Last week was a week of intense reflection and journaling.  The dominant theme was the issue of entitlement.  This concept began to be a regular topic of meditation for me a few months ago.  As always, I wondered why this word, which is not part of my normal vocabulary, had become a refrain in my thinking.

My first assumption was that God was trying to get my attention about this issue, so I spent some time listening and reflecting with God about it. As I pondered the concept, I began to see theological implications which captured my heart.    As it turned out, it became something of a central piece in my theological understanding of what a truly surrendered life looks like.  And I quickly realized  God was inviting me to examine my own motivations behind my actions on a daily basis.

The concept of entitlement is rooted in the issue of my will.  When I assert my own will in a given situation, I am acting out of a sense of entitlement, because I believe I am entitled to my way of doing something, or I have a right to something.

As I pondered the meaning of the word, I quickly realized that, as a Christian, as one who has been baptized, I no longer have any rights.  In baptism, I died to all of my rights, in exchange for God's sovereign right over all of my life. In baptism, I surrendered to the lordship of Jesus Christ.  He is now Lord; I am not. Rather, as the Apostle Paul states again and again in the introductions to his letters, I am a servant, or a slave, of Jesus Christ:  I have been bought; I am owned.  I no longer belong to myself.

This has profound implications in daily life.  How many times a day, in how many different ways, do I assert my own will...even demand my own way?  I shudder to think of the answer to that question.  However, the more important issue is this: when I assert my own will over the will of God for me, I am placing myself above God, as God.  Therefore, asserting my own will is sin against God. 

This realization led to a time of confession and repentance.  When this truth comes into focus for us, the sins of pride and arrogance also become clear.  It is prideful and arrogant of me to assert my own will over the will of God for me.  When I think of all that God has done for me, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, on my behalf, the only acceptable response is one of humility.  When I realize the depth of the gift of grace he extends to me every minute of every day, the only acceptable response is gratitude.  And in that place of humility and gratitude, there is no room for entitlement.

Another tangential concept related to entitlement is the issue of my will.  I have often wondered why God does not assert his "godness" in my life and change those things in me that seem to be such an affront to his holiness.  The answer is always because he respects my will at all times.  I have learned in this journey with God that he is very much a gentleman, and he will never use power to coerce me to change, to become something other than I am today.  Rather, he invites me into a relational process by which I come to know over time who he truly is, to know the truth about who I really am (the good and the bad), and he invites me to pray for a change of heart.  God is most concerned with the status of our heart.  If our hearts are in a surrendered attitude toward him, then he will enter in and do the transformative work that he longs to do in us and for us.  But he will never override our will to assert his own will.  Rather, he will love us into a place of surrender.

This, by the way, is the process of sanctification.  God knows what he desires to change in us, how he longs to transform us into the likeness of his Son, Jesus.  And in his infinite love, his grace is sufficient for us as he takes his time, wooing our hearts into a place of grateful surrender, a place where we willingly lay down our rights in exchange for his plans for us.

I am convinced, over and over again, that God has utmost concern for the status of our heart.  Yes, he loves to heal us and to free us from bondage.  Yes, his deepest desire is that we all come into an experiential knowing of his Son, Jesus Christ, through saving faith, and therefore be reconciled once again with himself. There are many other aspects of our being and our lives that God cares deeply about.

However, it seem to me that the core of our being, our heart, is his deepest concern as he works to transform us into likeness of his Son.

Recently I came upon a reflection in my journals from December 10, 2009, about Mark 7:6, 15 (NRSV, clarification added), which I include below:

And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “This people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far away from me”… There is nothing outside a person which going in can defile; but the things that come out [of the person] are what defile [the person].”

These two verses, together, make it clear that God is most interested in the state of our heart.  What resides in our heart is what comes out of us.  You can often tell the true state of a person by what they say and do.  Is it possible to pretend to be holy by saying and doing the “right” things?  Yes.  But God knows the truth.  When we speak and act in a manner that is different than the true state of our heart, we are hypocrites.

God is seeking to change our heart so that we will not be hypocrites.  Our God is a God of truth, and His people are to be people of truth.  Believing one thing in our heart, and speaking or doing something contrary to what is in our heart is not honest, it is dishonest – it is hypocritical.

We often ask God to change our circumstances, and to change others.  How often do we invite God to us, to change our heart?  The Psalmist prayed, Create in me a clean heart, o God, and renew a right spirit within me (Ps 51:10, NASB). This, indeed, is the prayer that God waits for us to pray.  And when we earnestly pray this prayer – not as a way of manipulating God, but because deep within us we want the unholy in our hearts to be removed – then God goes to work transforming us into the likeness of Christ, from the deepest recesses of our heart. 

Only when this transformational work is accomplished will we truly be like Christ.

Some may wonder why I am focusing on the topic of spiritual maturity. This is not an easy question to answer.

Perhaps the obvious reason is because most people get to a point in their lives when they realize that the future they had always envisioned and pursued for themselves and their family simply is not going to happen. Or, unexpected painful, even tragic events occur and knock us sideways. These situations can hit us hard.  Often we find our faith is challenged.  It can feel like something is being done to us.  We wonder where God is in the midst of the pain and suffering.  We want to fix what is wrong, get back on track, and move forward with our life plans once again.  However, this often does not happen.  So, the next question is. . . Why?  And the now what? question is not far behind.

An article in the Wall Street Journal on September 17, 2015 (pg. A13) written by Naomi Schaefer Riley, in reviewing a new book by David Gregory, How's Your Faith, (Simon & Schuster) caught my attention. Naomi begins her article with a quote from Gregory's book, presenting two typical questions frequently posed to Russell Moore, a pastor:

"Everything I have ever wanted has fallen apart.  Now What?" and "Everything I've ever wanted has come true.  Now what?  This cant be what I was put on the earth for."

These quotes caught my attention because they are echoes of the heart-level angst and longing for so many people.  And for Christians,  they represent the kind of life circumstances that can send us on a deeper search for God. . . if we are willing to walk that path.

I chuckled when I read those quotes because they are simply so typical of people who are being nudged to go deeper, to search for more of God and more in life.  I must confess, however, that I have heard many more varieties of the first question than the second.

Life will eventually takes us all to this place where our expectations prove to be less than satisfying, and we begin to look around for "something more."  Or... what?  What is it we are really searching for?

I suggest that, whether or not we are aware of it, we are all looking for purpose and meaning for our lives.  For those who are Christians, when life circumstances are painful - the loss of a job, a failed marriage, death of a person close to us, etc., - we have a choice about which lens we will look through to try and gain understanding and firm ground under us once again.  We can, as is often the case, simply look through the world lens. But what we see does not usually instill hope for our future.  Rather, hopelessness is often what we see.  Or. . . we can choose to look through the spiritual lens, the Kingdom of God lens, to attempt to see what God might be doing in our current circumstances, and to hear what God is saying to us in the midst of pain and loss.

My experience has been that it is in the most painful and difficult times in life when God is most interested in conveying to us his unfailing love, and to demonstrate to us that he does, indeed have plans for us. . . plans for welfare and not for harm, to give us a future, with hope (Jer 29:11, paraphrased).  In my own life, it is in those times of despairing pain that I find hope in the promise, and over time find that God is indeed faithful.

It is a step of spiritual maturity to choose to see life's events, especially the most difficult ones, through the lens of the Kingdom of God.  It takes courage to believe in the face of questionable circumstances that God is carrying out his perfect plan for our lives, and that his love for us underscores absolutely everything he is doing in our lives.

This is the road that Christians are invited to walk, hand-in-hand with God, gaining stronger faith that enables us to trust more and more of ourselves into his loving hands.  This is the road of transformation into the likeness of Christ; this is the road that leads to spiritual maturity.

This is the road that I live, and write about.

I realized recently that the season of Advent is almost upon us, which led to thinking about God - the creator of the universe, of all that has existed, or ever will. . . and I marveled again that this amazing creator also cares about what is going on in my daily life.

In October,  I spent two weeks helping a friend clean out her house in preparation for selling it and moving; it was a daunting mountain of work! Every day we had a long list of tasks that needed to be completed in order to have it all done by moving day. And, as usual, our plans often did not unfold as we intended.  We could have grumbled and complained about it. However, we had no need to do so.

Instead, we would frequently take time to reflect on how the day had unfolded before us, how we could see God at work in our midst changing our plans, always for our benefit. We marveled at the way the apparent chaos somehow turned into order by the end of the day, how a friend unexpectedly stopped by to help get some part of the cleaning out and packing process done, or how quickly a seemingly large task was completed. God even moved a big task to Saturday, which we had planned for the following Monday.  We did not see why at the time, but by the end of the day Monday it was clear that we would not have been able to do anything about that major task that day.  And that would have made it almost impossible to get everything else done on time.  It was then that we could see why God blessed us with extra hands to get that big task done the previous Saturday. . . it was not our plan, but it was his plan for us, and it was an incredible blessing!

In the midst of dismantling my friend's home of 23 years, which was also my home for 10 years, I could feel God's presence in our midst. The peace was tangible, and it lasted throughout the entire two weeks, from the day I started packing to travel to her home, through the day I returned home. That peace even permeated a 13 hour drive home which normally takes about 7 hours. Amazing! That peace was the fulfillment of his word to us in John 14:27:

                   My peace I leave with you. . .let not your heart be troubled. . . 

It is at times like this that I clearly see the hand of God at work in my life, and I marvel anew that he cares about all the seemingly mundane moments of daily life, as well as the daunting challenges I face. But then, isn't that what Immanuel means? God with us, in ALL of our moments.

Jesus promised to always be with us (Matthew 28:20).  As God leads me toward deeper intimacy with him, my awareness of his abiding presence through his Holy Spirit continues to grow. I learn anew of his unending faithfulness, and realize at a deeper level that he is absolutely trustworthy.  I am then able to surrender more of my life, more of my hopes and dreams, more of my being, into his trustworthy, capable and loving hands.

And isn't that the heart of spiritual maturity - ever deepening surrender of ourselves to God? He makes it possible for this deep surrender to take place simply because of his unending perfect love for me and his faithfulness, which enable me to entrust to him all that I am.  He is indeed trustworthy!  He knows the plans he has for me, plans for welfare and not for harm, to give me a future, with hope (Jeremiah 29:11, paraphrase). He even has plans to bring order out of my seemingly chaotic days. I can rest, and be at peace, because of his faithfulness.

The journey toward spiritual maturity encompasses many different topics. Perhaps the most fundamental reality is that this journey is all about knowing experientially God's love for us. Spiritual maturity - demonstrated by our willingness to surrender control of our lives to God, to surrender our plans in exchange for his plans for us - seems to leap forward with each new realization of the truth of God's love. ...continue reading "God’s Love for Us"

One of the stumbling blocks that has emerged on this path to successful blogging is... how do I start?  

The subject of this blog is like a river that has been flowing for decades, meandering through my life. There is so much that God has shown me about this journey with him. But, as the river keeps flowing, how do I capture that which has already passed through and moved on? How do I help others enter into this stream, where I am, take them with me into the future, and also share the incredible insights from the past?

I don't know.

Perhaps. . . all I can do is begin to share new insights as they emerge, or attempt to articulate that which God has already burned into my heart and soul as those memories arise.

Another option is to mine my journals that I have kept since about 1977. . . journals that capture my thoughts "in the moment" and have subsequently been sitting unread.

As the days go by, I will attempt to begin to share about this amazing journey that God invites each of us on with him.  It is a solitary journey, and yet we cannot walk it alone. . . an interesting oxymoron. It is this truth - that we cannot walk this journey alone, without wise counsel and guidance - that keeps me on this blogging path.

In my life-long journey with God, I have come to understand that our relationship with God emerges over time as a dance. At first we try to deny that a dance is necessary, or even possible, so we go it alone (so we think). Then, when we realize that we are not alone on this journey, we try to lead - to tell God what to do and how to do it - only to stumble because of our own efforts.  If we persevere long enough, we discover that we are, indeed, in the midst of a dance with the creator of the universe and the true lover of our soul.  But we were never designed to lead this dance.  Rather, we are made and called to follow as he leads.  It's only when we surrender to this truth that we begin the journey toward spiritual maturity.  This blog is about that journey.