Pain is a Gift

According to John Newton, legalism is weariness. Justification is joy. We are forgiven and accepted through the work of Another. It’s done. Our job is to rejoice in that truth and serve God out of gratitude.

I think he was onto something. Paul expressed the same sentiments.

Even though we may know this, we don’t live this way. Instead we live in the mirage of self-sufficiency. It’s our default position. We really do believe there’s something we can do without God’s help. A lot of things. Broken

It starts in childhood. Babies learning to walk shove their parents away and tumble. Toddlers running into furniture when they think they have a clear path for wandering. High-schoolers who think they have the future mapped out only to make huge course corrections when they get to college.

Never mind the daunting tasks of choosing a spouse, the right job, buying a home.

Do we consult God?

No, we’ve been told it’s up to us to hit these milestones.

Some people succeed but many don’t. How many people do you know who are doing everything they want in life? Who are the happy ones in their work, with their children, and their body image?

Maybe you’re one of the unhappy ones. Have you settled in a job because of the security it gives you more than anything else, but now it’s strangling the life out of you? Are you in a loveless marriage with no way out? Or maybe you’re struggling with your health? As a friend told me recently, “I want my old life back.”

Life rarely turns out the way we envisioned it.

Thank God for that.

It’s God’s gift to us. If life turned out just as we wanted it to, we wouldn’t turn to him for anything. It’s a mercy that we struggle and suffer. It’s God’s language reminding us we were made to turn everything over to him because he cares for us. It’s his way of saying that what we long for is not here, but in the new heavens and the new earth, when Jesus comes back.

In the meantime, even as forgiven sinners, we suffer with our fellow human beings, knowing that Jesus himself also suffered for us so we could share in his glory one day.

Talk to me.

 

 

 

 

 

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I Can’t Hear You’re So Loud

I got off the phone with a caller that never stopped talking. He’s someone I’ve never met and yet he felt the need to tell me about his life, never taking a breath to see if I was interested or even listening.

I’m sure you’ve had those experiences with people.

As much as that caller irritated me, I had to admit I had done the same thing over the years.

I’m a fix-it-all kinda person. You come to me with a problem and I have a solution for you and I’m happy to tell you about it.

Don’t we all.  painting24

I’ve realized over the years that maybe that’s not what people really need. Maybe it’s something else.

Maybe Jesus is calling us to a different kind of help. Help as in listening to the person. We’re so prone to listen with a mind that is more attentive to what to say next to the person. We miss the cues, the body language and facial expressions that way.

Even more importantly, we miss what God is showing us about himself in that person’s life.

I often forget that when someone asks for my counsel, she comes to me with Jesus in her life. It’s my job to listen well. I’m quick to fix, he’s not. I want to come across as helpful, when Jesus is already her helper.

What people need most of all is someone who will listen to them with a full heart that is not rushed, and who can help locate God in their lives so they can rest in him. This won’t happen if we’re preoccupied with what to say next, or if we’re in a hurry to get the visit over with.

We all need to enroll in the school of active listening. I know I do.

Talk to me.

Mind the Gap

If you’ve been to London and taken the tube you’ve heard the recording that says, “Mind the Gap” that comes on at every stop. It’s a mantra. That’s because there is a space between the subway car and the platform large enough to lose a shoe in. I’ve seen it happen.

The idea of a gap between two realities is also prevalent in the bible, and it’s not a tiny space like the London tube. It’s immense. It’s as large as earth to Mars, only bigger. It’s the tension of the now and not yet. We are saved now but the reality of its fullness is not ours yet. That comes when Jesus returns or we die and go to be with him, whichever comes first. photo (8)

We see this tension fleshed out in the story of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 16. Here we see Sarah’s impatience with God to give her a son, so she takes matters into her own hands by suggesting to Abraham that he sleep with Hagar, her maid, and produce the child that way, something that Abraham did not resist, by the way.

We see Sarah’s struggles with God’s timing, which reveals Sarah’s doubt of God’s character. Why is he taking so long? It’s been ten years already and nothing’s happened. Can I continue to trust him? Underneath it all is a suspicion of God’s goodness. Can’t you hear the same echos of the devil saying the same thing to Eve in Genesis 3?

Here we see Abraham and Sarah living in the gap between what God had promised and their unfulfilled expectations.

I see this played out in my life and in the lives of family and friends. We long for close, intimate and satisfying relationships. Instead we live with distance, misunderstandings, and heartache. We long for satisfying work. Instead we grumble and complain because of the boredom. We want glory here and now, but God says not yet, it’s coming soon.

What can we learn from this? Here are three insights:

1) Living in the gap of the now and not yet tempts us to take matters into our hands. The underlying assumption is that we can fix the problems ourselves like Abraham and Sarah did. But instead of fixing things, we make a mess of things.

2) While living in the gap, we continue to be faithful to what God has called us to. We trust God’s faithfulness. That doesn’t mean we take no action, but it does mean we do things believing God is for us and not against us.

3) God doesn’t go AWOL in the gap and in our messes. He doesn’t flee to heaven and wait for us to figure out ways to make it home. If he did that, nobody would get home. He’s there working in the gap. He’s a God who sees and hears and is in the middle of the mess. That’s what he has promised to do. And ultimately he will fulfill all his promises to us. We don’t know how or when, but it will happen.

You won’t lose God in the gap. There is joy, freedom and laughter there if we trust him for the reality that’s coming.

Question: What are some of the ways you take matters into your hands while living in the gap?

Talk to me.

messychristians@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

The Howling Wilderness of our Lives

In the middle of a grueling week of work, a friend of mine stopped by and asked, “How’s it going?”

“Things could be better,” I said. I hurt all over from hours of standing on my feet. My head throbbed from lack of sleep. And I was fighting a cold.

“Listen,” he said looking at me. “This is as good as it gets. Things don’t get any better.”  

Most people would have thought my friend was way off-base. Negative. Cynical even.

For me, what he said was just what I needed to be reminded of.

Living in the wilderness is just that – journeying through a dry and thirsty land where there is no water, no oasis, and no rest.

Think Abraham.

Think the Israelites in their 40 years of desert wandering.

Even Jesus, when he was here in the flesh, lived his life in the wilderness.

He died in the wilderness, just like Abraham did, just like the first generation of Israelites did, just like you and me.

The wilderness is a pilgrimage, where we are not at rest. In fact, it’s a place of hardship and testing.

Wilderness and rest structures the life of the Church.

The First Coming of Jesus accomplished redemption by his death and resurrection.

His Second Coming brings in the Sabbath rest for all God’s people.

In between those two events, is the wilderness journey, in which we all pass through.

No one is exempt.

Not even Jesus.

He experienced the journey for us. He lived it perfectly for us. And that record is put to our account.

So then how are we to live our lives in the wilderness?

First, by not expecting it to be a life of comfort and rest. Just the opposite.

Second, it’s our time to do good works out of gratitude to God for saving us and giving us a future Sabbath rest that is as certain as God himself.

This is the time we tell others the good news of the gospel, where we love one another as the body of Christ, where preaching and teaching and training in righteousness is a daily and weekly habit.

Our happiness is not here.

It’s in a future rest in heaven with our God.