Craving Comfort

 

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Photo by Kristina Paukshtite from Pexels

 

How often we crave comfort!  Each of us may have a better sense of that in recent months when so much of life has changed for us but make no mistake, we desire it from the day we are born until the day we die.

 

Comfort means we are at ease, free from pain or constraint. It can refer to a lifestyle, a sense of well-being, and the absence of distress or grief. Considering what it means, there is little wonder that we crave it from the beginning of our life until we leave this world.

 

We learn at the moment we are born that comfort is something that is temporary and not always something we can attain ourselves. As a baby we must wait until someone chooses to comfort us with food, clean diapers, or closeness in the arms of our mother. Each of these things relate to physical or emotional distress for which we desire comfort.

 

It can be said that many times we want life to be easier, experience fewer bumps in the road, or roadblocks on the path. We want to be comfortable in any number of ways and we long for it to an extent that if what we seek cannot be attained, we look for a substitute – often in something to soothe that becomes an addiction of one kind or another.

 

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As I read scripture, I see time and again that the Lord offers comfort in the midst of sorrow or distress, but I have not read that He wants us to be comfortable. Scripture repeatedly notes that in this life we will have trouble of many and varied kinds. That all goes back to the original Garden of Eden where what was better seemed not quite as good as it might be to Adam and Eve. But it also goes even farther back when an angel named Lucifer decided he wanted to be an equal to God and challenged Him on that point, totally forgetting his place as a created being by that same God.

 

Matthew Kelly suggests one reason Jesus doesn’t want us to get comfortable:

 

“The reason is simple, profound, and practical. He doesn’t want us to forget that we are just passing through this world. We are pilgrims. When we get comfortable we start to behave as if we are going to live on this earth forever – and we are not.”

 

I don’t know if that is what the Lord believes on this point, but what I do believe is that He is more concerned about the content of our character than the comfort of our day-to-day experience. Character comes through facing adversity head-on, from sacrificing what we might want or wish or at least being willing to wait.

 

Challenging times expose things about us we would not discover when we are at ease. Challenges reveal what we value, whom we trust, and the firmness of our foundation.

 

An infant faces delays in gratification at the outset. He or she must wait on someone else to respond to crying (the only source of signaling distress). That waiting begins to build trust (or not) that parents are reliable and will respond to the need or it will result in a sense of hopelessness when needs are not met or only met inconsistently.

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Learning to delay gratification must be something important for us to learn because there are more than a few scriptures that laud doing so. Just a few examples would be:

 

  • And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23 (ESV)

 

  • “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:33 (ESV)

 

  • Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 1 John 2:15 (ESV)

 

  • Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. Colossians 1:24 (ESV)

 

Denying ourselves also gives us an unexpected asset – it reveals our blind spots.

 

“The constant denial of self in small things gives us the clarity of heart, mind, and soul to see the present for what it really is and the future for what it really can be. This self-denial also allows us to see ourselves for who we really are, and to see in ourselves that best-version-of-ourselves that God created us to be. This daily denial of self allows us to see that we are sinful, but also opens us up to the grace we need in order to overcome our sinfulness.”

Matthew Kelly in Rediscover Jesus

 

ani-kolleshi-640938-unsplashIn the midst of the coronavirus pandemic if we have submitted to government leaders, we have been asked to deny ourselves many of the freedoms and things we enjoy and might take for granted. None of us knew it would last this long when it began. Few of us have not experienced more weariness, frustration, discouragement, and more as it has continued and at the point in time whether we stay in or go out much uncertainty lays ahead of us

 

We didn’t exactly choose to deny ourselves. We did (if we did) choose to submit to the request to do so.

 

What have we learned in the midst of discomfort that can be helpful when this time passes? How can it serve us for the next time comfort is taken from us?

 

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Blind Spots

 

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Photo by Luca Nardone from Pexels

 

One of the challenges of driving a car is remembering the blind spots that can easily get you into trouble when you are out on the open road. The problem is that even if we know where they exist in our particular car, they are easily forgotten when we are on our way to a destination with the music jamming or our podcast rolling.

 

Thankfully car manufacturers knew the risks and ultimately developed a host of safety equipment on our new cars beginning just a year or so ago on most models. These include various cameras to see in our rearview mirror and catch a car or truck barreling up on either side of us. Those side mirrors have cameras that see what we may miss in blind spots and alert us with lights and sounds so we are not caught in a dangerous collision.

 

We are blessed to have two cars in our family. My car had been the newer of the two and had an excellent rear camera that I had come to appreciate, but last year when we moved to a new model for my husband it came with the side cameras to catch the blind spots (plus some other bells and whistles) and keep us safer on the highways. Mine did not have those and I could never have fully guessed their value until driving with my husband on longer road trips to see either of our married children who live a distance from us. More than a few times on an interstate or turnpike these side mirrors and lane departure alerts provided us with information we didn’t have or even always know we needed.

 

The car that is primarily for my use was the usual “trip car” because it is a bit larger to help stow luggage and various little things we take on trips to visit children and grandchildren. But the new car has now taken over that role due to all the safety features from which we benefit.

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Photo by TOKYOQU on Unsplash

 

Being behind the wheel of a car is not the only place we can experience blind spots, however, and the ones we have within us do not come with handy cameras and GPS cues to help us navigate without incident or accident.

 

“This is the truth: We don’t see things as they really are – especially ourselves. We all think we have twenty-twenty vision in life, but we don’t. We don’t see things as they really are.”

Matthew Kelly in Rediscover Jesus

 

 No matter what age or season of life we are in at present, each of us has more than a few things that influence us in the present and move on into the future. And these blind spots come from more than a few sources that can give rise to stumbling blocks like fear, rejection, anxiety, insecurity, and more. But some of our dreams, goals, and fervent hopes can create blind spots as well that prohibit us from seeing ourselves accurately.

 

But those last things are good things, aren’t they? Yes, but if our dream is to sing on Broadway and we don’t recognize we always sing off pitch, we have a major blind spot as we keep auditioning and singing and hoping the big chance will come.

 

Blind spots sometimes reveal themselves over time as we grow. Our hope to become an ace fighter pilot reveals a big boulder stands in the way when we recognize we struggle with being in confined closed spaces – like the cockpit of a jet fighter. Our insecurity and fear of rejection stops us from risking writing that book we always dreamed of despite the encouragement of others about our writing ability.

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I think these examples give you a view of some of our many blind spots.

 

The bigger challenge is how we can identify the blind spots we do not see are there at all because it is only then that we can begin to work on them, so they become steppingstones instead of boulders getting in our path.

 

One thing we can count on as Chris Fabry so clearly notes:

 

“…God has this funny way of stretching and changing and pushing us toward things we don’t want to face. I don’t think the past is something we deal with as much as it deals with us.”

 

Matthew Kelly identifies three keys to dealing with blind spots in his book, Rediscover Jesus:

 

  • Humility – You see humility is what makes us teachable and, in its absence, we are deluded into believing we see ourselves and situations as they really are.

 

  • Docility – Every moment of the day if we are the Lord’s, the Holy Spirit is prompting us to do or avoid this or that, but only if we become docile (according to Matthew Kelly’s definition of the word) can we benefit from that prompting. Some might prefer the word yielded, but here is how Matthew Kelly defines docile: “to listen deeply and be coachable.” You choose the word that works for you, but the meaning is clear either way.

 

  • Judging – We all are tempted to and often do judge others without recognizing that doing so puts us in the position of pretending to be God. We tend to believe our opinions are right and become the standards from which we make decisions and judgments.

 

Blind spots are common with us all and they tend to lead us toward biases and prejudices as well.

 

The love, grace, and mercy of Jesus is available for each of us to liberate us from these blind spots and know despite our flaws and failures that He chose us and loves us and gave us his name.

 

One of the tragic consequences of blind spots is that they get in the way of deep radical relationships.

 

The Lord invites us into the most radical of relationships with Himself so we can radically love others as He does.

 

Can we trust Him to show us and accept what we discover?

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Perils of Lost Connection

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During the pandemic we have faced more than one or two challenges, but beyond the virus or job loss, perhaps the most significant has been the loss of connection most of us have experienced – with our life as we knew it, our family, our friends, our places of worship, our work place, our way of life.

 

If we ever doubted that we were designed for connection with one another, we don’t doubt it now.

 

As I contemplated that, I was reminded of a story that resonates with where we are now. To glean from it, we need to go back to about 445 B.C. and look at Nehemiah, a Jewish man living in exile as a cupbearer to King Artaxerxes of Persia. His position points to his trustworthy character and he continues to serve the king after the exiles return home, but he is interested in what is happening in his homeland and asks the king to allow him to go to Jerusalem to see how things are going for the exiles that returned to their homeland.

 

He is sent out with favor and position to help govern the province but what he finds there shows him how great a challenge is ahead. The walls and the city of Jerusalem are in a heap of rubble. The exile has lasted long enough that the original law and how the city was to be laid out and governed has been lost on the exiles and there is great opposition to what needs to be done to reinstate what God intended Jerusalem and its people to be.

 

Those who challenged rebuilding did what our adversary seeks to do today – raise doubts. They didn’t want a radical leader of sound character like Nehemiah to succeed. Our enemy doesn’t want us to do so either.

 

His tools?  He wants to fuel doubt about our ability so we don’t use our gifts and risk stepping out, to worry about the future and lack courage, question the timing of what lays before us and give up, thinking it isn’t time to move ahead on the Lord’s calling on our lives. In short, the adversary wants us to give up before we start and that line of assault exposes weakness in our foundation.

 

Back then Israel and most nations gained success and strength by the cities and walls they built to protect their culture, way of life, and belief system from those who would seek to overtake them. Any city who was attacked saw their walls destroyed at the outset so they could easily be defeated. Israel had forgotten where their strength lay – in God Himself to fight the battle. (That can happen to us as well.)

 

The people (like us) were fatigued and as Vince Lombardi once said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”

 

Those people back there in about 445 B.C. had needs not unlike ours as we may feel weary after months of an upended lifestyle and world. We need confidence in God, watchfulness and prayer, and steadfast courage. You see, the people of Israel had lost connection with God, each other, and their identity.

 

What does that word connect mean? When used as a verb, it implies action and means 1) to become joined; 2) to have or establish rapport; 3) to pin or fasten together; and 4) to place or establish in relationship. When the word is used as a noun it means: 1) a relation of personal intimacy; 2) continuity coherence; or 3) something that connects or transports.

 

Back in Jerusalem when Nehemiah arrives, he finds they have started rebuilding the city walls – hence, the taunts from the neighbors who were not in favor of this project.

 

Nehemiah sees what’s happening and goes out at night and surveys what is happening in order to look at the strategy needed to move beyond the current state of affairs. One of the things he observes: people are working on the walls during the day and how far apart, they were while working. It would be easy for their enemies to slip in and overtake them. They were too far apart so they were undone in no time.

 

Nehemiah sees defeat will come in the midst of lost connection.

 

It can happen to us as well.

 

Nehemiah’s strategy was impeccable. He organized them so that half of those working on the wall did construction and the other half held spears and shields, bows, and coats of mail while the leaders stood behind the wall as watchmen who observed any movement of the enemy and would blow a trumpet to warn of an ensuing attack. He noted they were still too far apart so the sound of the trumpet was needed to cause all to rally to the point of the enemy’s attack.

 

With this strategy in place they worked from dawn into the night while someone was always guarding the places broken down on the walls.

 

In this time of lost connection for us in 2020, too many of us have become isolated from the sources of support. It can be easy for the enemy to invade our territory and cause us to feel weary and defeated or chase what John Eldredge calls “less wild lovers” – other things to comfort us, God is the wildest lover of all.

 

What is crucial is for us to shake ourselves and be alert to what connection has been lost beyond those outward evidences of staying at home, not meeting family and friends, not worshipping together and more. To resume our place on the wall, to stand in the gap for ourselves and others, and regain connection on the spiritual battlefield that no pandemic can destroy.

 

God made us for radical relationship with Him and each other. Few things have challenged that or the expressions of it more than the current pandemic. Our Advocate is calling us to stand up, reach out, and to look up.

 

Be a watchman.

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What About Your Relationships?

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Photo by Odonata Wellnesscenter from Pexels

 

What shapes your relational world?

 

That has as many answers as there are people because many influences shape how we view relationships, value them, and choose them. I know many of you will respond by sharing the perspective of introversion versus extroversion or give me a number from the popular Enneagram material out there. My clinical studies in graduate school gave me a deep dive into a variety of tools to look at these aspects of ourselves, but too often we use them as absolutes or reasons for how we do or do not respond in relationships.

 

If we are believers in Christ, there is something, Someone, greater that should inform our relational choices and decisions. If Christ lives within us and is radical as I noted in a previous post (pamecrement.com/2020/05/11/how-radical-are-you/) then shouldn’t our relational interactions look more like his?

 

I know you have heard or read the statement, “Relationships are everything.” I first read it in a book written by Dr. Tim Clinton, but others have taken credit for coining it as well.

 

The challenge of the statement as so many of us would nod our heads in agreement is whether or not there is evidence of it in our lives. If it is a core belief, then it will show up across the spectrum of our lives and may not look the way we initially might describe.

 

IF relationships are central to us, we won’t just pursue those we like and feel comfortable with, those that are more like us. We also won’t say we have passion for relationships if the only way we connect with those who are different is by formal donations or ministry projects. In those scenarios we are not moving into much of any depth as Jesus pursued relationships.

 

If Jesus is the model for radical relationships and that means getting to the core of things, the root of things in a relationship, then ours should resemble that.

 

He had relationships that were certainly deeper with his disciples who traveled and worked with Him throughout his earthly ministry. What is important to recall is the twelve He chose would likely not be on our list if we wanted to change the world. They were not leaders of the day, well-educated and trained. They were common men, rough around the edges in more than a few ways, and would likely not have passed the resume test we might write.

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Yet these were his closest relationships. With them He shared the depths of his heart, emotion, and wisdom.

 

Time and again Jesus chose people we barely notice, let alone interact with.

 

Too often after we come to know Him our relationships settle into a pattern of primarily hanging out with others from our church who think like us, dress like us, share the same values as we do, and so on. There is nothing wrong with that, but do they energize us?

 

What made Jesus so different relationally that He would choose these 12 or take time to really be with people and go deeply into their lives beyond giving alms to the poor?

 

“Most of the people who are at the center of the Gospel narrative have no place in our lives. What does that tell us? Jesus took people whom you and I would mindlessly pass on the street, people we would never choose to be in the same room with, people from the very margins of society, and he placed them at the center of the narrative we call the Gospel. They came to him in a hundred guises – the sick, the poor, the despised, women, children, and sinners of every type – but in each of them Jesus saw a child of God.”

Matthew Kelly in Rediscover Jesus

 

Yes, we need people to do life with, care for our hearts, and support us on our journey, but is that all there is within us?

 

The people Jesus hung out with and spoke to along the way were outside the social norms of society of that day. Consider the list of those who were considered nothing but made it into the canon of scripture because He took note of them. That list will amaze you if you take time to review it. There is little wonder that “Gospel” means “good news.”

 

One example of a radical relationship was the one described in John 4. Jesus is resting by a well and we read the unfolding story of the Samaritan woman. It is quite a story indeed for many reasons. First would be that Jesus chose to speak to a woman and then she was a Samaritan in the bargain before we even get to what we learn about her lifestyle.

 

Many of you know that story, but don’t let that stop you from a fact Matthew Kelly points out: “This is the longest recorded conversation between Jesus and any other human being.”

 

I am one of those who places a high value on relationships, and they are many and varied. I have a long way to go to be as radical in them as Jesus was, but one thing I know to be true about myself – the relationships I had with students with learning problems, home problems, and layers of issues not only challenged me, but energized me.

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Photo by Rob Blair

 

The relationships I had with those who came to seek my counsel when I worked as a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor for more than 25 years energized me as well. They were broken in more ways than I will name, many were not readily welcomed into churches, most were bound in sin of one sort or another, but seeing the possibilities in each one if they could see it, could see what Jesus showed me, was the greatest experience I could have imagined.

 

Someone might say it was because I tend to be an extrovert who is more likely to be energized by people, but that was not it. It was watching as they grappled with their station, brokenness, and sin and then see the good news of the gospel transform them – not because I shared the four spiritual laws or asked the questions I know that are a part of various good evangelistic programs – because Jesus in me loved them and saw that glimpse of a child of God, spent time with them, and met them on the level ground at the foot of the cross.

 

I want to be relationally radical. That is when I get most excited. 

 

If any of us really want to be radical relationally – really really – then we must remember this:

 

“The types of people we avoid and ignore are the types of people Jesus was most interested in.”

Matthew Kelly

 

That ragtag group of 12 unlikely world changers, the disciples Jesus chose, over time grew to be more like Him and changed the world forever.

 

What the world needs now – whether it is in our neighborhood, church, business, job, or any other place – is to discover the truth of the Gospel lived out through radical relationships.

 

That will change the world and it will change us in the bargain.

 

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Photo by Fauxels

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Are We Missing?

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We have so much stimuli coming at us from so many directions. Even in the midst of a pandemic it continues in a variety of ways alongside a time of being shuttered in our homes with more potential quiet and stillness as we watch from our closed-in places while the world upends itself.

 

In the midst of a devotional time as I was considering these things the thought came to consider what is happening behind what is preoccupying us. What is going on behind the scene that is playing out and blocking a more accurate complete view? That is likely the more important story that we must not miss if we are to be radical in our lives as believers.

 

I have heard more than a few refer to this time as an upending, chaotic, confusing, and disorienting time (along with many other descriptors). They all fit, but there are two other words that come to mind as well – roiling (not a word I commonly use) and reeling. I needed to look at the definition to consider what the Lord might be nudging me to consider.

 

Reeling is not simply a dance form, or something connected with fishing, but there is a connection to those definitions. Reeling is described as “to pull or draw by winding a line or reel” or to do so “without pause, continuously.”

 

The definition of roiling felt even more significant – “to render turbid by stirring up sediment, to disturb or disquiet; irritate; vex.”

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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

 

It can be too easy if we are watching avidly or casually the many news reports about what we can and cannot do, what the numbers look like, how much the curve flattens, etc., to have these things consume us even if we see the impact on the world beyond the illness itself.

 

If we are radical, we must be careful to discern when our silence becomes stagnant apathy and we miss the bigger picture unfolding before our eyes and instead of despairing take greater hope for what it portends. There is truly a time to be silent and a time to speak and in this I am not referring to protests or the like because our lives have been scrunched into less life than we were living a few months ago.

 

Over and over again scripture calls us to be watching and watchmen on the wall and I don’t think it is talking about the latest headlines or health department figures. We are being called to watch, pay attention to, and discern the spiritual unseen world around us that is winding up for what biblical prophets point to.

 

Their words written so many centuries ago tell us that there will be this kind of reeling and roiling. Behind the pandemic so many other things are being stirred up (sediment brought to the surface) that leave us agitated and off balance. Our focus can take us down rabbit trails leaving hope eroded and missing the promises of the signs of the times the prophets and Jesus also noted in his ministry on earth.

 

Is it possible that the roiling and reeling is serving a purpose not just of evil dark forces at work, but also to awaken us to the earth’s condition and our own as well?

 

Is it possible as we spend more time trying to listen that our response to what we hear should not be silence but speaking about the hope we have beyond whether a vaccine is found, or the right medications are found to eradicate the virus?

 

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Photo by Rob Blair

Should we be less focused on what man is doing or not doing, pointing fingers of blame or derision, and more focused on warning that a bigger drama is unfolding in our very midst?

 

As our places of worship are quiet as we rely on virtual attempts to connect, are we missing grappling with questions such as – where is God, what is this all for, or how can this be part of God’s plan as a God of love and goodness?

 

Have we wrestled with trusting Him even though so much doesn’t make sense and we feel as if we are caught up in some movie whose ending, we fear?

 

Have we needed rest from the pace of daily life? 

 

Yes, and most of us see that now more clearly than ever.

 

Have we needed to alter that pace and noise in our lives to learn to listen better? 

 

Yes, without question. But does that mean we huddle in place passively waiting for however the movie ends?

 

We may not know how this episode ends, but we know about the end of the movie if our foundation is the Lord. If the movie is nearing the end with the climax riveting us to our seats, then we are called to action and must listen for the role each of us is to play in that.

 

This week I read a quote that refocused me on what radical disciples of Christ must not miss at this moment in time:

 

“Hope is a response to the future, which has its foundation in the promises of God. It looks at the future as time for the completion of God’s promise. It refuses to extrapolate either desire or anxiety into the future, but instead believes that God’s promise gives the proper content to it. But hope is not a doctrine about the future: it is a grace cultivated in the present, it is a stance in the present that deals with the future.”

 Eugene Peterson

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Photo by Rob Blair