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Mammon

I have been reading “The Blessed Life” by Robert Morris as part of a book study.  We report on each chapter that we read.  The last report allowed me to articulate a concept that has been formulating in my heart over the last weeks.  I thought I’d share that here.

 

There’s that feeling, that struggle between what we now call radical obedience/faith and the logic, or the world system that has been instilled in us in the form of education.  The worry, the self-preservation, the plotting, the planning, the attempted compromise – when God asks for everything and we are afraid that we’ll be left with nothing. That’s the Spirit of Mammon.

Matthew 6:24

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

I remember the struggle, the fear, the confusion, and sometimes even the resentment that God would have me to give, to sacrifice, or to do without – often with no obvious purpose.  And that is when it is apparent that there is another power trying to gain the highest place in my life.  God does not bring confusion, guilt, or shame.  Neither does He compromise.  Doubt and double-mindedness are a big indication that I am walking on the line between fear and faith, that I am trying to serve God and something else.  That is when I must quickly reel myself in and decide if I am going to serve/love God or if I’ll despise Him.

When it comes to Mammon we cloak our justifications in the name of “stewardship” and “wisdom.”  When in fact, we are preserving our own life, deciding that God’s provision is limited and we are the regulator, doomed to grasping, grappling and poverty if we don’t care for it properly.  We forget that His mercies are new every morning.  We forget that He will give us our daily bread. When it comes to money, I believe we hold ourselves to our past mistakes and our past successes, with a self-determination (a self-judgment) of what we should be allowed to receive, to steward, to give – instead of truly allowing God to determine our financial position – daily.

Lately, I think of my financial provision, it’s the parameters that I am given, or entrusted to work within at this place in time.  When I serve God, not mammon, then it is enough, enough for today, and I am so well cared for. When I serve God, there will be enough tomorrow, whatever tomorrow brings, regardless of what He asks for me to give today.  When I serve God, there is no anxiety, there is no fear, there is no concern about whether or not I’ll be cared for – that is a given, just like the air that I breath.

Mammon tells me that I should work (serve) to gain another level of provision.  Great energy goes into plotting and planning my financial security, not only for the days ahead, but the weeks and years ahead.  My value, my favor, even the way I view myself in God’s eyes becomes based on my debt to income ratio and how much is sitting in a savings or retirement account.

Matthew 6:31-34

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Lately I’ve been thinking about all of the things that we don’t really consider, that, as God’s kids, we walk in without thought or concern. We know that He’s there, we know that we are forgiven, we know that He is the author and finisher of our faith, we know that we are loved, we are gifted, we are anointed.  We pray without fear, we speak without reservation, we know that as long as there is a purpose for our life on this earth – we will remain here.  That when He determines, we will join Him in heaven. We are used to the fact that every day we have enough food, clothes in our closet, a dry place to sleep, enough to share, our cars start, our bodies work, we move forward with little thought or concern about any of these things.  We are aware that they are part of us being where He’s called us to be and living what He’s called us to live.

The one area that we give a lot of thought, energy, time, worry, and devotion to is money.  What we have, if it will be enough how we will get more, where it will come from, and on and on and on.  I think that God would have us spend as little time concerning ourselves with money as we do concerned about whether or not we’ll be able to get out of bed today, or whether our bodies will work, or our car will start…in my world, I think very little of these things.

I know I’ll have the physical ability to do whatever God wants me to do today – to go wherever He wants me to go today.  I may have no energy left at the end of the day, but then I sleep and tomorrow there will be energy for tomorrow.  I think that’s the way that He would have us regard money – it’s a tool, a renewable resource – when it’s His and He is the master. Otherwise we are living no differently than the unbelievers.

Philippians 4:6

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

God’s Love….it goes on and on

Your love goes on and on and on and on and on…

Without end

Without measure

Without limit

Without partiality

 

No situation

No circumstance

No sin

Brokenness

Anger

Offense

Hatred

Can stop it

 

Confusion

Misunderstanding

Distraction

Does not redirect it

 

Laziness

Passivity

Aloofness

Unbelief

Lack of faith

Hurt

Does not diminish it

 

Lies

Deception

Bitterness

Offense

Aggressiveness

Evil

Does not squelch it

 

Nothing can silence it

Nothing can remove it

It goes on and on and on and on and on….for me

 

And me, I am to have that love for others

Love that goes on and on and on and on….

Whether they agree with me or not

Whether or not I’m loved in return

Whether or not I’m understood

Or valued

Or even liked

 

My love for others should not look like

Fear

Control

Worry

Manipulation

 

It shouldn’t be silenced when

They don’t do things the way I do them

Or the way that I want them to

When others don’t see what I see

Or believe the same way

Love that goes on and on and on and on….does not have an off switch

 

It is not regulated

According to behavior

Or favor

Or influence

Or beauty

Or lack thereof

Or wealth

Or hunger

Or sickness, disease, trauma

 

It goes on and on and on and on…..

No Resolutions…

I was driving home from work the other day and for some reason I noted how good I was feeling. It was one of those moments where I realized that I wasn’t stressed out, I wasn’t feeling pressure and I wasn’t overtired.  There was peace in my heart, I felt good about life and where I’m at in it.

Typically, I don’t feel that way at the beginning of the year, it is always a busy time at work and at home there’s generally the let down after the holidays. I wondered why I felt different, and I realized that I hadn’t made my new year’s resolutions yet. It was barely a thought, not something that I imagined would make that much of a difference, but as I thought about it more I recognized that I wasn’t adding unnecessary pressures and expectations to my life.

In past years, when the calendar turns, announcing the new, the beginning, a fresh start; I take time and evaluate where I am at in life – like many others do. I determine what is lacking, I decide what needs to be strengthened, I search for things in my heart, and in my life that I think need to change, plot the journey and step out.

Once I start to walk out my new strategy, to make this the year that I finally ______, I begin the viscous cycle of daily self-assessment followed by the ensuing judgment that awards me according to whether I was “good or bad” that day.  Half-way through January I’m sick of it all and decide maybe I’ll make those changes in the spring, or the summer, or maybe it’ll just happen miraculously on its own.

The last two years have presented truly unexpected challenges that put my personal plans and goals aside. Unexpected means I didn’t see them coming, I couldn’t prepare, and I didn’t really know how to walk through them. Somehow, each day the next step, the wisdom, provision, and the strength was there – with the team and family provided for me, without a long term plan, because I can’t predict the future.  And somehow, looking back I see that I have grown, I have changed, I have different perspective and insight, my faith is stronger, I am more secure, I have received some of the things that I’ve been waiting for, and had surprises along the way.

As a Christ follower, I declare that He is my goal, He is the prize, and my job is to look to Him and allow Him to satiate every part of my life.  But then, I go about setting goals and making plans for how to grow more, know more, become stronger in my faith, in my walk with Jesus.  How can I, as the student, determine the course curriculum to prepare for eternity?

The truth is, regardless of how I see myself, my life, my growth, my future, and my purpose, it is not my own.  Regardless of what road I see myself on, and what direction I think I am going, God sees the bigger picture.  The truth is, I don’t know how to get to where He’s taking me, so how in the world can I map out my trip?  Historically, He has brought me places and shown me things, and challenged me in ways that I could never have contrived on my own – I wouldn’t have known where to even start.  I have made plan after plan after plan and very few of those plans have played out.  Where am I trying to get to anyway?  So I’m letting Him lead.

This year, I’m not making resolutions. I’m taking the pressure off. I’m not adding more to my list of “do’s and don’ts,”” should’s and would’s,” it seems to have enough on it.  I’m not going to try to strategize a way through my inconsistent, unpredictable life to an elusive “perfect” life.

This year I will learn new things, some of my personal goals will be accomplished, I will receive things that I’ve been waiting for, I will see prayers answered (which ones – I don’t know), I will be challenged, I will get stronger, I will be wiser.  I’m going to skip the part where I try to figure it all out and I’m going to just see where this road goes, one day at a time, trusting the One who has planned the journey and knows the destination. In that, I have great joy and peace.

Philippians 3:14-16  “I press on toward the goal to win the [supreme and heavenly] prize to which God in Christ Jesus is calling us upward. So let those [of us] who are spiritually mature and full-grown have this mind and hold these convictions; and if in any respect you have a different attitude of mind, God will make that clear to you also. Only let us hold true to what we have already attained and walk and order our lives by that.”

Sifting and Sorting

In the recent years I spend the majority of my existence with very stable emotions. I’m one of those people that are pretty steady. I live secure, and content, confident that I am where I belong, doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m safe in the fact that I am very loved, there are many in my life that I treasure, my life is full, it is good – I am good.

As I write all of that I recognize that this is a miracle in itself. There were years and years where I thought feeling that way about life was an unattainable ideal, or a short-lived happenstance. But, as I’ve fought to believe the truth about myself and who God really is, and to receive the love that is so abundantly available to me, I’ve experienced a miraculous life.

Just over three months ago my journey, my goals, my vision got interrupted. As a family, our worlds have been shaken up. Suddenly, it’s time to take care of a sick loved one and to take care of each other in the process. Our faith is given the opportunity to become stronger and again we see what we are really made of and what we really believe when the rubber hits the road.

For me, it’s like someone just took my tidy, well-organized emotions and threw them all in a basket together. I’m sifting through them and trying to sort them out, but I can’t quite get them back into the places that they were before. Some of them have come out of their packaging and are leaking onto the others, behaving in a very inconvenient manner. I’m discovering anger and hurt that I thought were long ago discarded, and it’s making a mess.

While I know the truth, with all my heart, that this is a season, that we are all going to be ok, that I haven’t stopped being in the right place at the right time, for the right reasons. I know in my head, that all the things that are true and good and right about me haven’t stopped. But, in the middle of this I feel lost and alone in an odd way, and I want comfort, and I see again what I don’t have – and I think there lays my peace, maybe even joy. Honestly for me, who has lived what I call an extended single life, I imagine that if some good guy would choose me and love me, somehow this would be a bit easier.

That’s not where my life is right now, and I can’t go out and make that happen. So, there must be a solution that I’m missing, there must be a better source of comfort and peace. Because this thing, where I add loneliness and rejection to my jumbled basket of emotions, it’s not going to help anything at all.

And then I remember, a phrase that comes in like a vapor, a whisper, and then takes shape and form. “God chose me and He wants me for Himself.” I’m tempted to simply nod my head and agree, “yes Jesus loves me.” Then, I stop and ponder what that means, because I know that somewhere down deep in that simple statement is something that I really need, something that will give me more than momentary comfort.

God of the universe, God our Creator, Protector, Father, Savior, and Friend who knows me inside out and upside down, who knows my flaws and my insecurities, and my unbelief, and my stubbornness, and my selfishness – He still chooses me – even today when I feel like a mess. He is still absolutely in love with me – even when I am angry and offended and the thoughts that I have are not nice and holy, or pure and good and true and lovely.

Isn’t that what I really want, someone that will love me when I can’t even stand me? On top of that, He loves me so much, He is so aware of why I feel the way that I do, and even as I push against Him – He doesn’t abandon me. In fact, He pursues me. He even goes further to say that He is so in love with me that He doesn’t want to share me. He wants all of me for Himself. He is offering me far above what any other human being can offer me. He loves me far beyond what another human can love me. He wants to be my source of comfort, strength, encouragement, joy, love, and life. In fact, He is saying that because I’ve received the gift that His Son, His Love, gave – I am good enough for Him. Why would I want anything less?

Protection

The other day I had to get my car inspected, it’s a requirement here in Texas, it has to be done every year. I’ve had my car for a little over a year and it’s very rare that anyone else is driving it, so it’s set up my way. When the inspection was completed I got back in my car, moved the seat back into it’s proper place, and resumed my life, happy for my windshield sticker that said my car was in compliance for another year.

On the first Friday night of every month there is a worship service at the church I’ve been attending. I like to go when I can, it’s better than staying home alone and flipping through the channels. The church that I go to is 20 miles away, straight down one of the busiest interstates in Fort Worth. So last night after dinner I went to church. Of course while I had been in the church service it got dark – it usually does that at night.

I hopped into my car and drove home. I was tired from a full day, and I was noting to myself on my drive home that I was tense as I navigated around the other cars and the semi-trucks. It’s like that here; driving isn’t as fun and relaxing as it’s been everywhere else that I’ve lived (i.e. small towns). I recall wondering if I’ll always be tense driving in the dark on busy interstates. As I went to pass a semi truck, the car behind me switched lanes at the same time, we had a safe space between us, so I wasn’t concerned. He flashed his lights at me (why do I assume it was a “he?”), and I thought, “well that’s rude, I wasn’t doing anything wrong,” and I resumed my journey home, passing a few more big semi trucks, going through construction, and noticing way more cars on the road than should be at 9pm, all of them being kind of pushy.

As I turned onto my street, only a block away from home, I looked at my dashboard and realized that my headlights were off! I have a setting on this car where they turn on automatically, so I’ve lost the habit of getting in my car and turning on the headlights. In one of my previous towns of residence I would have known this immediately because you need your headlights to see where you are going, or to see the deer waiting to jump out in front of your car. Here, all the roads are well lit, I never noticed that I was travelling 20 miles of interstate, in a navy blue car, virtually invisible to the other vehicles around me.

My heart dropped as I made my discovery. I realized that the setting was changed when my car was inspected the other day. Note to self: always check my headlight setting after my car has been in the shop. I walked into my apartment so thankful for God’s protection of me, as my different driving scenarios passed through my mind. That rude guy, flashing his lights at me – he was telling me to turn on my headlights, the only way that a person can at 60mph. The reason that I felt that semi-truck was going to come into my lane and squash me at any moment, was because he probably didn’t see me…..those people not letting me move over in construction…..wow, no wonder it was an extra tense drive last night. My angels were working over-time to keep me safe, I could almost picture them as they held other cars off and slowed some of them down, sped others up, caused me to need to tap my brakes to make some aware of my presence. Whew!

I woke up in the middle of the night, thinking about it again with that sinking feeling in my gut and saying again, “Wow! thank you God for your protection!” This morning, as I drank my coffee, my mind again replayed the whole scenario, and again I am thankful. I wonder why I can’t stop thinking about it. Nothing happened to me, nobody was a bad guy, I didn’t purposely do anything “wrong,” the car shop didn’t do anything “wrong.” I wasn’t sabotaged or attacked. I was protected.

I think that the reason why I can’t let it go is because I’m catching a glimpse of reality. That reality is that every single day, every hour of the day, there are massive things going on around us, whizzing by us at top speeds, dangers, threats, innocent mistakes, and outright negligence’s, the majority of which we cannot see so we never think to acknowledge them. God and His angels weren’t just protecting me last night, they weren’t doing an “extra good” job at it last night, or working harder than usual. They do that all the time! I’m just clueless 99% of the time. My incident last night just pulled back the curtain and let me see to a small measure what is going on behind the scenes. Can you imagine? The God of the universe, working to those lengths, on our behalf, constantly!

The temptation is to think, “nah, I’m not that important, why would He do that for me?” or “I watch out, I’m aware of my surroundings, I protect myself so that He doesn’t have to bother with me.” Or “Wow! I did it again! Why am I always messing up, and making more work for Him? He must be getting so tired of bailing me out.” The truth is that all of these thoughts crossed my mind, mad at myself for not being more aware, feeling sick that I made Him use His super powers for little ol’ me, wondering if there will be a day when I run out of chances, when He’s had enough of me.

And then there’s the greater Truth. His protection and His work on our behalf, His care for us, is all a natural outflow of His love for us. A love that we have not earned, that we don’t deserve, a love that does not have a beginning and has no end. A love that doesn’t see us as a burden, or as clumsy fools, but that sees us as children. As children of the Highest Love, it is not a work or an effort to protect, lead, or train us, it is a joy and a delight and a fulfillment of Love’s own desire. That pathway being forged through Love’s Sacrifice, that built a bridge, so that we could walk in the light and in the truth and in the freedom of Perfect Love. Part of that Love is protection.

Loving Others Well

It’s my grandparents’ 65th Wedding Anniversary today.  Sixty – five years!  Can you imagine?  Last night I received a call from them saying that they opened a bottle of wine saved from their 50th Anniversary party while enjoying a premium home-cooked dinner with the best of company – each other.  They have done something right.  They have loved well.

Their two sons each celebrated 40 years of marriage this year.  Those two marriages have produced eight grandchildren.  Of those eight grandchildren four are already married and have given Carl and Iris nine great-grandchildren, with another on the way. This year we will celebrate another marriage as their youngest grandson (my brother) gets married and adds four more great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren to the mix.  Additionally, my other grandparents (my mom’s parents) have been married for 54 years!  That’s a lot of lovin’ going on!

I can truly say that when I grow up I want to be just like my grandparents.  They have been such an example of what love is and they show it best by loving others well.  I am grateful that they have lived this love in front of us.

My grandparents are best friends.  They have always done things together.  If grandpa was leading my dad’s and uncles’ boy scout troops, grandma was packing the lunches and making sure that they all had their sleeping bags.  From weekends on the lake, water-skiing to family road trips, to moves across the country, Grandpa and Grandpa have fully shared their life with each other. They volunteer together, they work together, they find games and hobbies that they both enjoy, they are a united team.

Work now play later…my grandpa retired early.  Their family has always been their biggest love.  We know this because each of us grandchildren is certain that we are their favorite.  They were able to spend time with us as we grew up.  I have fond memories of grandma working along side of us as she taught us how to do hospital corners when making beds, and as she had us slice the carrots to go with the dinner grandpa was grilling.  If we all worked together, then it would be done faster so that we could swim, or play cards, or have another lesson in crocheting.  Love others well is teaching them that work is important, playing is important, but most of all time together is important.

Don’t hold back.  There are countless times that my grandparents have gone the extra mile to care for others.  Thousands and thousands of miles have been traveled at their own expense to share their hard earned recreational time with family members that lived far away.  Every year they plot their routes, determining who they are going to go visit, or who most needs their help.  Wherever they are, they are fully present, offering their skills, their company and their hearts. They’ve tilled gardens, refinished furniture, towed vehicles, packed up homes, settled estates, changed diapers, bandaged wounds, done countless loads of laundry, babysat dogs, the list goes on and on.  I don’t recall ever hearing my grandparents say no if there was any possible that they could help.  Their love for others has been selfless.

“It’s just the right thing to do.”  I can hear my grandpa’s words in my head.  I have heard stories and seen as my grandparents have done what is right, even when it’s hard.  They have saved when money was tight, offered sandwiches and water to lonely travelers, spoken up for those that have been wronged, and gone out of their way to help someone broken down on the side of the road.  So today, when I work extra hours to do the job right, when I clean up a mess I didn’t make, when I restrain myself from cutting corners, and walk my shopping cart all the way down to the designated area, I know that part of the reason that I’m trustworthy is because I’ll “do the right thing.” That’s why we, and many many others trust my grandparents.

As we grew up they worked hard to make sure that we were treated fairly.  They never wanted one to feel less loved than the other. They are always supportive of us, always encouraging us, and probably always worried about us, but they are determined to be there for us. There are times that they don’t understand why we do the things that we do, there are times that they don’t agree, but they don’t withhold their love – that’s unconditional.  Not only do they love us unconditionally, but they generously show their support – regardless of how crazy our schemes may seem. I know in their mind that’s simply the right thing to do when you love others well.

Always say, “I love you.”  Every time we see each other, every time we part, every conversation ends with “I love you.”  There is absolutely no doubt in our minds that we are absolutely loved by our grandparents.  There is always a birthday card with a letter, always well thought out Christmas gifts, always room in their home, always a hug, always a “pop” in the fridge, always a ride from the airport, there is always a way that they are declaring their love.  They know that life can be unexpectedly cut short, and that our greatest treasures on earth are others so they love others well.  And do you know what?  I haven’t met anybody that doesn’t love them!

“This is my commandment that you love one another…that your joy may be full.”  John 15:12

Happy Anniversary Grandma & Grandpa!  Thank you for an amazing heritage.

“Pressure”…a bad word?

“I just feel so much.….pressure.  Pressure to be something great, to make all the right choices, to be perfect, and I can’t do it….I’m just me, I can’t live up to all that everyone wants me to be!”

The words fell out of her nineteen year old mouth as she shared her heart with me.  My heart, it sunk as I listened to what could have been a recording of my very own thoughts during different periods of my life.  And the “everyone” that she was referring to….I knew she meant me…which is all the worse. 

“Pressure” ran through my head as she spoke.  I recalled my college days, working so hard to “be” everything that I perceived every important person in my life expected me to be.  I intensely felt that pressure.  It motivated me, it scheduled my life, and it pushed me to my limit, then I stopped.  I stopped doing the things that I thought were “expected” of me even though it broke my heart as I imagined how I was deeply disappointing those that I most loved and respected.  I wanted them to be proud of me.

I thought that fulfilling all their dreams as a first-born child, first grandchild, oldest sister, best friend would make me feel worthy of love.  I thought that if I worked hard enough and showed them all that I was ok, regardless of my mistake that had brought tragedy and pain into all of our lives, then I could somehow prove to them that my life was worth their sacrifice.  But I couldn’t do it anymore.  Despite my worst fear, that I would never be fully loved for just me, I stepped back from the list of demands that I had created and the “pressure” that they had ensued.

All of these memories, thoughts and feelings whirled through my head as my baby sister released the “pressure” that has been building up in her.  My gut reaction was “I don’t want to be that pressure in her life.” My automatic thought was pressure=controlling. 

I heard myself say, “there’s no pressure, we just want you to be safe, to be you, we love you – before you ever make a ‘good or bad,’ ‘right or wrong,’ decision; before you ever do anything, you are loved, just as you are.” And that’s true.

I know I responded that way because I don’t want to be that adult.  You know, the controlling, manipulative, living life vicariously through the next generation, adult.  I never want her to see anything but love and safety when she thinks of me – yes, sometimes I do live in that make-believe world.

Then, I had to back peddle. 

Pressure is absolutely necessary in life.  Without the pressure of a string on one side and a sturdy stick on the other, a vine would never grown upwards – the fruit would rot on the ground.  The slightest pressure on a bit in a horse’s mouth gives the 1,500 pound animal a boundary, the pressure of a little leg on the horse’s side tells it to move forward.  The pressure of fingers against clay makes useful vessels.  Pressure causes coal to be turned into a diamond.  Pressure encourages growth, moves us forward, causes us to reach higher.  It comes in the forms of competition, pain, necessity, passion, inner drive and outer push. 

Obviously, there are types of pressure that are destructive, that crumble and break.  There is that self-seeking, controlling, abusive, and manipulative pressure that makes one cringe. That makes me want to run far away from the word and carry no identification with it.

I had to face reality though.  I do “pressure” my sister.  I remind her of the promises she has made. I remind her of the standard that she has invited into her life and that it entails.  I see her goals and I cheer her on to reach higher.  I encourage her to make wise choices, hard choices. I tell her that she is made for greatness and beam with pride as she proves me right every day.  “Pressure” looks a lot like love.

Do you know what?  When I stopped living according to the perceived expectations of my loved ones, nobody stopped loving me.  I’m sure I did (and still do) disappoint many, but they didn’t turn on me, they didn’t disown me, they let me be me. Those that I respected the most and that I was most worried about disappointing – they love me unconditionally and now I am certain of it. 

As I’ve pondered this word “pressure,” I recognize that today I choose a life with a measure of pressure.  Deadlines, goals, dreams, challenges, they are all a form of “pressure”– they help me to be the most that I can be, to have a fruitful life, to grow in love. So maybe “pressure” isn’t a bad word after all.

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