Sunday, April 30, 2006

From my rear-view mirror...

My nieces and I like to sing in the car. Their favorite songs are those we can make up hand motions to. This particular day, we were singing "Ain't no rock". It goes something like this:

Ain't no rock gonna cry in my place
As long as I'm alive I'll glorify His holy name.
Ain't no rock gonna cry in my place
As long as I'm alive I'll glorify His holy name.

Oh, Praise His Holy Name
As long as I'm alive I'll glorify His holy name.
Praise His Holy Name
As long as I'm alive I'll glorify His holy name.

As you can see, even the baby gets in on the praise part (she can't quite do all the other motions yet...though, as evidenced by the picture to the right, she has lollipop eating down pretty well). It is a blast...and a blessing for me to see tangible proof that the Lord is using me in their lives. A good deal of my prayer time is dedicated to them and all of my worries and fears for their future. Moments like this show me that God's arm is not too short and that He can even use a mess like me to impart His goodness and truth.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Walking in the Dark

Feet accustomed to [walking] the road to God can find it in the dark... (Dr. Alexander Maclaren)

What a thought! What a comfort! Though all is darkness around me, I can find my way to God...so long as I walk in the light while it is day...continually. My feet will be so trained to walking His road that, no matter how dark or how far I must travel, I will find my way to Him.

Wow!


O Lord, may that be the habit of our lives. May we know faithfulness that allows us to walk directly to you, though we are blinded by darkness! Make our steps sure. Make our heart like a compass fixed on True North. May we know, too, that as we travel along your road in the darkness, that you are also gently pulling the tether you placed on our hearts...guiding us, keeping us from falling, and also making firm the ground beneath our feet!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Weapon of Prayer

Are you as often tempted as I am to doubt the effectiveness of prayer? But Jesus prayed. He told us to pray. We can be sure that the answer will come, and it will be good. If it is not exactly what we expected, chances are we were not asking for quite the right thing. Our heavenly Father hears the prayer, but wants to give us bread rather than stones. (Elisabeth Elliot)

For a few months now, the Lord has been saying to me “Ask me. Trust me.” Now, this isn’t just a general asking, it is a specific asking…for a specific thing…a thing/idea that is threatening to become precious to me. Given my track record for idol-making, my knee-jerk response when I saw this desire rising up in my heart was to think “I can’t pray specifically about that…I will latch on to it and that will lead to all kinds of sin.” But God’s response was “Ask me. Trust me.” Trust Him…to guard my heart, to stay my mind on Him, to set my face like flint in the direction of His purposes (not my own) and to endure in prayer so long as He should continue to say “Ask me. Trust me.”

So for nearly 3 months now, I have asked and have tried my darndest to trust. At first, whew…days without evidence that my prayers were having any effect or that the Lord was actually protecting my heart much less working in my circumstances felt like years…a week was an eternity. There have been many tears, but by His grace I have done as He asked and persevered.

The day before this specific desire birthed in my heart, the Lord said this to me via Amy Carmichael:
Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 2:3)...When Paul wrote to Timothy to endure hardness, what he meant was "remain under it", don't slip from under it Don't try to shuffle it off. (From Whispers of His Power)

One week later, He said:
Enduring is your dwelling place and your nest is set in the rock. (Numbers 24:21)

This place of enduring has been, at times, an intense hardness. In those moments it has been hard to pray. It seems everything in me wants to throw my hands up and surrender in defeat. But, I am meant to surrender in the Spirit…to Trust Him with what I can’t see and rejoice in the knowledge that He is for me, advocating and interceding for me with the Father, and plotting for my future. Then, I am meant to humble myself…admit that I really have no clue what is going on, but I KNOW Him and simply obey.

For today, that obedience means asking, even when I see no reason to and when all that is in me is crying DEFEAT. There may come a day when the Lord says “Ok. That thing you’ve been asking for will be a stone for you. Wait and I will give you bread.” But until that day comes, I must ask. I must obey. Not simply because I think one day (hopefully soon) I will see my “puny hopes” (as Elisabeth Elliot calls them) revealed as something beyond all I could “think or imagine” (as the Lord promises); but because this type of obedience changes me.

Were it not for prayer this hope would be an idol. Were it not for prayer my emotions would be all over the place. Were it not for prayer I would be indulging in every manner of sin out of bitterness regarding my currently allotted portion. Were it not for prayer all hope of anything good would be lost. And, who could endure a life without hope?

Without prayer, my true hope would be set on that thing I’ve been asking for and that would only disappoint and ultimately devastate me if it does not come to be. But, through prayer and by His mercy, He stays my mind on Him (or returns it from momentary travels) and keeps me in perfect peace…and able to endure this particular hardness…for the yet unknown joy set before me.

How can this be? It is possible because God is just so good AND because “prayer is a weapon. Paul speaks of the 'weapons we wield' in 2 Corinthians 10:4-5. They are 'not merely human, but divinely potent to demolish strongholds' (NEB).” When doubts assail and fears abound and I just want to surrender to them, God gives me the weapon of prayer to combat the author of confusion and fear. Who was at that time “urging me to quit (or avoid) using the weapon he fears so intensely.”

That enemy wants me to focus on what I may or may not get. He wants to paint God as stingy, deaf to my pleas and unaffected by my tears. But that is just a lie! The bible says that “All my longings lie open before [Him]…my sighing is not hidden from [Him].” (Psalm 38:9) He hears even my sighing, certainly He knows of my tears and all of the emotion welling up in my heart. How can I not Ask and Trust a God like that? And, since I know He will not give me a stone when I ask for bread, how can I not joyfully await whatever His answer to this particular plea might be?

O Lord, I wait upon you. For your glory through my life to be revealed. Whatever it may be. I wait for you. I can do no other!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A Recycled Post...

A friend of mine e-mailed me this morning asking for a “favor.” She writes a column for a local magazine and wanted to feature some guest columnists…sort of. Her idea is to highlight fellow bloggers and use one of their blog posts in her column. Her choice for May…me. She asked me to go through my past posts and select three for her to chose from. In so doing I came across something that I thought I needed to re-post.

The item that follows was written 6 days before Hurricane Katrina made landfall. The topic came from the last sermon we heard before we evacuated and was sparked by discussion during the last small group meeting I would attend for many, many months.


Steadying the Ark
And David and all the house of Israel were making merry before the Lord, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God. (2 Samuel 6:5-7)

Last night at my small group meeting we talked about the Old Testament. One of our pastors had recently spoken about the importance of this often neglected portion of the Bible in the life of the believer. He called it the “root of the bible” out of which the New Testament grows. He asserted that one can’t truly understand the New Testament (NT), or the gospel for that matter without the Old Testament (OT). Proof of this is how much of the OT is quoted in the NT. The OT was in actuality the bible of the early believers. Jesus relied on their knowledge of the bible in His teachings, often quoting from it and pointing to prophesy and fulfillment concerning Himself. Peter, Paul and the other disciples and apostles followed his example as well. They didn’t use their own words as application points in their sermons or letters, they used what the people regarded as the word of God – what we now call the Old Testament.

During this discussion, we spoke about the challenges and benefits to reading the OT on a regular basis, the difference in culture, and how knowing the whole word of God might benefit our daily life and our overall spiritual growth. We spent sometime on the culture differences, which is where the quoted passage from 2 Samuel 6 comes in.

In OT times there was a regard for and a proper fear of God that we just do not even come close to grasping. They didn’t have a local Hebrew bookstore to go to and buy the latest translation of the torah, no, they had to memorize it. Look at the OT testament – there is a lot there. Certainly, all of it was written down at some point, but that transcription was taken from dictation, and for generations prior to this effort fathers and mothers told these truths and stories to their families, who memorized them and passed them on to their families…and so on…and so on.

I don’t know about you, but it is a challenge for me to memorize a verse or two at a time…I couldn’t even imagine memorizing chapters, books, major portions of the Old Testament! But that is what people did, because they had to, otherwise they would not have the word of God written on their hearts or impacting their daily lives, which would lead to sin and greatly dishonoring God.

Our culture isn’t that way. We look for the path of least resistance…the easy way. We don’t want to read, we want to listen to audio books or, better, see the movie. Fast food isn’t fast enough for us. Even childbirth can be virtually pain and hassle free. We are the same way with our walks…we want change to just happen. We want to accept Christ and POOF we are perfect. That is not the way it is. The walk of obedience is just that, a walk…it requires movement, action, and exertion. And the truth of the matter is, cultural differences or not, we are not made to walk the walk all the time as we should.

Just look at the example in the passage quoted WAY up at the top of this post.

At first reading, we might think “What’s the big deal? He was just trying to keep the ark from falling. Surely his motives were pure. Why would God strike him down that way?” But the fact of the matter is, God had spoken and commanded that no one touch the ark. In that moment, Uzzah put a condition on God's commands. He is not alone. I think we can all agree that we always want to put conditions on God's commands.

As we were discussing this, someone said “The ark was where God lived! GOD! Did he think God was going to fall out?” She also followed that comment with the acknowledgement that she would have done the same thing…and does that with situations on her life far too often.

I know I try to “steady the ark” a lot. My hand is out there, ready to keep things going the way I think they should, to keep calamity from striking, to keep my stuff from falling down into the mud or going off course. But what I forget, what Uzzah forgot was that the course of my life, the calamities that come, how much goes according to “plan” isn’t my call to make, it’s God’s. He is the one with the plan, preparing the way, and working all things according to His good pleasure and for my good. When I stick my hand out to steady the ark, I am saying “I control my destiny – I have faith in me!”

But God says: “I have made, and I will bear… But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.”—“Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you… Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.”

He never forgets…but we do. We forget far too much, far too often.

Lord, help us remember who you are and who we are. Help us to have a right estimation of ourselves and humbly submit to your ways. Help us also to make your word, the totality of your word, the centerpiece of our lives that we might walk in a manner worthy of the calling you have placed up on us…for your glory!

Since this was originally posted, there have been many opportunities for me to try to “steady the ark”…and for many of those I know well. There have also been many opportunities to see and remember that He has made and He will bear. We have seen the truth of this promise: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.” And, yet still, sometimes, in the course of daily life I see something that looks like it may cause the ark to tip and tilt and rather than trust God, I reach up to steady it. Regardless of my motives, I am just as wrong as Uzzah…and praise God that He has yet to strike me down. He is a truly kind and merciful God.
But, I am also almost equally thankful for the times when, by His grace, instead of reaching out to steady the ark I folded my hands in prayer or raised them in praise. Lord, may I learn to do that more and more!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Hope does not disappoint

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-6 )

Hope does not disappoint?
Can this be true? Right this moment I can think of many hopes that have been disappointed in my life. When I was 6, I wanted a baby sister. When my mom was set to deliver her 5th child, I crossed my fingers and didn’t uncross them until they brought my 4th brother home from the hospital. I even wrote with my fingers crossed, which was quite the attraction for the kindergarten teachers that week. When I was 13, I “fell in love” with Al Ugalde. I wrote his name on my notebook and made googly eyes at him and told everyone I “loved” him, hoping he’d be touched and return the gestures. He didn't. When I graduated from high school I put my hope in my life plan: go to college, meet a nice man, get married, become June Cleaver (though probably sans apron). Like the hope of a sister and the love of Al, those hopes ended in disappointment, too.

Today, I still have hopes. I hope to win the love of a godly man, to raise a family and see my parents and brothers and nephews and nieces come to know the Lord. Thus far, there isn’t much more than momentary flickers of action that look like possibility on any of these fronts. From this vantage point, it might seem that these hopes, like all the others, have or will end in disappointment.

But God’s word says “hope does not disappoint.” I think we can all agree, with or without my silly examples, that hopes can in fact be disappointed, but I don’t think that is what Paul was talking about. He says “Hope” does not disappoint, that is, choosing to be hopeful will never leave us disappointed…a hopeful heart is not a disappointed heart. There is no room for disappointment when the attitude of one’s heart and the thoughts in one’s head are set on all that is possible and not on what seems impossible. But, I also think, Paul is not speaking about hope of the kind that kept my fingers crossed for a week or made me a shameless flirt or even led to much grief and many tears in college. The hope Paul is speaking of is hope that is set on something certain, constant…that endures and builds character…hope that changes us.

There is only one thing we can set our hope on that is constant and has the ability to change us and that is God Himself. Everything else, no matter how good it seems, is prone to change and tends only to build selfishness and self-centeredness, not character, and as such, will generally lead to disappointment of some form or another.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.
(Psalm 43:5)

Hope in God?
What does that mean, though? Does is mean I turn off my “hopes” for other things? No, I don’t believe so. We are told we have not because we ask not. Who asks for something he does not want…or does not hope to have? No one. God knows we want things. But there is a difference between wanting and demanding. A heart which has set its hope on God wants and asks yet knows that the answer may be "no". Its hope is not set on getting the desired result, but on God’s will being done. It can say, “though you deny me this, still I will praise you!” It isn’t always easy. Right now, even, I want something (a specific something) very badly. I can see it, and have feelings about it, and can only foresee good things if the current desires of my heart and the Lord’s agreed. I have hope (little “h”) that the Lord will have favor on me and grant this request. But my Hope (big “H”) is set on God, the Shepherd of my Soul, who chose me before the foundation of the world, who is right now interceding for me, who is my Advocate with the Father.

My Advocate with the Father!
I can’t think of a single person on this planet right now that is my Advocate. Not a single person who talks me up, goes to those who have power to effect or change my life and says: “You know, I love Tina and want these good things for her. Bless her lavishly. Give your best to her. Fill her with joy and peace.” But Jesus does…and is…right now. How can I then, demand anything when He is planning and plotting and pleading for my best…AND He knows everything, to boot? I certainly don’t know everything and my track record has proven that what I would choose is just as likely to be the worst thing for me than anything else. Though everything in my natural self fights against this, it would actually be stupid to Hope in anything but His plans and purposes for my life.

Hope does not disappoint…
We have His assurance and His promise:
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all your heart…(Jeremiah 29:11-13)

A future and a hope…that is His promise.
Oh may we, may I, trust Him and Hope only in Him!

But for the grace of God...there go a great many more...

I typically do not watch the news or read the paper. It’s depressing and the paper makes my fingers black, so I tend to avoid any news that isn’t transmitted via the MSN home page or the radio. But, I do have to scan the newspaper for things related to my job and occasionally an article catches my attention. Last week, this item stopped me in my tracks:

Deputies shoot and kill man beating daughter
Jason Brown jbrown@theadvertiser.com
CADE - By all accounts, 3-year-old Kaloey Laigh Kittiraj's death was brutal. Deputies called to a home late Wednesday found her battered and bloodied at the hands of her father, Sengdao Kittiraj, 32.

He continued beating the girl as they watched. They ordered him to stop. They sent out a dog to attack him. Ultimately, they shot him to death. But it was all too late to save her life.

The toddler died from her injuries Thursday morning at Lafayette General Medical Center.

I have a three year old niece. Needless to say, reading just this much nearly brought on full-fledged sobs.

I don’t often ask God “Why?” But when I hear things like this…I do. The bible says that children are a gift from the Lord. Why, then, does He choose to gift children to people such as this? People who neglect, abuse and even kill those that were gifted to them?

I don’t know. I know God knows and because of who He is, there is a reason and an ultimately good one. Certainly, He could prevent things like this. He could choose to only give children to those who are mentally stable and non-violent…but He doesn’t. He never really protects us from sin, does He? Without being confronted and effected and even hurt by it, we would never see and acknowledge our need for God. So allowing it to remain is a mercy which is intended to lead to the ultimate good. One that isn’t just momentarily good (and sometimes even flies in the face of what is momentarily good), but one that is eternally good.

Unfortunately, though, sin has consequences. As the bible says “the sins of the father are visited on the son.”

Or the daughter.

As the story above shows, sometimes kids get caught in the crossfire…and sometimes it is tragic…even fatal.

I can’t imagine what could have provoked anyone to do this to his child. But no doubt, had things not escalated to this point and the father had not been shot and the child had not been killed, this little girl may have experienced a lifetime of savage beatings and fear…and perhaps repeated that pattern on children of her own. As horrific as her short life and death was, I have to believe that in allowing her to die so young the Lord had mercy on her and spared her a great deal. In allowing her father to be killed as well, who knows who else is receiving mercy by being spared the violence and wrath of this one man.

After the tears stopped, I got on-line and tried to find out more about this incident. I wanted to understand…to know why…to know what happened. I didn’t find that and kind of doubt that anyone ever will understand, but I did find the picture of little Kaloey (posted above) and this
article:

Each day, four children in the United States die as a result of maltreatment. In 2003, nearly 3 million reports concerning the welfare of approximately 4.5 million children were reported nationally as having been abused or neglected. Of those 4.5 million children, investigations determined that 906,000 had been the victims of abuse or neglect.

Tragically, the highest rate of child maltreatment occurs to our youngest and most vulnerable children, those under the age of five. In addition, younger children die more often from abuse and neglect.

Most alarming is the fact that the perpetrators are, by definition, the very same individuals responsible for the care and supervision of their victims.


Very sobering. But no matter how upsetting or overwhelming the statistic, there is hope. So long as God is God there is a chance to make things better. There is a chance to change things. There is a chance to protect children from the adults who would harm them. First, we can pray. Pray for those in abusive situations. Ask the Lord to rescue them, to shelter them, to deal with those harming them. He can turn an angry, selfish, violent heart into a loving, kind and gentle one. He can! Ask Him also to sustain and comfort the children and even insulate them from the truly damaging environment they are living in. He can do that, too. As holocaust survivor Corrie Ten Boom says, “There is no pit so deep or dark that God’s love is not deeper still.” Oh Lord, let them know that!

Second, we can support groups which are doing all they can to stop and prevent child abuse. April is Child Abuse Prevention Awareness month, and Friday, April 28th is “Blue Ribbon Friday.” Child Protection Agencies and Organizations across the country are urging people to wear a blue ribbon on Friday to heighten awareness and encourage people to take an active part in child abuse prevention.

Third, we can just love on and do all we know to do to protect the kids in our lives. When I read the news report of Kaloey’s death, I couldn’t help but see my niece and know that but for the grace of God, something equally horrific could happen to her. There are no guarantees that the children we love will be spared pain or suffering, but there is a loving a sovereign God that we can entrust them to...to do better for them and us than we can think or imagine. A God who hears our prayers and responds. A God who loves them far more deeply than we ever could. A God who has already laid down His life for them. I pray that we honor this loving God by loving and caring for and praying for and protecting the children He has gifted our lives with...and doing all we can for those less fortunate than the little ones we love.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Pinky fingers and other painful things...

I hurt my pinky finger today. I was cleaning the inside of my microwave, and my nail got caught in one of the vent holes...and well...it wasn't pretty.


Ordinarily, I don't spend much time thinking about my pinky finger. As fingers go, it seems pretty insignificant. It is little, last and seems to have very little function outside of helping one look dainty whilst drinking tea or a Coke Zero or something like that.

But since ripping off part of my fingernail, its become very significant. Firstly, it hurts. Secondly, it has been a hindrance to washing dishes, shampooing my hair and typing this post. I can't tell you how many times I've had to hit the backspace button already! I never knew how important a fully functional, uninjured pinky finger was until today. Or what a detriment a throbbing, painful one could be.

Isn't that the way it is with our sin, too. First, we don't notice it until something "hurts" it. We don't notice our pride until we are slighted. We don't notice our wayward tongue until we say something hurtful or embarrassing. We don't notice our wandering heart until the Lord pricks it and begins to reign it in.

Often, too often, we have to be humbled and confronted with our sin. I tend to think the reason for that is because we spend too little time confessing known sin or asking the Lord to reveal sin and make us holy as He is holy. Who wants to go there, right? Who wants to be shown their faults and failures? It's not fun...but it is less fun to have them exposed the other way.

Like my hurt pinky finger, I have fresh wounds in that arena as well, which throb and demand my attention. My first reaction is to make it stop hurting...which often involves some sort of rationalization or justification (cough-excuses). But, that is not the God-honoring response. He exposed these things, and allowed the hurt, not for me to quickly console myself and move on...but to deal with them and heal them...get them gone.

I can put a band-aid on my pinky finger and try to forget about it. Chances are, though, that this course of action will prolong the healing and possibly lead to infection or something. But, if I clean it well every day and give it the care it needs, the pain will soon subside and it will heal more quickly. Again, the same is true of our sin. If we push painfully revealed sin issues aside, or focus our attention on how they came to light and the hurt they caused, no doubt more hurt will follow and we will have to be humbled again. But, if we can hear the voice of the Lord in the humbling and follow where He leads, we will find ourselves on paths of righteousness and see the blessing in the pain.

"For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your Souls...He restores my soul...[and] leads me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake." (From today's Daily Light)

Friday, April 21, 2006

Be still and know...

Consider the egg. No…consider the Mama bird. She spends days flying to and fro, choosing the perfect location to build her nest, then gathering sticks and long blades of grass and such, she works tirelessly building a place in which to lay and incubate her eggs. Then…she sits…for weeks. She just sits and waits. The egg, from the time it is laid until the baby bird begins to peck at the shell to make its escape, is unchanged. There is “no visible evidence of progress.” As my friend Elisabeth Elliot pointed out in her daily devotion a couple of days ago.

She goes on to say “Things are apparently at a standstill. But the bird sits quietly, knowing that in the stillness something vital is going on, and in the proper time it will be shown.”

The bird sits quietly, knowing…

That is what we are called to do. As the Lord calls us to serve or to change or to address matters of discipline, we want to see immediate results. We want to lay the egg and right then see it wobble and hear the pecking and then see it hatch. But we can’t. As the days and weeks go by, all we can do is all we are called to do and trust God to bring about His desired result in the proper time. If the Mama bird doesn’t do what she is called to do, that is sit and keep them warm, the baby birds won’t have what they need to grow and then hatch. The eggs will die and then be pushed out of the nest.

What is it God is calling you to? Has he convicted you of an area of sin, urged you to incorporate some new matter of discipline into your routine? Whatever the call, our response must be an unequivocal “yes”…and then we must do two things:

1. Set about doing what it is He has called us to do, and
2. Wait on Him for the result…no matter how often we fail how long it takes or how much things continue to look or feel or seem the same.

As Elisabeth Elliot reminds us “something vital IS going on” in the unseen and we must rest in that knowledge and trust the one who “works all things together for the good” even when it looks like there isn’t much work going on. Especially then.

The righteous shall live by faith. (Romans 1:17)
For who hopes for what he sees? (Romans 8:24)

Thursday, April 20, 2006

From Today's Daily Light...

“Who are you, Lord?” . . . “I am Jesus.”

“It is I. Do not be afraid.”—“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God . . . your Savior.”

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.—“Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

“You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”—If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.—Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

This truly was a word in due season for me today. So much on my heart and mind, weighing very heavily. Things that make me think I have gone nowhere and possibly do not have a clue as to who God is or what He wants with me. But he says: "It is I. Do not be afraid...When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God . . . your Savior.” And, though I sin I "have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous...who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for [me].

Thank you Lord is all I can say!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Sheep

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him (the shepherd) the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6 ESV)

We have turned every one to his own way…
I have a friend who prides herself on being fiercely independent, a non-conformist, a few steps ahead of cutting-edge. It is her life’s goal, it seems, to defy definition or categorization. It also seems she exerts a great deal of energy searching out new ways to keep it that way…to keep the rest of the populace from catching up to her. The natural consequence of this mind-set is to dislike all those who are just going with the flow, taking the trends as they come, and “blindly” following the natural course of culture, entertainment, and even social mores. She calls these people sheep.

Sheep do tend to get a pretty bad rap, historically. They are not known for their smarts. They need a person to lead them to food and water and a more intelligent and aggressive animal to protect them from predators. They also tend to fall into pits or tip over which wouldn’t be so bad were they capable of righting themselves. If they didn’t have a Shepherd who led them to food and water and rescued them and provided another animal to protect them…I would think sheep would have gone extinct a long time ago.

From our perspective, I am sure there is much to dislike or ridicule or pity in a sheep or in a person who resembles a sheep. And truly, it would be a lamentable state…were it not for the Shepherd.

If there were no Shepherd to protect and provide and guide and the sheep were left to fend for themselves or somehow got into their heads to go it alone, it would be a very sad and disgraceful thing. Sheep would starve, die in shallow ravines, and be snatched left and right by wolves. The same is true for human sheep.

Those people my friend calls sheep are without a Shepherd...as are all who find themselves without Christ. They are wandering aimlessly, carried along by whatever catches their attention, receiving no real sustenance and without any form of protection from predators or their own limitations. I believe there is something in each of us that tends toward this stupid insistence that we be independent and convinced of our own abilities…despite evidence to the contrary. We want to chart our own course…master our own destiny…set our own standards. However, we never stop to ask if we are qualified to do so…if we even know where we are going or why we want to go there.

Bishop Leslie Newbigin says: The demand to know where we are going is one which no Christian has a right to make. In a very real sense we do not know where we are going, but we are trying to meet day by day the plain requirements of God's will. This means a constant effort to bring every part of church life and practice to the test of conformity with the Gospel."


In one of her daily devotionals, Elisabeth Elliot adds the following: It is not for the flock of sheep to know the pasture the Shepherd has in mind. It is for them simply to follow Him. If they knew that his plans included a valley of deep shadow, they would panic. Keeping close to the one they have learned to trust is all that is necessary. He will faithfully provide rest, refreshment, correction, and protection as the needs arise. His accompanying presence is guaranteed, all the way--even through the darkest shadows--to the house of the Lord.

It is not for this sheep to know…simply to follow Him…the one they have learned to trust is all that is necessary.

Often, I want to know for certain where I am headed…specifically. Like some sort of fortune-teller, I strain my mind to try to see the unforeseeable future from where I am right now. Scenarios play out in my mind and either cause intense delight or intense dread. I’ve either had my happily ever after or ended a miserable failure before I’ve even ventured one step from my current position. Consequently, I either step out with often unrealistic expectations OR I take no step at all, paralyzed by my idea of the worst-case scenario.

It is not for this sheep to know…simply to follow Him…the one they have learned to trust is all that is necessary.

I am no fortune-teller and God is no Magic 8 ball. He is, however, a lamp unto my feet and has promised to be my Shepherd and lead me to green pastures and beside still waters. He had done it before:

For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:25 ESV)

He will do it again…and again…and again…and teach me to simply follow the one I am learning to trust for all that is necessary.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

He is Risen! He is Risen indeed!

(Click to Play "Behold the Lamb" by Sovereign Grace Music)

The Resurrection

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise." And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.


On the Road to Emmaus
That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, "What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?" And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?" And he said to them, "What things?" And they said to him, "Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see." And he said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent." So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?" And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together,saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!" Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.



Jesus Appears to His Disciples
As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, "Peace to you!" But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.

Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."

The Ascension
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.(Luke 24:1-53 ESV)

...when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

"This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord:

I will put my laws on their hearts,and write them on their minds,"

then he adds, "I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more."

Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.


The Full Assurance of Faith
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 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 10:12-25 ESV)

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Sacrifice...to know Our Sacrifical God

Sacrifice. One can't truly know God or be called by His name without it. Sacrifice is what grants us access to the Father. He chose to offer the ultimate sacrifice - His Son - that we might enter in. One would scarcely give his son for the best of men...God offered his up for the chief of sinners and all the rest of us average sinners. Our God is a sacrificing God...willing to suffer and sacrifice that we might end our futility and chasing after wind and find all that truly satisfies in Him...for eternity.

Once we are called by His Name, we begin to become like Him...and find ourselves called upon to sacrifice, too. In the Old Testament, the Israelites were called to sacrifice for sin and in order to enter in to the presence of God. Those of us under the New Covenant of the Blood of Jesus Christ have those things provided by His atoning work. So, we are called to sacrifice for different reasons. We sacrifice to die to self, to put temporal things in their proper perspective, and to further and continually surrender to God. Each day provides a new opportunity to sacrifice. To take up our cross and do as Amy Carmichael says and deny ourselves of something "that would not be if we were not following Him.”

We can't truly say we know God without this sacrificial death to self. If we have never denied ourselves anything for His sake, we cannot call ourselves His. Failure to do so is to live to Self, not Christ. And in this there is no gain. Self denial, when we find our will crossing Christ's, is to be a daily aspect of the Christian life. But, these daily denials are not just about forsaking bad things, as Elisabeth Elliot says, sometimes it is about offering up some very good things.

Since I have become a Christian, a very many "good things" (in my estimation) have found themselves on the altar of God. In fact, every hope, wish, plan, dream, and scheme has had to take its place there and be put through the fire. In some cases, the Lord has given that hope, wish, plan or scheme back to me, better than I left it and filled with much less of me. In others, the fire consumed all...not just the sinful "me" parts...and all that was left was a pile of ashes. My pile continues to grow. Sacrifice upon sacrifice, the bits of me that burn away, or actual hopes and plans which are consumed all together, have formed a huge pile of ashes next to the altar.

Yet again, I find myself standing there, future hopes and plans in hand, placing them on the altar. I step back and watch the fire burn. I hope some day like silver which is refined in the fire, my hopes and plans will be returned to me, pure and able to reflect the face of the refiner. But, I can't know that now, as I feel the heat of the fire on my face. I can only know that this is what I am called to do. And that I must trust my God who is the fire.

This morning, my friend Elisabeth Elliot said to me (via her e-mail devotion) "[you] must persist in faith. God has a splendid purpose. Believe in order to see it."

God has a splendid purpose...not just a "good" one. Splendid...what a word! Sacrifice doesn't feel splendid. It feels awful at first...scary. But I have His promise that He is for me. That He won't give me a snake when I ask for (or sacrifice) a fish, and that He is able to do beyond all I can think or imagine. Now...I have a pretty vivid imagination, so that is pretty exciting to me. Yet, still, there are times when I would rather cling to my daydream than let go "trade" for an unknown.

But that is faith. "Who hopes for what he sees?"

I can also know that the sacrifice is for no purpose. Not only are they leading me deeper into the knowledge of Christ and His crucificixion, but they are also being used to prepare the land, the pleasant places, He has in store for me.

Not that He doth explain

The mystery that baffleth, but a sense

Husheth the Quiet heart, that far far hence

Lieth a field set thick with golden grain,

Wetted in seedling days by many a rain;

The End - it will explain.

(Amy Carmichal, The End, in Toward Jerusalem)

The land, the pleasant places, the field of golden grain may not look all that habitable or pleasant or golden right now, but they are being watered with my tears and fertilized with the ashes of my consumed hopes and dreams. Each time, as I turn away from the altar in grief, an unseen hand scoops them up and spreads them over that land He is preparing for me, according to His purposes. I cannot till or plant or make the seasons progress more quickly...but I can offer the material for sacrifice which will nurture the field and cause it to grow - though not more quickly than it should.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Suffer to Serve the Savior

This morning, I’ve been listening to my friend John Piper’s messages on the life of John Bunyan. The third in the series is titled: Suffering and Service in the Life of John Bunyan. Bunyan, as most know, was the author of the Christian Classic Pilgrim’s Progress. The average person does not know anything at all about his life, and the more modern Christian (like myself) has not even read his famous book. Piper fits in neither of those categories and paints a picture of a man, so transformed by the Lord in his conversion that he goes from an unknown metal worker to one of England’s most effective and passionate preachers and pastors. But the transformation in Bunyan wasn’t merely through coming to a personal faith in Jesus Christ. This was pivotal, as it is for us all, but the mettle of his faith which allowed him to preach, to write, and to face several imprisonments for the cause of Christ was forged, refined, and brought into beautiful reality through suffering.

In a span of 3 years he lost his sister, his mother, saw his father re-marry, was drafted into military service and then saw (or at least heard about) a man who switched sentinel duty with him shot through the head. After that, he married, had 4 children (the first of which was blind) and then, after 10 years of marriage, lost his wife. Within a year, he remarried and a year later he was put into prison for 12 years for his religious non-conformity. His second wife, Elisabeth, was pregnant with their first child…his fifth.

No doubt the prisons of that day were unlike those of our modern penal institutions. I think of the prison Bunyan endured and see darkness, dampness, drudgery and brutality. All that was required for his release was for him to vow never to preach again. To do this would mean freedom from the dank pit he lived in and from the burden of knowing his family was left to provide for their own means without him. He would not. He could not.

After his release “he looked back over the hardships of the last 12 years and wrote about how he was enabled by God to survive and even flourish in the Bedford jail…He quotes 2 Corinthians 1:9 where Paul says, We had this sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God that raiseth the dead. Then he says, ‘By this scripture I was made to see that if ever I would suffer rightly, I must first pass a sentence of death upon every thing that can be properly called a thing of this life, even to reckon myself, my wife, my children, my health, my enjoyment, and all, as dead to me, and myself as dead to them. The second was, to live upon God that is invisible, as Paul said in another place; the way not to faint, is to ‘look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.’” (John Piper)

Piper goes on to say “In all my reading of Bunyan, what has gripped me most is his suffering and how he responded to it. What it made of him. And what it might make of us. All of us come to our tasks with a history and many predispositions. I come to John Bunyan with a growing sense that suffering is a normal and useful and essential and God-ordained element in Christian life and ministry. Not only for the sake of weaning us off the world and teaching us to live on God…”

I can’t hear a story like that of the life of John Bunyan or an insight like that shared by Piper above and not feel challenged within myself as to the degree of love I have for myself and the world. A couple of weeks ago, one of my pastors gave a message on loving and doing the gospel mission. He spoke out of Romans 16, which is an often overlooked passage where Paul lists workers in the church and notes their service. These people were highlighted for everything from the menial to the sacrificial. One set were even commended for “risking their necks” to save Paul’s life. As I listened, I heard…”If you save your face you won’t risk your life.”

It reminded me of the verse that says if you seek to save your life, you will lose it and what is “face saving” but an attempt to preserve your life as you see it? To do this is to live to self, not to Christ, and ultimately, there is no gain in that.

The fact of the matter is, as Christians, we are called to suffer. When we chose Christ as our Savior, we were drafted into service and enlisted as soldiers in a battle that has been waging since the dawn of time itself. The trouble is, we have become so refined (not in a Bunyan way), so deceived by ease (plentiful jobs, less sickness and death, the form of tolerance in America regarding faith) that we have lost sight of the reality of our call and the war we are meant to take an active part in. Modern Christianity has become some form of self-improvement…it is man-centered, generally…and thus there is no warfare mentality, no willingness to suffer and sacrifice, and no real power.

I believe scripture bears this out: the greater the suffering, the greater the saint. Through suffering the Lord gave us Job, Peter, John, Paul, my dear Amy Carmichael and Elisabeth Elliot, John Bunyan, Martin Luther, William Wilberforce, David Brainerd…and countless others. They, none of them, would be what they were in Christ were it not for strategic suffering placed by a good and sovereign God. Bunyan knew this, and wrote the following while he was in prison: "I have, in a few words, handled this . . . to show you that our sufferings are ordered and disposed by him, that you might always, when you come into trouble for this name, not stagger nor be at loss, but be stayed, composed, and settled in your minds, and say, 'The will of the Lord be done.' Act 21:14."

Through these examples of suffering faith, we can see that “[t]here is more of God to be had in times of suffering than any other time.” (John Piper) Bunyan also realized this truth, and wrote: "Let me beg of thee, that thou wilt not be offended either with God, or men, if the cross is laid heavy upon thee. Not with God, for he doth nothing without a cause, nor with men, for . . . they are the servants of God to thee for good. (Psalm 17:14 KJV; Jer. 24:5). Take therefore what comes to thee from God by them, thankfully." Indeed Piper says, “[p]rison proved for Bunyan to be a hallowed place of communion with God because his suffering unlocked the Word and the deepest fellowship with Christ he had ever known.”


They are the servants of God to thee for good...

Piper goes on to say: "In The Excellency of a Broken Heart (the last book he took to the publisher) he says, ‘Conversion is not the smooth, easy-going process some men seem to think . . . . It is wounding work, of course, this breaking of the hearts, but without wounding there is no saving. . . . Where there is grafting there is a cutting, the scion must be let in with a wound; to stick it on to the outside or to tie it on with a string would be of no use. Heart must be set to heart and back to back, or there will be no sap from root to branch, and this I say, must be done by a wound.’ Bunyan's suffering made him passionate about these things – and patient. You can hear his empathy with strugglers in these typically earthy words in a book from 1678 called Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ: 'He that comes to Christ cannot, it is true, always get on as fast as he would. Poor coming soul, thou art like the man that would ride full gallop whose horse will hardly trot. Now the desire of his mind is not to be judged of by the slow pace of the dull jade he rides on, but by the hitching and kicking and spurring as he sits on his back. Thy flesh is like this dull jade, it will not gallop after Christ, it will be backward though thy soul and heaven lie at stake’ … Bunyan's sufferings had taught him the word's of Jesus first hand, The way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few (Matt. 7:14).”

As I listened to these messages, I thought of this Amy Carmichael poem:
NO SCAR?
Hast thou no scar?
No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
I hear thee sung as mighty in the land;
I hear them hail thy bright, ascendant star.
Hast thou no scar?


Hast thou no wound?
Yet I was wounded by the archers; spent,
Leaned Me against a tree to die; and rent
By ravening beasts that compassed Me, I swooned.
Hast thou no wound?

No wound? No scar?
Yet, as the Master shall the servant be,
And pierc├Ęd are the feet that follow Me.
But thine are whole; can he have followed far
Who hast no wound or scar?

He was wounded for our transgressions…and so must we be wounded…crucified with Him…willing to die daily. Without it we will never really know Him…and run the risk of hearing “I never knew ye” on that day.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Serve the Suffering Savior

Choose this day whom you will serve.
(Joshua 24:15)

The conflict I often find myself in is this: whom will I serve – God or myself?

In any circumstance, I am called to make a choice…and I am called to die. The specifics do not matter. The degree of my wanting or needing a particular outcome is not to be a deciding factor. The potential harm, pain or loss I foresee in my choice should not hold the most sway over my heart and mind. “When the will of God crosses the will of man, somebody has to die. (Addison Leitch)” And each and every time…that someone HAS to be me. Not because Christ is a harsh taskmaster and enjoys seeing His children suffer the pains of death and denial, but because to choose to die that He might live in me is to become more like Him, who is all goodness and faithfulness and love.

Jesus said, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23) One cannot follow, or be led, if he is intent on doing the leading. One cannot take up a cross, and do so willingly, daily, if he is not confident in the one whom he follows. If our minds are set on being the master of our own destinies, and our thoughts are on what we can or cannot accomplish, we won’t pick up a cross. And we won’t really grasp the magnitude of The Cross of Calvary, nor will we experience the full effect of that cross on our lives. Amy Carmichael said, “I think often we accept the cross in theory, but when it comes to practice, we either don’t recognize it or try to avoid it. [The cross is not illness or tragic loss]…it is something suffered for the sake of the Lord Jesus, some denial of self that would not be if we were not following Him.”

Some denial of self that would not be if we were not following Him.

Those who follow anyone else, including one’s self will not deny themselves. Not truly. They may follow rites and rituals…but they do it for the sake of an experience, a reward, or to please the one they follow. The type of denial Christ speaks of is not to gain a thing…though certainly the walk of obedience has blessings and rewards….it is to become like Christ by entering into the fellowship of His suffering.

“Children, I commend you from the bottom of my heart into the captivity of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; that it may be in you, over you, behind you, and before you, lying heavy on you, and yet received by you with free and full acquiescence to the will of God, whatever it may please Him to do with you.” (Rev. Dr. John Tauler)

Certainly our daily cross is not so heavy as some other strategically placed crosses in our life. The cross I bore yesterday was not nearly as heavy a burden as one I suffered a few weeks ago. There are times when it becomes bigger and heavier, and thus, times when we feel we cannot bear it. But, I believe the Lord uses the less burdensome daily crosses to build our faith for the big ones. If we never take up the daily crosses, though, we will never suffer the big ones. And when they come, we will be crushed under the weight.

For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry? (Luke 23:31)
I believe this saying of Jesus’ as he hauled the symbol of the wrath of God along the road to Golgotha captures this truth. If we fail to take up our cross and make those (seemingly) small denials when things are well, and make them a daily way of life…when things get rough (when the wood is dry and dead looking) we will rage all the more against the death we are called to die and fight for our will to be done rather than Christ’s.

In order to do this though, I believe we need a proper perspective on Calvary and how it translates to us personally and daily. In his devotional book, Morning & Evening, Charles Spurgeon writes:

"Did earth or heaven ever behold a sadder spectacle of woe! In soul and body, our Lord felt himself to be weak as water poured upon the ground. The placing of the cross in its socket had shaken him with great violence, had strained all the ligaments, pained every nerve, and more or less dislocated all his bones. Burdened with his own weight, The Sufferer felt the strain increasing every moment of those six long hours. His sense of faintness and general weakness were overpowering; while to his own consciousness he became nothing but a mass of misery and swooning sickness. … To us, sensations such as our Lord endured would have been insupportable, and kind unconsciousness would have come to our rescue; but in his case, he was wounded, and felt the sword; he drained the cup and tasted every drop. … As we kneel before our now ascended Saviour's throne, let us remember well the way by which he prepared it as a throne of grace for us; let us in spirit drink of his cup, that we may be strengthened for our hour of heaviness whenever it may come."

The Sufferer and The Savior on the Throne. One in the Same.

Choose this day whom you will serve. As for me, today, I choose Christ!

Thursday, April 6, 2006

Lessons from Esther

I’ve been studying through the Book of Esther via the Revive Our Hearts Radio Broadcasts. One thing that strikes me as I read through this book is something I talked about in my last post regarding how stories are told.

The Book of Esther is a chronicling of the events surrounding God’s work in the lives of the people exiled in Persia and the advent of the Feast of Purim. It is a small book, and we get the highlights and very little else. It is easy to read through this book and see Esther’s and Moredecai’s responses and actions as matter-of-fact, second nature, and happening without much emotion or wrestling or any of the things we typically do when we are faced with difficult, even dangerous, situations.

But, there is nothing new under the sun. Just like us, Esther and Mordecai were clothed in bodies of flesh, dealt with indwelling sin and were people of “like passions” as us.

The accepted, yet somewhat unspoken or glossed over facts of the story are these:
Esther was a teenager. She was orphaned than taken by force from her cousin, Moredecai, who had adopted her and cared for her after the death of her parents. She was taken, likely, from a village surrounded by other family and friends of similar heritage, and brought into the capital city of Persia and inducted into the harem of the king. She had to know things about the king and his lifestyle. I would imagine that stories, some true some exaggerated, had been told throughout the kingdom. She and Mordecai had probably heard of the king’s drunkenness, his temper, how he had deposed his queen and of his harem of concubines. I don’t believe she went into this with romantic notions of being rescued by a king in gleaming robes and that she would live happily ever after. She also had to know that life as she knew it, as she perhaps dreamed it would be, was over. If the king chose her, she would be wed to him for life…for better and likely for worse. If he did not, she would be assigned to his harem forever and could never marry or have a family and would simply be at his sexual service as long as he desired to keep her. She had to have been at the very least anxious about what awaited her. She had to have done some wrestling with the Lord over this. There had to have been emotions…strong emotions to deal with, both for her and for Mordecai. What man could stand to see a girl they love conscripted into a harem?

But we don’t see any of that in the story.

What you do see are people (I believe despite emotions and fears and uncertainty and knowledge of the natural realities) doing what they believe will most honor the Lord regardless of their circumstances…and doing so in an obviously thoughtful, prayerful and purposeful way.

Esther and Mordecai had no way of knowing that she would become Queen. They couldn’t foresee Haman’s wicked plot to destroy the Jews, and how having Esther in the palace would be used of the Lord to provide a way of escape for them. But whoever wrote the story knew that…and all of the horror, the fears, the tears, the anxiety fall by the wayside and give way to joy in God’s sovereign care for His people. And, I believe, it also shows us the importance of obedience, especially in times when we can’t see our way clear, when nothing makes sense, and when we are afraid.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss says: “God’s will is exactly what you would choose if you knew all that God knows.” Esther and Mordecai could not know that their situation would end the way the hoped it would…but they apparently did know how the Lord had cared for and delivered His people in the past, and that He would do so again.

Lord, allow us to remember your sovereign hand of providence in each little square of time we find ourselves…no matter how bad, how scary or how uncertain it may be. Though we only see what Joni Earekson Tada called “the tangled underside” of the tapestry of our lives, give us spiritual eyes to see the valley’s you’ve brought us through in the past, the mountains you’ve helped us to scale and joyfully trust you to do so again and again and again. Let us choose obedience. Let us trust you enough to reign in our emotions and trust your goodness. Let us, by our obedience, exalt you over ourselves and proclaim you as holy in the eyes of the people.

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

On Being Sculpted and Bruised...and "Made" for His Glory.

May the God of peace, who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make us perfect in all goodness so that we may do his will; and may he make of us what he would have us be through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen (Hebrews 13:20,21 NEB).

"May He make us what He would have us be..."
On the surface, reading that brings to mind happy thoughts. As we submit to Him, He makes us into what He wants us to be...and we know that, because He is good, what He is making us into is good as well. We can read happy stories of God's working in others that go something like this:

I was a mess. God called me. I fought. He continued to call and woo me. I surrendered. He changed my life and here I am now, content, happy, whole, healed, glorying in what He saved me from and where He brought me to. Often what we don't get in those stories are moments like the one I had yesterday. We don't hear many tales of all the ugly things, the hard things, the disgusting things that had to be purged along the way. I don't mean that as a criticism on the common mode and focus of testimonies. Those things should grow dim and vanish from view over time, surpassed by the goodness and kindness and providence of God. In most cases, too, these types of recountings give us the aerial view from the mountaintop and naturally those momentary, light afflictions are not seen clearly or at all from that vantage point. But, the reality is that in order to get to the mountain top, you have to walk through a valley...and climb the big honkin rock first. It stands to reason that there will be difficulty, pain even, wounds likely in the process.

No unclean thing can be offered to God...that includes us. We can't get to the mountaintop of our lives and be suitable for His service without consistent purging and cleansing. We can't. The Lord doesn't purge and clean out sweet smelling and appealing things...he purges and cleans out junk...garbage...filth. It ain't pretty. It don't smell nice. And most of the time the extraction hurts quite a bit.

But it is necessary if we are to die daily and live the crucified lives we are called to.

This whole process makes me think of scuplture. Picture a large, gleaming hunk of marble. Now picture the scupltor, violently (yet lovingly and purposefully) hacking away at it. For a while there, it just looks a mess. Bits of marble fly through the air and crash to the ground. All that can be seen are rough edges with no discernable shape. But the sculptor knows. He can see what we can't. He has a clear image in his mind of what lies beneath the hacking and the jagged edges. He looked at the gleaming hunk of marble and where we saw shiny wholeness, he saw something inside that needed to come out...something far more beautiful than a big hunk of marble. But, to get to it, a lot of marble had to be hacked and chipped and swept away.

I am feeling fresh chisel marks on my flesh this morning. It hurts. What is being chipped away makes me feel like doo-doo on the sole of a shoe. But I am reminded that He corrects those He loves.

Last night I began my second study through the Book of James. I read:
My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;
Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let
patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire,
wanting nothing.
(James 1:2-4)


The footnote to this passage in my bible said "Those Christians whom God can use the most are those whom God has bruised the most." What comfort to know that God is so purposeful in my personal refinement and growth that He not only intends to use it to make me all He thinks I ought to be, but will also use it for His glory, to minister to others in the body and, hopefully, further the His Kingdom.

Lord, for the joy set before you, you endured the cross. May I endure my daily cross with equal joy. Take my eyes off of the momentary, light afflictions and set them on the joy of knowing you more...of being made into that which you see beneath my flesh...and being used by you.

Monday, April 3, 2006

Spring Forward

You have been traveling around this mountain country long enough. Turn northward…He knows your going through this great wilderness. These 40 years, the Lord your God has been with you. You have lacked nothing. (Deuteronomy 2:3,7)

This was the word of the Lord to me this morning. It came after a weekend full of what I would consider set-backs. Last week, I’d made a plan to sort of make a giant leap toward the direction I believe the Lord has pointed me in…and sort of regain some of the ground I feel I have lost since Hurricane Katrina. It is basically just a plan to order my life in a specific and purposeful way both to make things which I feel are currently displeasing to the Lord pleasing, and also put me in a better position to make even more areas of my life reflect His holiness and goodness. I decided to take the whole time change…Spring Forward…as my inspiration and put the plan into action on April 1st. So, early Saturday morning I took a flying leap into what I believed to be the purposes of God…and fell flat on my face.

If Mary Poppins is right and “well begun is half done” then I’m in big trouble.

But then, I know something Mary Poppins didn’t appear to know…that when I am at my weakest and most humble state, God is at His strongest because He is the God of the impossible.

Freshly humbled, but still determined to make good on my commitments to the Lord, I went to service. I was up with the worship team and the songs were so inspired and meaningful to me I couldn’t help but worshipping with all my heart. Failures faded from my mind as it was filled with thoughts of His promises and His ability to work out His sovereign will for my life.

I left, confident that things would be better…the rest of the day would be as it should be and I would go to bed reveling in His wonder-working power…and I went out and fell flat on my face again.

These weren’t huge things I was failing in. They were small commitments I’d made to the Lord either to do certain things or refrain from them. Yet, they were as crushing as if they had been what I deem the gravest of sins because “he who is faithful in the little things will be faithful in the big things.” (my paraphrase of )

In her devotion for this morning, my friend Elisabeth Elliot writes:

Few of us accomplish without delay or interruption what we set out to do. Plans are made and they fail…often we are tempted to quit our efforts all together…[but Paul says] “for it is God who works in you, inspiring both the will and the deed, for His own chosen purpose. Do all you have to do without complaint or wrangling. (Philippians 2:12-14 NEB)

Both the will and the deed…do all you have to do without complain or wrangling.
The Lord is in our plans. Every plan we make has his fingerprints on it – though there is no guarantee that the purpose we plan to bring to pass is also His chosen purpose. His plan may be the failure of our plan to prime us to submit to His purpose. I think the point of that is to submit and pursue the steps you feel called to take…not necessarily the goal you set for yourself. The end of the road may not be the end you envision…that is not the point. I repeat (probably just for myself) THAT IS NOT THE POINT. Obedience and Submission – Realizing whose you are – Dying to self – Glorifying God both in private and before men…these are to be the point of anything we endeavor to do for or because of the Lord.

And sometimes…even my most sincere intentions to please the Lord need to cause me to fall flat on my face before they can succeed. But in order for them to succeed, I need to also be willing to get up and try again.

So…this morning…Lord willing I take another giant leap into His purposes and pray this time I bound into the next step rather than “come to” with my face flat against the floor.