Recognize Your Weakness

shutterstock_325595147.jpg

Some days it seems like my weaknesses are all that I see. In our culture we major on minimizing or denying our weaknesses preferring to put forth an impressive, but false, image of our-self to others.

This past week it seems like I have acknowledged my weaknesses an awful lot…Each time I confess the areas I am not as gifted in, or the things that I do poorly, there is a moment of “oh God, should I have been that honest and vulnerable?” This is invariably followed up with the thoughts, “Well, too late now, better to be authentic and healthy than living in the shadows of someone I am not.”

This is the battle between what you know is right and best and true, and what your shadow-self wants.

to be liked…
to be needed…
to be seen as better or more Teflon than you are…

The list is legion isn’t it?

The breath by breath process of becoming human, earth, holy, a soul marinated in God’s beauty and love is not easy.

We need reminders about our earthiness…
We need reminders about grace…
We need reminders of God’s acceptance and fierce love…

While I was reading todays devotion from “Jesus Calling” (author Sarah Young) I danced with her well written words of this reality in our spiritual journey. Sarah writes the daily devotionals as if Jesus were having a personal conversation with you. She masterfully ushers you into a dialog with God as He speaks directly to your soul. Todays reading said:

It is good that you recognize your weakness. That keeps you looking to Me, your Strength. Abundant life is not necessarily health and wealth; it is living in continual dependence on Me. Instead of trying to fit this day into a preconceived mold, relax and be on the lookout for what I am doing. This mind-set will free you to enjoy Me and to find what I have planned for you to do. This is far better than trying to make things go according to your own plan.

 

Don’t take yourself so seriously. Lighten up and laugh with Me. You have me on your side, so what are you worried about? I can equip you to do absolutely anything, as long as it is My will. The more difficult your day, the more I yearn to help you. Anxiety wraps you up in yourself, trapping you in your own thoughts. When you look to Me and whisper My Name, you break free and receive My help. Focus on Me, and you will find Peace in My Presence.

When we acknowledge our weakness we step off of the throne and onto the altar which ushers in peace and hope.

Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday

mardigrasmask-624x351

The season of Lent is  here, it begins today, which is Ash Wednesday.

Interestingly enough, the huge celebrations of Fat Tuesday sprang up as a reaction to the imposition of religious ritual concerning the observance of Lent…a season in the church year whose focus is on repentance and realignment with God.

In and of itself, having a time of spiritual realignment is good for everyone…however, when the grip of religion laces its fingers around anything, it tends to strangle out the beauty and grace, and in their place are born rules, regulations and legalism.

Fat Tuesday, then, became the last opportunity before the 40 days of Lent to go and sin wildly. As I ruminate on this, isn’t that always what happens in our lives when rules replace relationship? When we live by a check-list of dos and don’ts, we begin to think and respond in contractual terms instead of relational exchanges. When this happens, we experience Fat Tuesday’s surrounding every area of our life.

For instance, when a marriage becomes contractual exchange, then love is something that is earned in light of certain actions having been done well. And, contractually, if certain actions are not done, or are not done to the expectation of the other person, then love is contractually withheld until those things are accomplished.

This is not a marriage though, it is a contract based on rules. A relationship that is based on an unconditional covenant understands that sometimes things don’t always happen or get done the way we want, desire, or expect, but since the marriage is based upon covenant love, love is always infused regardless of contractual performance.

You might also see the Fat Tuesday effect in marriage happen when a spouse is bound by duty to “do something” “be something” or “go somewhere he/she doesn’t want to go.”  Since he/she did their contractual duty they feel justified to over indulge some area as a “reward” for their work. Maybe a husband finds justification in going on an extended hunting trip because he just got word that his In-laws are coming to stay for an extended period, so he needs to get out-of-town for a while before that happens and his In-laws rules cramp his style…or perhaps a wife limits out the credit card on a spa day because her husband’s college buddies are due the next day, and since she is being the “good wife” and allowing it, she’s gonna splurge!

Do you see how contractually we live? Do you realize contractual living, or religious living results in the creation of Fat Tuesday’s? When genuine love and relationship fills our world, we can enjoy life, have fun and not feel guilty about it! Isn’t that a novel concept. Religion creates Fat Tuesday’s…Fat Tuesday’s create guilt and shame…Guilt and shame turn a powerful season of grace and alignment like Lent into a ritualistic experience of dos and don’t devoid of their real meaning.

When we approach God contractually, we turn something that is holy, cool, and cosmically awesome like Ash Wednesday or Lent, into a check list of contractual duties to appease God into liking us again…This is so far away from the God revealed through Christ.

If we would live in a sense of daily alignment, in other words, simply realizing that God is for us, not against us, and that as we make mistakes, or perhaps over-indulge in something that isn’t good for us, we stop, and have a relational conversation of confession, repentance and forgiveness. God isn’t standing by with the lightning bolt of contractual misuse ready to smite us, but rather is simply waiting for us to say…“man, I blew that one, I’m sorry, please forgive me..”

In that moment, the spirit of religion is thrown out the window, and a relationship is born. Religion focuses on rules to keep you in line. God invites you into a relationship, where the interactions are based upon a mutuality of love.

Because I am so grateful that God loves me on my best days as well as my most abysmal days, I look forward to a season like Lent not in such a way that compels me to go out and get bombed out of my skull because I won’t be able to drink for the next 40 days, but instead, I long to have a season offered to me where I can realign my thinking process with God’s…Where I can experience grace in the midst of economic trials…Where I can be reminded that God doesn’t care about how well I perform for Him, only that I love Him, and He is thrilled that I simply showed up!

Maybe what I am saying is that an excessive emphasis on rules naturally finds its outlet in sin or doing things that we normally wouldn’t do if we lived relationally. Perhaps Fat Tuesday’s exist because the religious rules push people where they don’t need to be pushed. Maybe, just maybe, some of the dumb choices that are made in the Fat Tuesday’s of life wouldn’t happen if we understood God relationally and religiously…hmmm, I think I’m right.

What would be even more powerful is if we all realized that God intends our lives to fully experience fun..joy..laughter…and good times. Sure there are some incredibly hard valley’s we will go through, but the religionists among us seem to think that that is all that God wants us to experience…”Stay in the lines, only use these colors, don’t have fun if at all possible, chin up, gut in…etc.”

As I think of Jesus, and all his human interactions, I think of how often He was at parties, amongst friends, enjoying the things of life…not just sitting in Temple or Synagogue assailing Himself religiously. Jesus had an incredible sense of humor that is lost in translation from the Aramaic and Greek into English. He enjoyed living, had fun, and avoided the mistakes of the Fat Tuesday’s of life while enjoying all the celebrations of this life.

So on Wednesday this week (Ash Wednesday) take some time to remember that you are human, a creation of God’s, made of earth, and that one day you will return to the elements of this planetary creation. In light of that truth, ask God to help you realign your heart and soul to His, not because you are doing all the right things, but because He is such a great God who loves you and will never leave you in the hard moments of life.

Prayers From The Great Fish’s Belly

Jonah and Great Fish

Dark nights happen to everyone. Some people’s dark nights are darker than others. Some seem so dark that light is a distant memory, a possible embellishment of the imagination. Some nights seem so dark that you question everything you believed to be true about yourself, your life and even God.

It’s in those deeply pigmented places that platitudes and cliche’s have a retching effect on the receiver. They sound shallow, hollow, devoid of life, empathy or reality. These are when prayers from the belly of the fish come forth from the belly of the soul.

When Jonah found himself in the belly of the great fish, he began to pray. Perhaps it was the first real prayer of his entire prophetic career. A prayer of earth. A prayer of terror. A prayer of surrender. When we finally pray a prayer born in the dark, we are at that place where we know we have no control, no escape, no salvation apart from  divine intervention. This is where real life begins.

Listen to Jonah’s prayer from this dark place:

…“I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me. Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple. ‘The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit,O LORD my God. When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!”

Sheol means “the realm of the dead.” Sheol is a land of hopelessness. A place disconnected from God, hope, life. Sheol is a place where we cry out to God with groans that are to deep for language. What has been your Sheol?

We cry out…we shout…we argue…

We feel that God is nowhere to be found…

BUT…when all seemed lost, when the waters were covering us…

When the light was diminishing like a candle depleting its wax…

As the jail bars closed shut with a loud click and clang…

Then I remembered…

Then I prayed…

Then my prayer came to God…

When Jonah changed his focus from “Sheol” to the sovereignty of God, not only did His thinking shift, but his circumstances changed. As his words moved from self-focus, in the depths, to God-focus, who dwells on high, he was able to offer words of thanks and gratitude to God.

Prayers from the belly of a fish are spiritually defining moments used by God to form us. Even when we walk through the dark places, God is with us. Even when the valley seems endless, God reminds us that there is light. Even when the jail bars of Sheol click tightly, God’s voice shatters the cage.

Maybe, the reminder we need is that there is no big fish that is bigger than God.