Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Peace on the Roller Coaster

Tink, tink, tink,..tink,....tink....

You've probably been there.  Five seats back from the front.  Steeply inclined.  Not daring to look over the side for the height.  You glance at your own white knuckles locked in a death grip around the handlebar in front of you.  Behind you is the escalating sound of laughter, shrieks, and even fear.  In front of you similar fated passengers await the impending reward of the mechanical climb.  Tink....tink......tink......  The poor souls in the first car begin to wail.  The idiot in car three shoots his hands into the air in a spasmic celebration of the event about to occur.  Tink.............tink............  You are at the apex and suddenly the panorama of the world is in full view...just before the plunge.

For those who have yet to experience the joys of a good old fashioned roller coaster ride, words are inadequate to describe the fear, the elation, the gravitational sensations, and the rush of emotion that overcomes the passenger as they step back onto the platform after the ride is over.  Personally, I like roller coasters, not necessarily the ones that absolutely try to realign your spine, but the ones that take you to heights, accelerate you through lows, pull you through loops and afford you vistas along the way.  I remember the first time I got to ride one night.  What a rush!  It was a large one that I had ridden many times previous but this new combination threw such confusion at the senses that at times you lost track of up from down and were always guessing what was coming next.

Sometimes when God is moving in my life, I get that rush, that exhilaration.  The problem is my life can be a a spine jarring roller coaster.  It has highs and lows, it takes turns and sometimes loops back on itself.  Sometimes there are grand vistas, sometimes I find myself in dark tunnels.  Have you ever felt that way?  Have you ever felt that you were barely hanging on, white knuckled?  Sometimes I get to feeling this way even when God is moving in my life.  There are times when you can pray for God's will in your life and when it starts to happen you better be prepared to hang on!  This is not to say our Father is the proverbial bull in a China shop, crashing through our lives with His plans and leaving us dazed and confused.  Rather, His promise to give us life to the fullest, overflowing and abundant (John 10:10) is a concept that our limited and often closed and faithless minds have trouble wrapping around. 

Occasionally, God will say "Let me show you" and you'll find yourself on the most exhilarating and, sometimes, fearful, ride of your life.  But it is only fearful because of our lack of knowledge of and faith in our Father.  This is an exercise in complete trust as the One who loves you infinitely more than any earthly father could, takes you on the greatest of journeys, the one He planned for your life before there was time.  He knew the steps and plans for your life before the cosmos was ordered and no effort of yours will cast that plan aside when we earnestly seek His will for our lives. 

And those "apex" moments?  They often come when God is about to do something big.  My bride and I are currently experiencing this.  We are just finalizing a difficult adoption and honestly, we feel entitled to a little rest.  The view is nice and finally tranquil as far as we can tell.  But God is saying to our hearts "I want you to see this".  Tink, tink, tink.  But fear should not enter into the equation, nor should complaint.  "But God, I just need a little down time, then I'll do what you want!" 

"But those who wait for the Lord who expect, look for, and hope in Him shall change and renew their strength and power; they shall lift their wings and mount up close to God as eagles mount up to the sun; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint or become tired."
Isaiah 40:31 (AMP)

What kind of children are we if we ask for abundant life and provision and then demand that this all powerful and unstoppable God who knows our hearts better than we do, knows our capabilities better than we do, and knows the ways in which we need to grow better than we do - what kind of children are we to say "PLEASE PROVIDE" and then slap His hand away when He does just because it doesn't fit our preconceived notions of what that provision should look like or our timetable?  Have you ever said "No" based on your own timetables or how that provision fails to fit into your mold?  Or maybe we don't say "No" as much as we simply fail to hear.  "What God, oh did you mean me?"  How many opportunities in our lives have we missed out on because of this lack of humility and trust before our Father?

God is calling all of us to "super-living".  Life to the extreme, overflowing, abundant life.  This journey will be marked by valleys, it will be marked by mountain tops, highs and lows, there will be loops and times when our heads spin but the constant is the whisper "I'm right here, I said I would never leave you or forsake you".  No matter to whom or through what we are led, we can always possess joy during the ride and have Peace on the Roller Coaster.

Friday, May 11, 2012

It's Not About Me: Resting in Humility


I've recently grown to really like this statement.  Simple.  Direct.  To the point.  It's a reminder of why I'm on this earth, taking up space, daily breathing and consuming resources.  Ultimately, it's not about me.  As confirmation of this, I am beginning to hear this statement echoed regularly from various speakers, advocates, and teachers.  I'm starting to hear these four words verbatim in songs.  I've even seen a t-shirt that I'd like to have that says this on the front and the back states "It's Not About You Either".  It is the mantra of the selfless, those willing to lay down their life and follow our Lord to whomever and through whatever He leads, regardless of the cost.

But I've been a hypocrite.  I haven't fully embraced this way of life or thinking.  I think to some degree all of us struggle more or less with some form of selfishness.  I often seem overwhelmed by these self-centered urges when I am tired, when I've had an exceedingly stressful day.  Work can  be demanding and sometimes I can't seem to get that shifting of gears completed before I walk through my front door at the end of the day and rather than meeting a father/husband with open arms, my family meets a man who craves isolation; one who desires to hide out in a cave for a few years.  But that is not what I'm referring to. 

I'm referring to humility.  This is the essence of "It's Not About Me" because in order to live this statement, one has to be willing to subordinate themselves to another;  to serve another.  I am certainly willing to serve others.  I can be unwise in over-committing myself to sign up sheets and work lists.  I thoroughly enjoy the camaraderie of people volunteering their time to improve or help others and effect change for the better, especially if it is God's people doing His work.  Those are the best times of being knit together and fellowship.  As a result of these experiences, I have church family that expands far beyond the local church I attend.  They are family along the order of THE Church and this is phenomenally greater.  This is the Body of Christ at work and it is exciting to be a part of it.

But there are many people involved at this level and, to be honest, this does not necessarily require that much humility; just a passion and willingness to get behind the cause at hand.  In fact, the more people that are involved in a work, the more the danger increases to "jump aboard the bandwagon" for the simple act of being among the numbered in that work.  Can God still use all of these hands and feet?  Absolutely.  It is amazing to see how God mobilizes people to meet the needs of others.  But I'm talking about the heart of the individual.  The larger the work, the more critical it becomes to regularly guard one's heart from pride.  And here is where I've been the hypocrite.

I am involved with a work that I have been fretting over for some months now.  It is not a work that I began.  In fact, it was started a few years ago, but our hearts were drawn to it and we love and support those who did begin this ministry.  None-the-less I am now involved to the point that I am in process of praying and believing for God's provision regarding this ministry, specifically my role in it.  I say fretting, but I need to include the words "worrying", "concerned", and "restless" here as well for I have been all of these things.  I recently emailed a friend of mine regarding this and in their reply two things leaped out at me.  "Humility" and "Rest". 

I had not been 'resting' in this at all.  In fact, my mind has ever been increasing in hurried thought and planning as I work to think through ideas and strategies for making what I desire to see happen occur.  But that is the problem:  "what I desire to see happen".  But humility?  I tend to think of myself as fairly humble.  I'm not a braggart or boastful.  I take pride in a job well done but I'm equally thankful for the ability to do it.  I'm amazed and thankful for the incredible things God is doing in my wife's and mine's lives and willing to point to Him as the source.  If anything, I tend to wrestle with self-confidence in a crowd so humility, or rather its antithesis, pride, is not a real wrestling match for me.
"Really?" says a voice in my ear.
"Why are you so stressed out over this?"

"Because, I have obligations that need to be met and there is work that I don't know how is going to get done and others are depending on me and I don't want to let others down or fail!" I answer.

"Whose work is this, yours or mine?" is the reply.

"Well of course it's yours Lord, but I have to do my part or I will fail...." my weak answer trails off as the epiphany strikes me. 

To this point, I had been acting as though my efforts were the hinge pin under which God's work through me would ultimately fail or succeed.  I had taken the reigns and was driving with little to no trust in God's ability to enact His own plan, this sovereign unstoppable God who formed the cosmos and knows the count of every follicle on my scalp.  Now don't mistake me.  We are all called to work, to be hands and feet, to go where he leads and do what is necessary.  But He never requires us to worry or fret.  Only to follow and be willing to go where he leads.  This was further reinforced in a timely teaching by Pastor Sammy Adebiyi (click on name to see post) where he described how Jonah tried to not only not see God's will, he tried to lose God's will by running as far from it as possible only to have God bring him right back to it.  How much more does God honor the heart that seeks to do His will?

In my case, God needed to show me that my lack of humility was, in fact, one of the barriers to this work moving forward in my life.  I had to pour through the scriptures to relearn an in-depth lesson God had taught me nearly two years previous on the subject.  I had made the success of God's plan about me, rather than being willing to be the tool in His hand for His purpose.  Repentance came easily and now I can say "It's Not About Me".  And with this, comes relief; relief from the myriad of how's and whys because I don't have to figure it out - it's His plan, and It's Not About Me.

"But he gives us even more grace to stand against such evil desires. As the Scriptures say,
'God opposes the proud but favors the humble.'
So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you."

James 4:6-8 (NLT)

Monday, May 7, 2012

He Knows My Name...

"Hello, I'm Joshua.  What is your name?"  I've uttered this phrase thousands upon thousands of times in my life.  Would I be silly to ask if you think I personally know thousands upon thousands of people?  I doubt many would assume this.  If polled most of us could, at best, come up with a few hundred by name.  NO - don't cheat w/ your Facebook friends list!  Most of those people were "wonder what ever happened to..." discoveries anyway.  I'm talking about seriously using your mental faculties and recalling by name, by face, individuals that your life has crossed paths with.

For me, it's much worse.  I can see a person for weeks on end, having spoken with them often, been introduced from the outset and still forget their name.  I may in time, even know some humorous story about their children or their dog's name, or what kind of car they drive, but their name - blank.  This is why I don't volunteer for the greeter's ministry at church.  God has not gifted me in this arena.  My wife often jokes with me that if I ever got a job as a professor she would have to call my secretary to make sure I had my papers, lunch, or even shirt on some days. 

Names, for me, unfortunately are not something my mind eagerly latches onto unless I have regular and frequent contact with an individual.  My mind is filled with calculus from college, software applications from work, task lists from home, dreams and aspirations, personal spiritual goals, scriptures, teachings from noted speakers, and more useless trivia than the board games can query.  But infrequently used names somehow get the same data processing as my brides' grocery lists, the color scheme for our interior walls, the names of my daughters favorite cartoon characters, and my dog's vaccination dates.  With limited storage capacity my computer discards what it deems irrelevant for the moment and very often I lose a name or two in the purge. 

Worse for me is the embarrassing face to face moment when I am struggling to come up with the name of the individual I am talking to.  It is a name I should know but taunts my cognitive capacities.  And you've been there too, haven't you?  Why is this an embarrassment?  The simple answer is because forgetting a name is insulting because a name is valuable; it represents a person and referring to someone as "hey you" is, to a degree, de-humanizing and disengaging.  One of the most effective dehumanizing actions the Nazis of WWII undertook was to remove the name from the individual and to ascribe to them a number, tattooed on their body and sewn into their rags.  Identity was lost as being was replaced by system.

I am currently witnessing the value of a name in my own home.  My birth children were both born with my last name and really don't think much on the subject.  Yes, it's their name and I think they have some notion that because they share it with me, they have some entitlement to my income.  That's about it.  But to our son who we are just now completing adoption through the courts later this month, a name is everything.  Even in his young life, obtaining my name is the closing of a book, one that has many dark chapters.  To him, our last name represents a unification of spirit.  It represents stability, even with the chaotic and sometimes untidy nature of our lives.  It represents a loving family.  I have no idea where he picked this up from, but he can now regularly be heard saying "We're family after all!"  He is looking forward to our court date with the excitement and anticipation of a thousand Christmas mornings, because on that day - he gets his new name and to him, it represents peace and safety forever.

In the Bible, we are repeatedly invited to know our Father, to call upon his name.  Often this conjures images of Peter sinking in the waves and calling to Jesus in a panic as he endeavors to walk, as Jesus did, on waves of faith.  But we are all adopted sons and daughters of the Holy One who set galaxies in motion and spoke words that caused suns to burst into being.  Yet this tender Father literally takes the time to account the follicles on your head.  He desires relationship, deep heart to heart relationship.  He desires that we know Him, not just know OF Him.  He beckons us to know His Name, not the swear word, or the "help me" cry but the name that begins to touch His heart for the orphan and the destitute, His name that is unfailing and overcomes every weapon of the enemy that would seek to steal or destroy in your life and even end it, His name that will last even when the very temporal nature of this sphere passes and our own star dies, His name that is above every name.  His name is immutable and He desires that we would search out the depths, the heights, and the breadth of it - I guarantee, this is one name you won't forget.

"Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore will I deliver him; I will set him on high, because he knows and understands My name, has a personal knowledge of My mercy, love, and kindness—trusts and relies on Me, knowing I will never forsake him, no, never.  He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him My salvation."
Psalm 91:14-16 (AMP)