September 20

Age has its advantages. When I was younger, it was hard to see patterns of ways I responded to life issues; I hadn’t developed a set of conscious, chosen, internal habit patterns. I didn’t take advantage of past mistakes and lessons learned, because I simply couldn’t connect the dots. It was only in hindsight that I realized that my decisions seemed remarkably repetitive. Scott’s devotional yesterday said, “The Israelites believed the past was in front of them because it was a known entity. They could look at and see the past because it had happened. Because of this, we see all kinds of reflection in the Psalms and other places where people look back and reflect on the fact that they could now see how God guided them and the fact that He didn’t abandon them, even if they thought He did at the time.” Those guys were onto something!

I will make the blind walk a road they don’t know, and I will guide them in paths they don’t know. But I will make darkness before them into light and rough places into level ground. These things I will do;     I won’t abandon them. Isaiah 42:16, CEB

Today, I have some things I do as a practice of reflection. Here are a few of them:

  1. No matter what the day brings, I find time to practice the things that have helped me in the past – exercise, meditation and prayer, phoning a friend, eating nutritiously. Busy or not, happy or sad, convenient or inconvenient – I work a recovery program. I may tweak it, add a new practice and cut out one that no longer serves me well – but I don’t practice these things based on my calendar or my feelings; they are practices that reflect what I’ve learned over the years and they are first response priorities, not last minute attempts to manage a desperate situation.
  2. What I’ve learned in the light, I attempt to practice in the darkness. I do not trust my decision-making under stress, but the good news is, I don’t need to! I already have some frameworks for thinking and doing and feeling.   For example, I don’t break the law, especially when I think it wouldn’t matter to do so. I used to make excuses for speeding, but I’ve outgrown that. In small and large things, I respect the law of the land. I learned this as I studied scripture and gained life experience. In my dotage, I’ve seen the consequences for lawlessness, and boy, I have learned from others in this area. There’s just no need to put myself or others in harm’s way by being disrespectful when it comes to the law of the land.
  3. I refuse to take my loved ones for granted. I absolutely refuse to waste a love day. I don’t practice aloofness or withdrawal. I will not allow myself the luxury of focusing on the shortcomings of those I love. I don’t ruminate. (That also means that I have to speak my mind more, engage in conflict resolution, and develop more skills related to crucial conversations – so this isn’t about denial or positive thinking – but it is about reflecting all the things I’ve had the privilege of learning about love and the skills necessary to practice loving.)

There are other principles I also practice. But the point is this: I practice – especially in the dark – what I learn in the light.


September 19

I will make the blind walk a road they don’t know,

   and I will guide them in paths they don’t know.

But I will make darkness before them into light

   and rough places into level ground.

These things I will do;

   I won’t abandon them. Isaiah 42:16, CEB

Yesterday I wrote that the hardest part about being “blind” to my future is the fact that I’m unsure of whether or not I’ll be taken care of. I don’t know that I’ll be safe, that I’ll be protected, that I’ll thrive, or even survive. I lack the comfort that comes from knowing that I am and will be provided for.

And yet, I see these verses that address this exact mentality. God guides His people down unfamiliar paths. He takes us places we don’t know. Some of these places are rough, difficult, and less-traveled. And yet, He is guiding. There’s comfort in that. He won’t abandon us. There’s comfort in that.

One of the things they do really well in the Old Testament is reflect. In this day and age, we talk about the future as being before us, or ahead of us, because it hasn’t happened yet, and we talk about the past being behind us, because it’s over. The Israelites believed the past was in front of them because it was a known entity. They could look at and see the past because it had happened. Because of this, we see all kinds of reflection in the Psalms and other places where people look back and reflect on the fact that they could now see how God guided them and the fact that He didn’t abandon them, even if they thought He did at the time.

I wonder what our lives would be like if we were better at reflecting. When the past is behind us, we don’t worry about it anymore. When we get through something, we’re happy to be through with it and we move on. What if we stopped to take the time to realize God didn’t abandon us? That He leads us and guides us? That He takes the rocky paths and turns them into level ground? What if we could view the past as being before us?

Would this help us embrace the darkness (the unknown) of the future and the light (the known) of the present?


September 18

I will make the blind walk a road they don’t know,

   and I will guide them in paths they don’t know.

But I will make darkness before them into light

   and rough places into level ground.

These things I will do;

   I won’t abandon them. Isaiah 42:16, CEB

 

Yesterday we wrote about how faith is a process of discerning, and we often find ourselves trying to figure out what faith looks like through a life-sized game of guess and check (or trial and error). Often, it seems we don’t really know where we’re headed. In fact, if we’re honest, we very rarely have much of a clue where our lives are headed. God leads us down paths that we’re not familiar with. And we may not even know we’re being led. We go through much of life with this kind of functional blindness. This is another image to add to our mix of darkness metaphors. Darkness isn’t always evil, it can also just be the unknown. It can be the future, something we can’t yet see or discern.

It seems to me that this isn’t something that goes away. The future doesn’t necessarily get easier to discern as life goes on. It’s always a mystery. It’s elusive. It feels like it’s always closing in on us but it often exists just beyond the reach of the tips of our fingers. Learning how to cope with that is truly an exercise in faith. We want to know what’s coming. Part of this is so that we can be prepared but part of it is also so that we know that we’re going to be okay, that we’re going to be taken care of. At least, that’s the case for me.

What is the hardest part about not knowing the future for you?

What’s the best part about not knowing the future?

More on this tomorrow.


September 17

8 You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, so live your life as children of light.9 Light produces fruit that consists of every sort of goodness, justice, and truth. 10 Therefore, test everything to see what’s pleasing to the Lord, 11 and don’t participate in the unfruitful actions of darkness. Instead, you should reveal the truth about them. 12 It’s embarrassing to even talk about what certain persons do in secret. 13 But everything exposed to the light is revealed by the light. 14 Everything that is revealed by the light is light. Therefore, it says, Wake up, sleeper! Get up from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. Ephesians 5:8-14, CEB

I appreciate what’s written here in verse 10. We’re encouraged to “test everything” to see what’s pleasing to the Lord. Often, people treat faith and the Bible like it’s much more clear-cut than it actually is. We assume everything is easily and simply spelled out for us. There’s got to be a rule for _______ in there somewhere, right? Well, in many cases, there isn’t. Because faith isn’t about following rules, it’s about engaging our brains and using discernment to figure out what is “pleasing to the Lord”. This is what we at Northstar call, “reflecting God”. We strive to “reflect God” in all situations. We try to make decisions in accordance with the things that He values.

The fact that we are to “test” implies that we’ll have varying degrees of success. There will be some trial and error. Sometimes we’ll do better at this than others. And, it takes a whole village to test. I’ve known many people who have told me, “This just feels right! It must be God’s will!” just before they’ve made a decision that ends up causing them to crash and burn in a major way. We can’t test just based on our own thoughts and feelings.  We need feedback.

Be that as it may, the beauty of “testing” is that we have ownership over our lives and choices. God isn’t trying to turn us into programmable computers that simply follow some kind of protocol. No, faith is much more about committing ourselves, time and again, to trial and error. This is what it means to live in the light.


September 16

Life was easier when I saw people in coded hats. People who struck me as good I idealized and turned them into heroes. Those are the white hat people. I tend to see the good stuff in people, sometimes I even get a whiff of their promise and potential – or so I fancy. When someone behaves badly, I’m the kind of gal who tends to think it’s a fluke the first 100 or so times it happens. Eventually, even I will slap a black hat on their sorry heads and write them off as bad. This isn’t a noble thing. It’s not even Christian. But I’ve done it, and I wonder if you have too.

As a young believer in something bigger than myself, I toyed with the idea that I needed to see all people as good, not bad. Is that better than divvying up folks into categories of good versus evil? Maybe, but it doesn’t address all my questions about how to navigate in a world where I keep calling everyone good, even when some folks behave very badly. What about discernment? Good judgment?

Lately I’ve been noticing what a messy mix we all are – I suppose this means we can all design a closet with lots of shelves for all the many varied kinds of hats we wear on a daily basis. We’re people of the both/and, not the either/or.

How have I landed here? Well, it wasn’t easy.

“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.” Carl Jung

I know that we all hope to grow up, mature, and become not only decent human beings, but people of the light. Whatever that means, it sounds very spiritual. I’m just wondering if it is helpful, or even true to think in such delineated ways.

Maybe we could take a page out of God’s creation playbook.

Perhaps we could see with a new pair of eyes the dark and the light, can be powerful. Useful. Necessary. Without acknowledging our own dark motivations, how can we ever offer grace and mercy to our brother or sister who is in the midst of their own crisis of faith? Absent all light, we totally lose our sense of direction, and wander aimlessly.

Are you having a sunny kind of day? Could you send a shout out to a friend who isn’t? And if you’re floundering around in the dark and someone reaches out the hand of friendship, can you exert what precious energy your suffering hasn’t gobbled up and grab the hand of the other?


September 15

8 You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, so live your life as children of light.9 Light produces fruit that consists of every sort of goodness, justice, and truth. 10 Therefore, test everything to see what’s pleasing to the Lord, 11 and don’t participate in the unfruitful actions of darkness. Instead, you should reveal the truth about them. 12 It’s embarrassing to even talk about what certain persons do in secret. 13 But everything exposed to the light is revealed by the light. 14 Everything that is revealed by the light is light. Therefore, it says, Wake up, sleeper! Get up from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. Ephesians 5:8-14, CEB

I had a conversation with an incredibly intelligent and interesting man last week who questioned me about my faith. He wanted to know how I could possibly believe in the God of the Bible. He wasn’t rude about it, in fact he was very polite, sincere, and sympathetic. I answered each of his questions in the way that I presently understand my faith and, at the end of the day, he still left wondering how I could possibly believe in God. His rationale for not believing in God is this: If he (the man I spoke with) could invent a “better” God from his own mind, then he had to reject the God of the Bible. In other words, he believed that he truly could come up with something better than what the Bible offers.

I find that interesting. I began wondering what the criteria are for creating a “good” God. For instance, my friend seemed to think if God was truly good, then he wouldn’t let something like the holocaust happen. But, he also believes that in order for God to be good, then humans must have free will. If humans have free will, then what is to stop us from committing such atrocities as the holocaust and other forms of murder and genocide and racism? Can God grant humans free will and stop them from doing evil? Wouldn’t that mean either: we have free will OR God doesn’t let bad things happen? At some point, all these ideals start bumping into each other in confusing ways.

It struck me that my friend’s beliefs are rather arrogant. I don’t think he’s an arrogant man by any means, but I think to approach God in this way shows a certain kind of pride. Being God must be infinitely more complex than anything I can possibly imagine. How can I judge the action or inaction of God when things are as complex as this discussion of free will vs. evil? And that’s only one example!

Here’s my point. Living in the light means embracing the concept of surrender. We surrender to a power greater than ourselves that we are not in a place to judge. This doesn’t mean we switch off our brains. I try to investigate constantly and to stay curious. But it does mean we recognize how small we are, and we acknowledge our perspective on global (or even universal) issues is limited. When we do this, we also have to embrace the darkness of the human spirit. We don’t condone evil, make excuses for it, or even say that it must be part of God’s plan (though, at times, maybe it is?) We commit ourselves to uncertainty and to hope. We don’t know the explanations for everything that happens, but our earnest hope is that God is in control and will bring an end to suffering.

Can I invent a better God than the one the Bible offers? I can’t even control my own life. I have to let God sort out all these other problems (though I trust him to do so in a gracious, merciful, and just way).


September 14

God doesn’t play small as an appeasement for our fear.

Do you remember the shake, rattling and rolling at the mountain’s top while Moses and God were having a meeting? What about the darkness that fell while Jesus hung from the cross?

God doesn’t short justice so as not to hurt our feelings.

Who got into the Promised Land? Not Moses. Why? Because, according to God, Moses didn’t keep the faith. Moses got to peek at the land of milk and honey, but his footsteps never fell on that particular patch of ground.

This is hard information to digest.

During the warm months of the year, I wake up early, make a cup of coffee and head outside to water my flower containers. I pinch back the dead flowers. I might trim some of the ivy that is creeping down the side of the ceramic pots and marching towards the driveway. I notice the daisies and varieties of other flowers growing all wild and crazy in these well-tended eco-systems. Those plantings are not only pretty from the road, they’re complicated. They have parts that I’ve long since forgotten the technical terms for and variations in color that I only notice as I bend to prune and tend them.

I suspect we prefer a God we can define in three words or less, “God is love.” But he’s also creator and ruler and judge of all. He’s mysterious and unknowable, even as he says he wants to be known by us.

When I flatten God out and make him into a shape and size my brain can comprehend, I’m in danger of down-sizing him into a shadow of his real self, not to mention breaking faith with the big God that doesn’t hesitate to shake, rattle and roll.

It helps me to leave the certainty of light and head out into the night when I lose my internal compass. Perhaps tonight you can find some time to sit out in the dark, and look up. We spend a lot of time confused about what is big and what is small. Reset your heart, go howl at the moon.


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