Monthly Archives: March 2015

The Presence of Absence

Relationships with family are often incredibly difficult to navigate in a healthy way.  Maybe it’s because there is so much water under the bridge or that our expectations for tomorrow defy a lifetime of interpersonal history.  Perhaps, we are hoping for more than one person is capable of giving, or even hoping for someone to be able to share something they don’t even possess to begin with.

I’ve been struggling with a relationship in my own life.  There is a person whom I love so dearly and with whom I share a lot of history.  Everything about this relationship hurts…being without them grieves me more deeply than words can express.  I feel alone and unmoored as though my life began and unfolded with no context.  Being around them clarifies the neglect and lack of care that I experience.  When I’m there, the lack of time we spend together brings into focus just how little I seem to matter.  There don’t seem to be any good options left at my disposal and I have tried everything I know to achieve a solution.

The other day, I was mulling how to put into words exactly how I feel about this person and this relationship that means so much.  I’ve decided that perhaps the best way to describe my emotion is to describe how I think I will feel when they die.  It seems a very stark thing to put into writing, and indeed it is.  What I will miss the most about them is what they WEREN’T instead of what they WERE when they lived on this earth with me.  I will grieve the times we didn’t spend together, those moments missed which even now make me weep.  I’ve said everything there is to say, I’ve done everything I’ve known to do, I’ve prayed more prayers than I can count, and shed innumerable tears.  Still, this person chooses everyone and everything but me-and I’m supposed to be someone who would be significant.  Their absence is as real and as tangible as their presence ever has been.

After years of one sidedly trying to fix this, I find myself utterly exhausted and completely without any more emotional reserve to pour into the vacuum.  Finally, I’m willing to let this go.  My husband wisely pointed out that we wanted different things and we had a difference of perception in identifying problems.  I sought a deep, abiding relationship in which truth could be spoken because it was safe.  My problem is that they didn’t want to spend and/or waste time.  They seemed to want a glossy brochure advertisement to show others as evidence of a life of substance when depth was lacking.  In their arena, one has to stand in line for acknowledgement and the field is flooded with sycophants.  Maybe their only problem was that I’d been unwilling to ‘go along to get along’ this entire time, which rendered me inconvenient.

I’m finally having to confront myself on this too.  Why have I allowed this to go on so long?  Am I contributing in a positive way or a negative way to this dynamic?  Sometimes in families we are so close to a situation that we can’t affect change, because we are part of the overall organism itself.  I’ve also had to look myself in the eye and realize that I own some of this ugly.  I feel angry and bitter.  I want more but there isn’t enough to go around.  I must be willing to let this go and let God have it.  Evidently I have been unwilling to come to this decision until now.

I’ve been praying and confessing my sin.  Yes anger is normal, but bitterness and the cultivation of it is sin.  God is also convicting me that my cup truly is half full.  There are some lovely gems in that history and I have much to be thankful for.  What I’m really realizing is that if I continue on the current course, I’ll end up perpetuating relationships that are similar.  More than anything, this is what I do not want.  I’m unwilling to live in the past and end up sacrificing my future on that altar.

I’ve been working on this thought, this essay, and bringing it before God for about a month.  Until now, I’ve felt unable to release my thoughts in a meaningful way.  Then this morning, as He often does, God gently revealed himself.  Bible Gateway’s verse of the day was from 2 Corinthians 5 , so I read the entire chapter.  I’ve chosen the New King James Version, because of the specific wording in verses 5:5-8 5 Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. 2 Corinthians 5 New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus reminded me today that He knows all about absence.  Jesus absented himself from the presence of His father so that he could be present with us on earth, that he might sacrifice himself for our sin.  He felt the abject misery of having his own Father turn his back on him when he was on the cross.  When Jesus left to prepare a place for us, he sent the Holy Spirit to be present with us as a comfort during this time of separation.  As eternal beings created in God’s image, we are programmed so that we feel both absence and presence.  We experience the friction between the ‘what is’ and the ‘what should be.’  While we live in these mortal bodies, our souls are longing for something more and complete.  God himself is the answer to my needs, my inner longings, and I can trust him with the broken pieces until he calls me home.

Joel & Jesus

There is a prominent ‘pastor’ who preaches prosperity and blessings emphasizing one’s own verbal power to speak ‘into being’ God’s blessings in a pre-prescribed fashion.  A ‘blessing’ by their definition seems to be plenty of money and often other material things and is often considered to be a result of God granting a person ‘favor’ either from God or in the eyes of man.  Based upon his sermons, one only has to have the right mental mindset to take hold of God’s blessings and achieve ‘Your Best Life Now.’  Joel is polished, bright, lean, and attractively packaged.  He and his wife travel on a private jet and have a personal net worth of $40,000,000.  In short, he is a marketing and branding superstar.

As I was reading through Isaiah 53 today, I was struck by a description of Jesus.  “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering.  Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised and we esteemed him not.  Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows…yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted.”

Now I want to be very careful about condemning another person who says they are a Christian.  I want to be very clear that I do not stand in judgement of him, because that is God’s job.  That said, we are called to look at a person’s fruits and the Bible tells us to test the spirits.  There is an extra burden upon a teacher of the Bible to be accurate and precise with God’s word and to wield it with extreme caution.  To err in representing who God is constitutes heresy and is very dangerous both to the individual and to the body of Christ.  We must examine what the Bible says and compare it with what the individual says that the Bible says.

The depth and breadth of Joel’s preaching is focused on claiming blessings and receiving things from God as though He is some sort of karmic vending machine.  This ideology presents several problems for the church.  One of the first concerns is not just the avoidance of many of the major tenants of Christianity, but that by omission he also causes a converse dilemma, a negative space if you will.  IF someone is poor, needy, and broken then the implication is that they must not be in a right relationship with Christ.  So, the ‘haves’ within the Christian community have a better relationship with God than the ‘have nots;’ those very people who need Christ the most.  It’s important to consider that if we apply this blessing metric to Christ, He himself would have been considered an abject failure at claiming his blessings and envisioning his position in God’s kingdom on earth.  He was impoverished and despised.  His ‘favor’ among men of power and influence was severely lacking.  I wonder if Joel had met Jesus in Nazareth what advice he would offered our Savior?

Additionally, this errant theology provides its’ supplicants with an opportunity to seek their own will instead of God’s will.  It is not unlike the ‘divine right of kings’ which was the belief that a king was granted the wisdom of God upon ascending to the throne, and therefore was faultless. It is the ever so slight shift from, “I am a Christian and I am seeking His will,” to “I am a Christian therefore my will is God’s will.”  That seemingly slight degree of change is to buy the same lie that Satan sold to Eve in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:5) “You will not surely die.  For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  As humans, we are tempted to assume God’s position.  We want to know good and evil and to determine what is good and evil for ourselves, outside of guidance from our heavenly father.

Joel Osteen’s February 27th blog is entitled “Overcoming A Lack Mentality.”  Here is a direct quote from his message:  “It says in Deuteronomy that God gives us the power to get wealth. There are seeds in you right now that can bring abundance: gifts, talents, skills, ideas, creativity, favor. God didn’t leave anybody out. You’ve got to get up every morning and remind yourself, “I am a no lack person.” See yourself strong, healthy and accomplishing your dreams. Keep the right image in front of you. You are blessed. You are prosperous. You are well able. And yes, you may need some kind of assistance right now. But if you’ll have this attitude and keep pressing forward, before long, instead of taking a handout, you’ll be giving a handout. Instead of borrowing, you’ll be the lender! Don’t settle where you are; don’t settle for lack. Press forward past a lack mentality and switch over to a blessing mentality!”

I can’t think of a more troubling ‘devotional.’  “God gives us the power to get wealth?”  Where in this passage did Joel mention pursuing Christ?  Where did he ask us to run the race that God has set before us and to store up treasures in heaven?  1 John 2:15 says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.”

Friends, our attitude should reflect Jesus Christ’s and not Joel’s.  Our life’s work as Christians should not be one of ‘what can I gain?’ but one of ‘what can I give to my Father?’  Certainly, God has anointed Davids and Esthers among us.  He even made Solomon a very wealth king all to bring glory to himself.  But, we are not all Davids and Esthers who desire to know God and to meditate on his word and his law.  God also permits Sauls and Nebuchadnezzars and I’d rather not spend seven insane years eating grass like a ruminant for God to bring me to my knees (see Daniel 4:33).

I suppose what we really need to ask ourselves is “what is my desire?”  Paul writes about desire in Romans 8:5-8. “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.”  Compare Paul’s words with Joel’s “See yourself strong, healthy, and accomplishing YOUR dreams.”

Jesus wants to save us from ourselves and from our sin.  Even when he disciplines us, his goal is to restore and redeem us.  What other God would have made clothes for his children so that they would be warm and covered before he meted out the punishment of banishing them from the Garden of Eden?” (see Genesis 3:21)  He has a plan for us and it is to bring glory to Him so that others might find Him also.  We can expect that if Jesus himself arrived on earth, unattractive and shabby, and that he submitted himself to persecution and suffering, we too will experience those same things.  Paul writes in Romans “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”  It isn’t your dream or my dream that matters!  It is God’s plan and God’s kingdom and our trust in him that is the essence of our life here.  Because ultimately, Jesus has gone ahead to prepare a place for us and he wants us to be with him in eternity.

While Jesus submitted himself to death to save us from our sins, Joel’s ideas differ a bit.  In an interview with Larry King he said, “I want people to leave church FEELING better than they did before.”  Jesus admonished us to repent and sin no more.  But when asked about sin in an interview with Piers Morgan, Joel said, “I teach about how we can become better.  How we can overcome.”  I’m a little bit of a farm girl here folks, and I’m going to put this in country terms:  You cannot milk a bull!

Jesus is not concerned as much about our feelings as he is about our soul!  It breaks my heart to know that the wounded and the needy approach the throne of Jesus as Joel sees him and they buy that message with their tithes and offerings.  If we have first asked ourselves what we desire, then we must ask ourselves, where is our treasure?

We must examine God’s word carefully and find out for ourselves who He has revealed himself to be.  In this way, we will know the sound of his voice from the cacophony of false prophets.   In this way, we will know the difference between the truth and a beautiful sounding lie that some innate part of us longs to be true.  Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. 15 As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. (John 10:14-15)  I encourage you to examine the words of your spiritual leaders and the fruits of their lives to be sure that they are indeed following Christ.  We also need to examine our hearts and our own fruits to be sure that we are honoring and glorifying God with our lives.

Rinse & Repeat (Surrendering Control Instead Of Losing It)

Do you ever feel as though you are cycled through life’s lessons over and over again?  Two months ago, my dishwasher broke and it was on this unending wash cycle.  I’d clean up the kitchen, load the dishes, put in the detergent, and press the start button.  Once I left the house and I returned six hours later only to find that the dishwasher was still running.  Its’ computer was on the fritz and it erroneously kept repeating itself.  In my life, I have to admit I’m broken like my dishwasher.  I read the Bible and pray and I know what God says.  But I keep reverting back to some coding or pattern that I incessantly repeat.  It often feels as though I am God’s remedial student, which I hope is okay since at least I’m still attending class, right?

Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that there are two sides of me.  One is the super chill, relaxed mom.  This lady is thinks nothing of grabbing a newly run over snake to do a gross dissection with the neighborhood kids.  The other woman is a whole lot more neurotic.  You’ll be meeting her today in this essay.  She is an achieved stresser and holds masters degrees in ‘how to obsessively worry about nothing’ and ‘how to suffer from things that will never actually occur.’

At present, our family is awaiting moving orders.  While this used to seem like a whole lot of fun, the shine of relocating has started to wear just a bit thin after 14 moves.  Our children are older.  It seemed easier to pick up and move (I can’t believe I’m typing this!) with two little kids than with older school age children.  Two high schools in two years, what’s next?  Honestly, I’m so stressed that if I were a smoker I’d have lungs that would make the National Institutes of Health clamor for my lungs upon my demise.  I’m repetitively worrying about something over which I have absolutely no control!

This morning as I was praying, I learned a little something about myself.  My need for control stems from a deep desire for predictability.  The need for control has perversely developed a redundant desire to control my control.  That is to say, I develop internal emotional strategies to deal with change by creating routine and predictability.  Then, on the inside, I also create a whole set of ‘what if’ plans for when my routines fail me.  Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it?

I want to make an analogy here about what I’m doing to myself.  If you think about a turtle, consider that it has a hard shell (known as a carapace) that grows with it.  My carapace is control and the problem is that it does not grow with me.  It constrains me.  So all of the growth that should be occurring is meeting with resistance and is squishing up against the rigidity of a boundary that forces growth to atrophy.  Essentially, something I’ve built has become a limitation to me and it bothers me so deeply!  Certainly the Bible has a lot to say about self control, it is one of the fruits of the Spirit after all.  However, an aberrant sense of self control, or of control in general, conveys a lack of trust and rest in God’s ability to carry and care for us.  Surely this is not how God intends me to deal with all of the things that ‘life’ hands me.

And so, I approached the throne of Grace this morning confessing and trying to learn, all over again, how to surrender control to the God who created this vast universe, time, and space, and all that is in it.  David wrote a lot about trusting God and I suspect this is because he had to keep reminding himself, as do you and I, to look to the Lord.  Psalm 25 vs 1-4 are important for us to consider as we refocus where we place our trust:  “To you, Oh Lord, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God.  Do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me.  No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame.”  Proverbs admonishes in 28:26 “He who trusts in himself is a fool but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe.”

As I examine my pathetic attempts to exert control over my life (the image of a sparrow in a hurricane comes to mind), I realize that I only have two choices in life.  All decisions lead to one or the other.  I can surrender control to the God who knew me in my mother’s womb (Jeremiah 1:5) and has a plan for me (Jeremiah 29:11).  Give the God who counts my tears (Psalm 56:8) and the hairs on my head (Matthew 10:30) my full consent and submission to His control or I can lose control to other external forces.

I’m sure I’ll be repeating this lesson and I’ll have to revisit this blog link.  More importantly, I’ll be revisiting the Bible in perpetuity and reminding myself of an empty grave and the very level ground found at the foot of the cross.  I’ll also find camaraderie amongst my brothers and sisters in Christ who also need to rinse & repeat.

Does God determine the exact time of our death?

Does God determine the exact time of our death?.