Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 2/13/05
"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" (I Cor. 2:9).
When the world gets to the verge of war; marriages reach the brink of divorce; and Christians come close to losing their faith, you can be sure unmet expectations are in play on both sides of the controversy. Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive ourselves about how things SHOULD turn out. I'll give a couple of personal examples to make the point clear.
I have a friend whose sister treated her to a luxurious Christmas vacation in Hawaii almost ten ago now. They stayed at a lovely resort on the big island, a true taste of paradise. I was happy for her because she was going through a rough patch, and I hoped she would have a good time and forget her troubles for a bit. When she got home, she called me and lamented that her sister had not given her a Christmas card. Astonished, I reminded her that she had received the expensive gift of a luxurious trip to Paradise. She replied, "But she could at least have given me a card." This has stuck in my mind as a prime example of the fact that unrealistic expectations rob us of our peace and prevent us from enjoying what we do have, because we're too busy whining about what we do not have. It reminds me of the Apostle Paul's statement, "Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content" (Phil. 4:11). This does not mean that Paul enjoyed his negative experiences (as II Cor. 11:23-33 attests), but simply that he had learned that God "will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus" (Phil 4:19).
Lenny and I have tasted and experienced the truth Paul expressed in II Cor. 9: 8-9: "And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work." He did not promise to give us every single thing we want, but rather, to supply all our needs in order to do His good work. God took our beautiful home in California and called us here to Missouri where we live in a 5th wheel RV. Do we wish we had a real house? At times, of course we do, and we know that in His time, we will, but we have learned to trust the only One who is worthy of trust.
He knows what He is doing, even when sometimes we don't, and we have learned to depend upon Him to guide us and provide for us. That doesn't make sense to the nay sayers and doubters, of course, but they are not my problem, and thankfully, God has delivered us from people pleasing, the need to live our lives according to other people's unrealistic expectations. What we need, He provides, as He has proven over and over again. Our wants and wishes are often fleeting, based on the emotion of the moment, but His design for our lives was written before the foundation of the world, and it is His blueprint that we follow rather than our own. This is another way to say we have entered into His rest, and have submitted our need to control events and people to His perfect will.
Another example of unmet expectations came from a minister friend in Southern California who has been asked to mediate a serious conflict in a church in another city. As often happens, the things they say they are upset about may be just a symbol of a deeper hurt. The issue is whether or not they can use instrumental music in an outreach service for community young people. And yes, this is evidence that the elders and some members of this congregation are still mired in legalism, but every denomination has some issue about which they will fight to the death, or until the congregation splits down the middle. It is a direct result of following the letter of the law (which is what legalism is all about), as opposed to following the Spirit's leading. You may not relate to the uproar about instrumental music, but I'm sure you can think of something that falls into the category of choosing to follow tradition and dogma even if it offends our brother and splits the church.
Before our friend got involved, the dispute had reached the boiling point, as each side dug in its heels and accused the other of playing fast and loose with scripture. In this particular congregation, the young people and the preacher who are insisting the elders' do it their way, have written up a list of their grievances and their suggestions concerning them, which is excellent because unvoiced expectations are quite often unmet ones as well. One of the comments they made in their written statement was that "anger usually results from unmet expectations." They have put their finger on an important truth. They go on to say "The larger problem is not the Anger or unmet expectations; rather it is how we deal with this Anger." Dealing with anger is an important part of every relationship, secular and spiritual. Denying we are angry when we are is hypocrisy in the worst form.
Anyone who has been divorced, for instance, knows a great deal about the subject of anger and how it can hopelessly divide and ruin a relationship, a church or a nation. Sadly, many legalists I know and love cannot face the truth that they are angry, and so they lie to themselves first and then to others, saying it isn't so. I also think it interesting that they lump the "works of the flesh" mentioned in Gal. 5, into major and minor sins. The "big sins" are usually sex, murder, and drunkenness. Since they don't commit those sins, they can pat themselves on the back and think they are OK. For the sake of this example, I'll quote the whole list: "The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissension's, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God" (Gal. 5:19-21). I also find it fascinating, if you'll permit a somewhat cynical observation, that these acts may keep you out of the kingdom, but not out of the church. Churches are full of people who exhibit jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissension's, factions and envy.
The answer to the problem of unmet expectations is twofold: unconditional love, a rare commodity indeed on planet Earth, and being led of the Spirit. In his beautiful treatise found in I Cor. 13, Paul extols the greatest spiritual gift of all: "LOVE is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. LOVE does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away" (I Cor. 13:4-8). The Apostle is speaking here of God's unconditional love flowing through us. In the past, I would often cringe, drop my head in shame and acknowledge that I am not capable of that kind of love. After being nourished by what God says about me, rather than what I say about myself, I came to realize that almost all of the things the New Testament says I am, are lacking in me, if I look to the flesh. Speaking of unrealistic expectations, nothing is farther from truth than looking to the flesh to fulfill the decrees of the Spirit. You might as well go to a funeral, look at the body in the casket and order it to jump out and dance a jig.
Now that I have your attention, this humorous picture is the truth about us. We are dead in Christ (Rom. 6:3-4, 11). Dead men cannot love unconditionally any more than they can fornicate, murder, steal, or do anything else for that matter. I was having a difficult time with a dear old saint recently and when I told Lenny that the Lord was still using her to "hone my flesh," he said, "But that's impossible. You are dead (in Christ)." Realizing how true that is, I came to the conclusion that the Lord was showing me that I need to beat the old man back down in the coffin and slam the lid shut on him. Unmet expectations always arise from listening to the carnal nature, the flesh. In Spirit, we are seated in heavenly places with Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:6). He lives in us and we live in Him. Therefore, it is His job to love unconditionally through us. On our own, we are likely to be torn apart by conflicts and disputes which our flesh can do nothing about except feel shame and guilt, but "in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:37-39).
Here are the answers to the voices that accuse us of "being less than perfect." IN CHRIST, we were chosen before the foundation of the world to be "holy and blameless in His sight" (Eph. 1:4; Col. 1:22); we ARE "the righteousness of God" (II Cor. 5:21); we ARE "heirs to the promise" God made Abraham (Gal. 3:29); we ARE "joint-heirs with Christ" of all the fulness of God (Rom. 8:17); we ARE sons of God (I John 3:1); "we have NOW been pronounced free from guilt through His blood" (Rom. 5:9, Weymouth); we are NOT under law, but under grace (Rom. 6:14); "we ARE predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son," called, justified, and glorified in Him (Rom. 8:29). If God be for us, who can be against us? (Rom. 8:31). When I was coming out of legalism and confronting the accusations concerning my imperfect flesh, the Spirit began to shine on these passages and others. They jumped off the page at me, and finally, I wrote them down on four 4"x6" cards, which I taped to the bathroom mirror, the fridge and the dashboard of my car, and carried one in my purse. When the voices began to sound off about my many imperfections, I would read these glorious promises and then say to myself, "Self, who are you going to believe? Those lying voices in your head or the word of God?" When you look at it that way, it's easy to tell the voices to "take a hike," which I did, with His help. It was a successful Spirit led and Spirit executed exercise.
It seems to me that interpersonal relationships are very difficult to handle, and impossible without God. When the road gets rocky in marriage, friendship, family, or church, it almost always is because of unmet expectations. Parents and children expect a great deal from each other, as do husbands and wives and family members. When those expectations are not met, and someone tries to control the situation by giving threats and ultimatums, things always go from bad to worse. We cannot but be disappointed when we expect from humans that which only God can give us.
For Lenny and me, the key has come to be, "What does God say about it?" In our marriage, we surrender our will to God's will, and let Him be the one to decide what action, if any, we should take. Running to friends, relatives, or church leaders for advice may feel comforting, but unless the Spirit is in it, it is an exercise in futility. We are told that it is GOD who will meet our needs through "His riches in glory in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:19).
In church situations, there must be a great temptation on the part of leadership to lay a "thus saith the Lord" on the flock, even if it is only their interpretation of what the Lord is saying about such things as instrumental music, baptism, weekly communion, church attendance, bible study, the name on the door, or countless other things which Christians love to debate and may ultimately part company over. Agreement on issues is not necessary for salvation, but it really helps people to continue their fellowship together. Jesus said, "Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven" (Matt. 18:19). Peter's admonition to husbands to "live considerately with your wives" lest their prayers be hindered (I Pet. 3:7) would apply to the whole church, it seems to me. The prophet Amos asked, "Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?" (Amos 3:3). There comes a time, I personally believe, when, if agreement cannot be found, the feuding parties may have to part company, at least for a time. If that must happen, how much easier to bear would it be if they admitted that they wanted their way more than they wanted fellowship with each other? What usually happens, however, is that each party blames the other for failing to meet their obligations.
Only God can and does meet all our expectations, but He does not do this because we are "good servants," or because we obey Him, but rather He does this because He loves us unconditionally, and has since before the foundation of the world. He never expected we could keep the commandments on our own, which is what the Law of Moses so eloquently proved. He always knew that He in Christ would pay the price to reconcile the creation to Himself. Therefore, laying blame, accusations, guilt and shame on another are useless activities, because it is all God's responsibility from the getgo. In the midst of the pain, He reveals Himself. Ultimately, we will all be reconciled with each other. How do I know? Because that's who God is. Behold, He makes ALL THINGS new (Rev. 21:5). There's no time limit on that, so as Harry Fox is wont to say, "If it doesn't happen by Tuesday, midnight, it does not mean it won't happen eventually."
We are living in an age of instant gratification: instant messages, e-mails that travel the globe in an instant, and breaking news as it happens, but lest we forget, God does not operate on our time table.
Father, we thank You for the great and glorious promises that You have given us, ratified by the blood of the Lamb. We ask You to open our ears to hear, our eyes to see, and our senses to feel Your glory at work among us. We thank You that all the promises are "Yea and amen" in Christ. We rest in Your will, Father, to lead us and guide us, protect us and show us where You would have us minister the words of Life to Your creation. Amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
The Purpose of Fellowship, Unmet Expections, Part II
The Glory Road
We always enjoy hearing from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 02/09/05
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/13/08.