Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Katrina Update 15: Suffering and the Sovereignty of God

It is one thing to watching events like 9/11 or the Tsunamis on TV and to hear stories about the effects...about the suffering...and still hold firm to my theology regarding God's sovereignty. That theology is tested and shown for what it truly is when suffering comes to my door...touches my family...things that are precious to me.

I am thankful that throughout this whole Katrina ordeal - from watching the track to evacuating to still being a part-time refugee today - by God's grace I have been able to hold on to the truth and reality of God's sovereignty and goodness. In fact, it is the one thing that has seen me through.

We have been well taken care of. My family and I have been given homes to live in, had groceries and clothing bought for us, even been treated to dinner and pedicures...our friends and family and even strangers have gone above and beyond what is reasonable to help us, and I am grateful. But, any of those things could have been forsaken and I doubt I would have missed them. I also doubt it would have effected my attitude or outlook or ability to cope. Nearly two months later, I am still living out of a suitcase...as I stay in a plantation home. As exiles go, this is a nice one, but still, it isn't the comfortable digs that gets me through the weeks.

We have been working in Baton Rouge nearly a month longer than we were told we would be, yet the hospitality of those I am staying with has not wavered and as a goodwill gesture the company is providing lunch each day. It is a very nice gesture and I seldom have to cook or buy food. But this bit of ease isn't what makes this situation more than bareable.

I could go on about all of the inconviences or deprivations and the provision that has followed...but still I would say it is not niceties or meals or FEMA money that has allowed me to continue to embrace the sovereignty of God, rejoice in His goodness and turn to Him when my heart is heavy...it is the theology of sovereignty itself.

Without being firmly rooted in that, I might question God, become angry, resentful, fearful all the time. But that isn't an option...it IS a temptation, just not an option. To give into the temptation to question, resent and worry is to say that what I believe about God is a lie...it is to say that He has lied.

I don't completely understand the whys and wherefores... and I continue to learn more of God's sovereignty each day (usually by being confronted with my desire to control things or my fear regarding some circumstance or another), I also wish there were some other way for each of us to get where we need to be without suffering...but I also know that, historically, I don't tend to pay close enough attention without it. Things that come at no cost or risk don't get me as focused and purposeful and prayerful as those that threaten something that is precious to me.

God is our maker...and He knows this very well.

Being that I am not a theologian, that is about as deep as I dare to go on this topic. But there are others far more qualified to speak on the subject of sovereignty and suffering. One of those is my favorite radio preacher, John Piper. He, and a group of other speakers, just completed a conference on this very subject...and being who he is, he has posted audio files of each of the messages from this conference on his website. You can go here:
and download them for free.

If this excerpt from John's first message is any indication of the rest, I am certain that listening to them in their entirety will challenge, instruct, convict, and bring new understanding of the theology of sovereignty. It is my prayer that this understanding will also bring change to the lives of all who listen.

The impetus for this conference comes from the ultimate reality of God as the supreme value in and above the universe. God is absolute and eternal and infinite. Everything else and everybody else is dependent and finite and contingent. God himself is the great supreme value. Everything else that has any value has it by connection to God. God is supreme in all things. He has all authority, all power, all wisdom—and he is all good “to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him” (Lamentations 3:25). And his name, as Creator and Redeemer and Ruler of all, is Jesus Christ.

In the last four years, 9/11, Tsunami, Katrina, and ten thousand personal losses have helped us discover how little the American church is rooted in this truth. David Wells, in his new book, Above All Earthly Pow’rs: Christ in a Postmodern World, says it like this:

This moment of tragedy and evil [referring to 9-11] shone its own light on the Church and what we came to see was not a happy sight. For what has become conspicuous by its scarcity, and not least in the evangelical corner of it, is a spiritual gravitas, one which could match the depth of horrendous evil and address issues of such seriousness. Evangelicalism, now much absorbed by the arts and tricks of marketing, is simply not very serious anymore.”

In other words, our vision of God in relation to evil and suffering was shown to be frivolous. The church has not been spending its energy to go deep with the unfathomable God of the Bible. Against the overwhelming weight and seriousness of the Bible, much of the church is choosing, at this very moment, to become more light and shallow and entertainment-oriented, and therefore successful in its irrelevance to massive suffering and evil. The popular God of fun-church is simply too small and too affable to hold a hurricane in his hand. The biblical categories of God’s sovereignty lie like landmines in the pages of the Bible waiting for someone to seriously open the book. They don’t kill, but they do explode trivial notions of the Almighty.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

From Today's Daily Light...

I read this at my desk this morning before starting the work day...

“From the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard.”

Thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”—The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.—Though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar.—Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.—“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God.

You, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you. Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace. In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you answer me. (Dan. 10:12; Isa. 57:15; Ps. 51:17; Ps. 138:6; 1 Pet. 5:6; Jas. 4:6, 7; Ps. 86:5-7)

Upon reading just the first line, I found myself choking back tears.

From the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard.

On the way to work this morning I was thinking about prayer...and how little of it I've been doing lately. Truthfully, prayer is the spiritual discipline I have had the hardest time cultivating. I think I can't pray, I don't know what to pray, I don't have time to pray...and yet when I humble myself before my God and open my mouth I am always amazed at what pours out...both in substance and quantity.

It is like my soul had been pent up and suddenly there is a break and everything pours forth.

I had one of those moments in the car this morning.

From the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard.

This truth just blows me away! From the first day my words have been heard...those that I have allowed to come out of my mouth AND those I've kept pent up.

He also hears all of the horrible things I keep pent up (and let go) too.

The same truth that is amazingly awesome is also amazingly humbling.

postscript: I just had to put this in here. God is so amazingly sovereign and takes such good care of me (us)! I have to share this and give Him praise. After I posted this, I decided to go to our church website to see if this weekend's message was there. I didn't get to hear it because I had to leave church even before worship was done. The title of the message was "Time to Rediscover Prayer"! It is just comforting, overwhelming, challenging and so many other "ings" to me to see that, though I missed the teaching, the Lord kept me on the same page by stirring up the same types of thoughts in me, all the way out here in Baton Rouge!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The stapler, the stare, and "softening things"

From prayer that asks that I may be
Sheltered from winds that beat on Thee,
From fearing when I should aspire,
From faltering when I should climb higher
From silken self, O Captain, free
Thy soldier who would follow Thee.

From subtle love of softening things,
From easy choices, weakenings,
(Not thus are spirits fortified,
Not this way went the Crucified)

From all that dims Thy Calvary
O Lamb of God, deliver me.

Give me the love that leads the way,
The faith that nothing can dismay
The hope no disappointments tire,
The passion that will burn like fire;
Let me not sink to be a clod;
Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God.

The Stapler
From subtle love of softening things,From easy choices, weakenings,(Not thus are spirits fortified,Not this way went the Crucified)

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, our office has temporarily squeezed into the small place we had in Baton Rouge, about an hour or so away from New Orleans.

Approximately 40 of us have come to work in a place that was only set up for about 4 or 5 people, with desks for a few more and supplies to last said people about a month. We basically had to start from scratch, acquiring work stations, computers and every kind of supply.

We still don’t have everything we would have had to work with and most of us don’t expect to…that is only two people expect things to be just as they were at home. The one I am going to mention in this post is an older engineer who has spent his days complaining about the “appalling” working conditions (as if it were done on purpose, we had options and he were the only one suffering under these circumstances), defending the little space and property he has (much more than most), and trying to commandeer other resources (be it staplers or people). The stapler is what I am leading up to here.

I had a stapler on my desk. I saw one sitting unused on a file cabinet for a few days and decided to move it back to my area. I shared willingly and though I didn’t demand it, it stayed on my desk when it wasn’t being used by someone else. The engineer I’ve been speaking of was the primary person (besides myself) to use the stapler. One day, he decided it would be better (for everyone he said) if the stapler stayed on his table (behind me and everyone else using it), so he took it. I didn’t say anything, though it struck me as a pretty presumptuous and selfish thing to do.

A few minutes later, one of the younger engineers from my row got up and went over to talk to the drafter directly behind me (and next to the commandeering engineer). As they talked, he quietly reached over, took the stapler and placed it back on my desk. He didn’t say anything to either me or the other engineer or even make eye contact. He just righted what I guess he considered a wrong and went about his business.

My little heart was all a flutter.

I literally had to go to the restroom to talk myself down.

The Stare
From subtle love of softening things,From easy choices, weakenings,(Not thus are spirits fortified,Not this way went the Crucified)

I’d noticed it before…another co-worker taking “peeks” over at me or watching me as he talked to someone else. But because we worked on separate floors before, it wasn’t anything more than an observation…a quirk on his part. Now that we are all crammed into one big room and I see him more often, it has become something that is more of an issue…more of a distraction. Something I even find myself liking.

Softening Things
From subtle love of softening things,From easy choices, weakenings,(Not thus are spirits fortified,Not this way went the Crucified)

I finally took the plunge and bought a computer of my own. I haven’t had one since my desktop broke about 3 years ago. I love it and since I got it, I have spent a lot of time ripping cd’s, setting up programs, searching the web for other fun things to use. This week I have stayed up late and spent time in the morning on it and had to hurry through my time in the word.

This morning I was thinking on these things as I was getting ready for work. I thought about how tempted my heart was to enjoy and seek after the attention of these men…men who are by all accounts not godly, though they do attend church, and how easy it was for me to wile away time on other things when I should have been rushing through them to have more time with the Lord. As I pondered, it hit me…to go after these things is to say that what the Lord has set as priorities, has said is good and worthy isn’t…in fact, it is to go against everything I say I believe…everything I was created for.

Yes it really is that serious. I think anytime anything is more precious to us than the Lord (and it would have to be to make us even tempted to disobey or compromise), it is very serious to Him. It challenges His Lordship and our God is, after all, a jealous God.

I then thought of a song by Watermark that has ministered to me a lot over the past few months…

I was created to love you
I was created to need you
I was created to know you
And I am a miracle, cuz heaven is a part of me
You are the air that I’m breathin’ (All Things New)

I was created to love, need, know, please and bring glory to God. These softening things that have so captured my heart and mind are sought only to bring glory to me…to please me…to satisfy me.

Forgive me, Lord…

From all that dims Thy Calvary
O Lamb of God, deliver me.

Sunday, October 9, 2005

Things that remain...

I am the oldest of 5 and the only girl. When my brothers and I sit around and reminisce about our childhoods, there are lots of laughs (mostly at my expense) and lots of stories I don't remember. Often times, when my brothers talk about their childhood I wonder if we really grew up in the same house. I've always held to the theory that our roles in the family were different, and thus our treatment was different...their differing memories seem to support that theory, i.e., because they weren't the oldest or the only girl they had a wonderful childhood (mostly at my expense).

As the oldest, I was responsible for everything. If they didn't do their homework, or their chores...it was my fault. If they trashed the house and left their underwear in odd places, it was my fault. If they talked back or lied it was my fault too. If it wasn't my fault for failing to keep them from doing naughty things, then it was my fault because of my example. Since I came first and they had to learn it from someone...that someone must be me.

As the only girl, I was Jr. Mommy. Which meant if there was slack to be picked up in any domestic area, that was my job. While my brothers remember tender moments and boo-boo kissing with my mom, I remember orders and fussing and quite a few tears.

Now, I know my mom wasn't a completely different person with me, its just that in the end what remained from my childhood with her was that I was Jr. Mommy and I apparently wasn't very good at it. What remained for my brothers was something entirely different...something more pleasant to think on.

I thought about that as I watched my brother with his kids this morning. He woke up, got dressed and came in my room, ostensibly to say goodbye before he went to work. Before he could do that, though, he decided he needed to correct the oldest girl in what I considered an overly harsh way. It seemed so to me especially since this was the only contact he'd had with her all weekend. I ached for her, that this was the one moment she had with him and he chose to spend it fussing at her. She didn't seem to be to upset by it though, as when he did turn back to her to get a kiss goodbye, she smiled and kissed him.

I do hope that what remains for her isn't fussy/irritable Daddy, but something kinder and more loving...like my brothers remember my mom.

This exchange also made me think about something that happened with my nephew Saturday. I had all three of them and headed off to church. I was apprehensive as the last time I took my nephew he didn't behave very well and I didn't really get to worship or anything. But, I decided to try again and I talked to him and asked him mom to talk to him and we talked again in the car on the way there.

We were there approximately 20 minutes and in that time he behaved so poorly that I had to pack them all up and leave. We didn't even make it through the entire praise and worship portion. I was so angry and disappointed that I yelled at him...a lot. And then we both cried.

But then we went home and picked up my other niece and nephew and had lunch and watched a movie...and played...and had breakfast and lunch in my bed today. I don't raise my voice at my nephew a lot...but I do spend a great deal of time correcting him. He can think of more ways to get in trouble in an afternoon than I ever have in my life! But I do hope what remains is good...praying before bed, singing in the car at the top of our lungs, talking about the gospel, and that day he got to veg and eat pizza in Ti Ti's bed...

that in this case love will cover a multitude of sin...the love and care I show him will more than outweight the times I sin against him (or the times he may think I am).

Monday, October 3, 2005

Katrina Update 14: No Other Way

Yesterday's Elisabeth Elliot devotion really "got" me:
There Is No Other Way
In order to get to a place called Laity Lodge in Texas you have to drive into a riverbed. The road takes you down a steep, rocky hill into a canyon and straight into the water. There is a sign at the water's edge which says,
"Yes. You drive in the river."
One who has made up his mind to go to the uttermost with God will come to a place as unexpected and perhaps looking as impossible to travel as that riverbed looks. He may glance around for an alternative route, but if he wants what God promises His faithful ones, he must go straight into the danger. There is no other way. The written word is our direction. Trust it. Obey it. Drive in the river and get to Laity Lodge.
Moses said to Israel, "I offer you the choice of life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life and then you and your descendants will live; love the Lord your God, obey him, and hold fast to him: that is life for you." When you take the risk of obedience, you find solid rock beneath you--and markers, evidence that someone has traveled this route before. "The Lord your God will cross over at your head... he will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not be discouraged or afraid" (Deuteronomy 30:19, 20; 31:3, 8, NEB).
It's what the old gospel song puts so simply: "Trust and obey, for there's no other way To be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey. --John H. Sammis
"There is no other way...When you take the risk of obedience, you find solid rock beneath you--and markers, evidence that someone has traveled this route before. "
Friday evening, I had a nice conversation with my covenant group leader. During the course of this conversation, I shared with him some of the difficulties and joys of walking where I am right now. Sunday evening - Thursday evening I am living and working in Baton Rouge. Thursday evening through Sunday afternoon, I am a 12hr a day babysitter for my nephew and 2 nieces.
Literally, I do not have one moment alone the entire time. I even share my bed with at least 2 of them a night. I do not say that as a complaint...merely a statement of fact. In fact, there are many praises and wonderful things about this time. Though I only get a portion (a small portion) of my bed to sleep in - I get to sleep in my own bed. AND, I get to wake up to smiling faces and snuggles and go to sleep much the same way. There truly is nothing like waking up to a tiny face that just wants you to hold them tight-tight for a while. I love seeing all the little things that make each child unique...my nephew's inability to be still or stop talking (though frustrating at times) is often hilarious, my oldest niece, Kira has taken to saying "that's wonderful" for the simplest things and the baby, Timia, is growing so fast. She has started saying "DaDa" and when I try to "correct" her by saying "TiTi", she just laughs. She also scrunches up her nose to give me a cheesy grin...much like my own.
The hardest part of all of this, even harder than my nephew's behavior and (at times) willful disobedience is leaving them. I haven't made it through a Sunday yet without major tears. I cried the whole way to Baton Rouge yesterday and got choked up as I downloaded the most recent pictures from my camera.
I shared a bit of this with my covenant group leader and told him that what has helped get me through is that I can see preparation in all of this...that is, preparation for my own family. After I hung up with him, I was instantly convicted of just how selfish that viewpoint was. It was saying that this time is only good if the end result is I am in a better place to care for a family of my own...that is, if it gets me one step closer to it.
The truth is, the Lord may be using this to refine me for motherhood...or my desire and affinity for motherhood may have been implanted for such a time as this and nothing more.
The bigger truth is, this isn't about me and getting what I want...it is about serving the Lord. Serving my family in this way at this time could be the way the Lord choses to do a work in me and in them He could have done no other way. But at this time, it isn't about where I may or may not be headed, it is about where I am. To think on what might be coming or this might be the proving ground for is to focus my heart and mind on what I want rather than what the Lord wants and to risk missing His purposes right now. It is to risk doing what Jim Elliot encouraged Elisabeth NOT to do during their long courtship and that is to let my longing slay my appetite for living.

Certainly Katrina is the way the Lord has chosen to get many of us where we need to be...in fact, Katrina will prove to be the only way we could have gotten where we are going. But if I start putting parameters and expectations to where it is the Lord is bringing me and what it needs to look like, I will miss out on all there is to be seen and learned and done and gained now and no doubt set myself up for sinful responses as well.

I have already begun to see things in my heart, in my walk, in my family the Lord could have revealed and dealt with in no other way than through the massive event named Hurricane Katrina. My tendency, however, is to live 12 steps ahead and try to divine the ultimate outcome from where I am now. That is not the way of the Lord...that is not the walk of obedience and faith. It is step by step into the unknown, for His glory and honor alone. He doesn't promise we will get where we want to be or that we will know even a step or two ahead of time where we are going, but He does promise that He will be with us each step of the way and that we can trust Him implicitly.

He also says that there is no other way to please Him than to walk and live and think and hope and pray and respond ...and so many other verbs...in faith.
Though my flesh rises up against the thought, it is still somehow comforting to me to know that there is no other way. With God there is no skirting the issue or fudging or sorta-kinda...there is one way, there is always a "right" decision, and He is sovereign over all, assuring that we get from point A to point B (stumbles and all) both temporally and eternally!
Lord, forgive my selfishness. Help me to see you and be thankful for the now and trust that what is to come is safe in your care. You have gone before and prepared the way. Help me to rest in that and to not always be so concerned with discerning what lies ahead and see your purposes and goodness in what is.