When God’s Grace Lifts – Changes Part 1

June 22, 2021

The past (FIFTY YEARS!) year and a half has been unsettling to us all in so many ways! It has been a time of great change! It has been a season of realizing we are not in control of so many things we assume we control! It has been a time when our patterns and routines have been challenged and disrupted. It has been a time when we have in many ways lost our grip on the concept of “normal”. Pretty much everyone I know has experienced unsettling change, and there’s little doubt that there’s more of that to come.

The change we experience can be initiated in a lot of different ways: We can initiate change by our own choice and action. Change can be imposed on us by the choices and actions of others. Change can be circumstantial. All change is unsettling to some degree, but the changes that hit us without our choice or approval can be the most unsettling and disruptive of all. And if we can’t see a pathway back to normalcy and at least some degree of control, change can have a deeply negative effect on us.

For the next couple of weeks, I’m going to write about change and transition–about how it comes to us; and we’ll consider together some ways we can respond well to change and make the best of the options and opportunities we have when change comes our way.

First, we’re going to consider the change that comes our way “When God’s Grace Lifts”! Wondering what I mean by “When God’s Grace Lifts”? Here’s what I’m thinking:

    • We are saved by the Grace of God. We are kept by the Grace of God. We are called to service by the Grace of God. We are enabled to serve by God’s Grace-Gifts.
    • If you are God-called, you are WHO you are by the Grace of God. If you are God-called you are WHAT you are by the Grace of God. If you are God-called, you are WHERE you are by the Grace of God.
    • So what do you do when the Grace of God begins to lift off you in a particular situation or place of service?

Most of us who have dedicated our lives to God’s service are functioning in the situation we’re in by God’s grace and His grace alone. We may be living in what to others seem to be abnormal circumstances, but to us it seems perfectly normal. We may be operating way outside our skill level or comfort zone, but the grace of God in which we are living and functioning makes it seem as if it is completely unremarkable! God gives grace for a sense of peace and normality in the most unusual situations and circumstances. We function daily in those situations, and it seems normal for a long time.

But then we begin to notice something is changing. It’s like what happens inside the engine of a car. A car engine is subjected to incredible stresses and extremes of temperature that can produce friction between the metal parts of the engine. In order to carry away the heat and prevent damaging friction, the engine is lubricated by oil that is constantly circulated around and between the moving parts. As long as the oil is fresh and clean and the oil level is full, the engine can operate smoothly for many thousands of miles. But if the oil level drops too low or the oil becomes contaminated, friction develops, heat builds up, and the engine can be severely damaged in just a few minutes.

Like the car engine, we may be ticking along pretty smoothly. There’s little or no friction, the temperature is normal, life is sweet! Then suddenly we find our attitude begins to deteriorate. Little things that we have taken as normal and acceptable begin to really grate on us. We become critical of people. We lose the motivation to keep going. We become irritable and negative and it seems as if it only takes the littlest thing to set us off.

In this mode we can easily become disagreeable at home, negative with friends and co-workers, and we may lose vision and momentum in work and ministry. As we look at our responsibilities and as we try to look forward to the things that we need to be doing, the motivation has evaporated, and it’s as if we simply “can’t be bothered!”

Depending on our personality and character traits, we may tend to withdraw and become depressed and isolated, or we may attempt to increase our level of activity and involvement by sheer force of will in an attempt to “jump start” ourselves.

If we have leadership responsibilities at a time like this, we know we mustn’t let others, especially those we lead or those we are accountable to, know of our struggle, so we may attempt to hide it. This can become very much like wrestling with an alligator and trying to tie it up and stuff it into a bag without letting anyone notice what’s going on.

At this point we are in an increasingly difficult and potentially dangerous situation. If we continue to try to hide our struggles from those around us, we risk damage to ourselves, our families, and those we are called to serve. If we come forward and try to explain what we’re going through and how we’re feeling to our people, our co-leaders, or our supervisor (whatever form that role takes in our accountability structure) we may be perceived as weak, unstable or uncommitted. “Just take a couple of days off and pull yourself together!”

When we begin to feel frustrated, lose vision, and become irritable, we need to take time to determine what is going on:

    • Am I overloaded with responsibilities and activities and simply feeling the strain of it?
    • Is there a problem or conflict with someone that needs to be resolved?
    • Is there sin in my life that I’m not dealing with that is causing me to feel this way?
    • Is this a test of my integrity, stamina, or perseverance?
    • Is it time for a change due to God’s Grace being lifted off me to live and function and serve in this situation?

As you consider the cause of your frustration, think about these possibilities:

    • If it is schedule or responsibility overload, take stock and pace yourself. See if there are activities others can help with. See if there are responsibilities others can assume.
    • If it is a relationship conflict, take the necessary steps to resolve it. Whether it requires conciliation or confrontation – deal with it.
    • If it is sin, repent, confess, and deal with it. (1 John 1:9-10)
    • If it is a test of integrity and responsibility, be faithful, fulfill your commitments.
    • But if it is due to the lifting of God’s Grace for service in the place or situation in which you are serving, then you may be facing a decision with long-term consequences for you and others around you. It is important that we properly handle and respond to the lifting of God’s Grace.

A word of caution: Don’t use the “Lifting of God’s Grace” as an excuse for failing to persevere under difficult circumstances, for failing to deal with difficulties, for failing to work through a difficult relationship.

Some steps of action to consider when we find God’s Grace is Lifting:
1. Don’t panic. The Grace of God brought you into this place of service, the Grace of God has kept you in this place of service, and the Grace of God will take you into your next place or level of service.
2. Begin to talk to God about how you are feeling. Be honest with God and honest with yourself. Listen to yourself in prayer. Try to distinguish between your feelings about how things are and “how things actually are!” Don’t allow yourself to see everything as negative and useless. Ask God for direction. Ask God for strength. Ask God to help you preserve your integrity and a measure of dignity! Ask God for help to avoid doing anything stupid!
3. Begin to talk to your spouse or if you are single, to a trusted friend, about how you are feeling. Again, be honest about it. Don’t make too much or too little of things. Listen to yourself as you talk: Are you whining?; Are you angry with someone?; Are you feeling guilty about something?; Are you disappointed in something that has failed or not met your expectations?; Are you feeling betrayed or let down by someone?
4. Bring yourself to the point where you are willing to “put it all on the altar” of sacrifice to the will and purpose of God for your life. Be willing to offer up to Him your position, your sense of achievement, your security, your ambitions. God may take it from you or give it back to you, but in any case, God will accept your willing sacrifice.
5. Try to take some time to get perspective on things. If you can go away for a few days to a quiet place to think and pray, do it. Take a mini-retreat (Click here for mini-retreat information)  with your spouse and talk and pray about how you’re feeling. If you can’t get away, take a couple of half-days, put your phones on silent, and talk and pray. If you can lighten your work load for a while, do it. But don’t just go along trying to do “business as usual” if all the oil is draining out of the engine. The heat and the friction will soon do some damage!
6. This is a good time to do some journaling. Write your feelings, your concerns, your fears. Write your hopes, your dreams, your burdens, and your ambitions. Write your ideas: “Some things I would really like to do if time, money, and location were not an issue..” If you have kept a journal, spend some time looking back to see if there is a pattern in the development of how you are feeling.
7. If you have been given words of counsel or encouragement, if trusted people have given you words of prophecy or insight, go over those things again. If you have recordings of them, listen to them now. If you made notes about them, go over the notes. If you remember the person speaking to you but can’t remember much of what was said, phone them and ask them if they remember what they shared with you. In all of this, be active, not passive. Seek God’s will, listen for God’s voice, watch for God’s hand.
8. Get some advice or counsel from trusted friends or peers in ministry or from people whose character and wisdom you respect. But don’t expect someone else to answer all your questions or make your decisions for you. Be careful about talking too much or too soon to those you are leading. You may be struggling, but you are still their leader. Don’t undermine their confidence or throw them into a panic.
9. When the Grace of God begins to lift in a particular situation or ministry responsibility, we still have to finish well. Don’t do or say things that will hurt others or make it hard for others to trust you. Don’t “drop the ball.” It’s important that we find the strength to carry out our responsibilities until we can release them in a mature way. It is important that we don’t begin to tear down what we have been laboring to build up. It is important that we fulfill our commitments.
10. Prepare for God to lead you forward. Be willing to move on if that is what God requires. Be willing to let go of your security. It may be painful. It may require that you step completely out of your comfort zone. It may require great sacrifice. But it will keep you in God’s will, it will keep you growing and maturing. And it will keep you under the Grace of God for life and service.

When the Grace of God begins to lift, you need to act quickly but not move too fast!

    • Act quickly to determine the cause of the changes taking place in your heart, mind, and attitude.
    • Begin to examine your heart and attitudes, to communicate with trusted friends, and begin to look for the Grace of God to lead you forward.
    • Don’t move too slowly and allow your attitude to deteriorate and damage your reputation and relationships.
    • Don’t move too fast and fail to fulfill your commitments and responsibilities.

Remember that it is by God’s Grace that we are who we are, where we are, and doing what we are doing.

Next week I’m going to write about “The Transition Zone”. Once you’ve begun moving forward into a season of change and transition, some of the old patterns don’t work any longer. It’s an in-between season and situation and we must be ready to respond carefully and wisely. I think you’ll find some helpful thoughts and ideas in next week’s post on “The Transition Zone”. Don’t miss it!

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

The God Of Things As They Are

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Some time ago, I received a letter from a young man, one of our past students at East London Bible Training Centre. This man, whom I will call Dan, is a leader in one of the London churches with which we have had significant involvement. In the letter, Dan outlined his involvement with the church, his leadership role, and then expressed some concerns he had about his effectiveness as a church leader.

Dan referred to the great expectations he and his wife and the other leaders had about his leadership role. He mentioned some very positive and encouraging prophecies he had been given specifically about his leadership and the fulfillment of God’s purpose for him with relation to the local church.

Then Dan expressed the concern that he had failed to completely and wholeheartedly respond to the call and challenge of leadership and that through distractions and half-heartedness he had betrayed or failed God, the church, and himself.

Dan said that he was feeling that perhaps he should step down from leadership and perhaps even move from the church to make room for others to develop into effective leaders.

Then Dan asked me two specific questions:

    1. If, in terms of God’s promise, purpose, and requirement, we fail at some point, is that it? Are we finished? Of course, we know that God in His mercy and grace will forgive, but does that mean we are finished in terms of God’s good plans and purposes for us?
    2. Is it possible, if we have once failed, to again receive God’s anointing and to fulfill God’s purpose for effective service? If we have missed God’s original plan for us is there a way to get back in the game?

These are good questions and address issues that each of us has wrestled with at some point in our lives. Is there only a plan A, or is there also a plan B? If I miss plan A, does that mean that the best I can ever hope for is an inferior plan B?

Before I go any further on this topic, let me point out three people in Bible accounts who missed it at some point in their lives and ministries:

  1. David, God’s anointed Shepherd King of Israel, sinned terribly through an adulterous relationship with Bathsheba and the conspiracy to murder her husband. After repentance and accepting God’s discipline, he carried on as God’s chosen king. He wrote many of the Psalms that teach us and help us to understand God better and provide a vehicle for our praise and worship.
  2. Simon Peter, who in a time of crisis denied three times that he even knew Jesus, went on to preach the church’s inaugural message on the day of Pentecost. Peter became a key leader in the growing church and helped the Jewish believers see that the Gospel was Good News for Gentiles as well as for Jews. He wrote 1 and 2 Peter, very challenging and encouraging letters to leaders.
  3. John Mark, who failed to follow through on his missions commitment to Paul and Barnabas, went on to write one of the four gospels. His gospel, probably written with the assistance of Simon Peter, shows us much of the humility, goodness, and practicality of Jesus.

So be encouraged, friends. There’s still hope, even when you miss it!

Now, I’d like to take a look at Dan’s concerns and questions about the callings and purposes of God in another way.

Years ago, I first read the poem “When Earth’s Last Picture Is Painted”, by Rudyard Kipling. The poem contains a phrase which spoke to me very deeply. I don’t base my theology on the poems of Kipling, but I know when God takes a thought or phrase and plants it in me in a foundational and formative way that it is truth. Kipling’s poem, “When Earth’s Last Picture is Painted” closes with this phrase: “….The God of Things as They Are.”

That phrase became a revelation of God to me. When I begin to get pressed down by thoughts of “What I should have done”, “What they shouldn’t have done”, and “What might have been”, God reminds me that He is not the God of “What might have been”, but He is “The God of Things as They Are.” He is my God, now, in the situation exactly as it is. I am His child and servant, now, in my situation exactly as it is.

I have a tendency to waste time with “If Only’s” and “What If’s”. The “If Only’s” tend to focus on things done or not done in the past that cannot be changed. (There is no future in the past.) The “What If’s” tend to focus on things in the future that may or may not happen. (This is also called worry or anxiety.) Mark Twain said, “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, but most of them never happened!”

God’s purpose for Jean and me has led us to make a number of major decisions, changes, and moves over the last forty-plus years: selling our business, going into full-time ministry, moving to another state to pioneer a church, moving to Jamaica to serve as missionaries, moving to the UK to start and develop the Bible Training Centres, writing the Foundation For Christian Service course for African churches and conducting Pastors Training Workshops in Central Africa, then eventually moving to Oregon, in the USA, for a season of fruitful ministry in ways and situations we could not have imagined!

So many times when I look back at the situations, events, and seasons linked by that series of moves, I think, “If only I had moved more quickly in that case”, “If only I had waited a little longer that time”, “If only they had followed through on their commitment.” The list of “If onlys” becomes unending when I let my mind go in that direction. There may be lessons to learn from the “If onlys”, but the key is to learn them and move on.

Sometimes when contemplating an upcoming step of faith, I begin to think “What if I get it wrong – wrong move – wrong timing?” or “What if I discover I can’t handle it?” or “What if they don’t follow through?” It’s easy to become paralyzed by fear when you get into the “What ifs”. The fact is, the “What ifs” are not only unknown, they’re unknowable. If we spend too much time with “What ifs”, we’re dead in the water.

In the book “Prince Caspian”, from the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, the Pevensie children and Trumpkin the dwarf are making their way from Cair Paravel to the Table Mound and are getting quite lost. Soon Aslan appears to Lucy and shows her the way to go. However, she is the only one who can see Him and the way that He is indicating is less logical than the way that all the others want to go. She eventually gives in to the pressure from the others and goes their way which gets them all into trouble. Later, Aslan comes to her and tells her that she should have followed him. She complains that she would have been alone, and asks what would have happened if she had acted correctly. Aslan answers her, “To know what would have happened, child? No, nobody is ever told that.” “Oh dear”, said Lucy. “But anyone can find out what will happen,” said Aslan.

When we dwell on “If only..” and “What if..”, on “What would have happened” and “What might happen” we are asking God to be “The God of what might have been”, or “The God of what might be.” The God we worship and serve is “The God of Things as They Are.”

It is appropriate to ask some questions when we are dealing with a difficult situation in which things haven’t turned out as we expected, or when we’re facing major decisions. We need to realize that there are “good questions” and “bad questions.”

Some Good Questions may be:
• What have I learned from this situation?
• What should I do now?
• Where do we go from here?

Some Bad Questions might be:
• Why does this stuff always happen to me?
• What might have happened if I had / had not done..?
• What’s the use in trying anymore?

I am coming to realize that God is not so much the God who has a “plan A” for me and then no plan or option if I fail to fulfill it to the letter, nor is He the God who has a “plan A” for me and then switches to a possibly inferior “plan B” if I don’t fulfill “plan A.”

God is the God of things as they are. My situation, my mistakes, my right and wrong decisions, the things others did or didn’t do that I had no control over yet they affected my situation… All the positive and negative factors, all the consequences of right and wrong decisions, all of my strengths and weaknesses…. He is the God of all that!

So there is no longer “What might have been” to deal with, only “what is”. And there is not a “What might be” to worry and fret about, only “what will be” as I move ahead in faith, dealing with this present reality and moving into God’s future reality and purpose for my life.

So let’s accept the present, learn from the past, and press on into God’s future and His purpose for each of us!

I’ve included the full text of Kipling’s poem here:

When Earth’s Last Picture Is Painted
Rudyard Kipling
1892

When Earth’s last picture is painted and the tubes are twisted and dried,
When the oldest colours have faded, and the youngest critic has died,
We shall rest, and, faith, we shall need it—lie down for an æon or two,
Till the Master of All Good Workmen shall put us to work anew.

And those that were good shall be happy: they shall sit in a golden chair;
They shall splash at a ten-league canvas with brushes of comets’ hair.
They shall find real saints to draw from—Magdalene, Peter, and Paul;
They shall work for an age at a sitting and never be tired at all!

And only the Master shall praise us, and only the Master shall blame;
And no one shall work for money, and no one shall work for fame,
But each for the joy of the working, and each, in his separate star,
Shall draw the Thing as he sees It for the God of Things as They are!

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

 

 

 

Whole Life Thankfulness – Thank You For My Life – Thankful Part 5

June 8, 2021

Levels of Thankfulness – Stages of Gratitude

One really important thing that’s happened as I’ve focused on Gratitude and Thankfulness is that I’ve begun recognizing levels or stages or qualities of Thankfulness in myself. It’s not necessarily a linear progression from one to the other. It can be parts of all or it can be one for one situation and another for another. And it can be most or all of these at the same time for me.

I’m talking about:
• Circumstantial Thankfulness – Thanks for the blessings!
• Comparative Thankfulness – Well, I guess it could be worse!
• Thankfulness In All Things – In Everything Give Thanks
• Whole Life Thankfulness – I’m Thankful for my life!

Whole Life Thankfulness – Thankful for my life

I’d love it if you’ll take three minutes and watch this video clip from the movie Joe Versus the Volcano.

When I first saw this movie years ago, as I watched this scene, God spoke something into my heart and started me on a quest (or something very like a quest) to live as much of my life as possible with a “Thank you for my life” attitude and outlook.

Oh God Whose Name I Do Not Know! Tom Hanks’ character Joe didn’t know the name of the God who had given him his life. I have the privilege of knowing the name of that God! He’s Father! He’s My Shepherd! And he’s the God who has given me nine years more of life on earth than my dad had. (And that’s just so far!)

If you read my recent series of posts “Not Disappointed”, you know that late in life, in my mid-sixties actually, I began to discover that my dad must have been way more important to me than I realized. My dad died in 1988 at age 69 and 166 days. I hadn’t seen him for a few years because Jean and I were missionaries serving overseas, and one of the things missionaries sacrifice is time with family. My dad and mom were able to visit us a couple of years after we moved to Jamaica. We were still living in the village in the mountains and my dad had a great time doing carpentry projects for the church and the children’s primary school. My dad was old school enough that he didn’t complain about having to do most everything with hand tools, because even if we’d had power tools, the electricity wasn’t consistent enough to count on. It was a great time!

Then he and my mom had gone back home to Oregon, and Jean and I and Melissa had moved to Kingston and started the Bible Training Center. Life was full and busy and it had been nearly two years since I’d seen my dad before he died. I was so thankful to be able to get a flight to Medford, Oregon, and thankful that they delayed the funeral a day so I’d be able to be there!

But twenty four years later, when I was approaching age 69 and 166 days, the age my dad lived to, I made an electronic calendar in Microsoft Outlook to count down to when I reached the age he reached. Somehow, it became really important to me to mark the age when I had lived as long as he lived. Kind of like the short-timer’s calendar we all kept in Vietnam to count down to the end of our tour of duty.

On the day I lived as long as my dad had lived, something happened in me. A good something. I decided, chose to believe, and made it a core principle of my life that every day from that point on was a gift from God. I know, they all are aren’t they? But this was a kind of defining moment for me. From that day forward, every day of my life is a grace-gift from God!

Not every day of my life since that day has been a pleasant day or enjoyable day. There have been lots of challenges, setbacks, pain, and heartache. Imagine that! And there have been joy-filled days, and restful days, and victories, and celebrations. You know, like normal life is.

And though I still get anxious about stuff and I feel envious or critical of people sometimes, that is not the core of my attitude toward my life. My life on its good days and its bad days is a gift from God. I’m thankful for my life!

In this series, we’ve considered Four Stages or Qualities of Thankfulness. (There may be five or six or however many you might discover on your life’s journey through sunny meadows and dark valleys.)

    • I don’t think these are a linear progression from one to the other. For me, it can be parts of all or it can be one for one situation and another for another.
    • I can find myself at any of these four stages in the same day.
    • I know that I want to arrive more frequently and stay longer at the “Thankful For My Life” stage of thankfulness!

Let’s determine to live our lives with an Attitude of Gratitude. I know it’s trite and it’s a cliché. But I also know that there is a way of living Thankful, living and thinking and acting out of a deep gratitude to God for the gift of life.

Don’t forget that Gratitude doesn’t come through having what you want, it comes through wanting what you have.

Be consciously and intentionally grateful for what you have, and don’t waste the moments of your life whining and complaining over what you don’t have! Express gratitude and thanksgiving continually!

I hope there has been an insight, or encouragement, or even a challenge for you as you’ve read this series of posts. Let’s explore the entire range of thankfulness and keep moving toward that place where we are more and more often, for longer and longer periods of time, simply Thankful for our Lives!

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

 

Thankfulness In All Things – In Everything Give Thanks – Thankfulness Part 4

Levels of Thankfulness – Stages of Gratitude

One really important thing as I’ve focused on Gratitude and Thankfulness is that I’ve begun recognizing levels or stages or qualities of Thankfulness in myself. It’s not necessarily a linear progression from one to the other. It can be parts of all or it can be one for one situation and another for another. And it can be most or all of these at the same time for me.

I’m talking about:
• Circumstantial Thankfulness – Thanks for the blessings!
• Comparative Thankfulness – Well, I guess it could be worse!
• Thankfulness In All Things – In Everything Give Thanks
• Whole Life Thankfulness – I’m Thankful for my life!

I’m learning that “Gratitude is an Attitude” (see what I did there?) of the heart, not merely a reaction to favorable circumstances.

No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NLT)

The transition from Gratitude as a momentary warm, fuzzy feeling prompted by circumstances, to Gratitude as an attitude of your heart, a settled response to God and his goodness, is a process. It’s a process that involves joy and pain, blessing and loss, and it’s worth its weight in gold!

I’m learning that you can be thankful IN everything, without being thankful FOR everything!

In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 KJV)

When I look back over the years the most thankful things I remember have not always been the easiest things! The greatest challenges have resulted in the greatest progress in my maturity, attitude, and character! The greatest challenges have resulted in the greatest Gratitude to God! I love it when things go smoothly, but when I face challenges and God comes through, sometimes the Gratitude is almost overwhelming!

Thankfulness – In Everything Give Thanks

In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 KJV)

It’s not “FOR” everything give thanks. It’s “IN” everything give thanks.

It’s not being false and hyper-spiritual and saying silly stuff. It’s looking for the good in the bad, the beautiful in the ugly. And then intentionally, and sometimes with great effort and determination, focusing on the good and the beautiful. And being thankful for the good in the midst of a situation that includes things that are not good.

In the midst of a situation that includes pain, loss, uncertainty, and confusion we can choose to focus on the good: The kind words of others, the kind and caring actions of others, things that we still have, things that offer a glimpse of hope. We can focus on good readings on the lab work, rather than on the fact we have the disease. We can focus on the energy we have rather than on the energy we’ve lost.

I remember a Holy Moment during our daughter Stephanie’s cancer battle in 2019-2020 when Jean, Stephanie’s mother, used scissors to cut off Stephanie’s remaining hair (which had begun coming out in clumps). Then Philip, Stephanie’s husband, shaved the remaining fuzzy hair from her head. And I stood by and watched love, courage, and faith working together in one of the holiest moments I’ve had the privilege of being part of!

There were many not so holy moments (at least they didn’t seem holy to me at the time) during Stephanie’s battle with the disease, but I’ve chosen to let that Moment stand out in my memory. And now, nearly a year on, the follow-up exams have been clear. I have to admit, it’s easier to give thanks now for the current good news, but let’s set our hearts on the kind of thankfulness that finds something beautiful and thankworthy in the “In Everything” seasons.

It’s not “FOR” everything give thanks. It’s “IN” everything give thanks.

I’m learning. I don’t have all this stuff worked out so that there’s never a moment of angst or fear or loss. I’m learning. And I’m well aware that I haven’t faced all my “In Everythings” yet. There may come an “In Everything” that’s way beyond my pay grade. But I’m learning. I’m getting ready for the “In Everythings” that are still ahead by practicing my “Giving Thanks” in the ones that come along.

Practical stuff:

There is an element of “Well, it could be worse!” and some “Glass half full or glass half empty” thinking in all of this. But one thing I’ve learned about Thankfulness is that it has to be expressed in some way. When we look for the thankful things amongst the “In Everythings” of life, when we search for them, identify them, then we can call them out by saying “Thank you” to God, to other people, to our own anxious souls, something powerful and transformational happens.

This comes more naturally to some of us than to others, but I recommend you make a conscious decision to “In Everything Give Thanks”. Then start to do it…
• Look for the thankful things.
• Identify them when you find them. Name them. Call them out.
• Express your Thankfulness. Say thanks. Thank God. Thank people.

Let your giving of thanks in your present situation prepare you for the giving of thanks “In Everything”. You and the people you love and influence will not regret it!

So far we’ve been thinking about:
• Circumstantial Thankfulness – Thanks for the blessings!
• Comparative Thankfulness – Well, I guess it could be worse!
• Thankfulness In All Things – In Everything Give Thanks!

It’s not as if any of these are the ultimate goal of Gratitude. They’re more like stages in a process. They’re more like places we visit and revisit on the journey of our life. And I’m still convinced that these are not something we move through in linear progression or that there are better and worse kinds of Gratitude. In my experience, I find myself moving through the spectrum of Thankfulness pretty frequently. But I do want to grow in Gratitude so I spend more and more time simply being Thankful for my Life!

Next week we’ll wrap up the Thankfulness series with Whole Life Thankfulness – Thank You For My Life! Don’t miss it!

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

 

Comparative Thankfulness – Well, I Guess It Could Be Worse! Thankfulness Part 3

When I started the Thankful Series two weeks ago, I wrote about our human need for someone to be thankful to! We all realize that there are times when things go well, when we’re blessed so much more than we deserve, that we simply need someone to thank. It’s a glad thing for people of faith, for believers, that we can be thankful to God!

As I’ve continued to focus on Gratitude and Thankfulness, I find stages or qualities of Thankfulness in myself. I’m talking about:
• Circumstantial Thankfulness – Thanks for the blessings!
• Comparative Thankfulness – Well, I guess it could be worse!
• Thankfulness In All Things – In Everything Give Thanks
• Whole Life Thankfulness – I’m Thankful for my life!

It’s not necessarily a linear progression from one kind of Thankfulness to the other. It can be parts of all of them, or it can be one kind for one situation and another kind for another. And it can be most or all of these at the same time for me.

In Fact, as I’ve been writing this post, I’ve been processing through so many different levels of Thankfulness!

Comparative Thankfulness – Well, I guess it could be worse!

You’re right! Comparative Thankfulness is when I see my blessings in comparison to the presently observable blessings that someone else is or isn’t experiencing. Comparative Thankfulness has its potential pitfalls, but let’s look at some ways in which it can help us more greatly appreciate what we have and also develop compassion for others who are less fortunate.

I remember a sort of proverb I heard several times back in a previous century. Do you remember this one? “I complained because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.” I know, right? Or the classic, “There but for the Grace of God go I!” Those sayings can be trite and shallow, but there is a truth there.

Each week when I go to the Infusion Room at St Charles Cancer Center, I’m reminded that compared to other people who are doing Chemo, I have it pretty easy. I haven’t even lost my hair. Actually I should say, “I haven’t lost what’s left of my hair after 78 years on the planet!”

When I go in for my treatment, I see all the people who are receiving regular Chemo sitting in the chairs with their books and tablets and wires and tubes. Then I go to the “Velcade” chairs in the back and the nurse comes to do all my vitals and the interview questions. Then I wait while they mix my infusion that will be injected by needle under my skin and be absorbed by my body over the next week while I take my other two Chemo meds in pill form each day.

And I do the Comparative Thankfulness mental dance. “Oh, I’m thankful that I don’t have to do that!” and on the other side of the equation, “Oh, but I’m going to be doing this for the rest of my life if it works, and something else if it doesn’t.” Because my cancer doesn’t get cured, it gets treated and managed. I do this comparison stuff a lot. Actually a bit more than I like to admit!

There are some possible good “side effects” to Comparative Thankfulness (we learn a lot about side effects in cancer treatment): It can help to develop awareness that we aren’t the only people dealing with hard stuff. And many of them don’t have the faith resources we have to deal with the hard stuff.

Comparative Thankfulness can help us develop compassion, understanding, and empathy. It can help us learn to cut people some slack when they don’t handle terrible things terribly well.

Comparative Thankfulness can help us realize that we actually have a lot to be thankful for. In our gratitude for our blessings, compassion grows and we begin to find ways to graciously share our blessings with others who have less, even if our own blessings don’t seem to be totally overflowing at the time. If it goes the good way – I develop empathy and want to help others.

But there is this one negative side effect of Comparative Thankfulness that might show up. Let’s hope not, but it might! It’s when we see others whose Comparative Blessing Level is way below ours and we think, “I wonder what they did wrong that things are that bad for them!” and the accompanying thought, “I must be a really good person to since that didn’t happen to me!” We can begin to feel prideful or superior to the other less-fortunate person.

It’s like when Jesus disciples encountered a blind man and the disciples asked Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents for him to suffer this blindness?”

1 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. 2 “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” 3 “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. (John 9:1-3 NLT)

During the years my family and I lived in Jamaica, two years in the rural market town of Linstead and five years in Kingston, the capital city, we lived without many of the comforts and conveniences we would have taken for granted if we’d been living a “normal life” back in the US. Sometimes we’d focus on the frustrations of sacrifice and inconvenience. But it only required going outside our gate onto the street to put things in perspective. The physical, practical needs of others were obvious and ever-present. Women came to our gate begging for food or for money to feed their children. Ragged children came to the car window at every downtown intersection. Beggars, often crippled or blind, sat by the door of the bank, the post office, and the supermarket.

We were always quickly reminded that if instead of comparing our minor sacrifices and inconveniences to the comfort and ease we’d be experiencing in the far-off mythical land of “back home in the USA”, we’d simply look around at the needs of others in the community around us, our gratitude attitude quickly changed! We were thankful for the blessings we had instead of focusing on the things we lacked. And we realized that even in our comparative lack (if we looked north), we had an abundance that we could share with those around us.

The needs around us were obvious and overwhelming. We soon learned, and were often reminded, that we couldn’t do it all, but we could do something.

So while comparing ourselves with others has a few pitfalls to watch out for, it can help us appreciate more the things we do have, develop empathy and compassion for others who are less fortunate, and realize that even our comparative lack can also be comparative abundance that we can graciously share.

So here’s my point with these thoughts on Comparative Thankfulness: It’s not the ultimate goal of Gratitude. And we’re going to look at two more kinds (Levels, Qualities) of Thankfulness in this series: Thankfulness in all things, and Thankfulness for my Life. And I’m still convinced that these are not something we move through in linear progression and that there are better and worse kinds of Gratitude. In my experience, I find myself moving through the spectrum of Thankfulness pretty frequently. But I do want to grow in Gratitude so I spend more and more time simply being Thankful for my Life! I’m really looking forward to sharing the next two blog posts with you. I think you’ll find some joy in “Thankfulness in all things” and “Whole life thankfulness.”

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

Thankful Part 2 – Circumstantial Thankfulness

Thanks for the Blessings

As I started the Thankful Series last week, I wrote about our human need for someone to be thankful to! Some people thank their lucky stars, some thank the Universe, some thank “the breaks”, but we all realize that there are times when things go well, when it all seems to break our way, when we’re blessed so much more than we deserve, that we simply need someone to thank. It’s a glad thing for people of faith, for believers, that we can be thankful to God!

I’ve begun recognizing as I’ve focused on Gratitude and Thankfulness that I find stages or qualities of Thankfulness in myself. I’m talking about:

    • Circumstantial Thankfulness – Thanks for the blessings!
    • Comparative Thankfulness – Well, I guess it could be worse!
    • Thankfulness In All Things – In Everything Give Thanks
    • Whole Life Thankfulness – I’m Thankful for my life!

I’m becoming convinced it’s not necessarily a linear progression from one kind of Thankfulness to the other. It can be parts of all of them, or it can be one kind for one situation and another kind for another. And it can be most or all of these at the same time for me.

In Fact, as I’ve been writing this post, I’ve been processing through so many different levels of Thankfulness!

Health Update:

1) Last Thursday I had my “one-month of treatment” cancer check-up. My oncologist told me that the numbers that should go down are beginning to go down and a couple of the numbers we want to go up are climbing. He said, “What we wanted to happen is happening. This helps us toward a good prognosis!”

2) Jean had a successful surgery to repair her broken leg/ankle on Monday, May 18. She’s recovering well at home with minimal pain so far. She has more mobility than any time in the two weeks since the break occurred. It’s looking good! Our daughter Melissa and her husband Colin have been looking after us. They’ve been coming over to help get Jean out of the house and into the car when we need to go for medical stuff. Our daughter Stephanie is with us this week to help out and give me a break. Son-in-law Philip set up our Alexa so Jean can reach me in any room in the house from her headquarters in the living room. Life is good!

So many of you have written, texted, phoned, and emailed words of hope and encouragement! Many have given financially to help with the unexpected expenses of my illness and Jean’s injury! A Meal Train team from our church has been providing evening meals most days. Please be patient with us if we’re slow to acknowledge and respond. Your responses have been overwhelming in a very good way! We love and appreciate you all very much!

This week’s blog post is going to focus on Circumstantial Thankfulness – “Thanks for the Blessings”. It’s a good starting place, because blessings are usually easy to identify and they’re really nice to receive! They make us glad. They make us blessed. They make  us, well, Thankful!

Here are some verses from Psalm 30, written by Shepherd/King David to praise and thank God for his blessings. Let’s see what David has to say….

1 I will exalt you, LORD, for you rescued me. You refused to let my enemies triumph over me. 2 O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, and you restored my health. 3 You brought me up from the grave, O LORD. You kept me from falling into the pit of death. 4 Sing to the LORD, all you godly ones! Praise his holy name. 5 For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime! Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning. (Psalm 30:1–5 NLT)

How’s it going, David? OK so far! I had some challenges, in fact some really scary stuff happened and I prayed and asked God for help and he fixed everything! Should be alright from here forward. Some bad guys (my enemies) were out to get me, but God could tell that I’m a good guy and they were bad to the bone, so he rescued me!

This is genuine thankfulness! David faced some big challenges and God helped him. Everything was going great! The one possible problem I see here is that when we stay too long in Circumstantial Thankfulness, we can begin to get the idea, and even project that idea to others, that we got the good stuff because we deserve the good stuff. It’s too easy to start thinking, “Look at me! No wonder I’m blessed! I am, in fact, the most blessable person I know!”

Our attitude can take on overtones of: “Be good like me and trouble, if it comes, won’t last long!  Here’s how you do this stuff.  Glad I figured this out.  Now we’ve got it pretty much under control!”

It’s really good to be thankful for God’s blessings! I remember a line from an old hymn we sang at church years ago: “Count your many blessings, Name them one by one, Count your many blessings, See what God has done!” Counting our blessings, being specific about the ways God has blessed us, and acknowledging that our lives are made rich by the goodness of God helps us in so many ways. It moves us from scarcity thinking to abundance thinking. It moves us from focus on what we don’t have to what do we have. It makes us thankful for blessing and it increases our faith for God’s provision. It leads from thankfulness for what God has done to praise for who God is to us. It’s good!

But the caution I see here is two-fold: If we are only thankful when the blessings overflow, 1) We can get stuck in Circumstantial Thankfulness where we are only thankful when everything is great, and 2) We can develop an Entitlement Attitude.

When we develop an Entitlement Attitude, we can start thinking: I’m one of the good guys! I’m obviously pleasing God. Look how he’s blessing me. If I just keep doing these things I’m doing, if I push all the right buttons and check all the right boxes, nothing bad can happen.  God is obligated to keep me from harm or loss. Entitlement is about what I feel I deserve. Gratitude is about God’s goodness, mercy, and grace!

Father, it’s about you and your unfailing love, not about me and my entitlement! I’m grateful for what your love and grace has provided, not what I thought you owed me! And I’ll praise you now simply because you’re good and you’re worthy!

In real life, we do get good stuff. We receive blessings. We’re thankful for those blessings. But in real life we also lose things, have unfulfilled expectations, and experience hurts and disappointments (remember the “Not Disappointed” series?). We experience difficulties in relationships, finances get tight, sickness comes calling.

Entitled people are neither truly happy nor fully content! Why? Because entitlement says, “I don’t deserve the bad things – I do deserve the good things – and if I don’t get what I do deserve or I get what I don’t deserve I’m unhappy!” Entitled people seem to forget that God gave us the message(s) of the Psalms partly to remind us that “God is Good, but Life is Hard, but God is Good!”

Friends, I’m not saying it’s easy, I’m just realizing I can’t live a healthy and vibrant life if I feel slighted or let down when I don’t get what I think I deserve…

And remember, I’m not ranking these kinds of Thankfulness in terms of better and worse! And I’m not treating them as a linear progression from Circumstantial to Whole Life Thankfulness. I believe they’re all legitimate ways to be Thankful and Gratitude-full.

    • Circumstantial Thankfulness – Thanks for the blessings!
    • Comparative Thankfulness – Well, I guess it could be worse!
    • Thankfulness In All Things – In Everything Give Thanks
    • Whole Life Thankfulness – I’m Thankful for my life!

The truth is:  God loves us not because we are good, but because God is good!

And here’s the corollary to that: God loves us just as we are, not just as we ought to be, because we’ll never be just as we ought to be!

In my next post we’ll look at Comparative Thankfulness. Like Circumstantial Thankfulness, it has some strong points and some weaker points, and we’ll explore that together. Stay tuned!

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

 

Thankful Part 1

Jim’s Health Update – May 11, 2021

Hi friends, We’ve got some news to share with you about my health. I was recently diagnosed with a cancer called Multiple Myeloma. MM is a cancer of the plasma cells in the bone marrow. We’ve chosen a targeted chemotherapy treatment. If I respond well to the treatment, remission is possible. This week I finish the first four-week treatment cycle. So far, side effects are minimal and manageable. I’m in good health otherwise, so that’s in our favor.

Jean and I are doing well. This caught us by surprise, but after a month and a half of blood tests, MRI scans, bone marrow biopsies, and treatment, we’ve accepted that we’re moving into a new season of life that simply isn’t going to be like it was before the diagnosis.

We would appreciate your prayers for healing and for wisdom and for God’s continued provision. Daily “GraceNotes Devotionals” will continue as will my Weekly blog post “Notes from My Journey”.

We’ll put a Health Updates tab on my blog site https://jimastephens.com.

Thanks for your love, prayers, and support. Love from Jim and Jean Stephens

Thankful – Part 1

We humans need someone to be thankful to! Some people thank their lucky stars, some thank the Universe, some thank “the breaks”, but we all realize that there are times when things go well, when it all seems to break our way, when we’re blessed so much more than we deserve, that we simply need someone to thank. I’ve heard that the saddest thing about being an atheist is that there’s no one to thank. It’s a glad thing for people of faith, for believers, that we can be thankful to God!

That coin has two sides, friends! There are also those times and seasons when things aren’t going our way and we are desperately looking for someone to blame! But that’s another story and we’ll deal with that later. For the next few blog posts, I’m going to address thankfulness and gratitude and it’s something we all need to think about.

As I’ve been thinking about Thankfulness and Gratitude (I think about those two things a lot!) there are a few things that have stood out to me very clearly and distinctly, and I’m going to focus the next few blog posts on what I’m learning (again, for the 1000th time) about the peace and power of learning to Simply Be Thankful.

Levels of Thankfulness – Stages of Gratitude

One really important thing as I’ve focused on Gratitude and Thankfulness is that I’ve begun recognizing levels or stages or qualities of Thankfulness in myself. It’s not necessarily a linear progression from one to the other. It can be parts of all or it can be one for one situation and another for another. And it can be most or all of these at the same time for me.

I’m talking about:

    • Circumstantial Thankfulness – Thanks for the blessings!
    • Comparative Thankfulness – Well, I guess it could be worse!
    • Thankfulness In All Things – In Everything Give Thanks
    • Whole Life Thankfulness – I’m Thankful for my life!

I’m learning that “Gratitude is an Attitude” (see what I did there?) of the heart, not a reaction to circumstances.

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NLT)

The transition from Gratitude as a momentary warm, fuzzy feeling prompted by circumstances, to Gratitude as an attitude of your heart, a settled response to God and his goodness, is a process. It’s a process that involves joy and pain, blessing and loss, and it’s worth its weight in gold!

I’m learning that you can be thankful IN everything, without being thankful FOR everything!

No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NLT)

In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 KJV)

I’m learning that Gratitude doesn’t come through having what you want, it comes through wanting what you have.

Be consciously and intentionally grateful for what you have and don’t waste the moments of your life whining and complaining over what you don’t have!! Express gratitude and thanksgiving continually!

When I look back over the years the most thankful things I remember have not always been the easiest things! The greatest challenges have resulted in the greatest progress in my maturity, attitude, and character! The greatest challenges have resulted in the greatest Gratitude to God! I love it when things go smoothly, but when I face challenges and God comes through, sometimes the Gratitude is almost overwhelming!

So, here’s my plan: For the next few (three or four?) posts I’m going to dig into some of these things I’ve been learning about Thankfulness and Gratitude. I hope you’ll stay with me as we explore Thankfulness and Gratitude and I’m very, very confident it won’t be a waste of your time or mine! (And I’m torn between using the word Thankfulness and using the word Gratitude.) I like both words a lot, so I think I’ll use them both in these posts!

It’s not happy people who are Grateful, it’s Grateful people who are happy!

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

 

 

 

Not Disappointed Part 4 – Not Disappointed in the Life God has Given Me

May 4, 2021

I’m not disappointed in the life my Good Father has given me, and my Good Father is not disappointed in me!

I’m going to briefly review the three previous posts on disappointment before wrapping this up. I’ve included links to each of the other three and if this series has been relevant to your location on your journey of faith, I encourage you to read through them again.

Part 1 Personal Identity Statement: I am God’s beloved child and God is not disappointed in me!

The story of how God gave me my Personal Identity Statement: “I am God’s beloved child and he is not disappointed in me!”

Part 2 Very Disappointed: We get disappointed in each other and even in ourselves sometimes.

Disappointment is based in expectations. If we get our expectations right, we can avoid a lot of disappointment. Also we need to clarify in our own minds whether we’re disappointed in the person or in a specific action or attitude. In many cases our disappointments in ourselves and others means we’ve been judging! Not recommended by Jesus.

We can learn too much from a life lesson or an experience. I had an experience when I was 17 in which I learned that my dad and my mom were very disappointed in me. I thought the lesson was that they were ALWAYS DISAPPOINTED in me and actually they were TEMOPORARILY DISAPPOINTED in my immature behavior.

Was my dad disappointed in me that night? Of course he was! Or maybe actually he was more frustrated by my behavior. I had, in a variety of ways, failed to fulfill his expectations of me, of my attitude, of my behavior. But my dad loved me and even though he said he was disappointed in me, it was actually my behavior that disappointed him. I don’t think he was wishing he could trade me in for a different son. At least I hope not!

That experience so impacted me that I apparently stuffed it away and didn’t remember it until God helped me know fifty years later that God is not disappointed in me.

Part 3 Not Disappointed: Why God is Not Disappointed in You! (LINK)

Is God disappointed in me? No!

Here’s a legitimate question: How can you say God is not disappointed in me? I’ve done a lot of things I’m disappointed in! I’ve failed to do a lot of things I should have done! Here’s how, friends! God knew exactly what to expect of us, in advance, even before we were born! So if God knows what to expect of us, and if disappointment is based in unfulfilled expectations, how could God be disappointed in you and me?

    • God’s expectations of you are that you will do exactly what he knows you will do, and he loves and accepts you anyhow! Remember disappointment is all about unfulfilled expectations. God has realistic expectations of you and me.
    • God knows where you will stumble, where you will fall, where you will disappoint yourself and others.
    • God sees you on the other side of your disappointment and God works with you from that perspective.

Don’t miss this, friends! If God is omniscient (meaning God knows everything, past, present, and future), then God won’t be disappointed when the thing he already knows is inevitable happens. God has a plan that sees us on the other side of the failure, repented, converted, and moving forward in his purpose for us.

Part 4 Not Disappointed in the Life God has Given me.

    • We get disappointed in others.
    • We get disappointed in ourselves.
    • We get disappointed in God.
    • We get disappointed in the Life God has given us.

Disappointment is sourced in unfulfilled expectations. In order to avoid disappointment, we must develop realistic expectations. Short form: Get the expectations right, eliminate the disappointment. This is simple, but it’s certainly not easy! I’m working on it…

Friends, I’m not pushing you to reach the same conclusions I have about disappointment. I’ve been working through my relationship with disappointment for most of my 78 years of life, at least for the part of those 78 years I knew what disappointment felt like. From the early part when I learned from my mom that in a world of lack, if you don’t get your hopes up, you won’t be disappointed. From the part where I learned that my behavior had made my parents “very disappointed” and I thought that they were disappointed in me rather than in my behavior. From the part where my brand of the Christian faith taught me that God was pretty much always disappointed in me because God is perfect and holy and God can’t look on “sin” and I was pretty sinful. Following that line of thinking, it seems as if God must have been really inconvenienced by the conflict between his love for me and the reality that much of the time he couldn’t really stand the sight of me. (I’m smiling here! I know better now!)

Then, in my 60’s, my journey of faith took me into regions I hadn’t traveled before, and I discovered that God was, first and foremost, my loving Father. God is my Good, Good Father. I realized that in our attempt to eliminate the mystery of faith and to encapsulate a limitless God in a completely knowable and understandable box for safekeeping, we’ve been missing a lot! At least I was missing a lot! I’m finding more and more of what I’ve been missing. And my new reality is that when I find something more, in order to embrace it fully, I often have to let go of something. You know what I mean?

What has God promised you? Find God’s Spirit-inspired, Spirit-quickened promises that are relevant to the place in your journey you find yourself and wrestle with the application of those promises to your life. This is what must form our expectations.

Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. (Psalm 62:5 NLT)

My soul, wait thou only upon God; For my expectation is from him. (Psalm 62:5 KJV)

My identity (a gift from God, by the way) is “I’m God’s beloved child and he’s not disappointed in me!” I’m learning to live into that day by day. I rejoice in knowing that my identity is secure when I do well and when I don’t do well, when I succeed and when I fail. I see it more clearly, more often. I get there and connect with the reality that God is not disappointed in me more often these days and I stay there longer. Someday I’ll fully live in the light of the truth that “I’m God’s beloved child and he’s not disappointed in me!”

In the meantime, I journey through the valleys and along the ridges. Sometimes I rest in green pastures and sometimes I walk through the dark valley. But it’s still me, beloved of God, accepted and approved, doing the walking and the resting.

This “Not Disappointed” series of blog posts represents processes at work for more than half a century of my life and it’s still not finished! Enjoy the trip. Safe travels!

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

Not Disappointed – Part 3

In the previous two posts we went from Not Disappointed  to Very Disappointed. Now we’re back to “Not Disappointed and Why Not”. And this is how it stays! My Good Father is not disappointed in me, and I’m not disappointed in the life my Good Father has given me! In Not Disappointed Part 3 we’ll look at how God sees us and why God is not disappointed in us.

Expectations – Disappointment is directly tied to expectations.

    • Me: “I thought we were going to be able to do go to the beach this weekend but I have to work all weekend, and I’m so disappointed!”
    • Her: “I was depending on you to be available to look after the kids while I’m at the board meeting, but you didn’t show up! I’m so disappointed!”
    • All of us: “I’m so tired of the pandemic and lockdowns and restrictions, and it looked like we were about to be able to get back to normal! Now the cases are rising again and the restrictions are back in place! I’m so disappointed!”
    • God: “I gave you a bucket load of blessings, expecting that you would appreciate my generosity and adjust your behavior to reflect your gratitude, and now you go and break all the rules I set for you. I’m so disappointed in you!”

Disappointment is caused by unfulfilled expectations, by a failure to live up to or deliver on expectations. Does God know me? Does God know what to expect from me? If God already knows what I’m going to do, how can I disappoint God?

Look at this story of Jesus and Peter...

69 Meanwhile, Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant girl came over and said to him, “You were one of those with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But Peter denied it in front of everyone. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. 71 Later, out by the gate, another servant girl noticed him and said to those standing around, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72 Again Peter denied it, this time with an oath. “I don’t even know the man,” he said. 73 A little later some of the other bystanders came over to Peter and said, “You must be one of them; we can tell by your Galilean accent.” 74 Peter swore, “A curse on me if I’m lying—I don’t know the man!” And immediately the rooster crowed. 75 Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.” And he went away, weeping bitterly. (Matthew 26:69-75 NLT)

Peter had brazenly insisted he would even die before denying Jesus! Jesus had predicted that before dawn the next morning, Peter would deny three times even knowing Jesus! Peter’s expectations of himself were based in ego, pride, and overconfidence. Jesus’ expectations were based in knowing Peter inside and out (and loving him unconditionally), and his foreknowledge of the things that were about to happen.

It looked to Peter like total irredeemable failure! Peter was crushed and broken and weeping bitterly in his soul-crushing disappointment in himself. It was over! He had failed! He had no further hope!

Here’s how it looked to Jesus:

31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. 32 But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers. (Luke 22:31-32 NLT)

Jesus was able to look ahead: Through desertion and betrayal, through torture and crucifixion, through death and the tomb, to resurrection and restoration on the other side. Jesus saw Peter restored and faithful, filled with the Spirit, preaching to thousands, healing the sick, strengthening the church, advancing God’s Kingdom!

But Peter had to live through it all in real time. Peter denied Jesus to a servant girl, then to another servant girl, then to a few bystanders. When Jesus’ words flashed through his mind, he was undone! Peter was broken! Peter the brave was a coward. Peter the bold was fearful. Peter the strong was weak as a kitten. And he was so disappointed in himself!

Peter was disappointed in himself, but Jesus was not disappointed in Peter! Friends, we must get this! To be disappointed would mean Jesus had an expectation different from what happened. Jesus knows you and me just as he knew Peter, friends! And he knows when we’ll disappoint ourselves. But Jesus sees us on the other side, restored, and he’s forgiven us already! In fact Jesus has big plans for us!

Jesus said to Peter, “When you are converted, strengthen your brothers.” And Peter did just that! He rose to the occasion, and along with James and John, assumed a key leadership role in the church that was birthed on Pentecost in the Upper Room. He preached boldly, he healed miraculously, he led effectively.

We get disappointed in ourselves and others, but God is not disappointed in us because God’s expectations of you and me are real and true.

Ten years ago I learned a lesson from that many-years-ago experience with my Dad when he said, “Your mother and I are very disappointed in you!” The lesson I learned was that my Mom and Dad were always very disappointed in me. The reality was in that moment they were disappointed in my behavior. And rightly so. But I learned the wrong lesson, and it in some ways affected me for the next 50 years!

Let’s be careful out there! Let’s be careful what we expect of ourselves, of others, of God, and of the life God has given us!

Prayer:

Father, Help us to grasp the truth that you’re not disappointed in us. Help us to grasp that you know everything about us, what we’ve done and what we’ll do, where we’ll fail and where we’ll fall, and that you see us on the other side of it all, restored and faithful. Grant us grace to receive your total forgiveness and full restoration. For Jesus’ sake!

Next week we’re going to dig into the “Not Disappointed” thing a little deeper. We’re going to look at four ways we get disappointed and some things we can do about each of them. Don’t miss “Not Disappointed Part 4” in next week’s blog.

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

Not Disappointed Part 2 – Very Disappointed

Hey Everybody, if you haven’t read last week’s blog post I’d like you to read it before you read this post. You can find it here . It’s a 6 minute read.

One Saturday night when I was about seventeen years old, I came home late after a night of partying. We lived four miles from town and I often had to hitch-hike home or if I was lucky one of my friends would drop me off at our driveway on the dirt road a quarter mile from the house.

I lived apart from my folks’ house in a little travel trailer under the locust trees across the yard from the house. I could usually come in without their knowledge, but for some reason this night my dad was watching and came out to talk to me.

I remember my dad sitting on a stack of lumber in the moonlight in the driveway area between the main house and my little trailer. I know it was moonlit, because I remember the dappled shadows of the locust leaves on the ground around us. He was sitting, kind of slump-shouldered and sad or angry looking. I was standing in front of him, kind of like the defendant standing before the judge.

My dad said, “Your mother and I are very disappointed in you!”

That’s it! That’s all! That’s what I remembered fifty years later!

That happened when I was about seventeen years old. I didn’t remember it until I was in my mid-sixties and was living my way through the process of learning that God was my loving father and he was not disappointed in me. When I learned my True Personal Identity (See last week’s post) it gradually opened up my mind and my memories to something that had happened fifty years earlier, something that had clearly impacted me deeply, but something I had never remembered until after I discovered that “I’m God’s beloved child, and he’s not disappointed in me!”

I don’t want to get bogged down in the idea of repressed (suppressed?) memories or try to be an armchair psychologist, but it’s interesting that I had lived my life most always feeling that God was disappointed in me, that no matter how hard I tried, the fact remained that I “should have done better”. Not always, but most always. I didn’t feel a sense of God’s disappointment always, but often. I didn’t think that God was always disappointed in me, but that he often was disappointed in me.

Suppressed memories? I don’t know. But I do know that when I had become secure enough in God’s love for me to know that he isn’t disappointed in me, that memory came to me so clearly that I can actually relive it in my mind! And that has been a healthy and healing thing for me.

Does that story, that incident that happened over sixty years ago, that I remembered only a little over ten years ago, mean my Dad didn’t love me? Absolutely not! It means that I had frustrated him (and my Mom) to the point that they didn’t know what to do with or about me! It means that my attitude and behavior, my selfish attitude and my “childish” behavior that flew in the face of everything my Dad and Mom stood for and hoped for in their son, had deeply disappointed them. I had not fulfilled their expectations and that was a disappointment to them.

My Dad actually misspoke. In his frustration with me he said “Your mother  and I are very disappointed in you!” What he meant was “Your mother and I are very disappointed in your rotten attitude and stinking behavior!” But I heard “disappointed in you” and somehow that stuck in my soul long after the frustration and emotion my Dad and Mom were experiencing faded away.

This really makes me think about the power and lasting impact of words spoken by one in authority or in any of a range of other significant relationships. Parents, bosses, partners, siblings, teachers, think deeply and seriously about the power of your words!

My parents were born in 1917 (my Mom) and 1919 (my Dad). They were raised in poor families and were in their teens when the Great Depression hit. Their lives were simple and hard. The way they grew up shaped them and shaped how they raised my brothers and me. We’d ask, “Dad, can we get a TV?”  Dad would say, “We’ll see.” (That meant no, it would cost too much)

We learned not to anticipate or look forward to things. We learned to lower our expectations. I remember my Mom saying, “Don’t get your hopes up then you won’t be disappointed!”

I know now that my parents lived with a lot of disappointment in their lifetime. For any number of reasons, things didn’t work out the way they had expected, the way they had hoped. They made a good life, but when I look back on what I know of their growing up, their youthful enthusiasm and zeal, then the hard knocks that came along through the years, it looks like as their expectations remained unfulfilled, their disappointment level rose.

I’m sorry that for a season, I contributed to raising their disappointment level. But that wasn’t a lasting thing. And even though we didn’t see each other much in the final years of their lives, because Jean and I lived outside the US for almost the last two decades of their lives, they were proud of the person I had become.

Did my Dad and I finish our relationship that way – me rebellious and him disappointed? Not at all. Our relationship matured through the years, mostly as I matured through the years. Thirty years after that night, when I was around five years older than my Dad was on that night, our relationship was a relationship of mutual love and respect. He was pleased (Not Disappointed) in me! I knew he loved and respected me and I loved and respected him.

There’s some really important lessons to be learned from the whole “disappointment” thing, you know? And one of the important lessons to be learned is not to learn too much from our lessons! Are you wondering what I mean by that? Mark Twain said, “A cat that sits on a hot stove lid will never sit on a hot stove lid again. But neither will it sit on a cold stove lid!”

Next week we’re going to dig into the “Not Disappointed” thing a little deeper. We’re going to look at the reason God is Not Disappointed in you and me. Don’t miss “Not Disappointed Part 3” in next week’s blog.

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.