Monday, June 29, 2015

Camp Robber #7 - Unbalanced & Unaddressed Busyness

A few weeks ago, a friend posted the following on Facebook. It was immediately convicting and heart-breaking. Here's the quote:

"When we are busier than God requires us to be, we do violence to ourselves...Thomas Merton understood this and wrote: 'There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence...activism (as in being too active) and overwork. The rush and pressure of a modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands... The frenzy...kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.' And when we do this violence to ourselves, we are unable to love others in and through the love of Christ." -Emotionally Healthy Spirituality- Scazzero, Week 6, Day 2.

In fact, I would submit, when we do this "violence" (did you catch that strong word?) to ourselves, we immediately choose to step out of joy. When we step out of joy - what is left to attract non-believers to Jesus? Why would they want to be us?

I look around me. We are a busy people. We are, then, a violent people. A people that chooses personal abuse over wisdom, over love, over joy, over peace and contentment. I am included in that collective "we"... And, all of a sudden, I feel like running someplace private, and screaming, "STOP!" When we choose this kind of lifestyle, we choose murder: of time, family, relationships with friends, the sweet place we call 'home,' and the ability to truly abide in Jesus. It makes sense that this might be one of the enemy's greatest attacks on God's people - "Dear Wormwood, Get them too busy doing good things..." 

Why do we do this to ourselves? I recognize there are seasons of busy...unstoppable and unpreventable. I recognize that sometimes bosses, and the simple nature of our work, come into play and we are out of control of the situation. This isn't what I'm referring to right now. I'm talking about those of us who laden our schedules, and fill the calendar, and say "yes!" to a kazillion things that leave no room for margin. No room for error. No room for unforeseen circumstances, or unplanned waiting... No room for Sabbath... When our world is interrupted, we spiral out of control, and "berserk" is a fitting word.

I've visited "busy-ness" before. I'll revisit with the same Scripture passage. It's a story about Moses post-Red Sea. It's found in Exodus 18. Moses is one busy man. EVERYONE with a problem comes to him. He has the "in" with the Lord God. He's the one who's "in-the-know." So, no problem is too large, but no problem is too small, either. Day and Night, Night and Day, Moses sits and listens to problem after problem after problem after problem... That became the PROBLEM. 

Finally, his father-in-love comes to him with good advice. He sees that Moses is becoming over-burdened, over-worked, and under joy-ed. The words Jethro speaks are, "This thing is too grievous for you..." In other words, you're so busy, all I see is a man in grief. There is no joy in you. Jethro gives Moses a plan. It has to do with prioritizing the need and sharing the load. When we prioritize and share, we create this thing called "margin," like the white space along the side of the paper and at the top and at the end. White space creates order. White space gives us boundaries. Boundaries, in this sense, are GOOD. In Moses' life, the white space created room for his wife and two sons. It gave Moses a chance to rest and renew. It allowed him to go to the tent of meeting, and speak to God as a man speaks to a friend face-to-face. There, in the presence of the Lord, Moses could find JOY.

The same is true for me. For you. Oh, may we stop doing violence to ourselves. Oh, that we create some white space, and there write the words of being in God's presence. The Words that bring joy back to our lives.


“One reason we are so harried and hurried is that we make yesterday and tomorrow our business, when all that legitimately concerns us is today. If we really have too much to do, there are some items on the agenda which God did not put there. Let us submit the list to Him and ask Him to indicate which items we must delete. There is always time to do the will of God. If we are too busy to do that, we are too busy.”

Elizabeth Elliot

P.S. A great read on this idea of prioritizing is Lysa TerKeurt's new book, The Best Yes!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Camp Robber #6 - Unclear Future

True confessions: I am a planner.

I've learned to be more flexible over time. Considering the life we have led, one can't plan too far in advance. So, I don't do goal-setting, or I'd spend my life totally frustrated. I can't do budget, because from one month to the next, being on a "support basis" in ministry, we never know how much money we will receive (contrary to opinion, we are not independently wealthy because my husband played at one time in the NBA). I can't even predict what will actually grow in the vegetable garden I planted...because I'm not in charge of the rain or the harvest. Some things I can't plan in advance. HOWEVER, I need some semblance of organization, or chaos will send me spiraling.

I plan, organize, and try to keep things orderly just for the sake of my sanity. To have a plan settles me. It's really just the way I'm wired, can be a strength, keeps me disciplined and productive ("making the most of my time"), and helps me to "settle." However, when I can't make a plan, or more importantly, I can't see enough of the future to do so, no small amount of anxiety is the result. In my mind, an unclear future is just the worst culprit for causing worry. Now, I know what you're probably thinking: you are a control freak! I'll nod and agree. It's just hard for me when it feels like life is slipping out of control. I relate, then, to these words from the Psalmist:

When I thought, "My foot is slipping," your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy (Ps. 94:18-19)."

After a not-too-thorough word study, I have written my paraphrase: When I find myself talking about how shaky my journey ahead is, it is your faithfulness and love, O Lord, that bring me strength and sustaining comfort........and, more importantly, JOY in the journey.

I loved the NET version: When worries threaten to overwhelm me, your soothing touch makes me happy.

Reminders of God's faithfulness, His great LOVE-capacity-for me, is what soothes and settles my soul. EVEN MORE THAN BEING ORGANIZED! When life slips and spins, I need God-reminders. I need stones of remembrance close by, stones piled into an altar of celebratory worship: "the rock of my trust (Ps. 94:22)." Lately, I've realized this fact about the journey of joy: the highway I've traveled is paved with rocks of trust.

So, at every opportunity along the road, I must do as the Lord often instructed the Patriarchs, and erect Altars of Remembrance. Altars that remind me, He's got this life of mine. He holds my future. His will is for my welfare and not for calamity. His plans will not be thwarted. His faithfulness is steady; His mercies new each day; His provision sure; His love never failing. I need altars that boldly declare my history with the Lord. But that's not all...

I need more celebration around those altars. This week, I started skimming my list of joy-verses. I have them all typed and in book-by-book order. I didn't count, but so many of the initial verses line out the celebrations of God's people, and every celebration-verse includes the word JOY. In all my planning, the one thing I've never been good about organizing is a party. This needs to change. If joy is going to reign, especially when there is an unclear future ahead (and let's face it...all of the future is uncertain), then I need to sprinkle my life with party hats, balloons, fun food, and fun friends...and I need to organize, and plan, to celebrate the goodness of the Lord, the faithfulness of His sovereignty, and the hope of EVERY TOMORROW to come.

That's exactly what I'm going to do today! After all, I am a planner!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Camp Robber #5: Unyielding Idols

I'm finding myself more aware than ever, and, definitely on the alert for the following things:

Camp Robber #1: Unrealistic Expectations

Camp Robber #2: Unreasonable Questioning

Camp Robber #3: Unplanned Waiting

Camp Robber #4: Unforeseen Circumstances

However, there is an even sneakier robber-of-joy that creeps into "camp" unaware and subtly steals away my joy (ah, but I caught him in the act this week, and his thievery has forced me to look inwards). It all started with a sentence I wrote down in my journal months ago. I probably am quoting some author or another, but I failed to give credit in my ramblings. "Good things often turn to supreme things." 

I know this about that: Supreme things rule. That which rules controls. That which controls I obey. "Obey" became the key word that sent me scurrying inward for a spiritual check-up. David made this bold statement in Psalm 40:8, "I take joy in doing your will, my God, for your instructions are written on my heart (NLT)."

Now, the proper answer to the question of what is supreme in my life, and who (or, what) I obey, is the standard Sunday School response, "Jesus." However, I'm not so sure that is accurate. There are "good things" afoot. "Good things" that have settled in on the altar that is reserved for Jesus. You see, this Camp Robber doesn't just steal, he replaces. He snatches and stores; and, he's so quick I don't even notice that one is missing for the other that has filled the hole. Camp Robber #5: Unyielding idols.

No, I don't have a Baal (see an example of this Canaanite god above) erected in my back yard, but I have built some "high places" in my heart. Good things that have turned to supreme things. Things that:
* Absorb my imagination more than God...
* Give me a sense of identity and security...
* Use up my passion, energy, and even financial resources...
* Control my emotions...

Things that:
* I seek to please...
* I march to the beat of...
* I find pride swelling up inside my heart over...

I should stop right there. I won't. I have an example. A personal one. So, here comes the vulnerability. I love my family (who doesn't, right?). When my family is happy, I am happy. When my family is here with me, I am happier. So, I will do at all costs whatever I must do to have them come...and to keep them as long as I possibly can. There is one problem. Both Bay and I are introverts. After being around people (ANY people) for a certain period of time, we exhaust emotionally (& physically). When we exhaust, we get cranky. When we exhaust, we become better sinners. But, being with my kids and my grand-treasures is the delight of my life. Bay, too! We plan activities, parties, things we'll do when we're together, what we'll eat, what we'll play, and how we'll spend our every waking moment, while still holding the house together in one piece (remember there can be as many as 24 of us under one roof during these special family gatherings) and carrying on ministry responsibilities (from our home office). We love it! We can't wait for them to come, and we make the most of EvErY sInGLe MiNuTe! The difference is that Bay knows his limits. If I were honest, I would know mine, too, but I ignore the limits just for the sake of being together. The discrepancy between Bay's known limits and my inadmissible limitations has caused no small amount of disagreement. This tension has brought me to a sad realization - my children, my grand-treasures, can be idols in my life (OK, change that "can be" to "are"...I mean, look at them, I need say no more).

As I began to admit this to myself, I also realized that simply by virtue of the fact that their emotional states can direct the course of my emotional state is also a strong indication of idolatry... That's when I started seeing other things that the Camp Robber has dropped in my life to replace the ONE REAL SUPREME THING (Jesus). I had to ask myself some questions in order to discover other little "g" gods, golden calves, which I've set up to dance around:

What seems to control my emotions? What makes me uncontrollably upset, angry, anxious, hurt, or despondent?
What do I seek to control, to fix?
What do I fear losing?
What drives my life?
How do I spend our money?
How do I spend my time?
When my mind is at rest, where does that compass point? What do I think about?
What habits consume me?
Where do I find my value? What defines me?

When I honestly answer those questions, I find my idols. Idols confuse. Confusion causes joylessness. When I tear down the "high places," burn the golden calf, put Jesus back on His rightful throne, and start obeying the first commandment, I find my joy returning.

It's no wonder the Lord put this commandment as #1; He knew disobeying it would be a certain joy-stealer!

"You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God...showing steadfast love to...those who love me and keep my commandments (Exodus 20:3-6)."

So, I reckon I need to tear down some high places; remove some altars. Excuse me, I have some bricks to remove.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Camp Robber #4: Unforeseen Circumstances

I probably should have waited on last week's blog about "unplanned waiting." I'd written it early (like a day too early), before leaving to surprise my grandson for his 8th birthday party. The next day was essentially a day from "waiting hell"... I'll explain momentarily.

It was also a day of unforeseen circumstances. So, this, then, is potential Camp Robber #4. We never know when something out of the ordinary will occur and it will disrupt our lives in a multitude of ways, and often include unplanned waiting. However, if we're ready and prepared, those pesky Camp Robbers don't have to steal away our joy!

Here's what happened last week. I used some airline miles to fly from Durango to Phoenix. My flight was scheduled for 6:00 AM, which meant I had to leave home by 3:45 AM in order to be in Durango on time to check in and get through TSA. I would be in Phoenix and on the road to Casa Grande by 9:13 (that's what they promised). HOWEVER, when I arrived in Durango, I discovered my flight was canceled due to mechanical failure. They were re-routing everyone. Fortunately, being a premier member, I was in the short(er) line. The attendant re-scheduled me on a US Airways/American flight leaving at 12:30 PM, to arrive at 12:45 PM in Phoenix (a direct flight as opposed to having to go through Denver). So, I spent the next five-plus hours in the local Starbucks waiting... Then, back to the airport to catch my next flight, which kept getting delayed for two and a half more hours (more WaItInG). By the time I reached Casa Grande, I had been delayed for a total of 8 1/2 hours (but, I kept telling myself that I'd found extra time I didn't expect and that was fun, too - after all, who just happens to discover 8 extra hours in their day? Right?). BUT, the better news was that I still made it in time for the birthday party. WAHOO! UNTIL, I was trying to be a helper, and the knife slipped out from my right hand, missed the watermelon I was cutting, and sliced open my left thumb. Blood started pulsating everywhere, and sadly I knew a trip to Urgent Care was inevitable. Between the amount of blood, and the fact that my thumb had gone entirely numb, I was sure I'd sliced a vein. So, off we went, my son-in-love and I, to the UC. More waiting. I sent Tim home, waited for the doc, then waited for the shots, then waited for them to take effect, then waited for the stitches, then waited to pay my bill, then waited for a ride home, then waited for the pain meds the doc prescribed to be filled at the pharmacy... By then, I'd missed the big party. Sad day. But, my thumb was fixed, and it wasn't too big of a deal.

But I still got a precious weekend with my grandson...and will probably never forget his 8th birthday...

Unforeseen circumstances in every part of my day. It was so ridiculous I had to believe it wasn't accidental. Considering the studying I'd been doing on joy, I had to wonder, was this a test? Was this like a big exam, or something, to see if I was learning my lessons? But as soon as I asked that question, I remembered the following verse from James 1:13 -

Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted, and he himself tempts no one."

The word "tempted" (peirazo) means to test, to examine. God, Himself, doesn't test us, and He can't be tested in that way either. The temptation, more often than not, comes from 1) our own enemy, or 2) our own desires to give in to a sinful response.  Remember Job...Satan came and asked permission to try Job, and God who knew Job's heart allowed Satan's ploys. True to his heart, Job came out of his trials refined like gold. One thing was for sure, at the end of it all, Job was convinced of God's Sovereignty (whether he understood what had happened or not), and Job knew what he was capable of enduring without losing faith. Remember Peter...Satan asked permission to "sift Him like wheat" and the Lord told Peter that permission was granted, but that he, too would come out refined.

That's what happens in our unforeseen circumstances. The Lord lets them be used for many purposes, one of which is to show us our hearts, to refine our character (sandpaper the rough edges), and to prove His own faithfulness (to His own character) in our circumstances. As I saw the Lord at work, remembered how He uses all things for my good and His glory, saturated myself in His Sweet Presence in the midst of the waiting, I am here this morning to assure you, He is faithful to instill JOY, just as He promises!

#lessonsonjoy: I can maintain my joy in unforeseen circumstances when I realize they are producing something Christlike inside of me!

Count it all joy, my friends, when you go through various trials, knowing what they will produce in you (James 1:3).

You can be assured that your God works all things together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His great purposes (Romans 8:28).

Monday, June 1, 2015

Camp Robber #3!

Camp Robber #1: Unrealistic Expectations

Camp Robber #2: Unreasonable Questioning

Camp Robber #3: Unplanned Waiting

I've spent my share of time in waiting rooms. I don't like them! In a waiting room, we hover between now and not yet. In a waiting room, we often float between what if and what is. We're waiting for a yes or a no, good news or bad news, this or that answer. Our lives are disrupted and normalcy disregarded. It's just simply a yucky place to be. (Hospitals, Urgent Care, and Airports are the worst!)

At the moment, I'm not really in a waiting room. In fact, I find I'm in a sweet season. Don't get me wrong, trials still poke their heads through the ground all around me at various times and in random ways.  Yet, inside I feel a lovely calm. I want to seize this moment for all it's worth, mostly because I'm a glass half-full kind of girl. I'm aware that just around the corner is sure to be another "when" (not an "if").

Side note: I've simply had to laugh at myself. Here I am, in one breath, saying I'm not in a waiting room, while in another breath, I seem to be in a waiting room waiting to be put in a waiting room. It's like I'm putting myself in a place where I'm waiting for a new "hard" season... Does that make sense? Sometimes I simply spend too much time thinking...

So, back to waiting rooms. This week, in reading verses on joy, I ran across David's psalm from a "dry and weary land where there is no water (Psalm 63:1)." 

Now, that's a great description of a waiting room! Yet, in the middle of this place, he says, "I will sing for joy (vs.7)" and " soul will be satisfied and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips (vs. 5)." It's worth taking notes on how he's done that, for that next season of hard, that next unplanned waiting room where I find myself.

Here are five things that David teaches us about waiting rooms:
1. David sought the presence of God (vs. 1). Years ago, I read Richard Foster's book, Celebration of Discipline. In it, he lists several methods for earnestly seeking and finding God's presence. I highly recommend the book, but the one that was life-changing for me was his chapter on meditation. Creating time and space to think, to ponder, to listen. Meditation isn't about asking, or telling. It's not's simply listening for God's still voice to rise above the other voices calling out to us in our world.

2. David grabbed "sanctuary" moments (vs. 2) where he could behold the glory of the Lord, and focus on God's character. My sanctuary is a corner of the couch in our family room. Sometimes, it's a quiet corner of the zoo, or a place behind our house in the national forest. Dry and weary places call for us to be intentional in discovering sanctuaries. Even David's bed became a place where he could remember God and meditate on Him (vs. 6).

3. David hid himself in the shadow of God's wings and clung to Him (vs. 7-8). Metaphorically, David tucked himself inside the presence of God's comfortable wings. He clung ("dabaq": to abide) to His Lord for safety in a place where he could feel God's heart beat.

4. In spite of how things looked and felt, David trusted his future to the One Who Held His Future (vs. 9-10). God's already been there, all the way to the end of our time. He's spelled our future out with these letters V.I.C.T.O.R.Y. In the here and now, we have to remember the there and then. God's got it all, and He is FOR ME!

5. David sang (vs 7)! Nothing seems to speak to my heart more than singing spiritually uplifting and encouraging reminders about the Lord. That could be why Paul instructed us to often admonish each other in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Col. 3:16). David sang...for joy!

There's no need for waiting rooms to steal our joy; especially when we can sing instead!