Wednesday, October 19, 2016

He is there

I've found myself pondering this question recently: How do I best prepare for difficulty?

Any way you slice it, difficult times are ahead.  I've already passed through a few, and Jesus summed it up when He said, "In this world you will have trouble."

Sometimes when big and small things happen that create a storm in my life, I act surprised and even offended which is a tell that I have been believing that my choices are going to protect me from ever facing a challenge. When I stop and analyze my reaction, I notice a self-sufficiency that creeps in, dominating my thought life with an increasing reliance on myself to avoid things that are hard. 

It's a tell that I have been spending time thinking through every possible worse-case scenario, imagining loads of conversations where I'll say this and you'll say that and he'll answer with this so then I'll come back and say such and such…building internal walls and creating plans for the what ifs and the outcomes I predict…

None of those things have ever protected me or truly prepared me for any difficulty I've passed through. Certainly it's never stopped an outside force from wreaking havoc on my "well-ordered" life.

That's not to say that planning is bad or thinking through scenarios can't ever be helpful, especially when there are some pragmatic things to do for physical preparedness. And we definitely need to do some mental and emotional preparedness. 

What I'm realizing, however, is that my way of preparing emotionally in the past has not really served me well when an actual hard time has come because my habitual line of thinking has led me in circles trying to figure out how I would solve the problem, fix the problem, and protect myself from the problem with no real effective answers.

So what to do?

I think the key lies in what Jesus says next: "Take heart.  I have overcome the world."

In The Forgotten Way, Ted Dekker says this:

 "The eternal realm of heaven has come into all darkness as the Light of the world.  This Light does not stand beside darkness, or around it, or in one small corner of it.  This Light has come Into all darkness, as John writes.  Paul makes it clear when he wrote, In Him all things hold together.  Every atom.  All.  Show me a place where you think Christ isn't, and He will show you only your blindness to Him there, because He is there." [p 113]

If I want to prepare for hard times ahead, then I need to take heart.  Partnering with worse-case-scenario imaginations don't, for me at least, lead to finding powerful solutions to problems that may arise; rather it leads me down a path of hopelessness and despair and self-reliance which creates panic, fear, worry, stress, anxiety.

Taking heart means imagining Jesus present in every single scenario I can come up with.  And then trusting that He'll be in the ones that I haven't thought of.

Taking heart looks like trusting that no matter what's ahead, the final outcome will bear the mark of Jesus because He has overcome the world.

It shifts something deep within me when I allow the truth of the Gospel to sink profoundly into the marrow of my bones and set my thoughts to marinate in the truth of His Presence within and all around me.

I confess my blindness to that Presence.  I see and hear of things going on around me.  I struggle with the news of atrocities here and across the globe.  It's easy to see only the hard and the evil that oftentimes causes it, but I'm called to a different way of operating.  I'm called to take heart and to look for the Presence of Christ in every situation.

So today I'm preparing by practicing the Presence of Jesus right here and now, imagining Him present with me here and present with me in the future and in every situation I will encounter.

I'm taking heart.  

Will you join me?

Thursday, October 6, 2016

I am a habitation

I opened an email this morning by Graham Cooke titled "God is not a visitor" and as I began to read how God came to dwell with us, within us, these thoughts began running through my head:

When I wake up anxious
I'm am a habitation
When I'm tired and weary
I am a habitation
When I feel depressed, discouraged, hopeless, and afraid
I am a habitation
When my walls are up and I'm guarded and reserved
I am a habitation
When I'm critical and harsh
I am a habitation
When I'm short-sighted, have forgotten my way, and get bogged down in fruitless activity and unholy ruminations,
I am a habitation

There's a mixture of feelings as I type these out.  On the one hand I feel a degree of shame, as in "Shame on you for having those struggles and tainting presence of God in your life. How will people know Him if you have these things that don't reveal him?" which is really code for "don't you know people can't see God if you aren't living a perfect life?!?"

Maybe no one has ever come out and said those words exactly to me, but the truth is that I do struggle with a measure (smaller now than before) of perfectionism, so when I see my mistakes - however big or small - they loom large enough to mask the presence of God... in my mind, anyway.

But is that really possible? To taint or mask the presence of God? Are my mistakes and sinful patterns truly that powerful?  Deep down I have believed that they were.

There is a shift occuring, however, even this morning as I write.  The shift started happening as the realization came that NO MATTER WHAT I DO, God still inhabits me.  My mistakes and frames of mind and straight up sinful behaviors do not in any way shape or form push Him away.  He still inhabits me.  I am still a habitation.

What kind of love and mercy is that?

I confess I've viewed God through small eyes, expecting Him to run and hide when my ugly comes out. But He doesn't.  He shines on anyway.  He inhabits me always.  He never leaves me or forsakes me.

And that gives me great hope.  Instead of spiraling down into a cesspool of guilt and shame which can set me back for days, I can be reminded that He stays, He dwells, He inhabits this frail body of mine even in my worst moments.

Don't you feel the beauty of redemption rising up within you even now?  He has chosen me, chosen you, to be His habitation.  His light and His power and His work are still going on even in our messiest moments, our most diabolical days, and if we can lay hold of that truth and begin to really believe it to be true, then whatever fears and worries and faulty thinking that drives those misaligned behaviors….well, they lose their footing…they lose their power over us so that we begin to not only know that we are His habitation but we get to fully experience what it FEELS LIKE to have the living presence of God within our very bodies.

Guys, I am a mess most days.  It starts around 5 a.m. and continues until I fall back in bed around 11 p.m.  I am regularly on the ferris wheel of never enough which sometimes trips me up into a sea of messy emotions and interactions with my family.

I am still a habitation.

And that truth is growing and expanding and taking over old mindsets of shame and condemnation and transforming my thoughts and renewing my mind.

Knowing that I am a habitation and that He never leaves does not make me want to go out and sin all the more. God forbid! The other teaching that says my mistakes can cover God's goodness is built on a fear that God's love and mercy are not motivators enough to do justly and to love mercy.

I am here to tell you that shame is not a reliable motivator, in fact it often feeds the behaviors we so passionately try to avoid in order to shine forth the light that's within us. But if we secretly believe that we can somehow hide the presence of God that inhabits us or somehow cause Him to go away, then we have made ourselves more powerful than He and reduced Him to a god driven by whim and offense.

That isn't who inhabits me. 

Emmanuel lives within me, more powerful than all of the sins I can commit, bigger than any mistake I can make, and more faithful than I can ever imagine.

And knowing that, both in my head and in my heart, gives me strength to make powerful choices to be the best version of myself, the one that God sees when He looks at me…the redeemed one, bought by His blood, washed white as snow, the place where His glory dwells.

I am a habitation.