Monday, December 24, 2012

Prince of Peace


And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace." 
Luke 1:76-79

     Father God, I just want to take some time today to thank You for the gift of Your Son. I know that without Him, I am lost. Without the price He paid in freely giving His life as a ransom for me, I would still be a slave to death, doomed to perish without hope. This gift is so tremendous that I struggled to accept it at first, unworthy as I was, until I understood that You gave it freely to me regardless of my worth as the greatest act of undeserved love the world will ever see. By Your gift, freely given, You gave me worth. This is the greatest joy I can ever know, and I am humbled by its magnitude.

     It was not until I began to understand the unspoiled perfection of You, Lord, that I saw the absolute wretchedness of my own state. As I began to understand the incredible power and preeminence of my Creator, I also began to comprehend the foolishness of my own pride. Before I knew You, I mocked You and scoffed at all of Christendom. Now I know that You, oh God, are Reality and You are all that is good and true. That I would mock You... that I would believe my thoughts to have any validity or any relation to reality at all... in the moment I began to know You, I was ashamed. I knew then that my pride was preposterous, and my trespass against You was tremendous. Every bit of selfishness, each speck of hatefulness, anger, lust, and each and every transgression stood out to me suddenly in stark relief.  I was overwhelmed by my impurity in the face of a perfect and holy God. My debt was enormous, and I stood accused, deserving of nothing more than suffering, loathing, and death for my crimes.

    And yet, You paid that debt. Instead of the wrath that I fully deserved, as I looked toward Your face, I saw One willingly indicted in my place, One who stood between me and a holy Creator and bridged an impossible gap. I saw my Lord Jesus, who with compassion in His face, took the punishment and the unbridled wrath of holiness against sin in my stead. I saw the Messiah, my Redeemer, my Prince of Peace, and my King of kings.

     As I began to fathom the depths of Your love, oh God, the price that You paid, oh my Lord Jesus, I knew that my whole life was Yours to do with as You please. I was bought with a price and no longer my own--me, the chief of sinners if ever there was one, who chased after other gods and whose selfishness knew no bounds, me whose mockery must have surpassed even Paul's approval of the stoning of Christians. You saved me, lowly and horrible me, from the chastisement I deserved to the uttermost. You, my King, paid that penalty with Your own life, the spotless Lamb of God who died in my place. Knowing that, I can no longer serve myself, but I am Yours without restraint.
 
     Because You humbled Yourself to live as a man and even to a disgraceful criminal's death in my place, help me to humble myself and to treat others with greater importance than myself.

     Because You are merciful, help me to extend mercy to everyone, even to those who have hurt or wronged me without cause.

     Because You are patient, grant me the ability to be patient with everyone in every circumstance.

     Because You are pure, show me how to avoid impurity in all its forms, even in my secret thoughts and desires.

      Because You are loving, help me to look upon all men with Your eyes of love that know no envy, boasting, arrogance, or rudeness and show me how to always hope the best of others.

      Because You are good, may it be that my life reflects Your goodness.

      Because Jesus embodied unlimited power restrained only by unlimited humility, not retaliating against those who struck and spit upon Him but instead asking for their forgiveness, I will not retaliate against those who seek to wound me.
 
       Because You came to serve, I choose to serve You. In Your power, oh Lord, I will have peace in the midst of trial because You have overcome the world.

      Because You gave Yourself for me, may I give myself altogether to You and to others, not holding back nor serving myself but only serving others as You lead me in the way of peace.

     Thank You, Father God, for the unfathomable gift of Jesus, our Savior. Amen.



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. 
Luke 2:10






      When I look upon a manger scene, I see my Sovereign Lord lying in an animal's feeding trough, choosing not to wield His authority against humanity but to lay it aside and rescue us. I see an innocence that was never spoiled but instead was honed until it was sharp enough to pierce my heart of stone; an Innocence that threw Himself between me and the slayer's knife, covering me in His spilled blood and hiding me from death.

     When I look upon a manger scene,  I see reckless love, unknowable anguish, and keen and unambiguous passion. I see a solemn and ever-mounting joy unleashed; the Living Water inundating a path impossibly narrow and sweeping all who walk it along into a life of unrelenting wonder and indescribable peace.

     I pray that  you will accept His gift this year. Merry Christmas!



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, December 6, 2012

Alone


At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, "Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled." Then all the disciples left him and fled.
Matthew 26:55-56
     I am not what one might call a typical American female. I did not like to play with hair as a child. I am two years shy of 40 and have never had a mani/pedi--and in fact only recently learned what that cutsie little abbreviation means. My hair color is natural. I loathe the fickle nature of fashion and in fact have a deep mistrust of everything that is faddish or trendy, be it clothing, home decor, or anything related to diet. I am clueless about accessories, both personal and home-related and I haven't the faintest idea why anyone would own more than one purse at a time. Makeup is something I am trying to learn (yes, at 38), mainly in an attempt to disguise the onset of what appears to be the early stages of zombie-ism and so I can try to have something to teach to my daughters when they become interested. Perhaps also to avoid embarrassing them.
     There are things that I do get, of course. Pregnancy, babies, and nursing. The craving to be loved. The desire to feel beautiful, which I do have to admit is rather awkwardly juxtaposed with some of my other eccentricities. When I was a young woman, those quirks left me feeling quite alone--a drab black ewe in a whole flock of glamorous and sparkly white ones.
     Now that age and experience have mellowed me, I am much more comfortable in being who I am. I am all girl, and some of those peculiarities that used to make me feel freakish have actually been a tremendous boon to both my husband and myself in our marriage. I may explore that topic a bit in another post, but for now I am concentrating on the feeling of lonesomeness. I have felt it most of my life, even within the context of family and particularly in the company of other ladies.
     Lately, however, I have meditated on the lonesomeness of Jesus when He walked the earth. There is no Biblical reference to suggest that He ever felt a deep loneliness, however I cannot help but think that since He was entirely human, having given up His glory and power, He must have been subject to entirely human emotions. Quirky though I may be, I do always have some common ground to fall back on when struggling to relate to another woman. I am, after all, still a woman. Jesus was a man, but He was also the divine Son of God--Immanuel, God With Us, incomprehensible to us and yet not impossible with God, for nothing is impossible with Him.
     Despite that seeming paradox, He did willingly set aside His glory and exchange His majesty and splendor to be born as an infant; the Creator subjecting Himself to the struggles of His creation in the greatest act of humility the world has ever seen. He was tempted. He felt pain. The main difference between Him and us is that in His struggle, He never committed sin. I cannot help but wonder if that was a lonely road to walk. Imagine being the only Person you know who is in complete and perfect harmony with the Father always, walking without sin in a world teeming with it. Imagine having a viewpoint of crystal-clarity and perfection and trying to relate to others whose their entire worldview is tainted, stained, and twisted. When I struggle to relate to another lady, I can almost always fall back on childbirth or children or some common experience that all women share. Jesus had no one who shared His experience of being the Messiah, of dwelling in the midst of iniquity and never tasting of it. No one with whom He could reminisce, "Remember when we had all power and dwelt in the majesty of heaven itself?" He was truly unique.
     When loneliness encroaches on me now, I remember Him. I think of how He must have felt, and how far His experience is from mine because I have sinned and I do share that tainted viewpoint with everyone else on the planet. He did not share in that, He came to rescue us out of it. He alone was perfect, the complete Man as Man was created to be. When I feel rejected, I remember that my Lord, too, "was despised and rejected, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief," and my own sorrow is lightened, knowing that, "He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows," (Isaiah 53: 3-4).  When what He calls me to do is unpopular, I think of Him and I am comforted, knowing that He has borne much more than I ever will and has come out victorious on my behalf. Truly I can never be lonely again, for He will be with me always--and He does understand.


Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. 
Hebrews 4:14-16



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, November 30, 2012

Happy Birthday, Jesus?

 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. 
Matthew 1:22-25


So there I was, merrily slapping return address labels on my Christmas cards and letting my thoughts wander when two things came into sudden, sharp focus.

     First that I was merrily slapping them on the wrong corner of the envelopes and second that my cousin, Jeneane's, revelation about Christmas was absolutely spot on. Allow me to begin by stating her disclaimer (and mine) that neither one of us think the whole Christmas holiday celebration is in any way evil, wrong, or malign. We both enjoy the festivity, the time with family, and the fudge tremendously. Let me also state for the record that this particular post really is written for the believer in Jesus Christ and not, as some of my other posts are, evangelical in any way.. .  But back to Christmas: We do not believe Christmas fun is wrong. It simply is not in keeping with the current birthday traditions.

     I know. It took me a moment to separate myself from some 38 years of cultural indoctrination concerning Christmas, too.

     When I was a secularist, I gadded about wishing everyone a "Happy Holidays!" Once I became a Christian, I was a zealous wisher of "Merry CHRISTmas" to all, even dropping the obese man in the red suit from our family celebration in favor of simply giving gifts to my kids (and yes, even stockings although they have no delusions who the giver of the stocking gifts are!) and gleefully celebrating the birth of my Savior by buying, making, or baking gifts for those I love and some I just like. And yes, by merrily slapping return address labels on a large stack of Christmas cards. After all, 'tis the season of giving, right?

     The only thing is, in America we typically give gifts to the birthday honoree. In the case of Christmas, as I fervently prattled for the last few years, that birthday Boy is none other than Emmanuel; God With Us. Frantic attempts to convert this particular Birthday celebration from a hectic, greed-filled free-for-all into a time of contemplation and repentance has been only mildly successful and left my cousin and me with the nagging suspicion that something was off. It wasn't until she posed the question that I could put it into words...
   
     If Christmas is a celebration of the birth of the Christ, why do we not give Him--God With Us, the One for Whom we adamantly proclaim our love and devotion--gifts on His birthday? I have personally never celebrated my husband's birthday by purchasing gifts and cards for almost everyone I know, although I did assure my cousin that I would honor her birthday (which is today, actually) by gifting my children with treats.

     Back to the point: Why do we celebrate the birth of our Lord by overspending, over committing, and overeating instead of reflecting on the reason He humbled Himself to be born at all--to die as a ransom for us? Why is it that we do not focus our efforts on giving gifts to further His Kingdom, perhaps giving all that Christmas gift money to missions, or better yet to go spread the Gospel ourselves?  Why not give to those truly in need rather than to each other who really have no need, or to put it another way, "to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world?"

     Now before I become everyone's favorite person to loathe, let me say that I am not precisely ready to toss out my tree and forsake my chocolate-dipped pretzels. I adore the whole season, and I love giving special gifts to my kids and baking for friends. I am not likely to give it up anytime soon. However, I am reconsidering calling it Christ's birthday celebration and merely thinking of it as a celebration of His gift of salvation and the gift of loved ones old and young who have brightened my life. After all, all good gifts come from the Father of Lights, and I see no problem in celebrating His goodness at the end of each year. In fact, I would like to see myself do that every day.

    In the future, I may call it Jesus's birthday present when we finally take a family mission trip, or when I help someone needy in some way. My family has even considered one day celebrating Christmas by spending all our gift money for each other on a mission trip, and even the little ones are intrigued by the idea. That would be a most excellent Christmas, I think, and I am looking forward to it and, God willing, am hoping to begin planning it soon.

     But for this year, I will celebrate tradition and wrap the already-purchased gifts and making the ingredients packing my pantry into some treat to share with others. I do hope to help some folks in need, and I know the opportunity will arise. It always does, for as Jesus Himself once said, "...you will always have the poor with you..." and so there will always be need. And I will also finish merrily slapping return address labels on my Christmas card envelopes... only I will be certain to hit the correct corner this time around.

Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible. 
Ephesians 6:23-24


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.





Saturday, November 24, 2012

Temper



     But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, "It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers." And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. 
     And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, "Arise and eat." And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. And the angel of the LORD came again a second time and touched him and said, "Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you." 
     And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God. There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" 
     He said, "I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away." 
     And he said, "Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD." And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. 
     And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" 
     He said, "I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away." 
     And the LORD said to him, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him."
1 Kings 19:4-18
     I find that I can greatly identify with Elijah in this Scripture selection, especially now that I am coming full circle with this very passage. A few months ago, I was trying to get into words my sense of kinship with this prophet but it simply would not come out right.  In a state of discouragement and feeling hopeless and drained, I dropped it. Actually I dropped writing altogether not long after, giving in to despair and feeling overwhelmed by fatigue, migraines, and life in general. In my first attempt at packing my affinity with Elijah into verbiage, I was mainly focused on a sort of commiseration with his loneliness. However, now I see that the similarity between my attitude and his runs much more to the ugly side of things: I can identify with the prophet because I, too, melt into a sloppy pool of whine when I am worn out.
     I have been known to say that if my life is poured out to the uttermost in service to my King, it would not be too much for Him to ask. What a splendid and noble sentiment! Unfortunately, it seems that the real me is much less compliant than the idealistic me. In the actual practice of living,  I found myself plugging along, serving my God faithfully and with every ounce of energy that I could muster until I rather abruptly found that I could muster no more. I became weary-- the frequent migraines wore on me, private sorrows seemed to redouble their assault  responsibility seemed to pile higher than ability, and for whatever myriad other reasons I simply broke down. Just like Elijah, I flung myself down (though on a bed not beneath a broom tree) and begged God to go ahead and take me home. I was done. Nothing left, and no desire to keep spinning in my hamster wheel, waiting on the next migraine or misfortune to derail me and send me careening back into the shadowy vale. I was toast, and a decidedly charcoaled bit of toast at that.
     Fortunately for me, God has a great deal more patience than I. When my own children display such dramatics, I am the first to snort a little, raise an eyebrow, and tell them in a most motherly and nurturing way to suck it up. To be frank, there have been times that God has done the same with me, and I needed it. However, at least after my most recent temper tantrum, I apparently needed something more gentle for He has dealt with me much like He did with Elijah from our story today. He sedately listened to me wail and bemoan my fate until I cried myself into a stupor. Then he gave me a time of much-needed rest and woke me only to nourish me. There were no angels and no bread baking over hot coals for me, but there was the Living Water to slake my thirst and the Bread of Life to feed my faltering faith. It was His grace that saw me through my moment of spiritual fatigue and His grace that I am most thankful for today.
     God also reminded me that He is gentle as well as powerful and that sometimes I need to still myself to hear His voice. Not only that, He whispers, but even when I do not see evidence of His labors--no rending earthquakes or furious conflagrations to announce His authority--He is still at work. He can still do dazzling deeds as He did during Elijah's ministry in sending fire from heaven to consume the waterlogged offering. However, sometimes the most dazzling work is done within the human heart;  a still small voice bringing about changed lives one breath at a time.
      And still He did not leave me there. Just as He did so many years ago with the prophet, He reminded me that I still have work to do for Him. I have children to raise, teach, and equip for His work in an increasingly stiff-necked and unreasonable world. If my job is difficult, theirs will be truly impossible without God and without that foundation it is my duty to lay.  I have a husband whose battle is very much on the corporate front lines; a husband who needs support and a safe haven to come to when the whole world seems to stand against him.. And like it or not, I still have writing to do, though it may be a battle against my weak flesh and my weaker will to get it done.
     So here I am... resting and recuperating, steeling myself for the battles I have yet to fight against physical pain and in raising children counter-culturally in a world of increasing moral decay, hate, and strife. I will fight for my family and work diligently at the things which my Lord has given me to do. By His grace alone I will not fall. I am ready.


For you are my lamp, O LORD, and my God lightens my darkness.For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall.This God--his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God? This God is my strong refuge and has made my way blameless. He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights. He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your gentleness made me great.
 2 Samuel 22:29-36


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.




Tuesday, November 6, 2012

From Sorrow to Joy


 Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God. 
Psalms 69:1-3

     These verses described my mood for a couple of days last week. I had been feeling low and heavily burdened. Private sorrows seemed to swell and requests that I felt compelled to offer with boldness had largely seemed to go, not unanswered, but unheard. Despite a 2-day respite in headaches, I still struggled with fatigue and a sense of despair, feeling that I can do nothing well. At the time, it seemed that chores and duties had stacked up until they threatened to overwhelm me. I was struggling to keep my head above water.


O God, you know my folly; the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you. Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, O Lord GOD of hosts; let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me, O God of Israel. 
Psalms 69:5-6

     My heart was out of kilter, and my mind was more on myself than it was my God. It could be called a reasonable sense of mingled anticipation and sorrow during an "eye" of the headache storm. However, it was more properly an indulgence in self-pity. And it was not hidden from God. Repentance was called for as was  a lessening of concern for my perceived needs and a greater concern for whether my life was an accurate reflection of the Lord's goodness or a distorted, useless one. 

But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness. Deliver me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters. Let not the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the pit close its mouth over me. Answer me, O LORD, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me. Hide not your face from your servant; for I am in distress; make haste to answer me. Draw near to my soul, redeem me; ransom me because of my enemies! 
Psalms 69:13-18

     I needed Him then and I need Him now. I cry out to You, oh God! When I wander from Your presence, even when I allow my attention to stray even for a moment, I am quickly lost. My cross seems heavy when I forget what Yours weighed. In my weakness, I plead with You to drag me out of the pit I have stumbled into, to return the meditations of my heart back to Your goodness and love. I can never wander so far or fall so low that I am out of reach of Your hand. The light of Your mercy will always be a beacon to draw me back should I turn my feet from the path and become lost in the gloom. 

I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving. This will please the LORD more than an ox or a bull with horns and hoofs. When the humble see it they will be glad; you who seek God, let your hearts revive. For the LORD hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners. Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and everything that moves in them. 
Psalms 69:30-34

     For my God is worthy of my unmitigated praise and devotion. It is for His purpose that He created me, and all that He allows in my life is meant for my ultimate good--to prosper and not to harm me, to give me a future and a hope. I easily forget sometimes that my future and hope are not bound up in this world, but in a place beyond human reason and rational: a place eternally in the Presence of my King. It is easy to think that pain on earth is eternal, for while I am experiencing it here, it feels eternal. Yet I need not let my feelings affect my belief in and trust in the Lord. He is good when my circumstances are not; He is life when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death; His word is Truth when I am bombarded by conflicting and confusing messages. It is for His sake that I repent of self-pity and once again serve Him willingly. I have said that He is worth every last drop of strength that I have, that even if I am poured out entirely in His service, it is good. He is worth it.
     I have said it; now it is time to live like I mean it.

My strength is Yours, oh God! Use it as You will and forgive me when I complain. Bear me up when I am in pain and when the pain leaves and I am weary. You are worth it, and I will serve You with my whole life, no matter my circumstances. 


 I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me. O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O LORD, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit. Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. 
Psalms 30:1-5


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, October 25, 2012

Down the Migraine Spiral

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. 
Psalms 23:1-6

      Today is not the first time I have walked through a dark valley. I have been through valleys where the walls were constructed of pure, unchecked emotion; the Valley of Depression. I have walked in valleys darkened by despair, by fear, by worry, by troubles within myself, and by the trials of others whom I love. The dark vale I have walked through the most frequently, however, is the Valley of Pain.

      In this place, I find my world can narrow to an almost infinitesimal point. At other times, I pace restlessly and babble inanely, unable to concentrate or even sit still; these are the times when my world expands and I am tossed about in an ocean of anguish. Still other times, the most frequent times, the pain is merely the backdrop before which my life is played out. I have been told I have migraine headaches, cluster headaches, headaches caused by nerve damage, and possibly others, any one of which may blend seamlessly into another at any time. Often, a headache is the first thing to greet me in the morning and invades my last moments of awareness before I fall asleep.

     As I type this, I am on two preventative medications and have take two separate abortive medications. The pain has been blunted to the level of what I call a "functional migraine," meaning I can still perform basic duties or anything that is fun or distracting (like writing), but multitasking is impossible without my becoming confused or anxious. Perhaps my words meander, perhaps they may make sense: I know not. I type to distract, not to communicate  in times like these. On days like today, normal activities must be dimmed and my standards have to be lowered, but I can get through the day. This is a good migraine day. A bad one sees me never quite being functional and unable to move from whatever spot the pain crossed the threshold between "functional" and "full-blown." Those days are not my favorite.

     None of this is fun, and that is just a quick overview. However, in the midst of this valley of darkness, God is there. He is teaching me to trust Him through it. He is showing me that I truly cannot find my way alone --I need my Shepherd desperately. It is only by following hard on His heels that I can hope to through the gloom. It is He who lights the path, and if I take my eyes off Him even for a moment, it is easy for this foolish sheep to lose my way and be swallowed up in the shadows. Pain stalks me relentlessly here, but when my concentration is bent on following my Shepherd, I find that it can fully engulf me but it cannot destroy me. Even if the rest of my life is spent battling various headaches and the resulting fatigue, at least I know I do not fight alone. He is with me. His rod and staff are a comfort to me. He, too, has walked through the Valley of Pain--and come out alive on the other side. Because He has trod this path already, I know that He knows the way through. And so I will gladly follow, no matter how long and grueling the journey is. He is worth it, and what's more: He understands.

For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 
2 Corinthians 4:6-11


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.



Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Stones

As he was drawing near--already on the way down the Mount of Olives--the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"
And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples."
He answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out." 
Luke 19:37-40

     I wonder at times if I am too hesitant with my praise or too cautious with my requests? I have seen God do mighty works in my heart and in my life, but I think sometimes I have been reserved about giving Him the credit that is His due. I am ashamed by that.

     He is teaching me, also, to be more bold in prayer. In this area, too, I have been conservative, afraid to ask for things that are too big or too specific. In a recent meeting, another believer stated this as "saving face for God." This is what I do, too, or perhaps I am really saving face for myself, afraid to ask publicly for something only to have it withheld. I am also ashamed by this.

     Would it not be better to cry aloud to God from my heart, heedless of who is listening; to talk with my Father as if it were He and I alone in the world? Would it not be better to present my requests without fear or shame, knowing and even loudly declaring that such requests are His to grant or deny as He wills? Should I not praise Him with unabashed zeal regardless of what He does or does not grant? Nowhere in His word can I find one of the "superheros" of the faith who was not bold, almost reckless, in speaking with the Almighty.

     Take Moses, who was hesitant to obey at first and even asked, "Oh my Lord, please send someone else," yet he was later found to have the audacity to ask, "Please show me Your glory!" Isaiah, once his lips had been touched by the burning coal from the altar, was quick to shout, "Here I am! Send me!"even though his mission was often to preach to those who neither heard nor cared. Hezekiah, through Isaiah's invitation, asked for the shadow to go backward ten steps as the day increased, and Gideon asked twice for an incredibly specific sign with his fleece. Many other prophets and Jesus's own disciples asked without trepidation for healing and even for the raising of the dead. So I know that there is no request outside the reach of my God. So why do I hesitate? Am I waiting for the stones' song to ring out?

     Father, today I triumphantly declare Your greatness!.  You are not good because of my circumstance; You are good regardless of it. You are the Rock, the Mighty One upon whom my faith is built. There is no God like You and I serve You proudly and with relish. May it be that I always proclaim the works of Your hand, Your incredible love, Your power, and Your praise without fear. You have been goading me to walk more boldly and I have only just begun to get my feet wet in it. Grant me the courage to immerse myself completely!

     Today I ask without fear that You would grant my husband a job that would be a reward to him for years of hard work. May it be a job that will allow for family time, be an asset to his reputation, and be a financial boon and reward. We earnestly await Your word in this matter, laying all at Your feet and trusting that if you do not grant this request it is because You know better what he needs than we. I have asked for a number, Lord, but I choose to keep that between my family and You. This is my fleece in this matter, and I ask it knowing that You will do what is best and also knowing that we can only hope to receive if we ask. Whether You give or You withhold, we will magnify You. May the stones never drown out the tumult of our praise! 


I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together! 
Psalms 34:1b-3



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, October 18, 2012

Without Excuse



For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Romans 1:19-23


     I could happily hike every last hour of my life in and around the Brainard Lake Recreation Area of Colorado. I am not well-traveled, I admit, but there is something I love about the hush of this particular place, an impression of serene seclusion spiked with the scent of evergreen. The entire area is a feast for the eyes from the stately spruce trees to the peculiar, lime-green lichen on the stones. As I strolled, thrilling in the piny fragrance, I spotted a grey jay peering down in curiosity from a branch while I, equally curious, peered back up at him. A golden-mantled ground squirrel posed teasingly on a fallen limb just long enough for me to ready my camera but not quite long enough to release the shutter. Small streams murmured a muted tune as they ambled along the rocky ground while the bare tops of mountains poked their heads just above the treetops as if straining to gain a better vantage over the scene. It was a glorious hike and I reveled in it.
     As I reflect back on all that splendor now, I cannot help but wonder how a place that is so marvelous, so replete with evidence of its Creator largely unobscured by concrete, plastic, and metal, how can such a place be so full of spiritual blindness? I'm sure a person could argue for the Big Bang theory or some other theory common to modern science, but then a person could also display their absolute confidence in unproved theorems over the abundant evidence of mere common sense. Such a man as this has much more faith than myself, albeit in the wrong things. For I firmly believe that it takes a much greater measure of faith to believe in that which my very senses deny, to believe that all the intricacy of creation came about by mere happenstance. It takes a faith bordering on fantastic--and indeed, it is rooted in fantasy--to think that the marvel of the spoken and written word, the capacity for complex thought, the conscience and the ability to reason all evolved from some more primal, base creature.
     The capacity to accept, and therefore also to reject, one's Creator is hardwired in the brain of Homo sapiens, and it is silly, really, to go poking through the bones of primates in an attempt to find the imaginary moment the ancient brain drifted from the genus Australopithecus and discovered it had evolved into a separate genus altogether. It is funnier still to hear the media latch onto these rather mediocre and uninteresting discoveries, calling them an "early species" of human and thus exposing their complete disregard for elementary school science classes in which we are all taught that genus and species are the final two categories in which each individual creature is distinguished from others in their class.
     Oh, do not worry, my friends... I can laugh at these things because I once swallowed them whole and so I can find amusement in that for I find that I am most ridiculous of clowns. I have to admit that even when I was a wholehearted proponent of evolutionary theory, the one fine difference between what is commonly called "species" and the actual meaning of the term did always chafe. At the time, I brusquely ignored it in favor of the "enlightened" view I felt I was adopting. I was educated, intelligent, beyond such foolish myths as gods and devils. I was the new man, no longer in need of a god to guide me. I would shake my head at the simple, naive beings who had that need of a god as a crutch; poor things unable to stand alone. I marveled in the wisdom of man, who had created himself! A world which had just incredibly formed itself out of chaos, evolving from nothing into everything! It was astonishing! And it was not until late in my 20s that these idiosyncrasies began to do more than chafe, they began to be revealed as glaring holes in the theories. It wasn't until I remembered the meaning of the word, "theory" that the theories themselves began to crumble. I had chased ghosts and found them to be wisps of mist. I had rejected God as a myth and then found that I was rejecting reality instead. In my utter horror of being foolish, I had embraced a myth and become a fool.  It was a humbling experience.
     Now that I know Him, I can see Him everywhere--and I know that I was without excuse. I did not need to be told about God; God  was telling me about Himself in every majestic oak, in each immovable boulder, every gorgeous sunset and every mighty storm. He was teaching me about Himself through His creation when I would not look into His word, and so when I came to read and believe the Bible, I knew I was firmly without excuse. He had been teaching me all along. It was me who was not seeing or hearing, but He was no less there. His fingerprints and His nature are indelibly stamped into the world He created, and to fail to see it is to be spiritually blind. He opened my eyes. It is my prayer that He will open many more in the days to come. May our species no longer worship the creature--ourselves--but instead our Creator. He has given us His world and His very word that we may know Him. May it be that we, with open hearts and in humility of mind, may we come to worship God in spirit and in truth.


For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  Romans 8:18-23

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, September 28, 2012

Shepherd

In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.'
And I said, 'Who are you, Lord?'
And the Lord said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles--to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.'
Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. 
Acts 26:12-20
     Just days ago, I was telling my son the story of Saul, in part because my boy is one who frequently kicks against the goads. My child does not yet have the training Saul did, but he is every bit as single-minded, wrong or right. Before his conversion, Saul was in that category of Jewish culture largely viewed as righteous. He was rigorously engaged in persecuting those who were following the teachings of Jesus and "breathing out threats and murder" against them. Full of what I am sure he thought was holy anger, he sought permission from the high priest to travel to Damascus and haul more of those heretical Jesus-followers in to justice.

     However, as Saul stormed down that road toward Damascus, the Lord pricked him sharply with a goad, turning him aside from his rampage by striking him temporarily blind, and thus steering him to the rather reluctant ministrations of a believer by the name of Ananias. He spent the next three days in fasting and prayer until Ananias arrived on Straight Street, perhaps somewhat nervously inquiring if the ruthless Saul was around and in need of having his vision restored.

     I have to wonder what Saul pondered during his period of helplessness? Did he realize that his blindness was a tangible representation of what he had been before encountering Jesus, a man spiritually blind? For after he was healed, he was no longer Saul, the hate-minded persecutor of Christianity but Paul, the enormously loyal and obedient servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. The temporary loss of sight was also a foreshadowing of what he was setting out to do, for he also was to become a minister of the risen Lord and restorer of sight to the spiritually blind just as Ananias had been to him.Whether or not those things passed over his mind, it is certain that the affliction served as a rather efficient impetus for him to join his God on the correct path.

     As my son and I walked, I found myself wondering aloud whether Paul thought of these words, "it is hard for you to kick against the goads," later in his life. When he wrote of the thorn in his flesh placed there to prevent his becoming conceited, was he writing from a mental image of the goads used to keep the plow animals in line? As he endured the agony of the lash or the scorn of crowds furiously pummeling him with stones, did he remind himself not to retaliate; not to kick against these goads, too? It was an interesting thought.

     I think that many times, I have kicked against the goads--and so my son comes by it honestly, it would seem. I know that I have been called to a much more simple way of life, to listen to what that voice behind me directing, "This way," when I must turn to the right or to the left. However, I find I still constantly run ahead, charging full-bore down what I am certain is the correct path only to find that I have left the Lord's side and am barreling down the wrong path--alone. And I must find my way back. At other times, I will simply snap and give in to my anger, throwing what amounts to a grown-up temper tantrum. Always, always when this happens, I am pricked and shamed once my fury ebbs, and I am soon repenting before God and the target of my ire, typically my children. Still other times I will almost painstakingly nurse my hurts, letting my thoughts linger over what life should be or what I wish could be, if only... Yet this sort of selfish mental meandering only brings a keen jab from the One who lovingly seeks to keep me in line.

     There are so many instances and so many ways in which goads are used in my life that I could fill a book with them, though it doubtless would be a rather dull book! Each time they are used, I am reminded that the whole point of the story--of any story--is not me at all. My life is wholly given to serve the One who died in my place, paying ransom for the atrocities I have committed as well as those I still commit. It is love for Him that fuels me now; the goads are in place to remind me of that when I momentarily forget it.

     For you see, the natural me does not want to pick up my cross daily. Like the oxen that needed the goads to plow a straight furrow, the natural me is prone to wander, leaning always toward those paths that seem good because they feel good for a time. But my Master knows what is good for me far beyond what my eyes can see, and so he pricks with the goads to keep me on the narrow Way. Because I trust Him, I believe that He knows best, and so I yield to the goads no matter how much discomfort or inconvenience it causes me now. He is leading me through this brief life to something greater than I can even fathom. He is my Shepherd, marshaling me onward towards joy.


Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives."  
Hebrews 12:1-6
 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 24, 2012

Fleas


Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
     Father, Provider,Comforter, Deliverer, I have much to thank You for today. You have given me so many blessings, and for many such as food, shelter, clothing, and health I have expressed my gratitude numerous times. Yet there are blessings I have neglected to thank You for, in part because I have only recently recognized some elements of my life as blessings.

     Betsie Ten Boom once thanked You for the fleas in the filthy concentration camp barracks she was imprisoned in, only later to discover that it was the fleas that enabled Your word to be spread and shared without interference from the guards. She was wiser than I and recognized that Your blessings do not always come dressed in a package the human mind appreciates. I have neglected to thank You for the "fleas" in my life, and today I intend to do so.

     Lord, thank You for long, friendless spans of time in my pre-Christ life. Those periods of separation, though they chafed at the time, prepared me to walk the narrow path unaccompanied at times when I find that it is necessary to choose between walking alone or forsaking Your way. Thank You that feeling rejected then has galvanized me against being rejected now, for the zeal I now have for You and Your Word is not always readily embraced, and I again find myself categorized as a freak, albeit for better reasons this time around!

      Thank You that the same loneliness left me with a tremendous ache that was oh, so ready to be soothed by Your love. My heart had been seared by suppressed anger, by fear and rejection, and by my own bad choices, and it was calloused and numb. The shock of meeting You, the realness of You, pierced through and made a start from which You began Your patient work of pruning. It hurt, but I knew somehow even then that it was worth it--that You were worth it. Thank You for carefully debriding and then healing the fathomless wounds of my heart.

     Thank You for bringing me away from my hometown, for causing every friend I thought I had to desert me, for showing me the intense suffering of a young person dying of cancer, and for bringing me to the point of questioning every worldly philosophy my non-believing self had embraced. Without being confronted with death, I may have never found life. Without that sobering morbidity thrust into my directionless, bar-hopping lifestyle, I may have continued in my flippant attitude about death, life, and all things Christian. Thank You for forgiving me of the disrespectful manner towards You that was my custom at the time. Thank You, also, that in those small acts of betrayal and desertion, in the agonies I witnessed, and in the death of self I experienced, I am not alone. Jesus, too, experienced those things, and so I know my Redeemer can also empathize.

     Thank You for the headaches and other pains of aging today that are a constant reminder that the outer man is wasting away but the inner man is being renewed day by day. Thank You, too, for the increasing slips of my mind and waning of physical strength that remind me that Your power is perfected in weakness. In the relentless decay of self, I find that apart from You I truly can do nothing.

     Thank You for allowing me to walk through times of darkness and despair in my Christian life, for in those bleak spells I have learned that You truly are with me wherever I go even through the valley of the shadow of death. Thank You, also, that in those times of desolation You have stripped away all the consolations of religious feeling, all my pride, and even the sense of gratification that comes of service to others or to You. You have utterly flayed my soul until all that I am was raw and naked, weeping before You. Painful as that those times were, in them I have found that at last I know where my allegiance honestly lies and it is no longer to myself. With my spirit laid bare and bereft even of the longing for You and the satisfaction of knowing You, You gave me the blessing at last of utter assurance in this: I cannot be separated from You. When You asked me, "Would you, also, like to leave Me?"  I can now echo Peter in saying, "Lord, to whom shall I go? You have the words of eternal life!"

     Thank You for the times of financial crisis my husband and I have been through. I thank You specifically for the time when we had a single car, single income, both a baby and a mother-in-law to support, a tiny duplex where we all lived, no television, basic phone service, no Internet, and no cell phones. Though it did not make sense, we chose to forsake my income and obey Your voice that I should stay home with our infant and our future children. We learned so much: That You truly provide for our needs always, that there is a very distinct difference in what we need and what we want, that You bless obedience even when obedience does not make human sense.

     We are in a different stage of life now, Lord, and we have so much that I sometimes take it for granted. I find I am now feeling that my needs have increased  when in fact it is only my wants that have increased. Lord, forgive me for presuming upon Your provision and thank You for the lessons You taught me in poverty. Should You choose to remove all the material gifts You have lavished on us, I will still follow You. You are my God. You are my Portion. You are my Reward.

     And I am Yours, wholly Yours. Thank You for all the blessings of pain, irritation, and desolation that have brought me to this conclusion. Thank You for the fleas--every last one of them.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  James 1:2-4

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ... Philippians 3:7-8


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, September 6, 2012

Child



Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives." It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

Hebrews 12:3-14


     Now that yet another homeschool year is in full swing, I have had reason to contemplate the fatherly heart of God again and again. I firmly believe that He grants us children so that we can understand more fully our own childlike natures. You see, I wonder at times if my children do not trust me when they badger or complain about something--some treat or privilege--I have withheld. It could be, perhaps, that I deny a trip to the park when I know that a thunderstorm is imminent or a sweet on one day after several days' indulgence. From their droopy demeanor and unbelieving glances, it would seem that I had deprived them of a thing needed for survival and not a frivolous boon. 


     As I ponder my children's seeming lack of trust, wondering how on earth I have ever given them reason to doubt my loving care, I inwardly cringe at the sudden realization that I have treated my Father to the same temperamental pouting. I have voiced the same sulky whine when He has kept aside something that I was absolutely certain would satisfy or that I simply knew was critical for my survival or well-being. Just as my children are with me, so I am with my Father. They assume that what seems good to them must be good, and so do I. Only, my children are truly progeny while I am a mere creation that has been elevated to the status of "child" by the sacrifice of the true and only Child of God.  
  
     Appalled at my own audacity, I find I am wholly without excuse. 

     Recalling my last post, it is still really that same assumption that my thoughts have any relation to reality. I think I know what is good, but in actuality, I do not. I may believe a certain season or even lifetime of suffering is bad, but does my belief make it so? Am I not willing to suffer to attain something of great value to myself? I will endure pain and soreness to keep my body fit (at least, at times I do!). I have risen at gritty hours just to watch the sunrise, and I have willingly embraced a shattering lack of sleep to soothe three sick children, knowing all the while that I would soon succumb to the illness as well. For a time in my past, I allowed myself to be flung around by burly men and toiled through countless, uncomfortable blunders only for the joy of one decently-executed judo throw, sending one of said men sailing through the air with little effort. And I could rattle on endlessly...
  
     So it seems that the human condition is to find pain and suffering only worthwhile when we find the end result worthy. I am humbled before my Father, for even if my end result is solely that I have been called His child for one hour--He Who created me--than that is enough. But it is not all, for He has promised a peace surpassing understanding to the one whose mind is steadfast, trusting in Him. He has promised to be with me always, in the good times and the bad. He has promised the crown of life for those who are steadfast in trial and faithful unto death. He has promised His mercy and grace to those who accept the proffered cloak of righteousness from His Son, purchased dearly and offered freely. He has promised so much more than mere acceptance if only I will trust Him utterly and without reserve. Truly it is as the Psalmist wrote, "For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere!" Yet He offers us so much more.

     My friends, if that is not a worthy result I am not sure that one exists. 




For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!"
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs--heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 
Romans 8:14-18

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, August 30, 2012

Upside Down

       


And the Lord said: "Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men, therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden."
Ah, you who hide deep from the LORD your counsel, whose deeds are in the dark, and who say, "Who sees us? Who knows us?" You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, "He did not make me"; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, "He has no understanding"?
Isaiah 29:13-16
     Before I came to know and love my King; indeed, less than two decades ago, I was one of those who turned things upside down. It is frankly hilarious to me when I look back now on what I was so imperiously certain of then. Apparently I believed that the simple fact of my extending or withholding belief could somehow alter reality! 
     To put it plainly, I sort of believed in God or at least in a god. However, I had some twisted-up conception that in this belief, I was enabled to select the characteristics and traits that I thought would go best with a god, as if the whole god concept was akin to an enormous spiritual buffet laid out for my exclusive pleasure and benefit. Otherwise, I steadfastly declared, if there was a God who was able to destroy what He did not approve of, than I just couldn't believe in Him. Somehow, in some uproariously childish way, I thought that this sullen skepticism of mine negated the very existence of a God, as if God needed my permission to exist. Talk of turning things upside down!

     In the current stage of my life, I find it chafing, not to mention astonishingly arrogant, when my children hint that they might have a better parenting strategy than I, particularly when that strategy somehow involves them getting ice cream right after breakfast or some such absurdity. And absurdity is right, for that is precisely what I once projected in that flickering and farcical fantasy world where I evidently thought that my belief held a mystical power to create or destroy God. Upside down, without a doubt.

     I think G. K. Chesterton said it best when he stated that "It is idle to talks always of the alternative of reason and faith.  Reason is itself a matter of faith.  It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all."  I am absolutely certain that my thoughts at the time had not even a casual acquaintance with reality.

     In questioning the goodness or correctness of my Creator, I was merely believing that my own thoughts had some realness or substance of their own. The views I held as a skeptic were honestly rather contradictory and ridiculous if you look at them. If I am a creation, that is to say, if there is a God, then it is an extraordinarily silly thing to believe that I could possibly be wiser and know a better way to operate the world than my Creator does. If I am not, well, than I am not and it was rather birdbrained to go off thinking that there may be some piece-meal god that I can dress up or dress down as I see fit. What is the use of an a la carte god at all, really? If there is not a powerful, all-knowing, almighty Creator, than why mess around in the business of gods and what-not at all? One may as well believe in Zeus, Apollo, and all that fallible, fornicating lot.

     It boils down to one simple question: There either is or there is not a Creator. If there is not, what I do or think doesn't really matter anyway for it is all fruitless and futile speculation. If there is, well than what I think about Him still doesn't matter, for my opinion does not change the fact of the Creator, nor does it change any element of His nature or being. In the latter case, I am the creation. As a thing created, my limited view of what is right and wrong or how the world ought to be run is laughable on one hand, an act of mutinous rebellion deserving of thorough and utterly quelling wrath on the other.

     All in all, in those days, I was merely airing my ignorance in my beliefs that my ideas of what was good and right were the correct ones. In reality, it was much closer to whining because I could not have ice cream after breakfast than I would like to admit.



The stupid man cannot know; the fool cannot understand this: that though the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish, they are doomed to destruction forever; but you, O LORD, are on high forever.   Psalms 92:6-8

 

A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.   Proverbs 18:2

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, August 16, 2012

Duty




When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.
Psalms 73:21-28
     In my few years of walking with God, there have been times that I shrink away from Him or from some service He has commanded. These times are shamefully numerous, I have to admit. Actually, I believe that we go through it again and again with each new school year. I will say to my eldest child, "Must I fight you every year to do what you know you are going to have to do anyway?" and I think I hear God clearing His throat.  For I, too, balk and whine at the beginning of each new year. "It's too hard. It's too much. You have given me more than I can do in a day. Training these children is grueling. I have not enough time for housework, and just look at the yard! My garden is overrun. I've no time for writing, either..." and on it goes, but as I complain, I can sense the significant look He casts my way. The truth is that I, too, am merely digging in my heels for tasks that I know I must do anyway.     

     What I have learned, however, is that when I doubt that I can fulfill a task He has given me, what I am really doubting is Him. I have become "brutish and ignorant," turning from His freely-offered grace to sulk and nurse my hurts, either real or imagined. I am no longer listening; I am merely pouting and wanting my own way. However, He never lets go, and I am so very thankful for that! He allows me my moment of sullenness and then gently--or sometimes not so gently--reminds me that He is my portion and not my pastimes or the even the fruits of my labor. He is less concerned with my task list than He is my attitude toward it.  

      He also reminds me in times like this that He is my strength, and that this is subtly different from giving me strength. It is that hard-to-describe inward act of surrendering control--my will subjugated to His. No, often I cannot do these things by myself, at least not in a way that brings Him honor and glory. But He will guide me with His counsel. He will be the strength I need when I stop striving on my own and instead rest in Him. In the event my flesh and my heart do fail, He reminds me that the goal of my efforts is not a spotless house, well-manicured yard, and perfectly disciplined and well-educated children. It is more about the heart of the matter: My own surrender to God's ways above my own in the living out of a life given wholesale to Him, the training of my children in the the ways of the Lord, obedience and diligence in God-given tasks and heartfelt repentance for my sins--even the sulks. Hopefully as I do this, I will pass on to these children a passion and zeal for serving and loving Him. This does not mean I neglect the housework or let the yard fall to ruin. It merely means that I put first things first: His kingdom and His glory before my own pride in house and family. His ways before mine. His will before mine.    

     Paul said it well, so I will quote him here: "Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all,"  (Philippians 2:14-17).  So what He has given me to do, I need to set my face toward it and work diligently to that end, not grumbling or complaining. If I am poured out in His service, than so be it. It is not my own pleasure I am created for, after all, but His.     



You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Psalms 16:11



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, August 10, 2012

Asocial Media?

     It's true, I use some of the social media services. I am blogging, for instance, and I am something of a feast-or-famine facebooker. However, I have to admit that I have some misgivings about some of these tools, or at least about some of our motives in wielding them. There is an addictive quality to social media that almost anyone who has tried one out can attest to; something appealing in scrolling through the various status updates and random pictures that others post that seems to bring some level of satisfaction. We are in the know. We can give our opinions, share our witty comments, and make our point.

     They are tools also, and are not always used strictly for diversion. It is possible to make a political statement or share a passage of Scripture, a spiritual lesson, or a well-crafted article. We can make others laugh, maybe share a little joy. These examples and many others inculde some of the positive uses of social media. As I scroll through lists of updates, however, it is the more frivolous applications that occupy the most space. The fact is that the majority of us use them more for entertainment rather than with purpose and meaning. And, frankly, we Americans are already over-entertained.

     It is, however, the less obvious but possibly more destructive potential that I see which worries me. It is in status updates, tweets, and texting--none of them harmful in their own right, mind, but there is a serious danger which lurks as a possibility. Allow me to state loud and clear that it is not a problem for those who use these tools as just that--useful tools to be picked up when needed and laid aside again when the task is done. The people that concern me are the ones longing for companionship, desperately striving to electronically fill a need for relationships; it is the kids who learn to text and tweet before they learn how to fruitfully work out a problem or express their deepest longings, hurts, dreams, and joys to another--these are the ones who give me pause. These are the addicts, the restless-thumbed junkies always needing a fix without realizing that they are settling for a counterfeit to the very basic human need for relationship.

     Ultimately, there is good that can be done with facebook, as with all the rest. I  know people whom I cannot call because of either time or schedule differences and whose family photos I would never see without facebook. I know pastors and lay people who post thought-provoking and challenging quotes, proverbs, and passages of Scripture. I admit a personal desire to enter the world of texting, just for those grocery-store moments where a text would be more efficient than engaging in a conversation because all I really need is to remember the name of the new brand of deodorant my husband is using. Then again, I wonder how many hours are burned by me alone in my "quick checks" on facebook. . . All of these things can be a great boon, but the hours that are burned in tiny increments can stack up to become a massive burden in time.

     When it comes to that, it also scares me a little to see so many people hunger for that next shot, the instant gratification, but never taking the time to have coffee and a genuine, intimate conversation with a friend. It is easier and less chaotic at times to be "friends" on facebook, for you can ignore a facebook friend without them ever knowing or feeling slighted, and you can be ignored without feeling any injury or hurt. It is a simple matter to "like" whatever you feel defines you (at least at the moment), and there is not the complication and hassle of emotion nor the tediousness of having to be intentional in showing love and forgiveness. Online, there is often little to forgive.

     It makes me uneasy to think that there are people who do not realize that the messiness of concrete relationships is part and parcel of the reality of them.  Let's face it, no matter what angle you take, it is perfectly simple to conduct a facsimile of a friendship through social media, and it is so much cleaner--because it is not real. It's like seeing through a mirror dimly. Let's just make sure we never forget to take time to see face-to-face.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:23-25

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.