23 Oct 2014

What shape are you..and if there's a mould, how about a Cross?

{this is an edited post from 2008!}

We don't just have stereotypes (and these can be useful); but we also have stereo-shapes! That's right: aren't we being told all the time what shape things ought to be, whether it is the economy, the family..and of course, our bodies {and the men are not spared these days}. But who determines these shapes?

I remember thinking about the wondrous ideals of communism and mashing it with Acts 2 'they had all things in common' only to be challenged by my Theology professor about the good that capitialism has done. I see his point; but I am not fully convinced. After all, the principle behind captialism is this to capitalise -- which gets really out of hand quickly!

Who decides when something is maxmised or capitalised? Whose benefit are we thinking about? Who defines the shape of things?

What about our individual lives? Do they too have shapes?
Some people remind me of :
Arrows - always directed at something. I respect their missional sense and drive; but wow..it's does get rather one-dimensional at times just to speak of bottom lines.
Circles - they keep going around the same issues.
Loose shapes -these are ill-defined it seems and appear to go with the flow...

The Cross is a shape. If we could pout our lives into a mould; how about the shape of the Cross?

Loving God
Loving Others

This is a shape we should explore more. The Cross is the shape formed from the meeting of two lines.
A life in Cross-shaped seeks to live upward or Godward. It is a life that reaches, stretches, grows... and it happens not as the line goes up; but also as it goes downwards; plunging the depths and abyss:
where we dig deep into the why and wherefore of things, where we examine our motives, sense the movements within our bosoms and ask probing questions so that we don't go through life like a phantom or facade.

Then there is the other reaching where we aspire, dream, hope, work towards...that moves outwards. These are the horizontal lines that can stretch out a welcome, and reach around to embrace!

The cross-shaped life is a very dynamic life that cannot be fueled by seeking to capitalise, or asking 'what's in it for me?' because it will take us to places where those sorts of questions don't make sense at all.

The Cross is a symbol of ~

Love and Life
Forgiveness and Freedom
Grace and Goodness
Power and Peace

It is a shape we must in humility lie down and soften into.

Suppose you're not such a great witness..but ..today . is . a ..gift!

This being a Christian thing can be unnerving

biting nails !

I remember my daughter struggling with it, and each time as we sorted through the debris of doubts and questions, this one piece will appear persistent, almost like it can crawl back after we toss it out: but I'm not good enough!

Somewhere deep within her (no thanks to our imperfect parenting) lurks the notion of 'measuring up'.

In my latest book Shed Those Leaves, I come right out and say it: Forget it! You and I - we won't measure up!

But how we hate to hear it. We want to measure up. We want to be good enough. What kind of wimp lets someone save them? That sounds so much like... failure!

But suppose we come to our senses and cry out for salvation. What do we do next? Go right on trying to measure up again! Habits, especially such ingrained ones, die hard! So commonly I hear -

I'm not a very good / strong Christian
I am sure that wasn't a very good testimony
There goes my Christian witness!

and it goes along with the expression of helplessness and a taint of defeat; sometimes complete with an audible sigh!

To their disappointment I don't hug them and say, "I am sure you are trying your best" - because sometimes, honestly, we don't! We don't care that much about God's reputation. But my quiet presence is not meant to be rebuke; it is meant to be company. I know. I am right there with you at notch four.

You see, I used to beat myself up.
Then I would get sick of feeling beat up.
Then I may beat myself up for not being firm enough on myself...you get the crazy routine.. until - one day, I realised I was having this conversation all by myself. I was deciding whether I was good enough, and whether I right about my estimation, my feelings about it and so on...

So I did a weird thing. I asked God.

Did I really mess up?
Was it that bad?
What could I have said / done differently?

God swooped right in on me then.

What is in your heart for this person / situation?

We are so bent on making an Impression when our witness is meant to be our Expression of Him!

Huge difference there.

Now I was feeling true, real, guilt that will make a difference. I saw the paucity of my love. I saw my priorities in clear light. I saw my attempts to feel good about being good.

It was a good, necessary seeing, the kind described as thus
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret...
~ 2 Corinthians7v10
I grieve often for my lack of love, a love that prays on knees, serves with hands, runs with feet, weeps with a broken heart and sacrifices that others may live better or stronger. This is a grief that empowers me. It doesn't in the end lead me to wallow in my lack; but to run to the Supply.

What about you? What helps you take the next step?

And one more thing God still says to me; which this video captures so well {you need a few minutes to enjoy this} -

Each day is a day for adventure, for receiving, for giving as we are being led to higher places or lower places -- and our witness happens in smile, speech or service as we express that bit of the Great God who mercifully works and weaves Grace and Truth, Life and Light into our days.

14 Oct 2014

A Happy song in a minor key called Joy

I love being happy.

I am not always happy. In fact, many days, my children and spouse consider me rather crabby {somehow that happens alot at home}. But they are wrong; even if I was crabby; I was really en route to being happy. Sounds insane, or perhaps, you agree!

We believe our actions and choices and words are aimed at making us, others and the world better, happier. Sacrifices must be made on the way to bliss right?

Just one major flaw in this premise. Happiness has this habit of being elusive. We should all know.

We all have our boxes of 'nearly perfect dates', 'supposedly relaxing vacations' & 'amazing imagined and engineered outcomes' where we have tossed the moments and memories which we wouldn't post on Instagram or facebook about.

I should know - I speak about the subject of happiness.

But can I share honestly here? I'd rather speak on the subject of JOY. Now that's a different moniker.

Joy we've been told is a deeper thing that runs much further beneath the surface. At times it bubbles forth with delightful gurgles; but mostly it is subterranean. Maybe a picture can save me the thousand words I cannot find right now:

Here is a sudden burst of joy erupting forth when the wonder of fireflies buzz around one's little head!

Joy often catches us off guard. 

We are rushing around and suddenly our eye catches sight of the beauty of a flower
We are engrossed in our work when we hear a giggle in the next room
We are walking our usual route when we bump into a dear friend
We are lost in our thoughts when a gentle breeze comes and a playful bird offers us a enlivening distraction

Yet- in each of these instances, we need to choose Joy or we can miss it. We can fail to splash around the refreshing spring of joy that can nourishes us. Rightly, Henri Nouwen reminds us

But choosing Joy can be hard as life comes with many sombre minor notes when what we hoped for, worked for, prayed for, does not happen {soon enough}. Choosing Joy can be hard when our lives are so busy we don't have space . to . notice ...

I find that I forget to choose joy many days and rummage around for some scrap of happiness instead. It is most unsatisfactory!

I forget there is Joy. I am too impatient to wait for it. Every day as I read the news, I am faced with the reality that with all of our advances as a race, humanity continues to confront massive challenges: from Ebola to ISIS. These large issues and our own daily difficulties can easily cause us to mope and lose touch with the gift of Joy.

What we settle for then is happiness of this stripe:

Which is really good and necessary {thanks to all my baking friends for the yummies!}.

But -- we now live in a world where more of us are chronically unhappy. Why is this so? Could it be that seeking to be happy doesn't work; that we were made for Joy and a lesser substitute is like taking an artificial sweetener?

Studies show that happiness and unhappiness are actually two different clines. In other words, doing stuff you think will make you happy will not make you as happy as if you also at the same time deal with what makes you unhappy. Your unhappiness which may be caused by a totally different set of things can leak your happiness.

This is where Joy comes in.

While we muddle about to find out why we are happy or not; there is this gift called Joy.

Joy is built on something larger and bigger; indeed Someone larger and bigger.

For joy is about wonder, awe, grandeur, surprise, reversals, redemption.

Ask the mother who has reconciled with her son
Talk to the man embroiled in  lawsuit who has just received news that the suit has been dismissed
Look at the child who has just been given an ice-cream instead of the cane when he just failed his paper
Listen to someone who just returned from the Grand Canyon or the Northern Lights

These are the big boxes of Joy.

But daily, there are smaller parcels waiting for us to notice and unwrap too.

One of the most surprising places to find Joy is in Scripture! Listening to God speak to us is life-giving and adds to the quotient of joy in the depths of our soul; even if we do not immediately feel it.
Like a filled up petrol tank, we don't immediately go faster; but we soon know we can go on longer.

My son has just walked in. He is moping because his Math homework is making him think so hard. I read this verse in John 15 with him and I ask him,

Who is saying this?
Now, think, when you read your Bible or listened to God, did you hear something that put joy in you?
- Ya, when God tells me He loves me, I feel so full of joy inside. 

{his mood lifts! thank Goodness}

Perhaps you and I need to read and listen more consistently.

Indeed, this past week I found myself drawn to those familiar words Jesus spoke about becoming like children. At once I know why my joy quotient is dipping. I am acting all grown-up again trying to figure out life instead of leaning into Everlasting Arms... Yes it's a paradox friends: we need to grow, we need to solve, we need to wrestle and at the same time, we need to let go, rest, trust.

Just imagine if it were only life on one end of the paradox: all strife and self-dependence! Good grief, then happiness and joy will be all hard-won battle scars. Ouch. Thankfully, it doesn't have to be so.

It's a crazy world, and you and I need Joy to find our song in it. For we do so much want to be happy. So how about these pictures for a start: