Pocketing, Cookie Jarring, and Jesus
Pocketing, Cookie Jarring, and Jesus

Pocketing and cookie jarring. To paraphrase a line from The Princess Bride, “I do not think it means what you think it means.” One thing is for sure: neither phrase means what I thought they meant!

Both terms are now used to describe dating trends.

Pocketing occurs when the relationship seems as if it’s progressing, but your partner has not introduced you to family or long-term friends. They’re enjoying the fun relationship, but they don’t see a future with you. In the words of the owner of a matchmaking service, “Why get friends and family involved?”

Cookie jarring occurs when the person you’re dating keeps you as a back-up, while they’re pursuing a serious relationship with someone else. They consider it to be a practical back-up plan “just in case.” Sort of like keeping the cookie jar full in case you experience a snack-attack.

So who are you pocketing and who’s in your cookie jar?

I’m not talking about someone you might be dating. (And no, I’m not dating!)

I am talking about your relationship with Jesus.

How many professing Christians keep Jesus in our “pocket”? We hesitate to be open about our beliefs because friends and family wouldn’t understand. Even worse, there might be open hostility. The result is a compartmentalized life, keeping Jesus separate from other areas.

Or how many professing Christians treat Jesus like a cookie jar: dipping our hand in when we have a need. The rest of the time, we go merrily on our way pursuing people, interests, and activities that have little to do with a life committed to being a Christ-follower.

Commitment.

It’s a term used in describing relationships with other people and with Jesus Christ. Are we committed Christians or Christians in name only? Is Christ Lord of our whole life or do we limit His reign to certain “pockets”? Do we only seek God’s hand when we need something, or do we pursue His heart?

I’ve been studying and teaching from the book of Acts recently. And I’ve been impressed by the difference between the early disciples of Christ and many of us today. In Acts 4, Peter and John were imprisoned for their faith, yet afterward they prayed, “Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness” (Acts 4:29 NIV). They did not pray for safety, they prayed for boldness!

A short time later, these same men are jailed and flogged for proclaiming Christ again, yet they were “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41 NIV). Can I say the same thing?

If I’m honest, there are times when I’m less like Peter and John and more like someone who keeps Christ in a pocket or a cookie jar. Times when I hesitate to proclaim Jesus Christ because I don’t want to be that person—the one people avoid because she’s a religious fanatic. Times when I pursue things that are convenient, comfortable, and safe, rather than speaking up about the One who people need even if they don’t realize it.

Then I think about persecuted Christians today. In places such as China, the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere Christians are imprisoned, beaten, and killed for their faith. These Christians understand Peter and John. What they do not understand are the people who are pocketing and cookie jarring the Savior.

Every Christ-follower has the indwelling Holy Spirit who gives boldness when needed to proclaim Jesus Christ. Let’s not keep Him in a cookie jar.


 
After 9/11…or any Tragedy: Where was God?
Where was God on September 11?

This week we commemorated a horrific event in our nation’s history. Social media feeds once again overflowed with posts and photos from September 11, 2001—a day that (please excuse the cliché) will live in infamy.

Whether it’s 9/11 or another tragedy, personal or national, responses tend to move to two extremes: we either run to God or run away from Him.

We saw it 18 years ago. Some people asked “Where was God?” almost derisively. As if the tragedy was proof God did not exist. Meanwhile, others recounted how they had a strong sense that God was intimately present, helping them through the worst day of their life.

For a time during and after 9/11, there was a surge in spirituality. Talking about God was suddenly more acceptable in mixed company. Houses of worship were packed as people sought comfort in the midst of confusion. Displaying a spiritual perspective was not just accepted, it was admired and applauded. For a while it was even okay—barely—to include the name of Jesus in conversations, as long as you didn’t make any exclusive claims about Him.

But spirituality and Christianity are not the same thing. Spirituality accepts that there is another world—a world we cannot see. That spiritual world contains many ways to god…and many gods. However, the biblical belief in Jesus Christ as God and Savior is an exclusive belief that says Jesus is the only way.

In fact, Jesus said this about Himself. “I am the way, the truth…” (John 14:6 – emphasis added). Not one way among many. Not one truth among many. For those who disagree, they are not disagreeing with us, they’re disagreeing with Jesus’ own words.

So it’s not a surprise that the surge in spirituality has dissipated over the past 18 years. After all, feel-good spirituality offers nothing of substance. It’s often a composite of beliefs chosen from a wide spectrum of faiths, cobbled together with nothing more than personal preferences.

And once again, Jesus is left outside our culture. A culture desperate for answers to the meaning of life, yet stubbornly running away from the Giver of Life.

Personal preferences make a poor foundation for beliefs about eternity. For your preferences will be different from mine, and mine will be different from the next person. And we can’t all be right.

Christians are told it’s okay to believe what you want, but only if you acknowledge that Jesus is not the only way. Problem is, if we acknowledge that, then we’re no longer followers of Christ. We would become followers of yet another belief system comprised of empty promises. A belief system led by a god of our own making.

So how can we justify a belief in a sovereign God who allows tragedies such as 9/11 to occur? Perhaps a better question to ask is, why does God get blamed for all the bad things that happen, but those same people fail to give Him credit for the good that occurs?

Or why does our culture demand total freedom to do what we want, when we want it, and in the next breath, demand to know why God doesn’t intervene and stop all evil from occurring?

Why do tragedies keep coming? It boils down to the reality that this is a broken world and all of us are broken people in need of a Savior. And it helps me to remember that in light of eternity, our troubles are temporary. The apostle Paul put it this way:

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (II Corinthians 4:17-18 ESV).

This world—on its best day or on its worst day—is not all there is. But this life does give us opportunities in the midst of tragedy. For when people ask, “Where is God?”, we can be the vessels He uses to display His grace and kindness. We can be the ones to meet a need in Jesus’ name. And we can love in a way that gives others a taste of the love their heavenly Father has for them. A love that was willing to provide the way—the only way—to restoration, healing, and wholeness.

The darkness of a broken world is the backdrop which allows God’s light and love to shine most brightly. Don’t blame God for tragedies. Be His hands and feet to love people in the midst of their suffering. Give them the answer to their question:

Where was God in the tragedy?
He was right here all along.


 
Why Me? Why Not Me?
Why Me? Why Not Me?

Living in Florida, I recently engaged in a stressful dance with Hurricane Dorian.

For those who haven’t been following the vagaries of tropical weather, Dorian crossed the Atlantic as a tropical storm that grew into a Category 5 hurricane. With a peak wind speed of 183 mph, Dorian is one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes on record.

Those of us in Florida watched with trepidation as Dorian appeared to target our state’s east coast. We prepared for the worst and hoped for the best. And many of us prayed.

We prayed for Dorian to turn north before it made landfall in Florida. Not here, Lord!

Then we watched this monster storm engulf the Bahamas. It devastated the islands with punishing and merciless winds before continuing its deliberate journey toward us.

And we prayed some more. Lord, help those in the Bahamas. But please don’t let that happen to us. Not here, Lord. Not me, Lord.

Even as I prayed this, I found myself wondering, Why not me?

Have you ever asked, “Why me?” Or perhaps, “Why not me?”

  • Why am I the one who received that prognosis?
  • How come I didn’t get the last seat in that class I wanted to attend?
  • Why didn’t I get the job?
  • How come the hurricane hit my city?
  • Why did someone else get what I should have received?

Where do we get the idea that bad things shouldn’t happen to us? Of course, no one wants to experience sorrow or suffering. But when these situations occur, we often seem to think God has somehow let us down. That He violated an unwritten agreement: I’ll believe in You and You will protect me from anything bad.

But the Bible never promised a life without sorrow and suffering. Actually, just the opposite. Jesus told His followers, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV).

Living in a broken, sin-sick world means we are guaranteed to have trouble. It’s not an if, it’s a when. And our heavenly Father doesn’t always stop the trouble from happening. But He does promise peace in the midst of difficulty.

Besides, how will the world understand the reality of the peace brought by the Prince of Peace if nothing negative ever happens to Christians?

So the next time we’re facing a difficult circumstance, let’s not ask “Why me?” Instead, ask “Why not me?” Then ask, “How can I live for Christ in this situation so that others will want the relationship with Him that I have?”

I still intend to pray hurricanes will steer away from me–and from others! And not just physical hurricanes, but all storms of life. Still, if—no, when—they do come, I also pray I’ll exhibit the peace and strength that comes from knowing who I am in Christ. That I will surrender to the promptings of the Holy Spirit to live out the reality of my identity as a child of God regardless of my situation. And that the way I live might be the salt which makes others thirsty for that same relationship.

Why me?
Why not me?


 
Abounding in Hope Despite the Rain
Hope in Suffering

Hurricane Barry made landfall on the Louisiana coast in July as 2019’s first hurricane. As Barry approached, fears about the Category 1 hurricane focused primarily on water damage from storm surge, an already high Mississippi river, and torrential rain.

And Hurricane Dorian is churning in the Atlantic, aiming for Florida’s east coast as I type this.

Even those who haven’t lived through a hurricane can still relate. Life has a way of hitting all of us with figurative storm surges, high rivers and hammering rains.

I’m familiar with the line, “Into each life some rain must fall,” made famous by Ella Fitzgerald and The Inkspots in 1944. I’m equally familiar with another adage, “It never rains but it pours.” A little rain is one thing. Torrential and unending downpours are quite another.

If you’re not in a season where troubles or suffering seem to be multiplying, you’ve either just come out of such a season or you’re about to go into one. It’s part of life in a broken, sin-sick world.

So how are we to respond to life experiences that feel like a combination of storm surges, high rivers, and torrential rains? Experiences that seem to magnify our brokenness, inflame our fears, or expose our vulnerability?

We approach these experiences with hope. Not the fragile, undependable hope our world offers, but the solid biblical hope flowing from our identity in Christ as children of our heavenly Father.

Desmond Tutu once said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”

What is your “despite”? We all have at least one. It could be a dream that seems continually out of reach. Or a prodigal child bent on their own way. It might be a medical diagnosis or a financial deficit. Or it could be a combination of several “despites.” My own “despite” is this new chapter of my life as a widow.

Still, no matter how dark the darkness is, we can have hope. We can remind ourselves of God’s past faithfulness. Of the hope we have for an eternity through Christ. And of the equipping we have from the indwelling Holy Spirit.

This hope fuels courage. Courage to persevere when we’re tired. Strength to continue when we’re weak. Encouragement when we’re discouraged. Power to endure when we’re drained.

The apostle Paul understood this when he wrote to the early church in Rome:

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13 NASB).

The word abound means to overflow, flourish, or thrive. So when our rivers overflow and the storms of life flourish, so can hope in the child of God. Regardless of our situation, we could all use some abounding, overflowing, flourishing, and thriving hope, don’t you agree?

Besides…we can’t have rainbows without the rain.

What is your “despite”?
How is hope carrying you through it today?


 
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