Do It

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—  even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. 1 Cor. 10:31-33

This is my problem with this admonition:  I do not know or have any idea how to do whatever I do all for the glory of God.  Take as an example my soccer playing days.  I loved playing soccer, loved rushing with the ball down the field past the other team’s defenders, loved taking those shots on goals and sometimes seeing them breeze into the net.  But once I reached junior high, I equally began to loathe the pressure from coaches and basically the whole system to “be the best” and settle for no less.  Silliness on the field wasn’t taking it seriously.  I remember a distinct feeling that the fun had been lost for the competition.

School work was actually the same.  With a little extra effort, I enjoyed making honor roll.  But at some point, I wondered what the end game was in that.  Best case scenario, you are valedictorian.  Then what?  (That was never remotely a question I had to grapple with, mind you, but the point is the same.)

There have always been lots of social engagements or other activities that I participated in “for the glory of God”, like being in a sorority to be a light for Jesus (please see retrospective snicker on my face…I mean really, how arrogant and naive).  Was I glorifying God in TriDelta?  I suppose if many girls fell to worship and adore Him because I didn’t drink, if my purist ways helped them to see how merciful and gracious and full of love Jesus is despite my evident great need for that mercy, then yes.  But really, I’m not sure my Christianity communicated as much about Jesus’ redemptive work as it did about my high moral code.

(As an aside…Doing something for the glory of God, it turns out, is not (as I had always believed) “being the best” for the glory of God or “being the most popular” for the glory of God.  It turns out, God is often most glorified by the least, the weak, and the broken.  Like right now, my heart is drawn to His living water because it turns out I am face to face with the reality that I can’t create this living water for myself…or solve my dilemma on my own.)

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Col. 3:22-24

I think Paul may be helping me here…it is the Lord I am serving and not human masters.  In soccer, or social life, or achievement arenas I am usually serving myself first by way of driving hard for the adoration and admiration of others, or even more simply, to attain something I think I need that I don’t already have.  What would it be like to train for soccer and play not for my position on the team or the cheering fans but as serving the Lord?  The problem is, I still have no idea because my human limited brain which is attached to my human heart, a heart being redeemed but still inclined to be on God’s throne in His place, can’t imagine what it would look like to be sharp without cutting others, to be strong without being immovable and to leave it all out on the field not to win the game but because it has already been won.

Specifically what I’ve been thinking about is that I have two “settings on my dial”, so to speak.  Competitive and driven or relaxed and lazy.  “Competitive and driven” comes with a meanness, really, one that doesn’t feel badly about kicking the defenders in the shins or breaking a goalie’s fingers because those are part of the game and reasonable casualties on the way to making a goal.  Relaxed and lazy is kind and patient, unruffled and peaceful, but ends up with a kitchen full of dirty dishes and appliances, a room full of unfolded clean laundry and children who are out of sorts because the schedule has been too flexible for too long.  (This is just hypothetical, of course.)

I need the Gospel’s “third way” desperately.  I need to have the person and work of Jesus come into my mothering, housekeeping, teaching, writing, social life, community involvement, church involvement (which I suppose should be the same as community involvement) and so on in such a way that I could be working with all my heart not as a ruthless witch, hell bent to see my agenda and to do list accomplished before 6pm, but in a way that brings increased life to all these settings.  He has come to bring life and that life to the full.  My work and play will bring Him glory when it brings new life, not personal recognition.

And the final kicker is this:  I can’t accomplish this “third way” because it is His person and work alone that can.  There is no check list or guiding parameters to ensure I’m in “life giving” mode rather than “life sucking” mode.  It is a heart condition that I am powerless to change or modify or improve.  So, that’s bad news.  But, the good news is that He has promised to complete the good work that He has begun.  Behold, He is making all things new.  It is God who works in me to will to and act according to His good purpose.  Do not fear, for He has redeemed me.  So, the message of faith is this:  I cannot get it right by a new resolve.  My only hope is His redeeming work in me.  And this hope does not disappoint because He is faithful and He will do it.

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law;  but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!  Romans 7:21-25

Cameras Ready, Aim, Focus

Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn bushes, or grapes from briers.  A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.  Luke 6:44-45

If my words and actions provide the camera’s focus and angle to tell the story of my heart, and if I were to pay closer attention to the story being told, I would discover quickly that my heart still has a great deal of redeeming to be done.  The camera would reveal scenes and a zoom lens focus on a heart that is not nearly as “good”, holy and faithful as I might like to think.

You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’”  Matt. 15:7-9

Even the person and work of Jesus can become a new law, placed as a new human rule and stripped of His real person-ness to my heart.  Before I know it, I am far from Him in reality though I may have been talking about Him frequently.  He becomes something I possess as if holding garlic to keep the vampires away or a treasure map with which to independently navigate my way, rather than Someone who possesses me and is my treasure in and of Himself.

How do my words and actions provide this camera to reveal my heart’s true state?  For one, the content of my chitter chatter:  increased critiques of other people, stories that “fill the frame” with me as the central hero or greatest person of interest, a need to be known by those around me more than an interest in knowing more of them and so on.  My actions are shown to be driven by something other than the compassionate grace, patient mercy and abundant love of God for me.  They are hurried, often agitated and cloaked in at least a small amount of pity party or impatience with others for not joining me.

You shall have no other gods before me. Deut. 5:7

If having other gods before God were not much of a problem, it wouldn’t have been stated right at the front.  It is a problem throughout the course of every day for me.  My words and actions are shown not to be driven by the person and work of Jesus, as I just mentioned, because most of the time they are driven by a worship of me…and a desire that I be at the center. Rather than acknowledging that the Holy Spirit is working out my salvation through the person and work of Jesus in me, drawing Him out even as He slowly puts to death my sinful nature, I instead simply view myself and others from the outside wanting them to do it the way I think I am doing it.  I judge them rather than leaning solely on God for His redemptive work in them and I praise myself rather than acknowledging that all good gifts (if they are truly good) come from the Father and not anything in me.  It is my name and my renown that too quickly become the desire of my heart, no matter Who my mouth might wish to claim.

For who is God besides the LORD?  And who is the Rock except our God?  It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure.  He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he causes me to stand on the heights.  2 Sam. 22:32-34

When the camera is so focused on me and what I am doing or what I think about this or them, it is clear that my heart has forgotten who it is that works in me to will and to act according to His good purpose.  When my words speak judgments of others for not doing things the way I would do them or saying what I would say, it is possible that my heart has come to believe I arm myself with strength and that it is I alone who keep my way secure, make my feet swift or take myself to the heights.

What would my stories be like if the camera had to fill the frame with Jesus and tell His story as it is unfolding all around me?  How would I talk about other people if I really began to believe that He is the author and perfecter of faith, not my will or theirs?  What might I begin to see of His redemptive work that I am missing right now if I looked past the exterior of circumstances and people’s words and actions, including my own, and began to see creation, fall, redemption and the hope of exhaustive restoration and recreation instead?

Treasured Rest

We’re at the beach and I felt relaxed immediately upon approach.  The drive over the marshes, flanked by palm trees and fishing boats at various points, signals to my inner most being a sense that all is right with the world, at least for the next seven days.

The hours on the clock have little more authority over our movements and decisions than the appliances or furniture on which they are found.  Hurry is not relevant, unless it is part of the game of tag we played on the beach after dinner.  (You should see how agile Mimi and Granddaddy are sprinting over sand away from their pursuing grandchildren!)  Ellie and Chad can explore out of the reach of their parents, enjoying a little more freedom and independence than is reasonable in the city.  And happy hour before dinner was blissfully that.   We sat overlooking the ocean from our front porch,  visiting about all things that came to mind with all the leisure in the world to complete thoughts and exhaust each topic in a satisfying way.

The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”  Ex. 33:14

 Rest is a gift.  The old live oak trees draped with spanish moss, the miles of marsh, the exploration of blue heron and white egrets (or cranes?), the huge ships that make their way slowly in and out of the inland waterway are the particular scenery into which God has placed Himself for my rest this week.  But He isn’t here to serve me, rather, because He is God and runs His world with precision and ease, I can rest.  Because He tells the waves this far and no further, I can simply enjoy their rhythm without the need to worry about controlling the tides.

 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.  For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.  Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?  Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?  “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it.  For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them.  But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

   “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.  Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 

Worry, rest and treasure are connected by God in His Kingdom.  When my treasure is something that I must acquire, fight for, defend, manipulate, manufacture or otherwise create or maintain by every effort and grasp of wit and foresight.  Who would that not cause to worry at least a little bit? But when God is my treasure, there is no chance of loss, rust or theft  of Him.  My sin, the wickedness in the world or the rebellious intents of others or even of my own heart can’t diminish God.  He has been pleased to give me His Kingdom through the person and work of Jesus, not hold it out like a carrot for those who are determined enough to chase it down.

He invites me to run and play tag in my back yard just as freely as on the beach on vacation.  As my treasure, He is offering me freedom from enslavement to the clock at home just as it holds little power over us here.  Sure there are appointments and meetings that must be kept, but if the world keeps spinning quite well when I’m not filling my schedule with them this week, could it not continue thriving without my filling the schedule when I return?  What is it that compels me to rush about so?  Is it in response to my treasure or is it chasing after the wrong one?

My heart has a lingering affection for self governance and self-sustenance.  He kindly pulls me off my weak and wobbly throne and sets me in the lap of His governance and provision. It is there I have rest in any setting.

Be Free Like Little Children

At the beach last month, Chad got some new goggles, which he put on immediately and wore around the house nowhere near water.  He has made me laugh so much this summer because he is increasingly the stereotypical little boy you’d stick in a movie or a commercial…slightly goofy, entirely enthusiastic and full of wonder.  Ellie, in contrast, is 8 going on 18 and yet free of all of the insecurities and fear of man that comes with teenage development.  I learn from her all the time.  The other day, she was putting stuff in this ugly, old grandmother looking brown purse.  I made a comment about her grandma purse and she looked at me baffled (rather than shamed by my mockery) and said, “It is not a grandma purse because it is my purse and I am not a grandma.”  Profound and full of freedom.

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.  1 Tim. 4:12

Why shouldn’t Chad button his shirts to the neck and tuck them in to shorts or pants pulled to his armpits?  Why can’t we all wear new goggles around the house with squished eyes because they’re new we’re excited about them?  Why can’t we be giddy with excitement about our new thing, even if it is small to someone else?  Why do I worry that a purse looks like a grandma purse if the purse itself makes no such claims…and why I am down on grandmas?  And why do I worry about this decision or that and what people may think and need so badly for them to know “Oh I am not one of those kinds of ‘x’.  I am definitely the cool kind, the kind you’d admire, the kind you really would want to be.”

And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”  Gen. 3:11

It is my sin that brings shame to what God called very good.  It is my demand to be seen like a god in the eyes of others that makes me want to hide my humanity in the fig leaves of ever shifting standards of coolness and approval.

The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. Gen. 3:21

for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Gal. 3:27

You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. LORD my God, I will praise you forever. Psalm 30:11-12

Children are not easily silenced by shame, but as we grow older we submit to its oppressive ability to shut us down.  Camouflaging myself in fig leaves or the particular norms of my age and stage is not the abundant life I was designed for before sin dominated and after Jesus traded my sin for His righteousness.  Jesus has freed me from my shameful estate and covered me in His righteousness and freedom.  When my heart wants to send me hiding behind a tree for legitimate and silly reasons, He pulls me back out from hiding and away from accusation as He invites me to dance with joy, in my goggles and swinging my granny purse.

Glorious Failure

When I am in a race, it is hard not to think “P.R.” (personal record in case you’re not one obsessed with times and performance).  Like my kids, it is also hard not to have winning in mind, even if that means age group winnings rather than the whole race.  The same is true of applying for a job, to a school or for some sort of contest or grant.  I enter with the hopes of “winning” what it is I am after.  After all, if I am not going to get the thing, what is the point?

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 1 Cor. 10:31

This is the kind of verse that is often used in a way that makes me roll my eyes.  It sort of seems like the consolation prize for getting or doing what we really want to do, which is win or be famous or break a record.  And yet, the truth is pretty profound:  we are invited to lose, to fail, to be average, to be middle management for the glory of God.  How anti-American dream is that?  How counter that notion is to all my impulses to chant “I’m #1!!!” in every way.  Yet, it is so filled with grace and freedom and life.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. Phil. 3:7-9

When I am obsessed with winning, it is all that matters.  Should I lose, my well being in stripped away. Should I lose, my dignity is diminished.  Should I lose, my efforts and time spent are in vain.  If I am not elevated to #1, my existence does not count.  My hope is in my success, my recognition and my accomplishment.  All else exists to serve me and my need to be served.  It is insatiable.

There was a time when I was surrounded by Christians who constantly advocated “excellence for Jesus” as a way of promoting Him to the watching world.  The implication was that God is perfect and always a winner, so that should be our aim to impress others with their need to be a perfect winner with Jesus also.  God is not a sloppy, lazy, loser, so we shouldn’t represent Him as such.  Sadly, this reduces the person and work of Jesus to a winning lottery ticket rather than Redeemer and Restorer of all things.

Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,  I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers.  I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.  Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.  Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.  2 Cor. 11:24-30

There is a strength stronger than winning, safety and good health.  There is a peace that is present in the midst of storms and trauma.  There is a joy that persists even in the face of disappointment and loss.  This strength, peace and joy are compatible with pain, sadness and fear just as they are of God whose love and goodness are consistent with circumstances that expose my weakness, ignorance, failure and humanity.

If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.  Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.  1 Peter 4:11-14

What freedom to fail, to lose, to be rejected or overlooked “for the glory of God”.  How is God glorified?  Well, for me, just to have my own heart find its refuge in Him rather than in a trophy or membership or acceptance glorifies God to my own heart.  When He is returned to the throne of my heart as sole provider of all good and necessary things for life, His glory increases before my eyes.  Conversely, my body and possessions can be damaged but my identity and security as His child and beloved representation cannot be diminished.  As I take greater delight in this untouchable reality, my running both more fun and surely more glorifying to God than the white knuckled, must win approach.  Engaging in community has redemptive value through the process regardless of the visible outcome.  The hard work involved in an application or contest or attempted endeavor has value because of the redemptive purposes and accomplishments of the Spirit in me through the process, which often makes the product irrelevant.  

God is glorified as I begin to reflect Him more accurately, not in the prizes I amass or the surface perfections I display.  Compassion, patience, love, forgiveness, mercy, faithfulness, perseverance and so many more of His attributes are rarely developed without muscle aches or heart aches.  But none of those losses compare to the greatness and glory of knowing Him more.  As I become more convinced of my limitations and inability, I become more dependent upon and confident in His strength and victory.