Before Surrender

We stood there on the tallest point overlooking a historic town, an historic river. Clouds puffed in the sky and I snapped pictures of the scene before me. Rolling hills, a picturesque river, quaint buildings, and boats on the water. All was at peace that warm summer day.

That tallest point? A fortress more than 500 years old. That town? Passed back and forth between warring kingdoms for most of its existence.

The people who faced each other across the river were not always part of the same kingdom either. The vacation boats on the river now used to be vessels of war, of conquering. Hence, the need for a fortress to fight off invaders.

Surrender is a word that comes up frequently in my spiritual life as a Christian. Surrender. Surrender anything that stands between me and the Lord. Surrender my way for His.

Recently, I’ve sensed that my romantic view of the word (picture hands raised and a white bird flying up to the blue sky while sunlight shines down ready to accept the glowing bird), fails to grasp the brutal reality that surrender is more a battle front term.

Back track a little and before surrender comes division and a battle of two or more opposing forces. Similarly in my own life, a battle usually rages until I face that I’m losing, big time. My way, my army, my kingdom is weaker than the one I ultimately fight. God.

Then, there’s an honest reckoning, a realization that I will not win. I cannot win. I will be defeated. At this point, I face a choice. I can continue fighting a losing battle out of pride or I can make some tough calls.

I can be…

A Captive: I lose the battle but think I should have won it. I nurse the idea that I could have won it if I’d just done a little something here differently or fought a little harder there. My allegiance has not changed. I’m still fighting. Life is full of strife as I live in rebellion to the King, constantly seeking a way of escape.

A Deserter: I turn and run from the battle. I live to fight another day thinking I can still win. I live on the run not knowing when I will need to turn and fight again. Life is about escape and hiding from the more powerful and ever pursuing King.

A Defector: I change sides because I reckon that the other side is better, more worthy of allegiance. Now I use my weapons for another King and His kingdom. I live at peace in the protection of the King’s fortress, guarded by Him and sent to do His work. My former identity as an enemy combatant is known, yet I am not sidelined out of suspicion or fear. I’m fully accepted.

The choice to surrender now starts sounding more like a laying down of arms than a moment with a dove.

Sometimes I figure out things fast and lay down my weapons before serious blood is shed. But there are times when I don’t and I come in wounded to my own surrender, a little beat up in the battle. A bit chagrined that I misjudged my allegiances so poorly.

This week it was about a kid’s homework, surrendering a better grade to preserve our relationship. A few weeks ago it was about choosing to happily do a task I didn’t fully want to do.

Every day it is choosing to step out and follow Jesus, rather than stay on my own path, fighting for my own way.

On Egg Hunts

Months after the Easter egg hunt in our apartment complex in Asia, the kids and their friends found another Easter egg. A real egg. Left rotting for months outside in a climate of 110% humidity. Yuck.

We hid them pretty good, I guess. It was the find of a century in their minds, a marvel of discovery for a kid who played multiple times a week in that area. Then, one day, bam, an Easter egg!

It was disgusting. They didn’t eat it, fortunately. But, it provided tons of laughter amongst the childhood community in the area. That time we found the Easter egg! It gave them hope to continue looking for a plastic egg that might still have viable candy. They gained new focus in their outdoor play for a while.

Still, yuck.

Watching kids hunt for Easter eggs is pretty hilarious. Early on, we had to teach them to go get the egg. They were uninterested until they realized there was candy inside the plastic ones. Our oldest would then find the plastic eggs, pop them open, eat the candy, drop the egg. She preyed upon her little friend who hadn’t yet discovered the treasures inside her eggs by eating her friends candy too.

As they get older, the hunt evolved. It became about winning. Getting the most eggs. So, we met the challenge and tried to teach consideration. We established quotas and hid the eggs with a little more craftiness. But, whoever met their quota first “won”. What can I say? Human nature gravitates towards selfishness.

We urged them to hunt even when they didn’t want to hunt and the only eggs left were the second class citizens of Easter egg hunts, the hard-boiled eggs sweating off their color dye in the grass. Go get the half-cracked, weird grey egg that got dipped in all the dye cups! we cheered to no avail.

Kind of explains the mystery of the undiscovered egg I guess.

One year I had to intervene to prevent a potty training kid from practicing in the Easter hunt area. Hey, don’t judge. We were in another country where this was not frowned upon for kids. We took advantage of the freedoms! It was a great place to potty train. Not the egg hunt area, the country.img_5535

Then there were adults who wanted to continue their family traditions of ultra competitive egg hunts. You know who you are. Those were the most fun to watch. Grown ups dressed in their Easter finest in an all out physical scramble to find the most eggs. Hilarious!

Last year, we introduced Cascarones to our celebration. Smashing eggs filled with confetti on each other fits our family life stage. It’s fun. Its violent. We play together. We’re adapting.

In all of the evolution of Easter traditions in our family, though, the one thread through it all is new life in Christ. The symbol of the egg in Easter.

Go find it, search aggressively for it, don’t let others get in your way, enjoy the treasures that reside within, help others find it, celebrate it with others.

Just find the new life, the breath of life, offered to all through Jesus’ sacrifice to free us from the deathly effects of sin.

Read more here and here.

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.

 

On Inheritance

I bet I’m not the only one who’s ever thought man, I wish some free money came my way. Lately, this crops up in my heart because I want to do something to my house like Joanna Gaines does to everyone’s house in Waco. Maybe I should move to Waco. Or stop watching Fixer Upper. 

In line with this thinking that I want to purge from my brain, I’ve been filing away thoughts on inheritance over the past few months. One of which comes from a book I received at Christmas.

C.S. Lewis wrote about his early experience as a Christian in his Reflections on the Psalms. Get this, for the whole first year after bowing his knee to God, C.S. Lewis didn’t know anything about the inheritance the Bible says awaited him in heaven. He didn’t become a Christ follower because he expected an awesome return on his life investment.

And, he doesn’t think that was a bad thing for his first year as a Christian.

It got me thinking again about inheritance.

What would it look like to serve someone based on a promised inheritance v. based on it being the right thing to do. Seems like C.S. Lewis bowed his knee in a much truer devotion than I usually do. He did not expect his life to get easier. Even called himself the most reluctant of converts. He expected no inheritance.

Then, there’s the prodigal brothers. The prodigal sons. I read the story a few more times. Both brothers received their inheritance in the beginning of the story. One brother took his. He owned it. He took it away and, then, he wasted it. He got to thinking as he was eating slop, my life would be better as a slave in my dad’s house. I can’t be a brother, but slavery is better than this. So, he goes back home prepared to serve as a slave.Actual Factual Slop. Yuck.

His older brother received his inheritance but stayed at home but not happily. He complains to his dad about how he never got to have a fattened calf with his friends. Wah, wah.

But, why not? Wasn’t the calf technically his? Hadn’t the father given his inheritance to him too?

The older brother didn’t ever seem to clue in that he owned the calf himself. He never took his inheritance. He never enjoyed being at home with his dad, it seems. He inherited but he didn’t own his inheritance. He could’ve invested it, stewarded it, spent it. Point is, he could’ve enjoyed it.

Neither brother lived out inheritance in a good way. One took it and wasted it. One didn’t take it and resented the lowly position he made for himself.

And neither one realized the true benefit and riches they had as sons. They had their father’s love. The one who wasted his inheritance didn’t lose his sonship. Neither did the one who labored reluctantly. Relationship and love was free for the taking all the time.

Oh, how things could be different if we really understood it’s not about the inheritance as much as being part of the family and all that brings with it when the family we are talking about is God’s family.

Do You Confess?

One of my kids has “reactive airways”, doc talk for asthma. Not all the time and not that sudden type but the type that whenever he gets sick, it goes straight to the chest.

Then he starts this distinctive cough that lets me know my next few days will be spent hauling out nebulizers, inhalers, Vick’s, netipots, and on and on. The cough’s purpose was to force out trapped air so when the airways relax, the cough goes away.

Breathing is a pretty essential activity to human life so asthma attacks are stressful. We’ve always been able to turn the tide and get out of danger. In the middle of it, though, you don’t know the end.

Spiritually, the concept of breathing has been on my mind. I talk often in ministry about spiritual breathing- a cycle of confession (exhale) and filling (inhale). A few tough situations over this past season, namely the August Smackdown, brought me close to exhaustion…and my own need to breathe.

That tightness in my chest would come, that prompt to take a deep breath. A sigh. Like an old lady lament. I was feeling it, the old lady weariness.

So I sighed. Then, with each sigh, I reminded myself of the need to breathe spiritually as well as physically.

Exhaling. Recognizing I was trying to take control of the humanly uncontrollable. Fearing that God was not in control. Releasing the toxic build up of the thoughts and emotions and very real sin so I could take in more life-giving breath. This is confessing.

Breathing in. Each time asking God for more of His resources, His oxygen to extend farther into my soul and strengthen me for the situation. To have mercy and help me. Filling.

So what about asthma? Asthma, if left alone and not treated, slowly suffocates the victim as I understand it. With no room in the lungs to take in more oxygen, and CO2 trapped inside the lungs, the body is deprived of the oxygen that keeps it alive.IMG_0587-0.JPG

All the while the body is trying to breathe in unsuccessfully.

The body begins using almost every muscle it can in the torso to bring air into the lungs. Retractions, where the skin sucks in at the collar bones and around the ribs, notify us that our son is really, really struggling to breathe. The lungs work overtime trying to cough out trapped air. Lips begin turning pale. It’s terrifying and it would be time to go to urgent care.

In the physical world, there is albuterol and steroids to resolve the problems of asthma. Steroids control the tendency to flare up. Albuterol treats a flare up.

Spiritually, there is ordering our lives to God and His revealed truth in the Bible, the fellowship with the community of believers, the Spirit of God convicting and directing us…and regular confession. These all serve as the anti-inflammatory control to prevent serious flare ups of spiritual asthma.

But asthma strikes still. When spiritual asthma comes and we struggle to breathe because we know we are not right with God. Or we are working overtime to win favor and status with God by doing, doing, doing…there is, again, confession.

Exhaling by agreeing with God about our sin or our human efforts to earn forgiveness. Inhaling by receiving the resources He gives through His Spirit to live a life pleasing to Him. Sometimes over and over about the same old things.

Slowly, surely the toxic is released so the pure and fresh can roll in and bring life again.

 

 

 

Renovating

Nomads move around. We are nomads. I think true nomads like moving. I do not. It’s not exciting like those international home buyers shows. We’ve pondered apartments with toilets in closets, bathroom sinks in dining rooms, and grime beyond belief. I’ve moved, pregnant with two small kids, into an apartment sight unseen.

The gold used to be an unfinished apartment. We looked for the apartment shell–concrete everywhere and holes in the walls and ground for piping. Then, we put in floors, cabinets, sinks, tubs, and toilets…just how we liked and not in the closet. Times changed and that’s out of our budget now. Now, gold is an apartment with everything but a kitchen. I like to do my kitchen my way.

The worst, though, is having to renovate an apartment. Renovate sound so exciting and new. Made to order. But first, the sledgehammers come in. The dust is kicked up and grunge never seen gets revealed. People traipse in and out. People I don’t know. Renovating is messy, loud, and if we never had to do it again, I’d not be sorry.

My life is full of some ugly stuff. I’m not an unfinished apartment and I don’t like renovations on my heart either…at first. I don’t just put on Christ over a blank shell. There’s also this bad job I did on my own that needs to be ripped out.  The trying to be functional and pretty apart from Christ that needs to go. It doesn’t come out easily either.  I usually don’t even notice how ugly it is until someone walks into my life and points it out. Or, I see the job that Christ can do in someone else and then notice the grunge I’ve lived with so long.

Then comes the bashing, the knocking down, and the unsettling. Things are removed, but behold, there’s always more!  It comes down with a bang and a cloud of dust that chokes me and the people around me. Thankfully most of them see there’s a renovation going on and are excited about what’s happening even as they cough on my dust.

What is God tearing out of your life as He renovates you? How has someone come alongside you recently and shared in the joy of what God is doing?

How to Survive: Graceful Synchronize

Beneath the hustle and bustle of Bangkok rests a wonderful aquarium.  Fish swim serenely through beautiful blue tanks as skytrains intersect and the world shops above.  God’s creatures beneath the world’s creations.

Darkness shrouds aquariums which means I’m constantly counting heads instead of gazing into tanks and reading signs.  But, yesterday, four signs caught my eye.  “How to Survive in the Ocean” they read.  They could easily have said “How to Survive in the Hustle and Bustle of the World.”

I’ll go first…Graceful Synchronize.  I get this one.  This is the one I do more than all others.  Go with the flow, blend in, be careful, don’t offend.  Synchronize.  Don’t stand out too much.  And do so gracefully so no one notices either. That’s my method I’m learning to put aside…graceful synchronize.

Why put it aside, though?  I’m surviving right?  But that is not what God calls me to…survival.  The Lord bids me come and die.  survival at any cost is not His goal.  He bids me to come out of the masses, to reveal myself even if it makes me a target…even if it means I don’t survive.

Maybe that is the truth…the I isn’t supposed to survive, not when it’s the I ridden with selfish desires for personal comfort, glory, safety.  That’s the reason I gracefully synchronize to the pulse of the moment–for myself.  That I must die.

Graceful in Christ is the synchronization my heart truly desires.  Survival at any cost is becoming a cost too high.  I do not die, but yet I die.  I die in that I do not flourish in the unique ways God makes His creation to flourish.

To truly live is to not try so hard to survive.  How am I doing?  Well…I still try to survive a lot, but sometimes I share what the Lord puts on my heart and make myself a potential target…uncomfortable and unsafe.

Next week…”How to Survive: Be Dangerous.”