On a Date with Jesus…

Friday in my day planner contained an enormous, bold X encompassing all the hours from 8 until 3.

But not for vacation, a shopping trip, or bingeing on Netflix. Friday’s assignment from 8 to 3 is time with Jesus. It has all kinds of names but on our ministry team’s calendar, it is marked DWL or Day With the Lord.img_7624

What a gift, right?  A whole day to spend with Jesus. Who doesn’t want that? My daughter commented that it was a vacation. And it certainly looks like that, and feels like that sometimes. I’m thankful that our director sees that we need to be refreshed to pour into the lives of others.

But it is also a challenge. A whole day with Jesus confronts my distractive tendencies, it stands against my desire to produce something, and it reveals the state of my heart. After about 2 hours, I start to squirm, wanting to do something else, wanting to check that phone, the social media, accomplish that task. All the while knowing and wanting to delight in Jesus longer. Ack! The Civil War of the Soul.

Spending extended time with Jesus is a discipline. Meaning, we gain capacity for more through practice and training. So often discipline conjures up a harsh experience that is no fun at all. Discipline…like eating limp broccoli or cleaning up your room when you don’t want to…gets a bad rap.

But what about discipline that trains us for more joy, more capacity to receive from God, more faith? Like training for a 5K, discipline allows us to go farther and experience more delight because we trusted God for more and got to see Him provide.

So, how do you develop the discipline for spending an extended time with Jesus? Here are a few things I’ve discovered that have helped my capacity and enjoyment of Jesus expand during a longer time spent with Him.

  • Be a hedonist. Hedonism has negative connotations when it pertains to seeking after our own pleasures apart from God. But what about seeking pleasure in God? By definition hedonism is the doctrine that pleasure is the sole or chief good in life. Well, pleasure in God, loving God, is the chief good in life, so go for it!

How I live out hedonism with Jesus:

Read what I want to read in the Bible as long as I want to read it and as slowly or quickly as I want to read it.

Journal whenever I want to journal

Enjoy a cup of coffee, a candle, or the warmth of my down comforter

Appreciate the ways God has brought good into my life

Indulge my creative side by writing a blog post which I always post on a different day due to the following reality…

Wear comfortable clothes.

  • Own my weakness. Days with the Lord have been part of my life for a long time. Years. I have experience with this discipline. Experience doesn’t mean good experience. It means I’ve had good days and I’ve had bad. Since we’re going for good and not regret,

Here are a couple of things I take into account:

I will desire to “produce” instead of “be”. I combat this by planning the whole week to eliminate as much temptation to be productive by completing what I need to complete or surrendering what I cannot complete in time.

I have a limited attention span. I will get to the limit. At that point, I can choose to tap out or change my routine and keep going. Changing my location, what I’m reading, or how I’m interacting helps. I will go to a coffee shop or to another room in our house. It helps to know I will need to face this reality and have a plan for how to adapt.

  • Ruthlessly Protect. Time with Jesus doesn’t just happen. There are too many things begging for my attention. Jesus invites but He doesn’t ever seem to shout or twist my arm or force me to connect with Him. I must choose to follow Him. So, I must choose to pattern my life to enable following Him not just for a Day with Jesus, but every day too. For a Day with Jesus, I find I must diligently protect that time.

Here are a few tips:

Dedicate the day in advance. How much in advance is up to you and up to your spiritual needs. Maybe you’re spiritually crashing and burning and tomorrow needs to be the day. Let folks know, cancel appointments, carve out the time.

At least a week helps to give the time to complete necessary work, eliminate distractions, and gather an idea of what you want to read or focus on.

Guard the Day. All week my mind was set on protecting Friday. Guarding against saving an errand for Friday, scheduling an appointment for Friday, leaving a text to answer on Friday.

Silence your Phone. This is a hard one for me as a mom. I feel that I cannot always do this with kids in school. If you can do it, do it.

  • Surrender. As a mom of three, I’ve had to accept that there are times when I cannot indulge a Day With the Lord in the way I dreamed. A kid gets sick and needs care. A house repair or errand just really cannot wait (think overflowing toilet, or power outage). Or, when our kids were babies and we lived overseas, my husband and I traded out halfway through the day. There was always a very awkward interchange about who got to go out in the morning and come back in time for nap time!

Even while I may have planned, God might have other plans.

On those days, as disappointing as they are, I began to begin to recognize that I could enjoy Jesus’ care for me in a different way. He sees me and He sees my plight. He can meet me where I am even if I don’t get to spend the day with Him like I wanted to. Sometimes I can rearrange and choose another day and try again. Sometimes I can’t.

Always I have every morning at 6 that I can wake up and spend time with Him.

A Day with Jesus will not make up for every day walking with Him. So, don’t wait for a day in the distant future to spend with Him, answer His invitation every day.

 

How to Doubt

Every night I peek in the garage to make sure the garage door is closed. Then I glance at the front lock and the back lock. After perusing the kids bedrooms to turn out errant lights and music, I head safely to bed.

Everyone pays when I don’t do it. Snuggled all cozy in bed, I’ll ask did you check the back door? That’s always a fun marriage question. No one wants to check it, that’s what the question is all about. I’m not sure. Are you sure? If you’re sure, I can be a little surer, but not completely sure. The preferred response asker wants is always, always…that the other person goes and checks.

That, my friends, is what multicultural books call indirect communication.

Don’t get me wrong, I feel bad that I don’t want to check…but not bad enough to go check. Lest I not properly warn those thinking about marriage, this question has many forms. Locks, babies, water faucets, lights, and coffeemakers are all eligible subjects of this annoying habit.

Now, don’t you want to get married?

But what about when it comes to doubt that goes deeper than a visual spot check? Doubts about God. Questions about future direction in life. Qualms about how honest someone is being with you. All these eject us into much murkier territory emotionally.IMG_1282

For me, doubting has come in many forms. Doubting my faith is less my thing than doubting whether God is going to take care of me or my family. My questions about God has of yet to plunge me into an existential crisis. I’m no philosopher. In fact, I just looked up existential crisis on wikipedia to make sure I was using it correctly!

So, when I doubt God, its not like doubting whether my garage door is closed or not. You can’t just go look and say, oh, God’s good because I can see x, y, or z has happened. There’s a lot of ways to explain away the good in life or get stuck on the evil we all experience to differing degrees. Doubts don’t seem to just go away.

So, how should we doubt?

  • Face to Face. Its tempting to discuss my doubts at length with others, to live in the philosophical, to totally twist my mind in knots on my own without ever addressing my issues to God Himself. If I’m to cast my cares on God, to pray without ceasing, to not worry but pray, then it makes sense that when I feel anxious about God Himself, He wants me to talk to Him about it. Is it impertinent? Or rude? Or prideful? I would say it depends…
  • Expectantly. Kinda weird. What I mean is, that we should expect that God wants us to know Him, wants to guide us, and has all power to do so…in His time. Expectant means we wait for His answer which can come in many ways. My basis for this is Psalm 23. A shepherd feeds his sheep and leads them through danger. I cling to this passage when I need to be reminded that He is my shepherd.
  • Actively. Check things out. Read your Bible. Seek. Its easy for doubts about God to live in the realms of our head and the hallways of our emotions instead of treating them more seriously. The first place to seek is the place where He communicates to us. The Bible. Read. Read. And read some more as you wait expectantly on the issues you have talked about with Him face to face.
  • Shamelessly. Distancing yourself from others because you feel all over wrong, because you have doubts is the wrong move. Shame is the all over I am wrong feeling we all get at some point in our lives. Shame isn’t all bad, its like an indicator light on the dash to get you to pay attention. We are made in God’s image but we are fallen so life will mean experiencing shame in various degrees. Jesus came and took care of sin, the primary reason for our shame, so that we could live shamelessly in fellowship with him. By shameless, I mean like children. Kids ask the darnedest questions because they are young and curious. They get answers too. Why? Because they ask the questions! If we are to come to Jesus like children, he wants us to come with those darnedest questions–the ones everyone is dying to ask but because we fear looking foolish, we don’t. That’s when we lose out. When we don’t ask the questions.

Am I saying you should doubt? No. Don’t seek it out. I’m saying if it comes to you, think about how you are doubting. Doubts should prompt us to search for God. He wants to be found.

Kind of like playing hide and seek with a child in some ways. The goal of most of my kids when we used to play hide and seek was to be found. They felt they had lost when I didn’t find them right away and would bark and cough to give away their position.

I suspect God does the same when we search for Him. He wants to be found so don’t stop seeking.

 

Stooping to Look Again

From four years ago….

I don’t like to wait. I try to find ways to avoid waiting. Call ahead. Go do something else and come back when the line is shorter. I especially don’t like to wait when I don’t know how long the wait will be. That’s what it feels like to be left, to wait for the unknown. When leaving, I think about the future, to what comes next. It’s exciting. When left, I think about the future, too, but what comes next? I know not.

The tomb scene in John spoke to my heart this week as I contemplate the departures of a few friends and teammates. Mary came to the tomb early and left late. She saw the men come and stoop to look inside and then they returned home. She, too, looked and saw emptiness inside, I suppose. The text doesn’t say specifically. She was left, so she thought, but she lingered anyway, weeping and waiting.

I don’t like to wait or to weep. I don’t like to be left.

But, then she stooped and looked again where others looked before and saw nothing. Amazing. Why did she look again? I don’t know but if I were her, why would I look again? I want to see. I want more. I want a different reality. Maybe I’d think that if I looked one more time, just once more before I left I could leave and go home and start to fill the emptiness on my own, sure that there was nothing left to wait for anymore. The act of stooping to look again is so full of faith.

She stooped and looked weeping and she saw angels…heard angels, spoke with angels!  She saw the Risen Christ, clung to Him, and He gave her a message to pass on.  For others who came and went, the tomb lay empty, just empty.  But for Mary, who waited and wept and stooped to look again, the empty tomb became a place of joy and comfort and hope and purpose.  The emptiness of feeling left by the Lord filled up with so much more.

So, I wait weeping more and more.  I stoop to look in the emptiness and wait for His explanation of the reality I feel so deeply.  He fills the emptiness more and more with the comfort, joy, and hope in His Word.  And, He challenges my view of reality.

I am not left.  I am not alone.  The emptiness of the tomb is the reality but the explanation for what my eyes see is far from empty.

Frozen Green Tomatoes

A woman thrust the tomato plant into my hands when I displayed a mild level of interest. The pastors set up a garden behind the children’s wing and these were the leftover tomato plants, a bit bedraggled and needing a good home.

I couldn’t promise them the good home, but we have dirt in our backyard. I came home and put them in a large planter on a lark. Growing things is new for me.

We left a few weeks later for a 6 week trip during which a turtle died but our tomato plant flourished. It was a stunning discovery. It was large and hanging over the edge of the planter!

In adjusting back to the U.S. after so long in our former familiar culture, I needed a project to focus my attentions on. I would see this tomato plant through until it produced tomatoes. Picture a woman making a solemn vow.

I bought a cage, plant friendly insecticide, tomato fertilizer. Every day I checked on the plant which continued to grow. I read blogs and did weird things like shake the tomato plant vigorously so it would pollinate itself. Bees are scarce and I began feeling mildly panicked about our loss of the bee population in respect to my tomato plant’s chance of success.

Imagine my joy when I discovered small yellow flowers! Flowers lead to fruit. Tomatoes are a fruit! Tomatoes should soon come.

They did not. The flowers wilted and died without fruit. I got mad at the plant that failed to grow under my helicopter gardening. I stopped watering it and left it to itself in the 90+ degree September heat.

It sprang a tomato. Then another. What a tease! Fine, I thought. You’re doing so well on your own, I’ll let you continue that way. So I did.

The tomatoes kept growing bigger and still green. I began checking on them again, these very expensive tomatoes.

Then it froze this week. 2 nights in a row of a bitter cold. I neglected the tomato plant. It lay out there cold and bare with no blanket to cover it. With Christmas and busyness beyond the norm, the tomato plant got the shaft.

I don’t expect any ripe tomatoes now. Just frozen green tomatoes turning to mush. May it yet surprise me.

About halfway through this tomato story, I began to wonder why I was writing this up? What does a tomato plant have to do with anything? Probably not much but its served as a visual reminder of principles my heart needs to know. A kind of wrap up on a fall of life and ministry.

So, here is what my tomato plant taught me…

  • Only so much is really under my control, and its a very little much.
  • Faithfulness in what is my part of God’s will is not promised to yield
  • Expectation of fruit is highly motivating, yet faithfulness is more steady a motivation
  • When fruit fails to come, its easy to get discouraged, resentful, and unfaithful to my task
  • God often chooses to remind me to trust Him for fruit by bringing it in unexpectedly and unrelated to the proportion of my efforts
  • Fruit purposely left on the vine and untended in harsh conditions is evidence of neglect and unfaithfulness
  • Yet, God can surprise and often uses harsh conditions to temper His children and make them hardier. He doesn’t waste anything.

Who knows, maybe I will get more than I deserve, more than frozen green tomatoes. It is supposed to reach back up near 70 this week.

But even if I don’t, my tomato plant experience revealed quite a bit about my spiritual life. I plan on trying again.

Gardening seems to be a God-given method to teach me His ways.

Stooping to Look Again

I published this around Easter two years ago. As I read it again, I am struck by how the Lord is calling me, yet again, to stoop and look into the tomb. I reposted it this year. It is still a very current place for me.

I don’t like to wait. I try to find ways to avoid waiting. Call ahead. Go do something else and come back when the line is shorter. I especially don’t like to wait when I don’t know how long the wait will be. That’s what it feels like to be left, to wait for the unknown. When leaving, I think about the future, to what comes next. It’s exciting. When left, I think about the future, too, but what comes next? I know not.

The tomb scene in John spoke to my heart this week as I contemplate the departures of a few friends and teammates. Mary came to the tomb early and left late. She saw the men come and stoop to look inside and then they returned home. She, too, looked and saw emptiness inside, I suppose. The text doesn’t say specifically. She was left, so she thought. But she lingered anyway, weeping and waiting. I don’t like to wait or to weep. I don’t like to be left.

But, then she stooped and looked again where others looked before and saw nothing. Amazing. Why did she look again? I don’t know but if I were her, why would I look again? I want to see. I want more. I want a different reality. Maybe I’d think that if I looked one more time, just once more before I left I could leave and go home and start to fill the emptiness on my own, sure that there was nothing left to wait for anymore. The act of stooping to look again is so full of faith.

She stooped and looked weeping and she saw angels…heard angels, spoke with angels!  She saw the Risen Christ, clung to Him, and He gave her a message to pass on.  For others who came and went, the tomb lay empty, just empty.  But for Mary, who waited and wept and stooped to look again, the empty tomb became a place of joy and comfort and hope and purpose.  The emptiness of feeling left by the Lord filled up with so much more.

So, I wait weeping more and more.  I stoop to look in the emptiness and wait for His explanation of the reality I feel so deeply.  He fills the emptiness more and more with the comfort, joy, and hope in His Word.  And, He challenges my view of reality.

I am not left.  I am not alone.  The emptiness of the tomb is the reality but the explanation for what my eyes see is far from empty.

The Chair

DSC_0231Faith is like sitting in a chair.  Ever heard that one?  The speaker demonstrates their point by looking at a perfectly good, sturdy chair theorizing about how it looks capable of holding his weight.  I usually hear it in the context of a sermon or talk on faith in Christ.  Then, it goes on…faith is actually sitting in the chair…trusting the chair.  The speaker sits in the chair and, of course, it holds him.

Now, this chair…I’m fairly certain no speaker in his right mind wants to demonstrate this deep point using this chair.  It is a very cheap chair to begin with and, note, wire holds the chair together.  Because we repair broken things, we know this chair is broken…but it still might hold a person.

This chair compelled me to take this picture.  I couldn’t not take this picture.  This poor chair is so bedraggled and, yet, so easily and inexpensively replaced that I must wonder at the poverty that motivates fixing it.  It is undoubtedly extreme beyond anything I know.

I often think this is how it really looks like when I exercise faith.  I see a dirty, cheap chair held together by wire and I decide if I want to sit in it.  This speaks volumes about how much I trust the Lord but it also explains a reality…often the circumstances do not make it easy to walk in faith.

Seldom does the chair look secure.

I did not sit in this chair so I cannot write something witty about how I fell or how surprised I looked when it did hold my weight.  I do keep remembering this chair as I ponder faith.  It reminds me that faith is risky yet the One I choose to place my faith in is not.

He is sure but His ways are not my ways.  He sees things differently than I do.  And, I see things shaded by my fear and imperfections.  Sadly, He looks more like this broken chair and what He asks of me looks more like this too.

I look for security…crave security… and He asks me to live by faith in the things that are not seen.  But every time I sit in what looks like a dirty broken chair, I learn He is trustworthy.

What comes to mind about faith when you look at this chair?

In the House of Mourning

The sweltering heat presses down on us in the hidden cemetery.  I pass by inscriptions of women, children, missionaries, diplomats, and seamen.

I imagine some died from mosquito-borne illnesses as I nervously slap away hundreds of the pests.  My children flee to higher ground to avoid the onslaught.  I and my daughter remain and wander as the clock hastens towards closing time.

DSC_0040Some inscriptions move me to tears.  The small crypt of an infant inscribed with words of surrender even as grief slays the soul.

Others give my heart pause to wonder…was it worth it?  The sailor whose greatest achievement, the one that took his life, was war to open a port of trade to opium.

Most received their burial in the presence of friends or shipmates, not family.  Etched in the side of one stone tomb I read, “The Tomb Erected by a Mournful Friend.”  Who was the mournful friend?  What does mournful friendship look like in this era?

DSC_0062Then, the lengthy inscription of Robert Morrison who translated the Bible into Chinese and created the Chinese dictionary all in the age before computers.  We stand on his shoulders along with hundreds of millions of others who daily benefit from his labors.  I’m sure my contribution pales in comparison.  Am I content to continue even if my labors never amount to such fame?

DSC_0048Better to go to a house of mourning…this theme echoes in my ears during the season of goodbye gatherings that recently ended.  Do they ever end though?  Goodbye parties and cemeteries…my current houses of mourning.

Walking through this cemetery anchors my soul to the crucified life.  Through the tears I manage to glean something of the realities of a life surrendered.

To conquer?  To serve?  To give my life?  To accept loss that comes to my doorstep?  To be the mournful friend?