Think Twice

8 07 2013

reasonHow many times have I been at a crossroads where I could decide to do this, or choose to do that instead? Countless.

There are ordinary things I have decided like “Chicken or pasta?” “Crest or Colgate?” “The red one or the green one?” Most of these kinds of decisions haven’t mattered, but sometimes the two options have had serious consequences for my life and have impacted a bunch of other people too.

I have made decisions on my own: impulsively, in reaction to, in haste, mindlessly, blindly, stubbornly and selfishly. I have made decisions because of my rights, my envy, my hurt, my laziness and my vengeance.

There is this thing that happens to me and many people when we are making a decision in a corner, or when angry or carnal: we don’t think. In such times, I have said and done things I have regretted and they were all totally avoidable.

I have also made decisions with the help and counsel of others. I have come willing to have a soft heart and an open mind. I have stayed at the table without weapons, prepared to choose the option that will lead to success, joy, health, healing, reconciliation and possibility. I have come with my guard down ready to see the other person or the circumstance in the light.

Today I read a story about a King  named Rehoboam (1 Kings 12). He was at a crossroads and had the power and the ability to choose between two options.

Option 1: Be a King who chooses kindness, generosity and humility which would surely result in the construction of a community loyal to his leadership. Be among the people and with the people, loving them and they would love him back. This is what elder advisers suggested.

Option 2: Be a leader who gets what he wants, asserts his position, lays down the law, ignores the feelings of others and gains control for the sake of demonstrating personal power and might. Tell them who you are. Tell them what you deserve. This is what his young cohorts advised.

Rehoboam didn’t even think twice. Gentleness? That doesn’t sell papers. His buddies appealed to his testosterone, pride and self-righteousness and he went with Option 2.

The aftermath happens so quickly it doesn’t even get another chapter in the Bible. Within three days he sees the result of his decision. He is told that the dynasty of his ancestors is over, he loses the tribes of Israel, he has to flee from Jerusalem, and he clumsily reigns with ineffectiveness over Judah as the people become more and more evil under his leadership.

He didn’t even see it coming.

And that’s the thing. We make decisions and we don’t see what is coming. I can’t explain it, but in certain circumstances we just think we are soooooo right that we can’t comprehend that we are wrong, or at the very least there is another way of looking at things. Out of a sinful heart we see things with sinful eyes and make sinful choices that just result in more…sin.

What terrible, terrible things have been done in the world, in homes, in churches, among relatives, friends and families because no one thought twice.

We are always, always presented with at least two options at every crossroads

One option is hasty and involves us just deciding then and there; we do it and wash our hands of it. These decisions we try to justify when they turn out badly. They usually cause rifts, divides, and chasms generations deep.

The other option — and I have seen this done right by more than one friend — involves slowing down and thinking. It involves choosing wise counsel. Often the counsel comes from someone older who has lived a little to know the formulas that lead to success and failure (though I must say, on more than one occasion someone younger and a lot younger has counseled me). This one involves some quietness, making a personal inventory, wrestling with pride, and putting Jesus first.

The first option feels right in the moment, the second one feels right over your lifetime.

Right now I am thankful. I don’t always slow down, seeking the input of others, but sometimes I have. I am deeply thankful for all my mentors — living and dead — who have modeled “thinking twice” and have offered me their own wise counsel. I am so grateful for those who have listened to me, counseled me, telling me stories I have taken to heart. God has blessed this in the end.

The Lord beckons, come…let us REASON together. I think this is such a kind invitation where Jesus wants to save us a world of pain.

— Teresa Klassen

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Because It Is Good For You

27 06 2013

carrotThis morning I had a coffee and a scone. A few hours from now I will be hungry because a scone isn’t (let’s be honest) nourishing.  A scone is essentially butter, flour, water and sugar with some fruit tossed in. A scone is satisfying to the pleasure center of my brain but it isn’t rocket-fuel. It contains no protein to speak of, fiber, vitamins or minerals worth noting. If you have a scone you might as well have a marshmallow; they are about the same.

I am reflecting on scones as I sip my coffee because 1 Timothy 4:6 says that I ought to “nourish” myself and that instruction is on the forefront of my mind. To be honest, I have been rather depleted lately and I know that I am, so I have been going through the motions of getting…..un-depleted.

Lest you think this is going well, let me clarify: it has just been OK. Not fast enough for my liking. Re-fuelling has not been as simple this time ‘round. The depletion goes deeper than I estimated and what I have done before, what I have loved, what has brought me joy feels like something someone else used to do.

Still, what is good for me? Carrots. Eating a carrot is good for a person.  So, I do things that are good for me and stare out the window only to discover there has been no noticeable improvement to my vision.  No; none at all. More than a teaspoon of vitamin A is required; more “carrots” over a longer period of time I suppose.

Valleys are valleys.  This is not profound until you are in one and find they are short on exits. Valleys are places you trudge through and some are trudgy-er than others.

My meandering thought: Once there were two people traveling through the same valley towards home. They both just wanted to get beyond it, and out to their loved ones waiting for them. The distance was the same, the path the same for the two of them and so they plodded, side-by-side, day after day. The one person constantly strained to see if a passageway had opened up straight to the other side. He pressed on and on towards where it might be, aching for an end to it all. The other kept going, but she also had lunch, and then a cup of tea a little later on, a nap each day and read a little. She pressed a fern between the pages of her journal and noticed things; like once a yellow song-bird warbled. There it was on a high limb of a weathered tree; she stopped to listen.

Nourish yourself, the Bible says, on the truths of your faith and the good instruction, which you have always followed. In this valley I have asked myself again and again, “What do you know?” Feelings right now are unreliable; but I have always known God to be reliable.

He says to me,

“Remain in me and I will remain in you….”

And “Trust me with all your heart and not what you think you understand at the moment….”

He clarifies: “My ways are not your ways….” when I offer Him sure-fire solutions.

He is in the “middle of the storm”, at the “table in the presence of my enemies”, seeing things from “beginning to end”.

As to my concerns, He loved those I love “first” and better than I. He will “work all things together for good.”

He counsels me about anxiety (“Cast it all on me”) and knows exactly what is on my mind (“Before a word is on my tongue You know it completely”) and so He calls me to “rest.”

As I go along He invites me to be like that second sojourner who noticed things on the valley path: notice My handiwork. My Lord calls me to consider: the stars, the mountains, the oceans, the trees, the birds, the flowers and even the ants as they also labor along. Read and remember how other people before me have despaired, and He gave them a good night’s sleep and food and sent someone to minister to them. With little time to spare, Jesus took time to hang out with children and enjoy them; there is something about being with kids that is good.  In the middle of His own nightmare, Jesus ate a feast and drank wine with His friends. Jesus wept when He needed to, slept, prayed, fellowshipped, took time away, and continued to use His gifts and walk with and stay connected to people.

This morning I had a coffee and a scone. Steel-cut oats would have been more nourishing, but what was healthy was taking a quiet hour to sit and talk and listen and be with a good friend…..and laugh; all things good for the soul. Wise and comforting, she heard me and then, most important of all, she prayed for me.

I still can’t see the end of it and I again walked out into a rainy day (what is with all this rain?) but it was a good time and I know this is how the valley will be traveled. I can’t imagine the future, the passageway…but maybe that is part of the point and part of the way God will have me live today: today.

Incidentally, the scone was delicious.

— Teresa Klassen





Sanctuary

9 12 2012

ps37_7From time to time Michael gives me a gift certificate for a massage; oh I do love a massage! The room is temperate, the lights are low, soft music is playing, the oils are all warmed and ready for the knots in my shoulders; heaven! For an hour I don’t lift, I don’t carry, I don’t care as all the tension is worked out of me. But, and this is strange, when the therapy first begins a STORM goes off in my head! While the rest of me is quiet, it’s like every thought gets up and chases around the room. So, while the therapist kneads my muscles, I have to tell my every thought to sit down a while.

How often is my mind not at rest?

I am not even sure that I am aware of what is all buzzing around up there most of the time. My mind is used to

  • thinking,
  • planning,
  • dreaming,
  • fixing,
  • speculating,
  • analyzing,
  • worrying,
  • praying,
  • warning,
  • musing,
  • fuming,
  • imagining,
  • deciding,
  • strategizing,
  • steering,
  • sifting,
  • sorting…

Oh, it knows when to shut up so I can sleep at night; it has to pause or it couldn’t do what it does every day. It can handle eight hours biding its time, but it is ready with its list of reminders, questions, thoughts and ideas, people, places and things as soon as the lights are on.

Now, here is the trouble with that: sometimes things happen in our lives and all of our

  • thinking,
  • planning,
  • dreaming,
  • fixing,
  • speculating,
  • analyzing,
  • worrying,
  • praying,
  • warning,
  • musing,
  • fuming,
  • imagining,
  • deciding,
  • strategizing,
  • steering,
  • sifting,
  • sorting…

will not bring a fix to it. Sometimes our present circumstances are beyond our abilities to remedy and all we are able to do is one very difficult thing: wait.

This is where I am right now – waiting — and sometimes I don’t know what to do with myself.

Waiting feels interminable. I have counted the days so far: 43.  For forty-three days I have cooked and I have eaten; I have worked and carried on; I have met with people and have had conversations. I have had the flu; still have the flu. I have found random things to do in the spaces between; like cleaning my closet…twice. I have slept at night and woken up when it was over; and still the waiting is not over. All these things have happened while I have waited; standing up on the outside but sitting down in my soul as the minutes of every day tick by: sixty-one-thousand-nine-hundred-and-twenty minutes.

I am waiting and sometimes I don’t know what to do with my unruly thoughts.

My thoughts wage war. I trust in God; then I fear. I fill my mind with good and true things; then one stray word pulls a plug on them and I have to do it all over again. I tell myself, “Wait, just wait, let God do His work,” but then The Enemy comes and whispers doom to me; that’s when I feel the weight of sixty-one-thousand-nine-hundred-twenty-minutes the most. I wonder if others have to work as hard to quiet the inner saboteur?

I am waiting and sometimes I don’t know what to anticipate.

I have always enjoyed thinking about the future, but it has lost some dimension; the earth feels flat. How do I think about tomorrow? Things are not right. They haven’t been right for 43 days; how much longer? (Please don’t answer that question, Lord, because I know my wait time has, perhaps, only begun.)

Psalm 37:7 speaks to me:

“Be still in the presence of the Lord and wait patiently for Him to act.”

I have been staring at “in the presence of the Lord” this last while and wondering whose presence I have been in lately as I have been waiting. Have I truly been in the company of my Lord, or somewhere nearby? I don’t think I intentionally wander away, out on my own; it is more unintentional, like sleep-walking.

No wonder one can find the phrase “return to me” repeated over and over in the Bible. I am meant to walk in the presence of the Lord.

When I am still and wait in the company of Christ, peace fills the room; soul replenishing words are sung into my ear; faith, hope, courage and love are re-worked into my aching bones. Fear is vanquished in the presence of the Lord; just the confident assurance God will act remains. There is nourishment to fill my emptiness, and comfort for my grief. As I “abide” in the presence of the Lord I am given new strength so that I will not grow weary or faint along the journey; His mercies are new every morning; He is completely faithful to His promises.

In the company of Christ, every resource is available to me whether I need a physician, a counselor, a shepherd, a warrior, an advocate, or simply a friend.

And because of all this, I do stand amazed in the presence of the Lord and how different it is here than on my own; I am reminded again that even though I walk through a valley of shadows, He is with me and in His presence I find sanctuary.

— Teresa Klassen





Patient In Tribulation

30 05 2012

I read today in Romans 12:12 “Be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” There was something about that “patient in tribulation” that caught me today.

It isn’t that we are to just hold our breath and endure a crisis. I think it is more strategic as we choose to be quiet and bide our time; observing developments unfold; walking along, not saying much (because what can one say in a tribulation?). Watching…watching…for those sometimes tiny clues that God is at work and where.

Patient one must be (that sounded like Yoda), because in my experience, God seldom moves quickly. I think if He did it would be like pressing an elevator button; once it is there and you ride to your floor, it all seems unremarkable. I think patiently watching God is more like watching someone do one of those puzzles, you know the kind that have like 10 squares and one corner missing and you slide a piece left and slide one up, and slide one right, and then move 2 down and…you know?  I am never good at those…but I think God is like that and when the picture is finally in place it is more of a wow…how did He work with all that disorder?

I am very impatient. I know everyone says that…but I have a problem with the disparity between God’s timing and mine; the lag time; the layovers.

Romans 12:12 reminds me that as I practice patience, it is the perfect time to fill the uncertain space with prayer. Patience requires that I get clear about who I am and who God is and to look up the definition of faith once more.

Tribulation comes with a thousand question-marks, most of which will remain until I have a face-to-face conversation; but, if I am patient, I see God’s power as an exclamation in the middle of it all.

For this I am thankful today: There is nothing that surprises my God. What I perceive as detours, never are (they were just roads that I wouldn’t have chosen). God is never late in the game and never misses His chance. Also (much to my chagrin) He never needs a single one of my ideas to save the day.

— Teresa Klassen





Seven Wise Counselors

20 08 2010

I have come to realize something about myself, I don’t like researching things. Research is like opening up Pandora’s box. One question branches out into a family tree of questions and before long I find myself lost in details I didn’t know I didn’t know.

Take cellphone plans, for example, if you have ever thought, “Maybe I should change my cellphone provider/plan,” buy Advil first. There are few things as frustrating as figuring out cellphone plans.There are so many options now and the options have options, variables, fine print, contracts and no contracts, and so many details and exceptions to these that, after a while, I feel like I am losing my mind! I think “they” do this purposely so that after a while people will say, “Enough!” dip their hand into the cellphone sea of information and go with whatever they pull up.

As soon as you start researching things you enter a maze where figuring out one thing, leads to something else you don’t understand. I started looking for a simple cellphone plan, the most inexpensive, no-contract one with a good texting option and I ended up trying to figure out the world of GMS phones and SIM cards, unlocking phones and what is “jailbreaking” a phone? Agh! Why can’t it be simple: one, two, three, make a decision, done. Well, it can, but then you don’t always get the best deal.

Proverbs 26:16 is an interesting little verse on this topic, “Lazy people consider themselves smarter than seven wise counselors.” As I was digging into the meaning behind this verse, I thought this was an interesting note:

“The lazy person thinks he has life all figured out and has chosen the wise course of action, but he is simply lazy. J.H. Greenstone says, for example, ‘Much anti-intellectualism may be traced to such rationalization for laziness.'” (Notes on the verse from bible.org)

When I go to the shelf and buy something without researching alternatives, I am doing so because it is easier; I don’t have to expend any mental energy on it. I am doing what Proverbs 26:16 is describing. By choosing not to think, I have taken the sluggard’s course of action.

The thing is, cellphone plans are not going to make or break my life; but some things will. Huge, life altering decisions are often made without “seven wise counselors.” Sometimes we endure years of pain and heartache because we get all Frank Sinatra and just do it our way. It seems our default button is “I’m right;” we have such a tough time being a student. This isn’t smart; it’s anti-smart.

I want to be wise about the decisions I make, but, oh, my head gets tired sometimes. I get tired of figuring new things out; especially things that are hard to figure out. I would like it if things were a little more compartmentalized, you know, deal with one thing and then deal with the next. Some days I don’t have the energy to spend more time on yet another thing. As I am listening to myself I am thinking about the danger of making decisions when I am worn out or under pressure. Careful. Then, especially then, I need seven wise counselors.

I am really not an expert on anything; I need all the help I can get, so I have come to really respect good researchers. One good website comparing 15 plans, or one really smart friend who has done the work ahead of me, and things begin to take shape for me. I know a few people who LOVE researching things; anything!  Mike and I have phoned them more than once and asked them if they know something about a pretty random thing we are learning about. Inevitably, they do and they are more than willing to share their wealth of information. It is like seven wise counselors in one shot! AWESOME!

— Teresa Klassen





The Land Between

9 08 2010

Last week I  attended The Global Leadership Summit and had the opportunity to hear Jeff Manion speak (among others). Jeff’s talk was titled Land Between based on a book of the same title. I thought I would write about it this morning, because I so often find myself there.

If you ever find yourself saying, “for now” (as in, “I am working in this job for now…” or “I am living with my parents for now…”), this is the land between. If you ever look back at where you were or look ahead to where you want to be, you are in the land between. The land between might be a place you find yourself in a holding pattern; the land between might be a place you are in pain; sometimes you don’t know how you got there, sometimes you don’t know how you will get out; you just know you are in between.

Manion had us look at the story of Moses and pointed out what the land where Moses was living actually, physically looked like.  There was Egypt to the left (all green and lush on the map) and then there was The Promised Land of Israel to the right (also green and lush) and then there was the desert of Sinai; barren and brown. This was where he wandered, in the land between. God told Moses in Exodus 3 that he would take him out of Egypt into the land of promise; there was no mention of “in between.”

Two years in and they are still there, in the land between. God is feeding them Manna for breakfast, lunch and supper and the people are sick of it. In Numbers 11:4 we hear their complaint, “If only we had meat!” Manion did a masterful job of drawing this out and then  said that the land between is fertile soil for complaint. The thing about the children of Israel is that they weren’t just complaining about their situation; they were complaining against God. They were sick of eating the same thing day after day after day. They were essentially saying that life was better where they had been; life was better without God.

Jeff asked, what are you sick of? Are you sick of living here? Are you sick of the bills? Are you sick of your marriage? Are you sick of leading? Are you sick of healing a broken church?

How is God going to meet Moses here in the land between? How will God meet you?

You should read Moses’ honest prayer in Numbers 11:11-15. It is absolutely loaded with “I, me, I, me.” I have prayed prayers like this. The land between is fertile soil for emotional breakdown/meltdown. Moses says, “put me to death right now!”

Whose voice do you hear in the land between when

  • You are the couple facing medical tests?
  • You are the one struggling to make ends meet?
  • You are the parents with a child who is running away from God?
  • You are the pastor navigating ministry during a time of division?

In the land between you can feel like you have a hose hooked up to you, draining you dry. Any leader gets this, understands this feeling. Church leaders feel it every time someone leaves the church. It’s like a breakup; like people are saying, “It’s not you, we just want to date other churches right now.” Be prepared for disappointment, sometimes years of it, and sometimes being a disappointment. Be prepared to feel like you can’t do it any more.

God tells Moses to go and get 70 elders. He says they will help to “carry the burden of the people.” Go and meet with God in the “tent of the meeting” and there God will take the same spirit He has put on Moses and put it on them; basically giving him 70 “mini Moses'” God uses the same language here that Moses used in his prayer: “I will, I will.” The land between is also fertile soil for God’s provision.

Manion highlighted another famous meltdown: Elijah who was running for his life. He also prayed that  he might die; he said, “I am not accomplishing anything!” He wakes up and sees and smells bread.  He expects a lecture and God makes him lunch. God says, “Hey, you could really just use something to eat.”

What if God still does that? What if God is still good? What if God is still gracious? Open your hands and let God provide in the land between. Maybe God will give you patience, a job, strength, contentment, courage. Maybe He will pull you out of depression, or give you what you need daily, perhaps an email of encouragement, a “spookily” well-timed verse.

Back to Moses’ story; God is providing during the “Manna Riots.” He addresses the lack of meat in Numbers 11:18-20 (read it); God says, “I will give you so much meat it will come out of your nose! Because you have rejected the Lord…” The people had turned a corner in their complaining, lashing out against God and this bordered on “cosmic treason.” God responds and says (11:23a), “are the Lord’s arms too short?” Are you questioning God’s goodness or competence?

God sends meat. Truckloads of meat. And then He disciplines them. So what does this mean, if you complain God will drop you? No. We need to remember that God disciplines. He inflicts pain for redemptive purposes, to rescue us. We are naive if we think we are immune to correction. When we entertain a spirit of complaint against God, God does discipline.

So…transformational growth happens in the land between. Trust me here, God says. Israel is an unruly mob indoctrinated in idolatry. They are not ready for the Promised Land. They were a people of slavery and they must become the people of God. This time, in the land between, is a time of preparation for them to be God’s people. God says, “I need you to learn to trust me here, at this place.”

Here we learn to pray. Here we learn to depend. It does not happen automatically; time does not automatically heal, in the land between time can make us bitter and acidic. The time we spend in the land between will determine who we will be in the future. We learn about faith (or not) here; we die here or we grow here.

Complaint, in the land between, comes as an uninvited guest. Even as you try to dislodge it, it sneaks back in, it resists eviction. Good pushes out bad, but bad also pushes out good. We need to keep inviting trust back. Even when we don’t “get it” we need to keep inviting it back.

I have visited the “land between” more than once. Sometimes I am there a few days, weeks. I have been in and out of there over the course of a year and years. I do not like it there. I do not like the sense of waiting, of walking in circles; I definitely don’t like it when the land between is painful.  But Manion is right, it is the place where I can hear what is going on between God and I. There is so little furniture in the land between that the room echoes and I am so aware of what is going on inside me.

Sometimes God is just calling me to chill out in the land between; I am just in need of less noise and to be less noisy. God imposes rest on me and wants to make lunch for me but I am itching to move. In this kind of “in between” I need to just sit down a while. I say, “I don’t want to be here anymore!” and I hear God’s Spirit say, “Just stay; I am here.”

In the land between I see a lot of things in me: sometimes impatience, sometimes selfishness sometimes bitterness like barnacles beginning to attach itself and I am reminded of what I never wanted to be: bitter. So why am I bitter? I am reminded that I have always said that I never wanted to run away. So why am I running? I let Him chip off the barnacles; I let Him nudge me to move towards, instead of away. But don’t misunderstand me; this is a messy process. I don’t glide in the land between; I am clumsy; I am half a disappointment but I am seeing God do His best work here.

I really don’t like that; I want God’s best work to be somewhere in the two green areas (the one behind or the one ahead). If there is one thing I am getting though, it’s this: when we say, “God’s timing and our timing are different” this is really, really, really true. I believe God could spend all day in between because “it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:14)

— Teresa Klassen

Afterword: Thinking about it. The whole “OneBrownLeaf” idea came from being in between.