Twisted Admiration

Her presence reaches beyond the bounds of her physical body. At least it seems from where I’m sitting, a few chairs over at our shared round banquet table.

We share a table at dinner. We share a similar height and hair color. We share the role of mother and the desire for work for the Kingdom of God.

But I don’t see those obvious similarities in this moment.

When I look at her I see what I long for. I see what I crave but don’t have.

She holds a doctorate. She runs a ministry. She teaches at a university.

I compare and consequently fall prey to jealousy. I see what she has and call it ‘good,’ ‘admirable,’ altogether better and more desirable than my lot in life.

Jealousy is twisted admiration.

I must leave. I flee to the ladies room to grapple with my feelings. To tame my jealousy.

I fight the tears. God! Let this pass quickly – don’t let my face turn crying red! I don’t want to have to explain myself when I finally go back out there!

But I don’t want to go back. I want to run away. The longing is too deep and the NO from God is too painful. And I don’t understand why it’s a NO for me but a YES for her.

As I sop up my tears with a rough paper towel, and pat my face with cool water, the Holy Spirit impresses upon my heart two words – move closer.

Everything within me wants to run far away from this woman, to flee my jealousy instead of deal with it. But God tells me to move closer to her; to move closer to my internal battle.

So I do.

The redness begins to fade; it’s safe to return to the table. I sit in emotional shambles for the remainder of the program. The program is over and mingling begins. There she is, a couple empty seats over, and I force myself to speak. I move toward her, ask her about herself, pretending I’m fully engaged in trying to get to know her. Pretending I truly care about her, even though I’m still absorbed in my own misery.

A subtle shift begins to take place in my heart. No longer am I pretending, forcing myself to converse. I genuinely begin to feel a connection to this woman, to see her as a child of God, not a threat. She’s a lovely person. She’s not my problem, I am.

The source of my discomfort and pain is not her success, rather it’s my failure to see and take delight in the unique ways God is at work in both our lives.

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God unlocked a new way of perceiving to my heart that night. He graciously revealed another dark place in my heart and prompted me to move toward the pain, jealousy, and unfulfilled longings.

In moving toward it, I found correction that led to a softening heart and to peace.

Is there is something you need to move closer to today, instead of fleeing? You might be surprised by what happens when you choose to move closer!

Thanks to the kind working of God in my heart, that evening I experienced a glimpse of what it is to take delight in another person’s achievement. To be sincerely thankful for what God is doing in their life.

I also came face to face, again, with the fact that maybe my desires don’t always reflect God’s desires, or at least not His timing. The same God that is working in others is working in me. When I trust HIS work, I learn to be satisfied with my portion and find Delight in my present circumstances. When I trust HIS work, I learn to rejoice with those who are accomplishing great things for the kingdom of God, even it’s something I wish I could be doing too. Because it’s ultimately all about His kingdom and His praise and His glory!

God is slowly turning my twisted admiration into true appreciation.

 

“But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another.”

Galatians 6:4

 


More than ever, I am persuaded that the only endeavor of true value in this life is Aiming at Heaven – pursing a loving and obedient relationship with our Creator and Savior. It’s my goal for this blog to share with you how God is continuing to teach and transform this life of mine that it might be an encouragement as He teaches and transforms you too! If you would like to receive an email when a new post is published, you can sign up below. It only takes a moment.

 

I’d Rather Be Shattered

A single word of deceit sauntered from my tongue, ‘no.’ It was a simple solution, this one word, for side-stepping a discussion I didn’t want to have.

I knew in that moment what my husband did not – I bore a scarlet ‘L.’

Some may call it a white lie, avoiding the topic, harmless. However small I could justify it to be, this thing I had done, this word I had spoken, was sin.

I lied to my husband.

And it wrecked me – as it should.

If a heart that delights in God is a heart that is soft and moldable in His hands (see more about that here), such a heart will inevitably feel sorrow as well as joy. And such a heart will delightfully receive the painful work of purification, of transformation into the image of Christ – will even take joy in it!

If we don’t feel our sin, we’ve probably hardened our hearts and lost our delight in the Lord. Just as a hardened lump of clay will refuse to be formed into the artists’ vision, so a hardened heart will become unyielding to the work of The Artist.

But a soft and moldable heart, a delighted heart, will weep and mourn over its sin. And as it softens to receive the conviction, it also softens to receive the shaping, the forming, the growth.

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.

James 4:8-10

It’s far too easy for us all to idolize our own perspectives and ignore God’s perspectives. What I want to call avoidance, God calls sin. What I want to explain as ‘not a big deal,’ God desires me to recognize as prideful refusal to obey His ways.

I lied to my husband. I could keep the lie, covered in fig leaves, or I could confess the truth and unfold a pathway to peace with God and peace with my brother in Christ.

No more than five minutes later, I had confessed to God and my spouse, but what remained was a deep sadness that I had done such a thing in the first place. I probably think too highly of myself to begin with (as all us duty-prone people tend to do) to be so surprised by my sin, but this lie was a reminder of my fantastic capacity for sin; my great need for a Savior; my undeserved perfect position in Christ.

With these heavy, mournful feelings, the fingers of the Artist pressing into my softening heart, I exhaled a new song to the Lord, my fingers at the keyboard:

I bring You my dirty hands, You take my heart instead.

In sacrifice You take no pleasure.

For the sins of all, You died and You bled.

To make all who come Your treasure.

 

Let me not forget the weight of my sin.

Help me know the depths of Your forgiveness.

And when this heart grows stone-like with pride,

Shatter me with Your waves of grace.

 

And when I fail to do what You’ve called me to,

And I do the things You’ve asked me not to,

Still Your gift of mercy withholds Your hand of wrath.

You’ve redeemed this wretched sinner.

 

Let me not forget the weight of my sin.

Help me know the depths of Your forgiveness.

And when this heart grows stone-like with pride,

Shatter me with Your waves of grace.

 

Sorrow and mourning are the result of a softened and delighted heart. It is a hardened heart that explains away sin and is unmoved by evil within or without.

I’d rather be shattered.

What about you?

It’s as if Paul were speaking to me instead of the Corinthians: “I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:9)

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Shards of Light

Delight is changing my vision.

The hymn writer says, Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.

I’ve experienced these words. A glimpse of Glory makes all else seem false, dirty, drab.

But that’s not all I see anymore. What I once perceived as dim in comparison to the glory of God is being pierced through by that same glory. My view of the night-sky-darkness of this planet, of its people, no longer is utterly void. I see stars. I see brightness. I see Light. I see the presence of God. It’s always been there; I’ve failed to see it for far too long. Delight is focusing my vision, giving Light to my eyes to see the imprints of Majesty all around.

Delight is giving me a lense to see shards of Light in the people and circumstances and creation all around.

So as a framework with which to tell of our family’s recent trip to Mexico, let me tell you of the shards of Light that lit up our moments south of the border.

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1. Pastor Alfredo and his wife, Connie. Alfredo is the pastor of Agua Vive church in Tobasco, Mexico that our church had a part in planting over 30 years ago. This lovely couple is full of the joy of the Lord and dedicated to His work. I told Connie, as we said goodbye, that even though I only met her a few days prior, I felt as though I had known her for years. This connection is only possible because we are sisters in Christ; we’ve been serving side by side for years without even knowing it. How many more faithful men and women across the globe am I, are you, spiritually hand in hand with? This is Light in the darkness!

2. There is more brilliant Light in this one photograph than it could possibly capture. For it holds in its sight eternity. It caa moment in which a decades old child of God gives of himself to the one day old infant of God. Both beloved in the sight of God. Both eternally His. Pray for the growth of this young man.

3. Would you believe that I even recognized shards of Light when we visited a local dump? Even there, in the filth and stench that some people called home, I saw the imprint of God’s image in the way people managed to bring a sense of material order – sorting piles of tires, scrap metal, etc… – as well as social order – at the entrance to the dump we passed by the ‘mayor’ of the dump and his scrap built house (wish I would have captured a picture of the ‘order’ of the dump, but, oh well). Surely this ability to bring order from chaos is God’s thumbprint on all humanity. So I saw God in the dump.

4. The day we visited the dump, its inhabitants trickled in to see what we brought and hear what we would say. I wondered if what we were doing could really make a difference in their lives. We came bearing sandwiches and Bibles, but few were actually literate. What we brought was a mere drop in the ocean of their true and felt need. But the Holy Spirit nudged me to look up. Look up more. The dump was big, but the cloudless blue sky was bigger. God is bigger. He knows the hearts of every man, woman and child living there. He knows their need is the same as my need and your need – our need is for Him far more than it is for lunch. And He is bigger. And He is working. So we can trust Him and do our part. Shards of Light.

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5. Translators. Our team’s father/daughter duo, Gabriel and Lupe, as well as our girls, played what was probably the most crucial role for our team while in Mexico. I loved watching them all use the skills that God has given them to love Him and love others! I think if I could have one super power it would be the ability to converse in any language.

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6. There is nothing that grows my respect for my husband more than when I watch him preach. I got to watch him in action on a couple different occasions.Every word of the Lord declared by one of His children is a shard of Light, cutting through the veil of darkness.

7. Our group boarded for the week at a church dormitory in Quintano Roo. A group of half a dozen or so women gathered daily to prepare food for our group. We’re talking homemade tortillas, homemade fire-roasted salsas, all the good stuff. It took them time, but it was time they willingly gave. They even sent us home with some of their tortillas! Yum! They blessed us so. And our group was able to do the same! Before we left, we surprised them with a new refrigerator!! The one they had was not functioning consistently. It is a blessing, a shard of Light, to generously give and gratefully receive!

8. Friday Firmament. Of all the pictures I wish I’d taken, this one is at the top of the list. Though I’m not sure I could have accomplished such a feat. As we pulled away for the last time, early Friday morning, the sky held a sight that, in my opinion, rivals the total solar eclipse of last summer. We were driving North in our caravan of vans. On our right, the earliest of morning’s light was peaking over the horizon. And to our left, a mammoth, monstrous luna – it hung just over the crisp edge of mountains far to the west. Its blazing copper-rust presence loomed large and sunk quickly. There’s something awe-inspiring about not only seeing the moon, but being able to discern its movement. What often seems static is very much alive. Gargantuan orbs really are hurtling through space! I will never forget this duo of sunrise and moon set. Glorious shards of Light!!

Cyrus and I are so thankful we were able to be a part of this trip along with most of our kids. We are deeply grateful to those of you who supported us with prayer and finances. You we shards of the Light of God in our lives!! May we be the same for you. God is good!

Joy-empowered Suffering

I have to confess something. I was afraid to observe Lent. Coming on the heels of my pursuit of delight (you can read that post here – Softening and Delight), Lent seemed a logical contradiction. Also, there’s that whole fear of failing thing.

But I’m beginning to understand that maybe denying self IS delight. Maybe suffering IS softening.


Three weeks, now, into Lent. Three weeks of nothing sweet. At first I felt my choice of fasting from sweets was cliche’, and I cringe at the thought of being cliche’. I chose to give up anything sweet to the tongue because I knew it would be a challenge for me. To fully recognize the impact of self denial we have to deny something we will truly miss. This verse was another inspiration for my choice of fasting from sweets:

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I wanted to fast from what is sweet to the tongue and focus on what is sweet to the soul.

The first few days were more difficult than I expected. And you know how ‘they’ say after a few days your craving for sweets goes away? Wrong. Three weeks in and I’m dreaming of sweet cinnamony chai tea lattes, among other things.

As I was dwelling on my lack the other day, and maybe feeling a little self pity too, the Holy Spirit brought a verse to mind.

“looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”       Hebrews 12:2

For the joy set before Him.

Jesus could see the joy waiting for Him on the other side of the cross. Jesus set His mind on the joy that was ahead of Him. Joy enabled Jesus to endure.

There is absolutely no comparison between abstaining from sweets and dying on a cross, but I’m beginning to discern a life principle in the midst of it all.

Jesus’ 33 years of human life leading up to His death on the cross were anything but delightful, circumstantially speaking. He was by no means rich, despised by His brothers and many others, God bound by flesh, tempted as we are, persecuted, rejected, killed. Yet it was joy all along. It was joy that sustained Him as He was beaten and ridiculed. It was joy that helped the Son endure the separation and wrath of His Father for the sake of sinful humanity. It was focusing on the final outcome that mingled in delight with the sorrow. The future promise made the present bearable.

I suppose this is true of any suffering great or small; from not eating sweets, to severe health issues, to financial difficulties, to persecution – fill in your own blank___________. We don’t even need examples to understand what suffering is.

But what if the mingling of delight in with the sorrow is possible for us too? I think it is! In many ways, we know the outcome just as Jesus did! We know, or at least can know by studying the Word, what the future holds. We know of new bodies and tears wiped away. We know of a new name and an end to pain. We know of growth into the likeness of Christ and the reward of crowns because of the Life of Christ in us. We know all this and so much more!

I also know that Resurrection Day is coming – woo hoo! And I’ll get to enjoy some tasty treats, yum! My mind is shifting from what I don’t have now to what I will have in the near future. And it’s making the lack a little more delightful. It’s softening my heart to the goodness of God and the miraculous Life of His Son.

Suffering and self-denial never have to be purposeless. Viewed in light of Christ’s joy-empowered suffering and surrendered to His molding, our suffering will produce more in us than a life of ease ever could.

A soft heart is a vulnerable heart, even willing to receive the faithful yet painful strokes of the Artist. Yes, we are but dust, but this dust-clay has nerve endings and thin skin, fatigue and fears, blood and tears. Jesus did too. He knows the pain and He showed us the way through it.

“Help me, O Lord, to make a true use of all disappointments and calamities in this life, in such a way that they my unite my heart more closely with thee.”  ~ Susanna Wesley

These are the words of a softening heart. A heart of delight in the midst of sorrow.

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I don’t think there’s any earthly endeavor in which we can’t Aim at Heaven. I pray that we all learn to have this perspective as we travel this sod. If you’d like to be kept informed of new Aiming at Heaven posts, you can subscribe via email below.

Thank you!

May you grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Of Daffodils and Death

Can Lent and delight co-exist?

Delight. My year word. My life word.

I’m learning it, growing into it, rejoicing in it.

But angst, resistance, and fear are weaving their sinews into my heart. I don’t know what to do with Lent.

Never before have I participated in the season, but it’s coming down on me now and it feels unmistakably like duty. But what am I supposed to do with this burdensome sense of duty when I’m convinced the thrust of my life, of grace life, is to break free from duty toward God and rest in mutual delight of one another?

I’m like a duty-addict, just recovering, facing my greatest temptation yet.

Of course I can give things up. I can fast. I have a decent amount of willpower in some areas; I could conquer Lent and prove myself to myself and to others and to God. How great and worthy I must be. But it’d all be a facade. It would have the appearance of holiness but the heart of a filthy prideful tomb.

This is not the path of delight. This is not the path I want to travel.

So how do I reconcile the two? How can I observe this ancient practice of Lent that has its roots in ‘doing-penance’ – as if there’s anything I can do to save myself – and a theological background surrounded by and crammed full of duty?

It’s not the observance of festivals and ceremony that make me right before God, it’s the sacrifice of His Son – my delight.

He denied the flesh. He fasted and sacrificed. He did what I can’t – what none of us can. So what’s the purpose of Lent?

What’s the value of picking one thing to abstain from for a short period of time, probably to gorge on it before and afterward? And do I pick something easy or difficult? Does it matter?

God, I know this season is not commanded by your Word, nor prescribed as a practice to achieve some level of holiness. By practicing this, you will love me no more than you already do now. It will not change my inherent value in You. Yet, for various reasons, I need to observe and participate. As daffodils are coming to life, I must put something to death. Dead to sin, alive to righteousness. I have died with Christ and it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me. Your grace teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts – lusts of the flesh, lusts of the eyes, the boastful pride of life. Considering all loss compared to the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ – who loved Himself and gave Himself for us – who for the joy set before Him endured the cross. 

Just there. Is that the glimmer of delight in all of this? Is that the Heavenly Light coming to pierce us to the dividing of bone and marrow? Is that the assurance I need – glory brightness and delight, thinly veiled by the pain and darkness of self-denial?

There. There it is. The short path of suffering, denying oneself, is of minuscule length along the path of eternal delight and joy. But it is the same path.

I will delight in self-denial. It’s the pattern my Savior set for me. I will delight in self-denial because it comes from love and longing for the ways of Jesus. It was His love that led Him to deny His fullness, to become lowly, to go without. It was not duty that saved us, it was His loving delight in His creation that reconciled and redeemed us. God loves us and sent His Son – a sacrifice. This is the nature of true delight.

I don’t have to observe Lent. But this year I chose to. And it is delight that will save me this Lent season. It will save me from my self-righteousness and pride. It will guide me in love.

Delight will rescue us all from duty.