Monday, May 25, 2015

Camp Robber #2

Last week we identified Camp Robber (Joy Robber) #1: Unrealistic Expectations. 

This week, Camp Robber #2: Unreasonable Questioning 

Here's a situation that came up this week:

A restructuring of a retreat at which I'd been asked to speak next winter, caused a cancellation on my end, and put another speaker in place. I have always trusted the Lord with my schedule, so that wasn't the problem. I've had other retreats cancelled, for various reasons, and I found that almost always the Lord has had a very good reason in mind. However, I've never had a cancellation because I was being replaced (even though there really was a good explanation for the restructuring). Regardless, this felt a little bit like rejection, and the robber-of-my-joy, took advantage of it. I attempted to thank the Lord for His involvement, His timing, His knowledge of my future, and His reasons for this particular situation, but, honestly, my heart wasn't in the thanksgiving. I was looking forward to this particular overseas event. It was the kind of venue in which I feel most comfortable as far as my calling in ministry goes. So, I'll admit, there was a hint of wallowing...and questioning of my ability, my calling, my value, my future ministry, yada, yada, yada. All ploys of a Camp Robber sneaking in for the steal. Well, really there was no sneaking - but, there certainly was stealing!

In the midst of my whine, I read this thought from speaker/author, Angela Thomas: "The mature follower of Christ is learning how to joyfully wait on God. She has learned through tears, disappointment and even rejections that sometimes it's just not her turn. That doesn't mean that it won't ever be. Or that you're not qualified. Or that you've gone completely the wrong way. It's just not yet. God decides when the waiting is over."

(Does God know what we need, or what?) There were some things I really HATED about that quote. 1) It confirmed I'm an immature follower. 2) It meant that, for some reason, I'm in a waiting room (which is another Camp Robber we'll look at next week).

There were some things I APPRECIATED about the statement. 1) This isn't about's about not yet. 2) It isn't about my qualifications, my ability, or my direction in ministry. 3) It is about being spite of (there's that phrase again).

Much of the time, I find my joy stolen out from under my nose when I start to question my identity in Christ, my value in Him, my "territory" in ministry. All of the above were brought to debate with this one silly situation not worth the struggling. This kind of questioning causes no small amount of joy-loss, and I must be on guard against it.

What occurred to me in the midst was the tension between two passages of Scripture. Let me address them. First, remember the Prayer of Jabez? "Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, "Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my territory, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain (1 Ch. 4:10)." Then there's this passage from Lamentations 3:24, "I say to myself, 'The Lord is my portion (allotment, territory, inheritance), therefore, I will wait for Him." 

On one hand, I've been taught to pray like Jabez, and ask the Lord to bless me by enlarging my ministry territory for His glory (which, indeed He has done), and on the other hand I am to thank the Lord and be content/joyful in the territory He has given me. Like many things spiritual, this is setting me up to be stretched. The tension between the two causes growth. The growth comes when I walk in the balance of both instructions. Ask for one, trust in the other. To question cancels trust. To question steals my joy.

Instead, I learn to do what Jeremiah did:
1) I talk to myself about what is true: The Lord holds my "territory" in His safe keeping. Whatever He does is to fulfill the promise of His presence and to keep me from harm/pain...
2) I remind myself that He is Sovereign...and knows my needs better than anyone can; and,
3) I wait in quiet expectation for The Lord's next assignment.

In that quiet place: joy! Sweet, serene, joy!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Camp Robbers!

Last fall when Bay and I took a Sabbath Day and drove up into the mountains, we stopped along the way to picnic. The entire time, we fought off cute-little-birds that tried to steal our food right off the make-shift picnic table. Camp Robbers. They weren't even sneaky, just fast. Before you knew it, they'd snatched up anything we'd set down.

I'd even made a very small snowman that sat on the table (remnants of ice, really, from an early snowfall), and put a carrot tip on his round head for a nose, and some popcorn kernels for eyes, and the little guys stole my snowman's face.  They were in and out before I even knew what had happened. Once I knew these little fellows were around I was able to make a few changes to keep anything significant from being taken from under my nose.

I've noticed a theme spring up over the last couple of weeks as I've studied joy. The focus seems to be more on those things in life that steal away our joy. Joy Robbers. Like Camp Robbers, Joy Robbers aren't really sneaky, but they are quick, and they leave us wondering "what in the world just happened to my joy?" It helps to be aware of their possible presence, 1) so we're not caught off guard, 2) so we can be quicker to recover our joy, and 3) so we can be, in some part, preventative. This said, I have a specific direction to explore the next few weeks.

Camp Robber #1. Unrealistic Expectations.

Recently, I read this quote from C.S. Lewis: "We have a tendency to reject the good that God offers us because, at that moment, we expected some other good." 

I also listened to a podcast from a message by Dr. Del Housaye (covering for Pastor Rasmussen at Scottsdale Bible Church). His sermon topic was contentment (which, by the way, the Apostle Paul uses contentment as a synonym for joy). Dr. Del Housaye's take on why we tend to struggle with contentment is that we have a "nose problem." I'm sorry? A nose problem? Yes! I'm too busy putting my nose in other's lives, seeing what they have, and am, therefore, unhappy with what's in my own life.

Call it covetousness ("You shall not take delight in, desire greatly...anything that belongs to your neighbor." Exodus 20:17) or greed ("Put to death, therefore, what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, greed..." Colossians 3:5), by either name it simply means I am not content with what I have. In fact, what I do have is a "more problem." I want more. Sometimes it's even with good intentions.
More ministry.
More education.
More friends.
More time.

Sometimes it's not so good.
More money.
More stuff.
More control.
More attention.

The whole point of Solomon's book of Ecclesiastes is to emphasize that WHATEVER we are chasing after, which is "under the sun" is like "chasing after wind." Unobtainable. Futile. Meaningless. What is important is that which is "above the sun" where Christ is seated (Colossians 3:1-2). My "more problem" will never bring joy...only emptiness.

So what's the answer - how do I keep this Camp Robber from taking my joy, or get it back if he has?  Look beyond the blue! Focus my eyes (and my nose) on that which the Lord has done for me, and with what He is currently blessing me... There's this, from Colossians 4:2, "Stay alert, with your eyes wide open in gratitude (Message). There's also this: The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy (Ps. 126:3)! 

It's already been said (a few blog entries back), but it's, also, something that needs re-visiting: Joy is rooted in gratitude. Gratitude, the opposite of greed, takes nothing for granted, finds delight in the small things of each and every day, and discovers contentment in all things.

Rejoice in the Lord, always, and again I say, rejoice (Philippians 4:4)!

Give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

A Correlation Between Desensitizaton and NO JOY.

This week's blog looks back at last week's bible verse of focus:

Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, but those who plan peace have joy (Proverbs 12:20). 

I zeroed in more on "personal peace." Without saying the word, I focused on the importance of restoration of relationships. Nothing disrupts joy, or peace, like people unwilling to work at reconciliation... It's not easy, and we've not been trained to do the restoring through healthy conflict, BUT...when we shut folks out of our lives and don't deal with clarification of perspectives, or allow forgiveness to cover one another's faults, we will be most miserable individuals. I KNOW THIS from experience, and from being on both sides...

However, this week, I've been pondering those who "devise evil" and the question that comes up in my mind quite often is this: "What should my resonsibility be to counteract evil when I see it?" Another question follows: "Will I recognize evil when it stares at me from a distance, and/or close-up and personal?"

Right this minute, as I'm typing up this blog, I'm sitting in a motel room on the Oregon coast. There's a fire in the fireplace, and the doors are wide open so I can hear the waves rush to shore and out again. I'm as far from evil as I can get, protected in this warm coccoon of peacefulness.

I don't even want to think about evil...but, truth is that our world is filled with it, and I don't just mean terrorism, although that is a very real threat. It's important to note that evil is anything, or anyone, that secretly (and even not so secretly) plots adversity, trouble, grief, hurt, distress, or wrong in someone else's life. It is anything that deviates from encouragement, edification, or the building up of another. Now that can just be plain downright convicting!

We already know that the Lord wants us to be peacemakers, not fakers or breakers. However, how can I be a peacemaker, and intentionally plan to promote peace, if I don't see evil? The questions I have asked myself and left me with another sobering thought that rather frightens me. After a week of contemplation, I've come to believe my heart is pretty desensitized to evil. I live in a world, as do you, where we read about it often, see it prevalently reported through the media, watch it on television and movies; and I carefully craft my thoughts in the name of tolerance, accepting as normal that which is anti-TRUTH. I don't want to be labeled legalistic, or come across contrary. There's still that age-old want that desires to please EVERYONE. Yet, the truth is, in confronting evil, truth must be spoken in a loving way. In order to keep holocausts from occuring on a small personal scale, or on a national level, I cannot be silent, nor can I turn my head.

The answer to my questions came to me in this manner:
In order to be a peacemaker, I must do anything I can to soften my heart, to battle that which would harden it to evil, thus preventing desensitization. When I accomplish this, I will recognize evil. Upon staring it in the face, I must stand firm on Biblical Truth, where Scripture is clear and concise, in loving honesty.

When we are desensitized, we will not plan for peace, and we will be bankrupt of joy.
A sensitive heart leads to pursuing peace, which leads to great joy!

I know which direction I want to go...

Monday, May 4, 2015

Joy-Full are Shalom-Makers

I really dislike conflict. Of.Any.Kind. I've spent most of my life avoiding it. It's been my mindset that conflict is bad, and it's better to just walk away from engaging in any shade, or color, of discord. This comes naturally; and any kind of personality test, or strength's finder, ranks me high on a scale for harmony. Yet, if there is any great joy-robber in my life, any kind of disagreement would be IT (yes, with a capital "I" and a capital "T")! It's taken a lot of years (A LOT OF YEARS!), but I'm beginning to recognize that if I want fulness of joy, then as much as it depends on me, I must stare conflict in the face, and learn how to do battle in a healthy, kind, and loving manner. No more letting it go. No more walking away and stuffing concerns. No more wondering what someone meant by something they said and building up misperceptions in my mind. It's better to lay the cards on the table, have a crucial conversation, see the whole picture, and understand the path of action that brought about the disconnect. I still dislike conflict, but the end of the matter clears the air and allows for clarity.....and, yes, JOY!

Besides all of the above, dealing with conflict, pursuing peace, and ultimately, finding JOY is biblical. Imagine that! As I've gone verse by verse through a concordance looking up verses with the word "joy" and "rejoice," I found this verse:

Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, but those who plan peace have joy (Proverbs 12:20).

Then there's this (from the mouth of Jesus):

Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called Sons of God (Matthew 5:9).

And, one final verse (from the Apostle Paul):

Let us, therefore, make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification (Romans 14:19).

Several things jump out at me from these verses, but probably there are two "biggies." The first is that peace must be planned. Finding Shalom (Hebrew word for peace) is an intentional action on our part; and we must strive to make it happen. Most of my life, I've been a peace-faker. For the sake of all things harmonious, I will walk away if conflict rears its ugly head in any fashion. All that results is internal chaos within me. I'm the one that suffers from peace-faking.

However, I've also been a peace-breaker. I never realized it, until I started breaking down the words in the Proverbs passage. As I unpacked the words "devise evil," I discovered something that shocked me. The word "devise" has with it the idea of holding something to secrecy, to remain silent.  So, those two words (along with fabricating and plotting a plan for causing trouble and pain) could, literally, mean "to remain silent in the face of adversity, affliction, sorrow, trouble, or wrong-doing."

A peace-maker thinks through what needs to happen to bring about a settled mind and heart in relationship. A peace-maker does not stay silent. A Shalom-maker pursues that which will lead to friendship and all costs...for the sake of The Other's welfare, yes, but also for my-own-sake.

With this said, a couple weeks back, I had opportunity to put this into practice (actually, before I'd even read this verse). I had opportunity to sit and clarify a relationship that, perhaps, has needed some deeper-level understanding for sometime. It was one of those situations where there was too much "water under the bridge" as far as time spent together in relationship to let things go, and risk losing a dear and precious friendship. I asked for a face-to-face time over coffee at a convenient, un-rushed time. I even made a plan...thought it through...wrote down what I wanted to say ahead of time, so that emotion wouldn't get the best of me. I recognized the importance of providing I tried to list all the things I needed to "own" - those things I knew I might need to apologize for that could have caused any breech in relationship. This I did. When I finished, I even asked if there were more things that I was oblivious to and needed to consider. The conversation was healthy, non-judgmental, good, and strengthening. Many things were clarified...many misperceptions uncovered...and restoration renewed. Expectations were re-defined, since we are in a different season of relationship. A mutual sense of direction established. More importantly, I'm no longer wondering what's going on in my friend's mind. I'm no longer making up stories about what might be a problem, or might not be. Even more importantly, JOY is full...

Little by little the Lord is transforming me (just as He promises) into a Shalom-maker. I certainly have not arrived. Yet, I see, once again, that God's way is perfect...and filled with JOY. The road He wants us to follow will always lead us to that end.


***Take note. Remember you can only do what you can do. Not every "friend" wants to invest in relationship enough to engage in healthy conflict. Sometimes they are "stuck" in a peace-faking/peace-breaking cycle of operandi. Sometimes, when that's the case, we have to settle with doing all we can do, and then trust the Lord with The Other. We can't fix. We can't force. We can't make happen. Only God can change a heart...if that heart has not hardened so much that they no longer can hear His voice. If that's the case, the relationship is too toxic to invest in anyway. If that's the case, we learn to love from a distance, and pray... Even then, because we trust in a Sovereign God, who works out all things in His time...we will still find JOY.