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“Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled.” Romans 15:4 (NLT)

A friend of mine used to say with tongue-in-cheek, “Blessed is he who expecteth nothing, for he shall not be disappointed!”

Recently I’ve been doing some thinking on the subject of disappointment. If I’m honest, deep feelings of disappointment have been hounding me for a long time in these middle years of life. I doubt that I’m unique in this but I find inner tapes playing in my head which repeatedly say things like –

Is this all I’ve accomplished up to this point in my life?

Is the rest of my life going to be all downhill from here?

Why hasn’t my life “turned out better”? (as if I’m a good judge of this!)

Is this all I get after putting this much effort into _______?

In my journal I began to list a number of things that I was personally disappointed about. I then saw certain common denominators surface –

  • Some of my disappointments related to things that were largely out of my control
  • Often I was disappointed by my own choices made in the past and now having to live with the consequences
  • I had to admit being disappointed with God for not coming through for me in ways that I had “expected” of Him

The whole area of disappointment says so much about our inner lives and expectations.

When I was younger I had many “aspirations” but probably not enough goals. When we set our sights on something and yet don’t have a determined plan with personal goals to accomplish them we can grow disgruntled and have many regrets. I’m learning that this is a reminder to set personal goals to reach new targets. It’s all in the process of becoming the person God designed us to be in the first place.

As long as we are alive (and in reasonably good health) the potential exists for us to set new goals instead of living with regrets and disappointment. Perhaps what we need is renewal and refocus when darkness seems to creep in upon us.

Often the good things we expect to come our way don’t materialize and instead we are landed with a set of circumstances that we didn’t anticipate.

We expect good health and end up with illness.

We expect a happy marriage and end up in a difficult relationship or even single.

We expect children and end up barren.

We expect a satisfying job and end up unemployed.

We expect our children to do well and they struggle.

And the list goes on.

We look to our own accomplishments and to people and things around us to give life meaning and fulfillment. When we don’t get what we think we want – or what we expected to have – we become disillusioned. It also doesn’t help when we observe others who seem to be enjoying the things that we so deeply desire and don’t presently have.

After doing a short survey I found that the Bible, my source of ultimate truth, says very little about “expectations” but says a great deal about hope and waiting for God.

I’m beginning to realize that disappointment is a human trait that God uses in our lives. We were definitely created for something “more” than what we are currently experiencing. The Biblical concept of hope is a tremendous antidote to the poison of disappointment.

As noted above the Apostle Paul once said, “Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled.”

It just might be that God is there for us more than anyone else and anything else when we experience failure, disappointment and disillusionment. We have far more than we realize in the personal relationship He offers us through Jesus Christ His Son.

Expectations are that in upcoming posts we will learn more about how God uses the disappointments in our lives to bring us to a deeper appreciation of Himself and a different perspective on our place in His wonderful plans.

When we begin to place all our hopes, dreams, and aspirations in God’s hands the potential exists for us to live a different life than we “expected.” I find myself having to recommit to the process every day.

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Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” – Matthew 5:48 (NIV)

“This is the very perfection of a man, to find out his own imperfections.” – Saint Augustine

For most of my life I’ve had an ongoing battle with perfectionism but it took me over fifty years to see it as a hindrance rather than a help.

Daily we are bombarded with images of men and women who appear to be highly successful because they strive for perfection in their appearance and professional life. However, if you take a close look at anyone’s life, no matter how “together” they may appear, it won’t take long to discover that even among the best of us there is a much deeper longing for meaning in life and relationships.

Deep down I really know that I’m a deeply flawed individual but it would be nice to appear to “have my act together” to everyone around me so that my faults and failings don’t come out too often.

For those of us who have a personal faith in God it’s easy to quote chapter and verse either to justify our perfectionistic tendencies or excuse our shortcomings or both.

Jesus’ words above recorded by Matthew have often been quoted to me by some who say that God expects “perfection” from people, speaking mainly of the followers of Jesus. The implication is that perfection in this life is somehow attainable through whatever means are necessary to achieve it.

Honestly, that’s no way to live life with a heart for God and it’s not even realistic or even achievable if we stop to think about it.

What was Jesus saying here and does the Bible teach us that striving for perfection is a motivating factor in our lives? Before drawing any quick conclusions just take a closer look at the Biblical language, especially in the case of Jesus’ words.

The Bible speaks of God’s “perfection” as in Deuteronomy 32:4, “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all His ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He.” (NIV)

The Hebrew word for “perfect” here carries the idea of “blameless” or “without fault.” I think most people with a faith in God and particularly Jesus-followers would have no problem with the concept that God is perfect and unblemished.

However, when it comes to the way the Bible speaks of humans in relation to “perfect” a different word is used. In Matthew 5:48 Jesus uses the Greek word “teleios” meaning “perfect” in the sense of “having reached its end,”  “complete” or even “mature.”  In other words God is perfect and can’t be “matured” any more than He already is but we humans are far from mature. The good news of the Gospel is that God is in the process of “growing” us up as we trust His perfect Son Jesus and live by faith.

In my battle with perfectionism I’ve found that there’s a world of difference between striving for excellence as opposed to perfectionism as a “soul-condition.”  Human perfectionism no matter how well-intentioned is rooted and grounded in pride while the Gospel message of Jesus is one of humility.

Striving for excellence can be very much about serving God and others if our motives are to glorify God in everything we do. Perfectionism on the other hand is a mindset that seeks to avoid being judged or criticized by others. The malady is one of obsession with what others think, or may think of us.

Researcher and author Brene Brown defines perfectionism as “a cognitive, behavioral process, a way of thinking and feeling that says this ‘If I look perfect, do it perfect, and live perfect I can avoid or minimize shame, blame and judgment.’”

The peril of perfectionism is that we can actually become callous to our own humanity so that we don’t have to face our failings and imperfections head on.

The alternative to prideful perfectionism is humility and vulnerability which breaks down pride in our lives and gives us a healthier appreciation of God and true freedom to trust Him with the reality of who we are – warts and all.

Ms. Brown expresses it well when she says, Why, when we know that there’s no such thing as perfect, do most of us spend an incredible amount of time and energy trying to be everything to everyone? Is it that we really admire perfection? No – the truth is that we are actually drawn to people who are real and down-to-earth. We love authenticity and we know that life is messy and imperfect.”

I think our Lord and Maker is more interested in enabling us to serve Him out of faith and love rather than approving of our efforts to create a false image of ourselves. He provided a very humble, gentle and vulnerable Savior to show us the way to do just that.

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“ ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’” Luke 10:41-42 (NIV)

Ever since we learned of Robin Williams’ unexpected death this week, we have been swamped with analysis and insights from a wide range of people across the globe who, like myself, appreciated his life work and were heartbroken to hear of his tragic end.

It goes without saying that Robin Williams was loved and admired by many – his films alone had grossed over $5 Billion worldwide. Yet a man of such rich accomplishment was haunted by demons of addiction and depression over the course of his life which overtook him in the end.

We know it’s true but it comes down hard on us in moments like this that a successful career, wealth and fame does not guarantee a happy and emotionally satisfying life. By contrast we know of many people who have very little in terms of the world’s wealth and influence who have happy and fulfilling lives.

Over the last few years I’ve been coming to some conclusions as to why this is so.

Take for example, the story in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus comes into the home of Martha and her sister Mary.  When you stop to think about it, Jesus Christ the Lord and Creator of the Universe has just come into her home and Martha’s response is to get “busy.” Perhaps Martha’s activity is well-intended most likely making preparations for a meal that would certainly have been expected of a host in those days.

The problem arises with Martha when she sees her sister Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus and “listening to Him.” She gets bent out of shape that her sister is wasting precious time, listening to the Lord rather than helping her with all the preparations for the guest of honor and His friends.

Before we get too reactionary here let’s focus on what Jesus is really saying when he tells Martha to leave Mary alone. He knows that Martha is “worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed and Mary has chosen what is better.”

It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “What lies behind you and what lies in front of you pales in comparison to what lies within you.” I think Jesus is making a huge statement about the contrast between our inner life and the external world around us.

I don’t think that Jesus condemns Martha for hard work or a desire to please Him and his company with a fine meal. I think He’s showing us that we, like Martha, can work hard to make sure our outside “world” is a happy place when it’s far more important to sit before Him as He speaks to our hearts.

The “inner life” that we all have, with its thoughts, desires and motives is made for intimacy rather than activity, by and large. By contrast our culture tells us to “do” all the right things on the outside and pay careful attention to our external image and happiness and contentment will surely come our way.

I recall a crisis time in my own life several years ago where incessant activity was killing my inner life. I found myself driven to perform for an unseen audience that literally controlled my existence. Now I know that if I can’t be content sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to Him while the rest of the world goes headlong into crisis with excessive activity, I’ll never be content with who I am or what I have.

Mary had it right but going along with the culture around me I was behaving a lot more like Martha.

Our inner life was designed by our Lord for intimacy and connection with Him. It’s reflected in Mary who somehow knew that when Jesus stepped into her surroundings – nothing, and I mean nothing, took priority over sitting quietly at His feet listening to Him. Things around her took lower priority when her posture was one of surrender to Him.

We can take away many lessons from the life and death of Robin Williams. Regardless of your talents you could get very busy with incessant activity so that the audience watching your performance might be happy for fleeting moments. Or you can take time in silence and solitude to stop and sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to what He speaks into your heart and act accordingly.

I think it’s a choice that makes all the difference – to us and to our world.

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“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’  These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” Matthew 6:31-33 (NLT)

So often it’s our past memories that dominate our present reality.

I was raised by two loving parents who had known the hardship of growing up during the Great Depression years in the USA. Even though my parents were loving, caring and generous people, being their only son I developed something of what I now recognize as a “scarcity mentality.” This term is being used by observers and researchers in Western, developed countries where consumerism and materialism dominate our cultural mindset.

A scarcity mentality says that there is only a limited amount of resources around, so you’d better act now and act fast to beat the crowd to the resources and get “enough.” Unfortunately, the “enough” extends not only to material needs such as food, drink and clothing but also to unmeasurable commodities such as recognition and self-worth.

I have lived outside the USA for many years now but when I return I am shocked by all the adverts which constantly bombard me. They entice me to urgently “act now before it’s too late!” They exert constant pressure on me to get in on the latest bargain.

In my formative years I was taught very early about the value of saving – even down to the scraps of paper that could be useful for grocery shopping lists!

Thrift is a wise value, unless it begins to dominate your life and lead to hoarding! We have that in our family too!

We enjoy the good things that material wealth provides, but no matter what we have we never seem to have “enough” of whatever we acquire.

This may be the downside of the materialistic age in which we live. Marketers and advertisers, some of whom are even my friends, make a living by exposing us to new opportunities for improving our quality of life. It turns dark when we begin to grow dissatisfied with who we are, what we have and bemoan our circumstances in life.

Jesus taught His followers, of which I am one, to be focused on the spiritual realities of His Kingdom and trust Him to meet their daily needs rather than seeing them as the focus of their lives.

I now think He’s trying to tell us that God is a God of abundance and the King will meet our material needs as we trust Him and follow His leadership in our lives.

This does not guarantee that we will all be fabulously wealthy or live lives free of pain and suffering. It does however, require a completely different mindset from the culture around us.

I have discovered that once the scarcity mindset takes hold, it’s very difficult to shift into an “abundance” mentality. If you’ve been taught that there’s a limited supply of God’s resources it leaves you fearful that you will lose what you have and will be forced to scrounge around for the scraps under the table like.

I don’t believe that God ever intended for His children to live with this mindset – even in times of hardship such as the Great Depression or a recession, such as what we have experienced in recent years.

When I live out of my scarcity mentality I’m blind and ungrateful. Blind to the abundance of God’s grace, love, mercy, kindness, generosity and provision. I’m also hesitant to consistently show gratitude to God for the riches that He has lavished upon me in every area of life.

Recently a friend was talking to me and was highly complementary of my family. It’s also a gift of abundance when a friend can point out the riches we have which we can so easily take for granted.

It is possible to move from a scarcity mindset to abundance thinking but it will take a radical and intentional shift in our focus.

Don’t let the mindset of the culture around you rob you of the joy that comes from being grateful for all the blessings God brings your way. In our moments of greatest honesty we have to admit that His abundance always comes through.  

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“The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7b (New Living Translation)

A well-respected man lived in a quiet suburban neighborhood and was known for keeping a luxurious garden. All the neighbors around him admired the way he kept his lawn cut and shrubs and hedges trimmed. He seemed to care for every detail of his garden, particularly his flowers which dazzled with color and beauty.

Most days this man could be seen doing some activity in his garden and although he was a fairly quiet individual he always greeted the neighbors and seemed happy and content outdoors. Many of the neighbors were motivated to keep up their own gardens to a higher standard, but most of them could only admire this man’s accomplishments.

One day, without warning, the neighbors were shocked to see their friend dash out of his house and begin to destroy his garden. The man, obviously shaken and angry, began to pull up the beautiful flowers and wildly cut down his shrubs. He ran to the back of his house and brought out a tiller. He then began to dig up his lawn with wild abandon. He didn’t seem to care that the fruits of years of his hard, dedicated labor seemed to be vanishing in a matter of minutes.

The neighbors were obviously in disbelief. Such behavior from someone so steady and predictable seemed quite outlandish. After the initial shock wore off they started to talk among themselves as to what should be done about this sort of person displaying this type of behavior in their midst. Some of the neighbors said that he should face consequences for his actions. After all it was a peaceful and attractive neighborhood – not a war zone. He had kept a fine garden for a long time and now to destroy it was almost unforgivable.

Others wondered what brought on such bizarre behavior. A couple of them really cared about their friend and found enough courage to approach him, face to face, and ask him what was wrong. They were heartbroken to discover that their friend and neighbor, unknown to them, had been living with significant personal challenges and problems for some years. Outside the house, the man put on a brave face and a confident persona but inside the house he was filled with despair and regret that none of his neighbors ever observed.

The man with the beautiful garden had never opened up to a single soul about the heavy burdens he had been carrying for a number of years. It seems that his garden had been a way to escape from all the pressures and problems of life he faced inside his own home. One day the pressure got to be too much and the only way he knew to respond was by destroying the very thing that had been positive about his life.

Word got around the neighborhood as to what motivated this outlandish behavior. Some of the neighbors continued to visit their friend, and to listen with compassion as he reflected on his life and what was troubling him. Many of the difficult issues of his life even began to be resolved.

Eventually he started working out in the garden once again, re-planting a new lawn and replacing the lost flowers and shrubs.

When the neighborhood returned to normal most everyone was happy to see the gardener back at work, creating something of joy and beauty.

Sadly, some living around him still refused to befriend their neighbor, doubting that he had really changed. They feared that perhaps another attack on the garden would always be imminent. They could never get the picture out of their minds of a man destroying his beautiful garden right there in their own neighborhood.

Still others who were wise and compassionate realized that what goes on inside a man’s house will become evident outside the house. They now enjoyed a deeper relationship with their friend than ever before.

“The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

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“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” –  2 Corinthians 4:7 (NIV)

Genuine happiness seems to be an elusive commodity these days. Seems it always has been.

Now that the holiday season is upon us expectations are high again this year that the festive season and the New Year will bring happiness to us all. The rush is on to get decorations up, cards in the post, gifts purchased and then try to enjoy the process in the midst of it all.

I don’t know about where you live but in my neck of the woods the traffic is slow and the shops are congested. The economy is bad, the experts tell us, but you can’t see it while walking through our local mall. The shopping frenzy seems more intense than ever.

I just wonder when it’s all over in January if we’ll be a happier lot. I doubt it.

I’ve been doing a lot of serious thinking about happiness in recent years. It might be because I found a few years back that despite the fact that I had just about everything a man could want, I wasn’t a particularly happy individual. I’m sure my friends thought that I was a reasonably happy man from all outward appearances. However, when I was alone, it was an entirely different matter.

When a close friend started talking about exploring the “inner world” I really didn’t appreciate what he was saying so I started probing it more for myself. I discovered that each of us really lives in three “worlds” or perhaps “dimensions” might be a more accurate term.

The first “world” is our own personal  world comprised of what we think and how we feel. In this world we have ultimate control, for the most part. We can choose where to focus our attention at any given time. The second “world” is our environment around us and all that it comprises. Over this “world” we have influence but probably little, if no control. But the third “world” is the eternal world – the one that exists beyond our senses and has an eternal dimension. The eternal world is there whether we acknowledge it or not and ultimately we must all face it’s reality.

Because we exist, we live in each of these three dimensions.

The glory of the Christian world view is that God, who is the personal Author and Creator of everything, broke into our physical realm and invaded our planet. Jesus, God’s Son has come and we celebrate His coming – especially at Christmas. He came to reveal God the Father and shows us the way back to Him.

If given our permission Jesus will enter our  “inner” world and will connect it with the “eternal” world. This is what the Apostle Paul alludes to in the verse referenced above. The follower of Jesus is but a temporary vessel physically but is indwelt with an eternally valuable treasure.

Our world is obsessed with temporary “treasures.” In a consumer-driven society we live by the principle that as we acquire more, our internal happiness gauge will gradually increase. But ultimately it results in being enslaved to a system that will never fully satisfy.

Many think that the hero of Christmas is Santa Claus who will bring everyone the gifts that will give them happiness if they’ve been “good enough.”  But the true hero of Christmas is Jesus Christ Himself who offers us a quality of life that is real and available apart from all material possessions and pressing problems.

This Christmas, as always, God is seeking a permanent dwelling place in our inner world. When His indwelling light shines through us maybe this dark world will look a little brighter to those around us. Maybe that’s what Christmas – and true happiness – is really all about.

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