Saturday, December 24, 2011

For Love of a Lamb

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger."         Luke 2:8-12
I find it amusing that I can read the same passage of Scripture over and over, even recite it from memory, and suddenly one day, I will see an angle or way of understanding that I had not noticed before. It is like that with the Christmas story, and I marvel at it in a fresh way each year.
What struck me this year was the words of the angel to the shepherds: "You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." These were the messengers of the living God, a God that the Hebrew people held in such reverence that they never spoke His name, though He revealed it to them through Moses. The angel was delivering the message of the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah-- the King of the Jews; promised from the time of the Fall of man, promised to David that the throne of Israel would belong to his descendants forever (1 Samuel 7:16); promised through the Prophet that His reign would be forever and would bring peace, righteousness and justice (Isaiah 9:7). Many Jews of the time waited eagerly for this King, whom they believed would overthrow the oppressive Roman rule and bring political freedom to the people of Israel.

And so, it is no small detail that the heavenly messengers appeared and spoke these words to common shepherds--a necessary job, but neither an honorable nor highly-desired one--rather than to priests, to royalty, or to high society. Nor is it meager information that they announced that this Baby; this King-to-be who would be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace; was to be found lying in a feeding trough for animals. He did not come in power and glory, He was not born into wealth and comfort, He was not surrounded by cushions and splendor, born with the aid of the best midwives that could be found as one might expect a great and powerful ruler to be. Rather, He was born to a young woman, the betrothed of a skilled laborer, and born in downright squalid conditions where sheep and goats brought their young bleating into the world. The Lamb of God was born in much the same way as any lamb would be and in the same place. And he would not be difficult for these shepherds to find, as I am sure that it was not a Bethlehemian trend to lay one's precious, newborn infant in the same container where one spread the feed for the goats!

This Christmas, as I reflect on the one great Gift we were all given--the gift of Emmanuel who willingly laid aside glory, honor, and power we can scarcely imagine--I must also reflect on what this means to me, personally. If my great and mighty God, my King, was willing to be born in such conditions; if the Creator of the world would subject Himself willingly to the limits of His creation; if my Master would humble Himself to live as a helpless human infant, who had to grow, learn, be fed and changed as all babies do, what of me? What task is beneath me, if the One who created me would live so and also be born only to die -- for me? When I am given a love so fantastic and selfless as this, how can I ever think to withhold my love from another person? How can I ever think of love as mere emotion again? 

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 
John 15:12

 Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, October 28, 2011


My poor, neglected blog. . .  Well, here I am, writing again and, Lord willing, I will soon commit myself to daily writing practice. I have a plan to blog daily for a month, but at present it is a feeble, half-formed plan not even in its infancy--an embryonic plan.

For a time, I was caught up in such a hectic schedule that there simply was no time to write--indeed, there was hardly time to think! This is the season of my life, I suppose, because writing cannot be allowed steal time away from my primary job and calling--the training of my children. They are by far the largest investment of my time as a homeschool mom, and I take their discipleship very seriously. They have all made a profession of faith in Christ and been baptized, and now it is my job to see that they begin to develop their relationship with the Lord and to disciple them to that end. My oldest is already half-way to becoming a man, and my part in his life will dwindle in the coming years. I feel so strongly the need to instill in him--in them all--the importance of daily prayer and time studying the Scriptures, in spending time with the Lord so they can learn to recognize His voice, and diligence to fix their hearts and wills on the Shepherd who will lead them in peace. I feel strongly, also, my ineptitude, my failures, and my lack. But I know that God will make up what is lacking and that He is teaching me while I teach them. I am learning, very slowly learning, to rely on Him and not on myself.  And each day that I stumble, I long that much more for that day in which every tear will be wiped away. . .

Speaking of tears, I have shed no small number recently. There is simply so much pain in this world that, from time to time, it overwhelms me. At a recent party I saw children who were growing up with no stable concept of what the words "family" or "father" mean. Instead, there are terms like "baby daddy" and "baby momma" to describe what once was a very straight-forward relationship. The idea of God as Father will be so much more remote to these children than it ever was to those whose fathers were merely abusive.

I also saw people who entered a room with suspicion and barely muted anger in their eyes. I saw loyal friends put on hold for a disloyal child parading as a man. I saw confusion and hopelessness, and I took away a feeling of sorrow for the many, many hurting people that I watched and spoke with and those they represent.

And then there are pangs that are closer to home. Friends who are hurting in ways that simply should not be. Marriages that are raw, open wounds rather than places of sanctuary, harmony, and peace. My own personal disappointments and the fading shame of my past that still mushrooms undimmed from time to time.

Inside all of this pain, however, there is a small core of perfect tranquility and calm--a very small one--upon which this pain breaks and must, of necessity, recede. This Rock is immovable and will not change, though I am being changed by it--the swells of pain are merely one of His tools. This Rock, unlike therocky shoreline which will gradually succumb to erosion, grows larger within me day by day. Pain is simply a part of the process of being remade more and more into His image, as we once were before the Fall. As such, I embrace it with mingled tears of unutterable joy and bitterest sorrow. It is the pain of the human condition.

In this I know that in some minuscule way, I am being allowed the merest and yet heavily veiled glimpse of His anguish in bearing the sins of the world. I could never endure more than the tiniest peek, much less the faintest pressure of it; but knowing this I only love Him all the more. I cannot even bring myself to wade in the ocean of suffering that surrounds me, but He willingly immersed Himself within it. It is His grace alone that keeps me from being dashed to pieces, broken and ruined by it. It is His ability to sustain the full brunt of it that saved me in the first place. But for His sacrifice -- but for His taking on the intolerable weight of this agony and paying the gravest of all penalties for it -- I would be an irretrievable castaway. How could I not love Him for this?

So I say to you, now, whoever you may be... if you do not know this comfort, this love, this joyful abandon of perfect trust, do you even know that you may? You may, if you choose, grow to know this Man who is Immanuel and who has already paid the price of your shame. You may accept His love and His gift--the free gift of salvation and the glory of knowing that someday all despair, suffering, cruelty, and all wrongs will be lost in the magnificence of eternal and inconceivable bliss. You may rejoice now in suffering, "knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." You may choose to grasp the hand that is extended to you as a lifeline... or you may choose to swim in the unpredictable, raging tides of man's fallen nature. He offers you life, and that abundantly. He offers, not an absence of hardship, but peace despite it. It is a choice you must make, and by refusing to decide, you do choose though not wisely.

I urge you, choose wisely, my beloved! This life is a mere breath, though it seems long. Choose obedience to the One who made you, not to the whims of your tormented heart. He offers you a delightful feast of life; I implore you, do not drink rank death instead. Whatever it is that enslaves you--anxiety, remorse, hate, fear, guilt, lust, greed, despair--whatever it may be, you are not bound to swim those murky waters. You can choose to know the Truth and surrender yourself to Him, and then, O prisoner! You will be free indeed.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 26, 2011


I began seriously thinking about beauty while in the car with a group of women on my first “girl’s night out” in many years. The topics of coloring hair, manicures, pedicures, and all the sorts of things common to the female of Homo sapiens americanus were broached and discussed. Of course, I had little to say except to mention a funny story in which I realized that my husband knew more about these things than I. It turns out that I am comically oblivious to both the commonality of such beauty rituals as well as to how isolated is my own non-participation in such acts of obeisance to the throne of Youth. As we all chatted, I couldn’t help but wonder why any one of these gorgeous women would want to change their appearance—as if beauty were something served up in identical, cookie-cutter batches!
Speaking of cookies, anyone who eats real food knows that cookies purchased in the plastic box taste more like the box and less like an actual cookie, and one would likely be better off eating the box. Similarly, anyone who understands true beauty would see it embodied in these marvelous women in their resplendent individuality. What of this magazine-cover Barbie-doll with the plastic skin and hair who airs her equally plasticized cleavage with the same shamelessness as a sow wallowing in the barnyard mud? Who on earth declared that tired, old image to be beautiful or desirable? An even better question is; why do we believe such a base and obvious lie?
Stretch marks, smile lines, gray hair-- there are so many marks of loveliness, so many evidences of a life lived. These merely physical changes can be something we can pour endless time and money into, desperately trying to erase what the relentless march of time will ceaselessly rewrite, or they can be embraced as tokens of maturity, of character, of individuality and the august touch of a creative God who loves us just as He made us. Each human being is a true work of art, sculpted by a most ingenious and loving Artist -- from the cradle to the grave, with every wrinkle and freckle in between. That’s right, ladies, exactly as you are, you are exquisite, stunning, and astonishingly beautiful--because you are made by Him, and what’s more, made in His image! It is true that the sin curse will exact its toll, but I must urge you to look less in the mirror and more to Him.  You will see that the more your gaze is fixed on Glory, the more gloriously your own image fades and ceases to matter.  He is the only true measure of beauty because He is the author of it.  
For my part, I also prefer to remember that the marks of time are simple reminders that this body is wasting away.  I think, instead, I shall concentrate my efforts on Paul’s “inner man” (and here must I stubbornly assert my right as a female to use “man” to refer to all human beings) who is—or should be—being renewed day by day. I have always jokingly spoken of my age as the eternal 29, but I see that even that must go. Though a joke, it is still a nod toward that ridiculous idol of youth (even if I did honestly believe that I was a year older than the calendar states!) and it is my duty not to feed the fires of that altar. Rather, as we enter the fall of this year, I will think of entering this portion of my life as a season, too. I have much time before the winter closes in, but things are already changing on the outside. Yet, they are changing in anticipation of new life to come in the spring!
"Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised."Proverbs 31:30

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

For Goodness' Sake

     This morning was not my favorite. I was exhausted and struggled to get out of bed when my furry alarm clock began her wake-up whimper. Once I was up, I let the dogs out, stumbled through preparations for our morning walk, and finally gave up and conked out on the couch for a bit. I did eventually gain enough consciousness to leash the dogs and tie my shoes, but rather than shaking me out of my lethargy, walking seemed to make me more tired than ever. It simply was not a good start.

     During my walk, I tried to intercede for others but I just didn't have it in me. Instead, I unloaded some pent-up frustrations on God and then talked to Him about how I knew He was good even though I felt miserable at the moment. I did not feel His goodness a single bit, but I knew it. And I was at least thankful that this was not a school day.

     As the morning passed and kids were fed, coffee consumed, family devotions done, and wandering around the house aimlessly accomplished with splendid precision, I found that I was beginning to feel a little more optimistic. The planned car wash for the day was called off due to a possibility of storms, and I decided to make a treat for the kids and then go do some yard work. However, there were different plans at work: My kids came running back from our neighbors asking to go roller skating with them. Well, thought I, it had been promised to them that we would go sometime, so sure! Why not? We had lunch and went to the skating rink.

     My poor neighbor was having a day of the sort that makes any parent want to consume their offspring on the spot, causing me to realize that despite my lingering sleepiness, I was no longer having a bad day. I felt for her, as I have been in the same predicament many times over, and so was able to sympathize. Her kids eventually cheered up and had fun, which made the next few hours pass more pleasantly for her. All in all, the roller rink was a great success and I got to say "yes" to something spontaneous. Things were looking up.

    When we arrived home, the kids actually asked for an apple to eat. Not a treat, not cheese and crackers, but an apple. That was a pleasant shock! We spent an agreeable hour sitting around the table and rolling onigiri for dinner. My oldest asked if he could prepare the side dish himself because he wanted to add his secret ingredient. So the kitchen was his, and we were all suitably impressed with his seasoning prowess.

      Once the meal was over, we all stepped out to refreshingly cool air and worked at clearing up the yard for mowing. I was walking with my youngest, scooping dog poop of all things, who had just told me how she liked to be with me when I spotted my middle child sitting on the grass and looking out towards where the sun was beginning to set. She looked over her shoulder, beckoned to me,  and patted the grass beside her, and I came and sat. Together, we admired the colors.

     Bedtime was late for the kids, and the littlest just kept her arms around me. Her eyes were tearing and she said, very matter-of-fact, "I don't even know why I'm crying." She made such a tragic and touching figure, handling her little 6-year-old emotions better than I often do. All three are tired by now, and I remain as worn as I felt in the morning. However, I can now say that I feel God's goodness as much as I failed to feel it shortly after dawn. And so, I will end the day the same way I began it by saying, "God, You are good!"

Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!  Psalm 31:19

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Set Apart

"Now, therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. . . " Exodus 19:5, 6a
To be "holy" means to be sacred or set apart. When God sent Moses with the above words for the nation of Israel, He was calling them to be set apart from the rest of the world; different from the other cultures and unique to Himself. If you read on, you will find that what follows for the remainder of the book of Exodus and the following book of Leviticus are specific guidelines that detail exactly how Israel will be, in a very literal sense, set apart as a nation. First, God gives them a quick summation of His Law, commonly called the 10 Commandments. This is followed by chapter after chapter full of details concerning the building, weaving, and making of the items of worship; consecration of the priests and the people; sacrifices for atonement; and numerous precise laws covering topics from clean and unclean foods to handling disease or dead things to appropriate responses in various social situations. The Nation was to be set apart indeed! They were distinguished among the cultures of the time by the very rigorousness of the Law.

It is a grave misfortune that so many in the Church today do not cling to this idea of holiness, of being set apart. Many outright reject it. It is even thought by some that the Old Testament has no bearing on the Christian of today. It is considered by some to be obsolete and no longer relevant because it is the old covenant. That is a blatant untruth. In the letter to the Roman church, Paul writes: "For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope," (Romans 15:4). Jesus, Himself, says, "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me," (John 5:39). It must be understood that the Scriptures both Jesus and Paul refer are none other than those found in the Old Testament -- the documents known today as the New Testament simply did not exist when those words were spoken (though some of them may have been in existence when Paul spoke, they were not widely known by the Christian church at the time of his speaking). So the importance of understanding that old Covenant is seen in these two verses and can be seen in many others throughout the New Testament, especially as evidenced by the multitude of times it is quoted and alluded to by Christ, the apostles, and the early church fathers. 

And so my soapbox speech for the significance of the Old Testament to the modern Believer has been duly articulated. But what, you may ask, has this to do with holiness? I'm glad you asked!

For one, the theme of being set apart that runs through Exodus and Leviticus (and beyond) is a picture of what it should look like to the Christian of today to be set apart through the sacrifice of Christ. The words of Paul in Romans 12:-2b again illustrate this: "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind. . ." or in Romans 6: "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?" So it is by death we are set apart--by dying to sin and taking off the old man being made a new creation in Christ. We are not the same, and we should not look the same. By putting our faith in Christ and allowing Him to have His way in us, we should now understand that we are holy to God and set apart for His purpose.

When God commanded the Israelites to be holy and set apart, I have no doubts that He was looking forward to the day when His Son would die so that all those who put their faith in Him would become a people set apart for Himself. I do not think that there is a great chasm between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New--He is the same God, the unchanging Rock of our salvation; He is the Beginning and the End, and He has never wavered in His great purpose nor has He mellowed with age or in any way wavered or vacillated. Rather, everything in the Old Testament points to Christ, gives insight into the nature and character of God the Father, and is useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness for the believer today. It is as relevant as Romans, as practical as James. It is no coincidence that a letter written by Peter to the early Christian church contained an echo of the words of Yahweh to Moses:  "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light."

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Of Bodies and Brides

"Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love."  Ephesians 4:15-16

     There is a saying that I have heard frequently among church members that has always troubled me. It refers to people who "like Jesus, but not church," and it goes something like, "How can you like Jesus and not the church? The church is His bride, and you can't love a man and hate his bride."  I have pondered this for so long, wondering what it was that rubbed me wrong about this phrasing and finally I have realized what it is.

       Let me begin by saying that it is an absolutely accurate and worthy statement. Jesus is the Bridegroom and the Church is His bride (see Luke 5:34-35, John 3:28-29, Revelation 19:7). From the perspective of those who take the narrow path, there is nothing whatsoever wrong with questioning how anyone could love the man and not the wife. After all, Scripture says that "the two become one flesh," and so to hate a man's bride is to hate the man himself.  In the eyes of God, a man and his wife are one; a complete entity and no longer two distinct beings.

      The bit that bugs me, I have found, is that typically when the question is posed the answerer is not seeing through the eyes of God. Rather, it is man who thinks, "Of course I can love a man and not his bride," and so the analogy falls flat. I wonder, would it not be more clear to use other description of Christ and His church given in the Scripture? Would it not be more reasonable, at least in the mind of man, to talk of Christ as the Head and His church as the body (see Ephesians 1:22-23, Colossians 1:18, 2:19)? After all, any given person may see a married couple not as God sees them--a single unit--but as two individuals co-habitating under the tenuous bond of matrimony and easily divided by divorce. However, every man knows that without a head, the usefulness of a body quickly dwindles. If we think of it that way, the idea that a person can like the head but detest the remainder of the body becomes a smidgen ridiculous. 

     Personally, there was a time I could have said the same, but once I understood the absurdity of the thing I began to pray that God would help me to love like He does. Now I find that I can say I love both the Head and the body. The body may have its imperfections, it may malfunction, and it may appear flabby and even somewhat pathetic, but I have begun to understand the potential for which Christ is training His body. I have begun to understand that the church body is not yet grown and so must go through many awkward stages as it matures. Even though I can see why it appears so hideous to some, this immature body with an ancient and wise Head, yet I have come to love it. Not because it is wonderful or because I like the way it looks, but because it is a part of Him whom I adore.

"By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." John 13:35

Sunday, April 10, 2011


"For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: That one has died for all, therefore all have died; and He died for all that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised."  2 Corinthians 5:14-15

     I recently had to ask myself, "Am I, in fact, controlled by the love of Christ?" If it was an uneasy question, then let me assure you the process of finding the answer was more uneasy still. It involved a prolonged and somewhat painful searching of the darkest corners of my heart, and yet a clue to the answer is given mere words later in the passage. If the love of Christ controls me, then do I live for myself? Or for Him?  That answer is simpler and more revealing, and it turns out that the answer to both questions is the same. 

     Oh, at first blush I could easily say I live for Him. After all, did I not seek His will for finding a place of worship rather than looking for what would best please me? I did not worry about the music, the location, nor even fret over which denomination to attend but left all in His hands and went where He commanded. I knew He desired obedience above all human reason, and I obeyed. So that's good, right? I worship for Him, not for me. But then He had me take a closer look. . .

     What about the service I give Him there? Is it truly for Him, or has my motivation been, at least in part, that I would look like a good little servant? Ahhh, now we've hit a sore spot. I had to confess that sometimes my acts of service were tainted by a smudge or two of pride. Then He had me examine my service on the home front... Do I ever grumble inwardly -- or even out loud -- when my husband asks me to do something when I am in the middle of a chore of my own? A better question would be, do I ever fail to murmur a complaint or feel a small surge of irritation? Again I find I am living for myself.

     I could go on for hours. Indeed, He went on with me for years, slowly and meticulously exposing even the tiniest, fragmental root of bitterness, selfishness, and self-serving.  It was what I had asked for, though I found myself many times wishing I never had asked. But what else is there for me? Once I knew the difference between this ancient, all-knowing Being and the pettiness of mere humanity, once I began to fathom the immensity of His wisdom compared with the fickle whims of my fellow man, once I had begun to grasp the unbelievable fact that He loves us despite our ignorance and even despite our outright defiance, once I understood who He is, I was undone. There is nothing else for me; no pleasure this earth has to offer that can compare to the knowledge that the bitterest draft He draws for me to drink is for my ultimate good, burn though it may at the time. Indeed, at times I hated this knowledge and wished I could drown myself in earthly delights. However, at the core of me there is the simple knowing that all else besides the Lord is futile, "a chasing after the wind." In the end, it comes down to Him. Only Him.  Now that the rift between what I said I believed and how I lived each day was found and exposed, it must be mended.

     This same dissonance exists between the Word of God and the collective church that claims to believe it, and it, too needs mending. There are many who, though they claim to be His followers, are merely in it for the society--to meet "nice" people and do "good" things. There is no real surrender, no real life change, no real desire to get in past the warm shallow waters of the faith. These are mere hobbyists, not devotees. There is too much comfort and convenience on the solid ground to keep them from wanting to dive in to the deep and even dangerous waters that lay farther out. But oh! the exquisite joy and beauty they miss out on! 

     There is more to Christianity than a set of pews and some great (or even not-so-great) music. It is not a social club, nor is it exclusive in its membership but open to all people regardless of background and personal taste. Indeed, personal taste has nothing whatsoever to do with it! It is beyond taste; beyond a building; beyond any ritual, be it new or old; beyond the scope of human reason. It is a matter of the heart. It is death and life. It is loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you, no matter how cruel. You, personally, stripped of metaphor. It is choosing to serve others, even when it means neglecting your own needs, even when those served do not appreciate it. Even when they are malicious in return. It is trusting God implicitly to know and meet your needs, never worrying or fretting. It means listening carefully for His voice among the clamor of demands and requests so that you will know what work He is giving you and not confuse it with all the other work to be done. It means quiet and careful listening. It means prompt obedience. It means that the love of Christ controls us without reservation.

     I want to say I am there, but I am not yet. However, I find as my body ages, my heart grows closer to Him. Is it the fear of death or some morbid clinging to some crazy unknown that gives me comfort in the down slope of life? No, I assure you it is not. It is because though my outer self is wasting away, my inner self is being renewed day by day. It because, as my flesh grows old and deteriorates, my spirit is coming out of its infancy and growing and learning more each day. It is the natural order of things, so that "in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling."  And so, for as long as this tent lasts, I pray that what dwells within it will be controlled by the consummate and unabashed love of Christ, my Lord.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Love Story

     It is Valentine's day, a holiday that simply has never resonated with me. I don't know if it is because I am not a romantic person or if it is because I am a pure romantic. You see, like most women I have always harbored a secret wish to be swept off my feet; to feel adored, beautiful, and cherished. It is a fact, however, that my blunt pragmatism gets in the way of this. For one, I suppose to feel adored one must feel adorable, a feat that I have never been quite able to achieve. Also, my mind will endlessly trail off after the logic formed by personal experience, always wondering what is expected of me in return or sifting through motives.  As far as Valentine's day goes, I suppose that any act of admiration on that particular day seems more like a cultural obligation than romance. The spontaneity and surprise is gone, almost like having someone declare their devotion by reading from a set of note cards, occasionally stumbling because the speech was written by someone else and therefore unfamiliar.

     The fact is, however, no matter what girlish knight-in-shining-armor fantasies I hold, I am adored, cherished, loved with a love that knows no bounds. What's more, to beat any fairytale, I am adored by a king--and not just any king, the King of kings. This was quite a shock for me to realize, and it was only through my habit of motive analysis and experience at discovering what is expected of me that I found that His only motive was merely pure, unabashed, and untainted love.

     It took me some time to sift through the facts, but what captured my heart was nothing more than the simple rescue of a damsel in the very great distress of being chained in a filthy cage, helplessly forging link after link of her own chain, driven onward by the whispered lies of a wretched beast, doomed to death. However, His love is so pure that there was nothing in my utterly depraved state that revolted this King. No, indeed, He left His throne behind, forsook all the elements and trappings of Royalty, and came to me as a measly peasant. He did not muster all the forces at His command, charging into the lair of the whispering beast, armor blazing and sword held aloft. No, he quite simply lifted me out of my prison, washed me, placed my chains around Himself, and surrendered His life in my place. He stepped into my filth and decay so that I could have life, and have it abundantly.

     More than that, He conquered death, rising again on the third day after His execution and placing a boundary around the beast himself--the jailer now jailed. Oh, this beast has quite a romp, for a time enjoying ownership of the area he has staked out, whispering his nonsense and cackling with glee as those under his dominion add link after link to their chains. He throws his might into recapturing those who were woken from his spell and now pick their way through his principality, proclaiming the news of freedom to other prisoners and stubbornly remaining free.  But his guile is confined and limited and he romps on borrowed time in his stolen land, for someday my King will come again, this time in full glory, shining like the sun and sword at the ready to reclaim the territory that is rightfully His.

     It still makes me shudder to think what He did, and more so to realize how often I would crawl back behind my bars and begin to work on the chain again even after He set me free. But I was free, and I am now free; gradually making my way farther from that cage and finding kinship with other former captives. As I travel toward His kingdom, it is my hope that I can share the truth of His sacrifice with others who still listen to the father of lies as they forge endless links of unnecessary chains; for it was not only for me that He gave Himself up, but for all of humankind. It is now that the choice lies with us. We can accept the freedom He offers, or we can choose to sit and drink in the beast's deceit.

     Either way, our path is not easy, for if we choose to follow the King who freed us, we willingly enter His war against the monster and his monstrous cunning. If we turn away from the proffered freedom, we choose to remain slaves to relentless effort without hope. The creature has set himself against the King and will do all in his power to reclaim us or render us ineffective, and he will strive to keep the prisoners unaware that the links they are bound in have been broken. He will practice trickery and deceit, and he is a master at it. However, we know also that our King has sent us an emissary of His Kingdom, the Comforter, to be with us in this battle and to teach us how to fight the fight of love. This is the seal of His love in our hearts and cannot be removed, and it is this Spirit of truth that will carry us through if only we will surrender our whole hearts to Him. It is true that either path holds pain, but while one path leads through the Valley of the Shadow of Death with the Comforter as your guide, the other path ends within that Valley, utterly alone.

     As it turns out, in all my sorting, searching, and picking apart, I did find an expectation that my King has of me. What He expects of me--or of any of us--in return for His act of love and rescue is that we give ourselves wholly in love to Him, holding nothing back. He asks only pure and untainted love in return for His love. Love is His singular motive. Even now, and perhaps for the rest of this earthly part of my life, I will strive to throw off the shackles of my former prison and utterly embrace Love. It is my prayer that you will join me, and let us all together make the love of our Savior and King a lifestyle; every day, in every way marveling at the wonder and splendor of it and surrendering ourselves to Him so that He can use us in His great redemption plan for all people, nations, and tongues. This is the love I celebrate today, tomorrow, and always.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


     During a discussion about the first chapter in 2 Corinthians last night, I was struck by a common phrase that I have heard, namely, that God will not give us more than we can handle.  I began to wonder where I had heard this and, indeed, was it even Biblical? I know that I, myself, have said it often. Out of the blue, however, I could only think of one verse that comes close.  If I am incorrect and simply unable to call to mind a crucial verse or passage saying that God will not give us more than we can handle, please correct me! However, the closest I could come off the top of my head was 1 Corinthians 10:13 where it is said, "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape that you may be able to endure it."  This verse does not say that God will not dish out more than we can take, but that He will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear. This does not in any way refer to trials or affliction, but merely temptation. We also know that God does not tempt anyone (James 1:13) although He will permit us to be tempted in order to test and prove our faith and faithfulness, or to expose areas where we need to surrender to Him. He sends trials, but He does not send temptation -- that is the work of the one called Accuser and Tempter, the father of lies.

    In verse 8 of chapter 1 of 2 Corinthians, Paul says, "we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself," (emphasis mine).  Paul, it seemed, had more than he could handle at the time. However, he goes on to say in verse 9, "... but that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God..."  As I pondered these words, I began to think of the many verses on suffering, affliction, and tribulation that the Bible contains, and I could not think of a single one where it was promised that we would never receive more than we could handle. In fact, the implication often was that we must patiently endure the tribulation (John 16:33, Romans 5:3, 8:35, 12:12, 2 Timothy 2:3, et al). Indeed, we see that God often sends affliction to refine and shape us (Isaiah 30:20, 48:10, 2 Corinthians 4:17, et al).  Jesus, also, told His disciples that when He went away, the Helper would come who would convict the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgement. This Helper, the Holy Spirit, would also "guide them into all truth" (see John 16:7-13).  As a point of fact, why would we need the Helper, this Parakletos, which means both helper and consoler, intercessor and comforter if there was no suffering to come? Who needs comfort if there is nothing to need comfort from?

     I have been mulling these things over for the past few hours, and I can only say that I stand corrected. No longer do I believe that God will not burden me beyond my strength, as I have said before. I do say He will provide a way out when I am tempted to doubt His goodness during those trials or afflictions, but it is still my choice to take it. However, I dare say that God will, indeed, burden me beyond my strength in order that His power will be made perfect in my weakness, and so all will know of His might and not of mine. When I have health trouble that bogs me down, dulls my mind, and makes my job seem impossible,  past trials that seem to drag on my emotions like an anchor, or any other affliction or trial, let it never be said, "Look what Heather endured and how strong she was to stand through it all," but instead, "Look what the Lord has brought her through, weak and small though she is. How merciful, how wonderful, how majestic is He!"

 Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort, too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort." 2 Corinthians 1:3-7

     When I read the above passage this morning, it reminded me of a goofy habit I picked up last year:  I believed that anything that caused me to suffer actually had something to do with me. I longed for comfort--not for the sake of others--but simply that I might be comforted. I had forgotten a key fact of my life in Christ: It is not mine.

     You see, last year was a very busy year for me. I found myself multitasking positively everything, including, sadly, my Bible reading. Oh, I would read, but a portion of my brain cells were already busily planning the next thing I needed to do. Then there were the headaches--a whole year of them. Let us not forget that homeschooling 3 kids, the oldest in 3rd at the beginning of the year and 4th at the end, presented me with a whole new world of challenges. Naturally, there were several other minor annoyances and grievances, there was some crushing fatigue that threatened to wipe out my consciousness every afternoon, there were too many chores, and there simply were not enough hours in my day. So I, fine Christian chica that I am, did not spend time humbly seeking God's wisdom and asking for His priorities. I did not fall on my face and beg for a fresh filling of the Holy Spirit to strengthen me and to show me what I was doing that I shouldn't be or how to organize my task list to meet God's standards. Nor did I focus my mind on the Word and shut out the world for a time, taking all thoughts captive to Christ. As a matter of fact, out of the many positive things I could have done, I chose none. Instead, in my enviable wisdom, I threw a temper tantrum.

     It turns out, throwing a temper tantrum with God has much the same effect as a toddler throwing a temper tantrum with a seasoned parent. I felt miserable, I accomplished very little, and I still did not get my way. Somehow, I doubt it affected God very much at all. I can almost sense Him looking up from His work from time to time to ask, "Are you finished yet?" only to go cheerily back to work when it was clear that I was not, in fact, finished. He allowed me to go on for a year until I had nothing left but tears, and then, faithful as He is, He reminded me that His grace is sufficient for me. I do not need to be whole, pain-free, or living in the ideal situation to do all the work He has given me to do. I simply need to be submissive and obedient. Oh, and it does help to know the difference between the work He has given me and the extra helpings I piled on the plate all by myself...

     It took some time, but now I do remember why James says to "count it all joy. . . when you meet trials of various kinds." I recall that "suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope." I remember that the apostle Paul, too, had a thorn in his flesh and was not without physical discomfort.  Somehow, I knew all that in the thick of my troubles last year--and there are many other merely emotional trials that were intensely personal and therefore intensely meaningless to other people--but I did not understand it. I heard, but I did not listen. That goes hand in hand with temper tantrums, I suppose.

     And I did seem to forget the critical fact that the Almighty Creator of all things, the One by whom all things are held together, the Alpha and the Omega actually has a larger plan that spans all of history, every single person who ever lived and all who will yet live, and perhaps even beyond.  I somehow forgot that this unfathomable, immeasurable, immense plan, begun and maintained by a boundless Person who intimately knows details I do not even register--this Masterwork of a plan does not hinge on me. Seems like common sense, doesn't it?

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.