January 31, 2013

That longing to go home

The devotional writer says, “God has put in the heart… a longing for himself. The mass of humanity does not understand it. People just know that there are times when they want to be quiet, times when they want to be alone, times when the calendar or the stars or death speaks to them. They hunger and they thirst—but for what?”

Being alone for several days brings out this longing. So do horrible stories in the news, funerals, and sometimes fatigue. It is what some call a homing instinct, a deep and profound sense of wanting to “go home.”

I notice it when life is not satisfying, or when I’m sad for no reason, or even happy for no reason, but sometimes this longing for home hits me at odd moments. I might be driving, or pushing a grocery cart when it sweeps over me and automatically I say, sometimes aloud, that I want to go home.

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:6–8)

While God blesses my life, I know that this world will never satisfy me completely. No matter what I have or gain, God “put eternity in my heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) and it is eternity that I long for, not more stuff or more of anything else, or even to have life totally the way that I want it to be. The ache for eternity, that homesickness for heaven cannot be satisfied by anything less than being with Jesus.

Yet I am here. God wants me to make the best of where I am and do whatever He gives me to do. Paul had that same longing for home, yet knew that God had reasons for him to stay, at least for a few more years…

I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. (Philippians 1:23–24)

Paul’s reason for staying was the reason God gives every Christian. We are not in heaven yet because He has a task for us here. Part of that task is making clear to ourselves and to others the meaning of this hunger in our hearts, this longing that is sometime vague, illusive, and even an unwanted intrusion.

The devotional writer says that Christians know this hunger yet at times may lose our way. He says we must never lose our address. That is, don’t deny the hunger or even offer a nod to satisfaction with this life. This homesickness for God is a divine gift and precious, a continual reminder that my dwelling here is a mere tent and at any time the Lord “may come to draw the pegs.”

If I feel like that, how about those who have not yet identified this deep desire and do not know what is pulling on their hearts? This is God’s reason for His “not yet” to me. I have an obligation to expose the mystery of this longing.

For now, I am a stranger and a pilgrim here, filled with a sense of not belonging yet knowing this is where God wants me to be. He gives me zeal to do His will, yet because of that deep longing to go home, part of that zeal is being able to see by faith that being here is temporary. No matter how much He blesses this life, this life is not all there is.

January 30, 2013

Practicing Love

Today’s devotional reading asks a rhetorical question: Isn’t life full of opportunities for learning love?
As someone who does not work outside the home and whose children have grown and have their own families, how can I practice love? What opportunities does God give me? I want to be in that schoolroom learning those lessons of love, but how can I develop this in the quiet of where I live?

The love of God is not about emotions. Rather, it is an expression of a Christlike nature that could be emotional, but more often involves action. As today’s reading says, this love is built up by daily practice and aided by the biblical assurance that love “never fails.”

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)

What can I do to practice this incredible gift from God so my life bears the fruit of the Holy Spirit and glorifies Him? Scripture defines love by what it is and what it is not.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things… So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:4–7, 13)

These verses give me some ideas. While many of these are more about attitude than actions, those attitudes will come out as opportunities arise. With that in mind, here are some ways to practice love:

Patient – means long suffering, so showing patience without blowing up — with everything from untangling a ball of yarn to that repair man who keeps making mistakes, to disappointment and failures, including my own.

Kind – to the clerks in the grocery store, the sales people who call, and to my family who can bug me at times.

No envy – of others who have “bigger, better, more” so as to build my life around keeping up to the status quo, or of others whom God is blessing when I do not feel blessed.

No boasting – about what I have that others do not, or about God’s blessing on my life without humility and remembering I deserve none of it.

No arrogance – thinking myself better than others, putting down others, or dwelling their faults.

Not rude – not even to telemarketers and pushy sales people, or to family members whose feelings can be taken for granted.

Puts others first – letting traffic into my lane, giving my husband the best piece of pie, listening instead of talking, praying when issues come up instead of when it is convenient to pray.

Not irritable – when the neighbor’s dogs bark and bark, or when a talkative clerk takes forever with the person in line ahead of me.

Not resentful – when I am in the middle of something and am interrupted, or when someone cuts me off in traffic.
Rejoices not with evil but with the truth – not fascinated by daily disasters, instead praying for those in need.

Bears all things – listening to a lonely person on those days when my to-do list is exceptionally long.

Believes all things – remembering that God is my supply so I can sacrificially give without anxiety that I myself will lose out, and so I can pray with assurance that He is listening.

Hopes all things – eagerly expecting God to answer my prayers and reward love in many ways.

Endures all things – means to stay under, abide in situations that tempt or test me.

Some day God will judge me for what I have done and neglected to do, but I doubt that He will consider my theology or how often I attended church or how much money I gave. Instead, He will focus on how I have loved Him and loved others. 

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:12–17)

January 29, 2013

Loss can be gain

Aging and loss seem to go together. Our aging friends die. Our faculties waver at best and some vanish. We lose our keys, glasses, and other possessions. Memory falters and we even lose interest in activities that we once enjoyed. This morning’s devotional takes a look at the opposites — three things that cannot be lost.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)

Some think faith is the most important on this list. Hebrews 11:6 says that “without faith it is impossible to please God” yet love is greater.

Hope sits in the middle yet I wonder why it is on the list, for in eternity with Christ, all hope will be fulfilled. Yet  hope means expectation and with that definition, heaven will be a place of continual delight, including expectations and their fulfillment.

The third item is love. This verse says it will abide or remain and that it is the greatest item on the list. This love is “agape” and means benevolent and sacrificial actions for the good of others.

1 Corinthians 13 gives some examples. This kind of love is not mere talk, but action. It comes from the heart of Jesus and is motivated by our faith in Him. Love is also energized by a hope for positive things, a looking forward to the future and forgetting about the past. Love is also caring about others to the point of being willing to die for them.

Earlier, the chapter says that faith can move mountains, but without love, moving mountains is nothing. It also makes clear that if love is not in everything I do, my life is nothing.

Before reading this, I’ve thought about what would be left when I die. I can make sure my stuff goes to people who need it, but will I leave behind any of the qualities describing love — patience, kindness, generosity, humility, courtesy, unselfishness, a good temper, and a sincerity that keeps no record of wrongs?

The devotional writer points out that each description about love is in relation to people and life. That is, love applies to what is known today rather that what will happen in the unknowns of eternity. While the Bible says love will abide or last forever, God did not intend that it be kept in my pocket until that day when I arrive there. Just as eternal life is a present possession for those who know and have Christ in our lives, so is love intended to be lived out here and now, not just a possession for a far off future.

The devotional says, “Lavish (love) on the poor, where it is very easy; especially on the rich, who often need it most; most of all on our equals, for whom perhaps we each do least of all. There is a difference between trying to please and giving pleasure. Give pleasure. Lose no chance of giving pleasure.”
These are convicting thoughts. I rate myself as stingy with love. I can be impatient and thoughtless, selfish and carry grudges. Love does not do these things. Losing stuff and my faculties is nothing compared to the need to lose these sinful attitudes — and then let the Holy Spirit fill the empty spaces with the love of God. 

January 28, 2013

Remember to forget

Each module of the online course I’m taking has a quiz. The seminary uses Moodle, a wonderful piece of technology that enables all sorts of questions including multiple choice and one-word answers. The first week, I didn’t understand one of the questions and felt discouraged. This week, the quiz seemed easy and I aced it. That felt very good and I did a happy dance. Today, God tells me to forget both and press on.
Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13–14)

Forgetfulness is a vital part of progress. I normally don’t dwell on past events, which annoys my children when they say, “Remember when…?” and I don’t, but I can dwell on things like personal failure, loss, hurts, and many things I should forget. Today’s devotional asks what does God want me to forget? I like the list…

Blunders. Everyone makes lots of them. I’ve spent far too much time beating myself up over goof-ups instead of using them as learning points and moving on.

Losses. These are also part of life. How much energy is spent moping over them? For me, forgetting the losses requires faith. That is, if God wants me to have whatever it was that I lost, He is well able to supply it. Otherwise, I didn’t need it anyway. Of course there are losses like the death of a parent, which are different. I cannot forget my parents, but God’s grace moved me through the grief so I can rejoice over memories of them.

Hurts. Personal injuries, not physical but emotional, are also part of life. While “forgive and forget” isn’t possible, forgiving releases them, like a child letting go of a balloon. When I hang on and refuse to let go, they become a poison in my heart, hurting me over and over with every remembrance. This is self-torture, not vindication, and foolish. It is also not being like Christ who forgives because that is His nature. In the forgiving, He never brings up again whatever I have done. He wants me to do the same with injuries against me. Never bringing them up or holding them against the perpetrator is more effective than forgetting them.

Success. This one makes me chuckle. How pleasant it is to remember successes and how dangerous those memories can be. The devotional writer says, “A person who can bear success can bear anything.” Doing well is not a problem, but dwelling on it leads to pride. Most everyone has heard that pride goes before a fall. The source of that actually says:

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)

As today’s devotional reading says, the human spirit can bear adversity far better than it can bear prosperity. This is born out when someone (usually with few prior financial skills) wins the lottery; it ruins their life. Any kind of success has the potential to do the same. For me, whenever my heart is lifted up in pride, I immediately turn my eyes away from God (from whom all good things come) to myself — and I cannot do anything apart from Jesus Christ. Pride puts me out on a limb, but it is also the root of sin and the reason for all downfalls and defeats. Learning to take success in stride by being thankful and giving the glory to God, then forgetting my part in it and pressing on is a great and important lesson of life.

Sorrow. Sooner or later, sorrow happens. I’m to take every heartbreak to my Lord and let Him “rule and overrule” in them. With Him at the helm, I will come out the other side refined and disciplined, better educated and more useful. Sorrow can be “woven into the warp and woof” of my life so that I am richer and stronger not impoverished or bitter, enabling me to press on. God’s grace is sufficient for even this.

Sins. The reading reminds me of Paul who consented to the death of Stephen, persecuted the church and even called himself the chief of sinners. Feeling that way is humbling and draws me to the foot of the Cross. While this is a good thing, it can be destructive when the focus goes off the Cross and turns to “poor me.” This is definitely not like God, for He says, “…I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34) 

Another thought that makes me chuckle is the threat of dementia. If I don’t learn how to forget and how to rest in what God has done, it might happen anyway! Only with dementia, pressing on toward my goal could be a problem — because I might forget what the goal is also!

January 27, 2013

One thing I do…

Those who struggle with attention deficit disorder find that we are either distracted by everything, or so able to concentrate on one thing that we forget to eat. Sometimes the distractions look like multitasking and sometimes the concentration looks like a flaw. 

However, a recent television program explored and did several experiments concerning multitasking. Their conclusion? No one can multitask. That is, anyone who appears to be doing several things at once actually only thinks about one of them at any given moment. This ability to focus is part of how our brains are made.

As someone who struggles with ADD, I realize the power of being able to focus and how that fits with the way God made my brain. While distractions reflect my interest in many things, they also can keep me from doing the important things. I would never get anything done if I followed the whims that constantly run through my head. Life’s biggest struggle has been the discipline of focus.

Paul was a focused Christian. He set his goal and was not distracted.

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13–14)

Some say wholehearted concentration is the secret of a successful life, no matter how you measure success. Today’s devotional writer says “One thing I do — not a dozen things, not even two things, but this one thing I do.” He adds that no life can be very great, or very happy, or very useful without this element of concentration. 

This certainly applies in today’s business world of specialization, consolidation and incorporation. A jack-of-all-trades is rare. Almost everyone is a specialist.
Another example is science where energies are concentrated and realms of study and employment are remarkably specific. We know one biologist whose field is fungus in the soil and a doctor who works with children who have kidney disease. 

As a Christian, my focus is to concentrate on obeying Jesus Christ. He said no one can serve two masters. Now I understand why. Not only does a divided heart spell divided loyalties, it is not the way we are wired. Anyone who steps outside of how they are made winds up frustrated by failures. God made us to be able to focus on one thing. 

Jesus says, “If you would be my disciple, I must come before father or mother or the dearest loved one of your life. I must come before your own business or your own property. I must come before your own life.” This is the priority. In trying to ignore the distractions, it helps me to realize that no one can genuinely multitask anyway. God gave us the ability to concentrate on one thing, and concentration is a prime requirement of a victorious life.