the Kingdom.

In Matthew 25:14-30 the parable of the three servants gives the account of what it means to be profitable. Each of the three was given a different amount of money (talents) to care for while the master was away. The first two earned interest on the money they were left and they were declared to be profitable. The third simply hid the money he was given and returned to the master exactly what had been given to him. Businesspeople understand this principle: if an employee is not profitable, he is fired. That’s what happened to this third servant.

If we only do what is right as a believer (read our Bibles, pray, attend church, love others, give, show mercy, etc.) that’s simply doing our duty. As servants of the Kingdom, we have a much greater destiny that just clinging to doing the bare minimum to get a pass into Heaven. Like Jesus, who came as One Man to this earth and now has innumerable followers, we are to sow ourselves as He did into the lives of others and watch God give us a great harvest.

Not only are we to sow ourselves into the Kingdom as Jesus did, but we are to do so willingly – to cling to that purpose understanding that there’s far more at stake than our own comfort or convenience.

This world with all its trappings seeks to engage us to the point of eliminating our profitability for the Kingdom. God’s Kingdom, unlike the world we live in today, is eternal and immovable. This world is, as we all know too well, temporary, corruptible, and unable to satisfy the deep craving all of us have in our souls for something better, something more.

I’ve decided to cling to the cross.

heaven is our home

Keeping Things Under Wraps

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Popularity – pɒpjʊˈlarəti/

noun

  1. the state or condition of being liked, admired, or supported by many people.

How much of our lives is spent in the pursuit of what is popular or to become popular? For some reason, we are wired with an innate desire to be liked, to be first, and to be the best. Early in childhood we all wanted to be first on the best swing, first on the climbing frame (monkey bars for all my US readers),  and first to take a turn at hop scotch. From there, everyone slowly steps into line in the “pecking order” of the group; everyone knows his or her place. The first place always goes to the one who won, who got there first. Thus, the “popular kid” is born.

As you might have already guessed, I was never the first kid on the playground. I wasn’t blessed with the speed needed in those days to get the coveted first spot. Now, looking back, I realize that there were very few first kids because there could only be one first place among a group as large as our elementary class of 20+ children. The great majority of us were simply the ones who came in last – for first was all that mattered back at that time.

Try as we might, human nature (especially when it is unredeemed) continues to chase after the invisible goal of popularity. As much as we wish it didn’t, the idea of pleasing people, being propelled into the spotlight as “best in class” still can entice the humblest among us.

Enter Jesus.

John 2:25 ESV “and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”

Throughout Jesus’ three-years of ministry on the earth, He did nothing to raise His own profile on purpose. His profile was raised naturally by the fact that His goal was to fulfill His Father’s will (Luke 22:42); not His private agenda. I imagine it would have been very easy for Jesus to convince the disciples to engage an advertising company, raise banners, start a Twitter account (not really but the ancient equivalent), and offer free fish sandwiches every Friday evening by the Sea of Galilee. Indeed, there were times it seems the disciples wish He had taken the popular route.

Acts 1:6-8 ESV  So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’”

Even after all they had witnessed (ministry of miracles, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus), the disciples still wondered if they were going to be “first” among the nations. Patiently, as per His character, Jesus simply said (my paraphrase), “It’s not for you to know…but I’m giving you power to go, so go and tell the world the Good News.” It seems that His response stunned them for in Acts 1:10,11, they simply stared into heaven and had to “snap out of it!” (Again, my paraphrase!) By all accounts, it seems they couldn’t believe that after all Jesus had been through, He wanted the world to be reached – through them. He wanted them to stop thinking about themselves and look to those around them who hadn’t experienced what they had.

Wherever Jesus went, except when entering Jerusalem for the last time, He didn’t seem to put much weight into the thought of being popular as He knew what was in the hearts of men. He knew, as He went down the road to Jerusalem for the last time with crowds praising Him, that not many days would pass before those who cheered Him on would crucify Him.

Popularity, it’s a poison that, when it takes effect, seduces and then destroys those who are unfortunate enough to fall victim to it.

I’ve been reading in the book of Mark and have begun noting scriptures where Jesus wanted to keep miracles “under wraps” as it were. In 3 chapters alone (chapters 7-9) I found 4 separate instances where Jesus didn’t want anyone to know what had happened (Mark 7:24; 7:36; 8:30; 9:30), this begging an answer as to why?

Some say if word got out of the miracles then His ministry would be hindered by the vast crowds. I can understand that viewpoint but there are many instances in the Gospels where Jesus ministered to large multitudes.

I wonder if Jesus didn’t try to keep things quiet at times in order to keep the monster of popularity away. Once word got out, for example, that someone has raised from the dead or been healed of leprosy, I’m sure every newspaper and important figure in town would have wanted to see the person themselves – all at the risk of becoming popular.

The Son of God chose to come to this world in the most obscure way, had an opportunity to become popular (and in fact was popular for a time but was not wooed by it) but ended up dying between 2 thieves.

I wonder if we took the energy we expend on garnering popularity and shifted even a small bit of that energy  into “going” (as the disciples were told in Acts 1:8) to all the world, we would find ourselves in a much better place. The world wouldn’t hold us and the grave would no longer frighten us.

John 15:18 NLT “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.”