How safe are you?

This year I am reading through the Bible using the Bible in One Year app from Holy Trinity Brompton. Three readings are given each day–one from the Psalms, one from the New Testament, and one from the Old Testament. Todays readings included the second Psalm and the second chapter of Matthew’s gospel. In his commentary on the last verse of Psalm 2, Nicky Gumbel says,

The safest place to be in the world is close to Jesus.

The next reading is from Matthew, telling of Joseph’s second encounter with an angel (isn’t he the lucky one!), who advised him to take little Jesus and Mary and escape to Egypt, and to stay there until he (the angel–which, by the way, means there will be a third angelic visitation for Joseph!) tells him it is safe to return.

I wonder…Did Joseph feel “safe” with Jesus?

As if a visit from an angel isn’t frightening enough, the message that a murderous king is out to kill this innocent child who has been entrusted to Joseph’s care…this child who is the long-awaited Messiah–screams “DANGER!” I certainly wouldn’t feel safe, and I bet Joseph and Mary didn’t, either.

So Joseph takes his wife and child and flees to Egypt as the angel advised, narrowlyflighttoegypt escaping Herod’s murderous wrath. They remain there for a couple of years, until the angel reappears to tell them that Herod is dead. So Joseph packs up his family and returns to Israel. If Joseph thought it would be safe there, he soon learns otherwise. In yet another angelic visitation (that makes four, if you are counting!) Joseph is warned that Herod’s son is even more evil than his father, and so Joseph avoids his ancestral home of Judea and takes up residence in a despised little town called Nazareth in Galilee.

A life lived on the run certainly doesn’t sound safe, does it? And yet, because Joseph was with Jesus, he was safer than anywhere else in the world.

I often comment that following Jesus is an adventure, and adventure almost always includes some element of risk. Sometimes it doesn’t feel particularly “safe” to be with Jesus, but no matter what life brings, as long as I am with and in Jesus, I can rest assured that I am in the safest place I can be.

What about you? As you begin this new year, are you safe with Jesus?

Is God good?

I became a Christian in 1986. For several years, my focus was on Jesus. I read the New Testament because it was clearly about Jesus. I prayed to Jesus. Jesus was my Lord and my Savior, my Brother and my Friend. I was all about Jesus.

Nevermind that Jesus continually talked about the Father. Nevermind that Jesus prayed to the Father. Nevermind that Jesus said He only did what the Father told Him to do. Nevermind the Father. Jesus was all I needed. It only took about 20 years for me to start paying attention to the fact that Jesus was always pointing to the Father, and to decide that perhaps I should take notice and follow Jesus’ example.

During a season of upheaval in my life, I sought the help of a Christian counselor. I know it’s a tired metaphor, but I felt like a rudderless boat in a storm-tossed ocean, and Jesus was nowhere in sight. The source of my angst defied illumination until one day the counselor asked, “Do you believe that God is good?” He quickly followed that up with an admonishment not to give him the Sunday school answer! (How well he knew me by this point.) I remember clearly just sitting there in stunned silence as the tears welled up from a place deep, deep inside me. When my sobbing subsided, it was like the sun breaking through clouds after a summer storm. At long last, the turbulent sea of my soul was calm.

I really wasn’t aware that I was ignoring the Father. I didn’t struggle with the mystery of the Trinity. And I didn’t have “daddy issues” resulting from a poor relationship with my biological father. He wasn’t perfect and we had our issues from time to time, but I always knew he loved me.

So why did I distance myself from God? Perhaps because God didn’t quite live up to my expectations. I suffered a deep loss at a tender age, and I blamed God. For years I had nothing to do with God or Jesus, or any form of religion. Even when I accepted Christ as Savior, I simply put Father God on a shelf. I had Jesus, and that was enough.

I’m sure there are others who have great fellowship with Jesus while keeping God at arm’s length, unsure if he really is as good as Jesus says he is. If he is such a good God, why does he allow pain? Why does he not stop all the suffering?

I don’t pretend to have the answers to those questions. I do know that my problem was a direct result of my expectations. When I understood that he is GOD–omnipotent and almighty and beyond my manipulation…while, at the same time, loving and gentle and merciful–it was at that moment that everything changed.

I know now–beyond a shadow of doubt–that God is good. He is the definition of good! That certainty came about because someone asked me what I believed, and wouldn’t allow me to put on my church leader mask to evade giving an honest answer. It stands out as one of the best days of my life.

Since then, my experience of Father God has been totally different. Mornings are spent in quiet communion with the one who loves me, reminiscent of walks in the Garden when we were God’s beloved companions. I sense his love in the core of my being, and his wisdom and provision are what I most long for. I pray always now to the Father. Jesus–my precious Savior–is continually with me, too, the bridge to my Father’s open arms.good father

So, on the off chance that you have been ignoring Father God in favor of Jesus, let me ask you…

Do you believe that God is good?

And, please, don’t feel obliged to give the Sunday school answer.

 

P.S.–Two of my favorite songs that remind me of God’s goodness: Good, Good Father by Chris Tomlin and King of My Heart by John Mark McMillan and Sarah McMillan

Everyone has an agenda. What’s yours?

White Christmas is one of my all-time favorite movies. I faithfully watch it every year—have for more years than I will admit to here! I was reminded today of a particular scene… Early in the movie, Wallace and Davis encounter the Haynes sisters in a contrived meeting. When Betty confesses that her sister Judy set up the meeting under false pretenses, Wallace chuckles and comments that “everyone has an angle.” In today’s parlance, we might say “everyone has an agenda.”

The reason this scene came to mind is that I was reading about a pastor who entered a resistance-to-changenew pastorate with some pretty high expectations. When he encountered resistance to his agenda, he became angry at the people who were opposing him. He couldn’t understand how they could disagree with him on several fundamental issues of the faith. He fell into a pit of despair.

Are you familiar with that pit? I am! Want to know the quickest way to fall into it? Insist on your own agenda without listening to those who will be impacted by it.

Years ago I served on the staff of a large church that prided itself on its Wednesday evening programming which had for years been a mainstay of their discipleship offerings. It had begun during an era when most churches had Wednesday night services. Consequently, schools did not schedule extracurricular activities on Wednesdays. Offices and retail establishments closed their doors at 5:00pm. Kids had homework that could be completed in under an hour, and usually without the aid of a parent. But as all that began to change—businesses remaining open until all hours of the night, kids having homework that requires hours to complete and parents pushed to help them if anyone is going to get to bed at a decent hour, and schools scheduling extracurricular activities every night of the week–we struggled to have enough volunteers. I found that my agenda became all about feverishly recruiting volunteers to cook and serve the meals, lead Bible studies for adults and children, and keep the nursery. I became angry and frustrated with what I heard as excuses for not cooperating with my agenda and, eventually, I fell into that pit of despair because I failed to make them see serving as I saw it: a fundamental faith issue.

By God’s grace, I had a conversation with a mother of three kids whose husband traveled extensively. This woman served faithfully in a couple of ministries, but as she shared her struggle each Wednesday to get the kids home from school, start homework, make it to church in time for dinner, stay for Bible study afterwards, then return home to finish homework and get them in bed in time for a full night’s rest, my heart gave way. Expecting her to serve on Wednesdays was saddling her with an unbearable burden!

I began listening to other parents of school-age kids and heard much the same story over and again. Parents said that they came in the door and their family splintered, kids going one direction and adults the other. No wonder my agenda of recruiting more volunteers was meeting with such resistance!  We were encroaching on the precious little family time they had!  What we meant for good was in reality straining for our families. It was obvious our Wednesday night programming needed to be modified. Interestingly, when I brought this to staff meeting, suggesting that we scale back our Wednesday activities, I met with the same resistance I had been offering. No amount of explanation would sway the staff’s thinking. Their agenda was set in stone.

This reflection has been a good reminder for me, and I share it in case you need to hear it, too. Whenever we meet resistance to our agenda, it is wise to stop and listen. We should ask questions that are motivated by a sincere desire to understand, rather than a selfish desire to push our agenda. We need to listen carefully to the answers…listen for the voice of God through the voices of others who oppose our agenda. It may be that God isn’t a fan of our agenda, either!

God, what are you doing?

Yesterday I was seeking the wisdom of an experienced a colleague about a new ministry opportunity. I know this ministry will be a challenge, that there will be days when I wonder what on earth I’ve gotten into. He gave me this absolutely stellar piece of advice:

Look for what God is doing, rather than focusing on what he hasn’t yet done.

Simple. Not easy.

I sat with my dad in the wee hours of the morning, as he lay dying of cancer. He had been staring most of the night at the corner where the ceiling meets the walls, hardly even blinking. He hadn’t spoken in a couple of days, so I had no idea what he was thinking (if he was thinking) or what he was seeing (that I couldn’t see). I had prayed for months for healing of his cancer, and now I was left to grapple with what I felt was God’s disregard for my prayer. In my frustration, I remember crying out, “What is going on, God?” The answer came the moment I opened by Bible.

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. -2 Corinthians 4:16-18

I knew in that moment that God was doing something mighty and eternal for my dad. The cancer would win this battle, but God had the ultimate victory.

God did something mighty in me, too, though I couldn’t see it at the time. My faith was increased exponentially… far beyond what I believe it would have been had God healed that cancer.

Frustration still comes far too easily to me when God doesn’t appear to be answering my prayers, when he doesn’t heal the person I’ve prayed for, or open a door of opportunity I think is such a good fit. But God is always at work! According to Psalm 121:3-4, he never slumbers or sleeps.

Rather than grumbling because God isn’t doing what I think needs to be done, I need to take to heart that stellar Looking over the horizon. (Image from swissre.com ad.)piece of advice! Stop the grousing and arguing and instead look around to see what God is doing. Perhaps he is healing the person in places I can’t see. Perhaps he is doing an important work in a family member as they provide care. Or God might just have someone else in mind for that ministry opportunity who, while I can’t see it yet, is a perfect match.

Oh, Lord, please give me eyes to see where you are at work so that I might cooperate with you in your good and perfect plan rather than insisting you bless my inferior one. Amen and amen!