God loves to surprise us!

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I love surprises.  Check that.  I love good surprises.  I am the first one in my family who wants a spontaneous celebration for my birthday or special event.  A few years ago my family threw a surprise birthday party for my 40th birthday.  I loved it.  The surprise came with a spontaneous gift – jumping out of a plane.  I had one day to prepare for this free fall from 14,000 feet.  It is something I always wanted to do despite my fear of heights.  I am thankful it was unexpected so that I did not have too much time to think about it.

This past weekend my family surprised me again.  I was enjoying my cup of coffee as I wrapped up some church responsibilities.  From around the corner my wife and kids came into the living room with some presents and huge smiles.  “Surprise!”  My birthday is not for two more weeks but they wanted to get the jump on me.  I did not expect it at all.  It made my day.  I love the thrill of experiencing something for that day that was not scheduled.  I love the thrill of the moment.

God loves surprises.

God is completely faithful.  He gives me life and oxygen every day.  God’s provision is a certainty as He provides His grace and presence.  Yet, in any given week, there are times where God shows Himself in unexpected ways.  In a moment of distress, a word of encouragement comes through another person or song on the radio.  When you are wrestling through a painful struggle, a devotional or sermon addresses your concern head on providing you with hope.  When you are alone, God prompts a friend to call you.  One of my favorites is when I am questioning God’s purposes only to look outside and see the most amazing sunset – a personal rainbow of promise for me (and for others I am sure).

God loves to surprise us.

Yet so often it is easy to dismiss these moments.  The surprises are written off as coincidences rather than God-moments in our life.  Or, we are so myopic in our distress that we don’t even see the grace in them.  Rather than praising God for the phone call from a friend, we screen it letting it go to voicemail.  Or, we casually glance at the sunset only to escape to the TV where we can hide from our pain and question where God is.

I imagine how my family would feel if I dismissed their surprises.  It would sadden them.  Worse yet, I would deprive myself of the joy of experiencing their spontaneous display of love.  Equally true for us when we fail to see God’s surprises in our life.  It saddens Him because He so desperately wants to show us His grace and presence; but more so it deprives us of the experience of knowing that He deeply cares us – personally and intimately, enough to surprise us!

People-pleasing

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I am a people-pleaser.

It manifests itself in different ways.  Sometimes, it crops up when a person has an expectation of me.  In order to make the person happy, I will bend over backwards to respond to their wishes.  I will return a phone call immediately.  Even if something else is on the docket, I will push it to the side in order to meet with the person.  I will give a ministry consideration a second look in order to cater to the person.

In other cases, it shows itself after a difficult conversation.  The uneasiness causes me to want to quickly apologize, amend my comments, or dwell on what the person now thinks of me.  For me, it is not the tension but rather the opinion of the other person that is causing this anxiety.  In essence, it is a response to people-pleasing.

Other times it involves weakness.  Because I want to appear competent, I hide certain struggles.  In these cases, it is not a desire to please that person but rather for that person to be pleased with me.  Yet, it is still a form of people-pleasing.

The sad truth about people-pleasing is that it shoves God to the fringes of my mind.  I begin to live for other people rather than God.  In these moments, the opinion of someone else becomes more important than the opinion of God.  More so I can at times deprive the voice of God from speaking to that person if in fact the difficult conversation was necessary for that person’s spiritual maturity.  I then become irritated because I feel as I have squelched my own personhood for that of another person.

Christ challenges me in this area.  The ministry of Jesus was never about people-pleasing.  Certainly, he was gracious and kind.  However, when it came to matters of truth, he never minced words.  I do not see Christ apologizing to the rich man for challenging his affections towards wealth as he was walking away.  “I am sorry I made you uncomfortable.  Let me rephrase that.”  When it came to his challenge to the Pharisees with the woman caught in adultery, Jesus did not soften his stance.  “Did I say he who has no sin throw the first stone?  What I meant to say was I applaud your commitment to holiness.  You are doing a great job in this area.  But, can we work on your approach as you were a little strong with this woman?”

No, Jesus was not a people-pleaser.   His primary concern was that people were good with God.  He was deeply interested in their spiritual maturity to the point that many walked away from him because of it.

Am I advocating for unfiltered frankness?  No.  There are people who rationalize their unveiled bluntness for the sake of spiritual truth.  We need to speak truth with grace.  What I am saying is that we should not water down truth so that another person likes us.

What if this became our posture in life?  What if we prayed for our interactions with people not with a tone of accommodation but one of truth and grace?  What if we lived in the moment not in some realm of guilt regarding something we said or did?  What if we stopped imaging what a person wants us to do and rather respond to what God desires for us in the moment and then be ok with it?  What if we became God-pleasers rather than people-pleasers?

 

Discover the Day

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I am the person who considers the road not taken.  I look backwards evaluating decisions.  Was it the right choice?  Should I have taken a different path?  What would my life look like if I would have chosen option B instead of option A?  I do this with small things as well.  I will purchase an appliance yet spend the next two weeks scouring ads to make sure that I got a good deal.  The purpose is to ensure that I made the right choice.

This mentality also creeps into present moments.  In order to avoid future regrets I strive to pack life with as much as possible.  Vacations are oftentimes the epitome of this.  Trips are meant to discover, explore and do new things.  Rest is something that can be enjoyed at home.  Now is the time to do stuff we have never done before.  Genuinely, I enjoy doing new things.  However, part of the motivation is to make sure that I can look back at life and say, “no regrets.”  Yes, it seems a bit manic.  Welcome to the inside of my head.

As I reflect on this life approach, I realize that it does in fact suck joy out of the present moment.  I can sit here thinking back on a vacation or life experience and feel quite content. However, the planning and striving towards a regret-free life also robs me of joyous, spontaneous experiences in the here and now.

Years ago we had a sign made that stood above one of our doors exiting the house.  It read, “Discover the Day.”  This statement was a reminder to us that each day is a gift.  New adventures await us each and every day.  Life is to be lived in the moment not the past or future.  Honestly, there were weeks where the sign simply became a decorative placard on our wall.  Yet, it should be more than that – it should be a reminder of how to look at life today.  So, I stand today reflecting on how to discover this moment in light of my carpe diem mentality.

  1. View each day as an opportunity. How sad is it to approach a day as something to survive?  Yet, this is oftentimes what happens.  God, help me get through today so that I can get to the weekend.  A difference scenario is possible:  a day filled with sharing kindness with another person, celebrating the grace of God in our lives, seeing a child compete in a sport, or enjoying laughter with a family member.
  2. Don’t waste it on trivial matters. Oh, it is so easy to flit your day away by surfing through nonsense, binge watching some forgettable program, or getting wound up over some stranger who ticks you off.  It is not worth it.  Enjoy something or someone that matters.
  3. Yes, life sucks at times. Move on.  There are days where there is very little to laugh about.  In those moments, you want to reboot the day or fast forward it.  Experience the pain.  Grab hold of the most important people in your life who walk through it with you.  See the lasting blessings.  Then, move on to the next day’s discovery lest we find ourselves in a cycle of depression.  Been there.  Done that.
  4. Throw off anxiety. Worry gives me nothing.
  5. Embrace the mundane but make it more than mundane. Life a series of routine events.  Dinner every day.  Exercise is necessary.  Emails have to be checked.  Yet, why does it have to be mundane?  Dinner can be about relationships.  Exercise is a chance to rejuvenate oneself.  Emails are an opportunity for godly influence.  The mundane does not have to be mundane.  It can be an adventure.

Ok, this is the start of my list.  What is yours?  Discover the day is not a new motto.  Christ stated he came to give us life and life abundantly.  Today life can be abundant.

Legacy

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It is natural to think about one’s legacy.  In some ways I think about it more as I am oftentimes surrounded by mortality.  Funerals are a common aspect of my ministry.  In these moments, a person’s legacy is front and center.  The family is confronted with the task of summarizing a person’s life accomplishments in a few sentences to be shared during the service.  It is natural for people to list the usual descriptors, e.g. job achievements and awards.  Yet, more often than not, legacy is framed in terms of character and relationships.  Almost always the bulk of a funeral comprises meaningful connections made over the years.

Since this is true, it is best for us to change how we build a legacy.

To do so we need to understand what a legacy is not.  It is not a momentary accomplishment such as an award or recognition – a spotlight moment.  It is not a job that you have enjoyed for years only to see it handed over to someone else.  Occupations after all are expendable.  A legacy is not an inheritance that you pass on to your children.  I have yet to see someone stand in a funeral praising their mom or dad for the estate.  Granted, it would be fairly tacky to do so.

Rather, a person’s legacy is always framed by the impact they have had on another person, as a relative or a friend.  Therefore, it is best we begin investing in such relationships.

Genuine legacies are not built in a day.  They cannot be created at the end of one’s life.  It necessitates daily, conscious decisions to pour into another person.  This is where the rubber meets the road.  It involves waking up and taking time to listen and care for those closest to you.  It requires constant gestures of encouragement and service to lift another person up.  Genuine legacies are defined by those moments when you have to decide whether or not to stop and help a person even though you are not in the mood.  Because even in those anonymous acts, character is formed that frames all other relationships.  The same is true for those times when you are slighted and have to decide whether to retaliate or not.  For a graceful response elevates the soul that in turn grounds our character.

You see, genuine legacies do not magically appear as one nears the end of life.  They are cultivated through years of decision-making made in the moment, whether seen or unseen, in times of frustration and joy.  Genuine legacies are a commentary on one’s life which requires investment throughout one’s life.  For me this is a challenge.  It involves choosing to live today as I would want to be known for in the future.  But it also gives me hope because it means I have the opportunity to enjoy the lasting stability of meaningful relationships with those dearest to me.