Monday, April 30, 2007
As it happened, this morning, I went back one year in my blog and found a post I'd written about Esther...it was very timely, so I thought I'd re-post it here.
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 chronicles 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 then 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.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Even this first paragraph might cause a few readers to pause. It may seem a taboo subject. You might be right. But it is my feeling that it shouldn't be. It has been my experience that most people (Christian or not) assume that people over a certain age have "been with" someone. This ought not be the assumption or the standard. Most speak freely, if not explicitly, about the other side of this issue. Why should we not speak as freely about the side that is the norm from God's perspective? That should be the norm for us? So bear with me, please. I have a point, and it is not to make anyone uncomfortable...it is to give praise to the Lord and see Him glorified.
As I mentioned above, I'm 35 and a virgin. I've not had much "opportunity" to change this particular stat, truth be told. That is something else I am also very thankful for. Aside from the aspects of me that keep the men at bay, though, I'd like to think that the course my life has taken and led to me to this place was set in motion with one decision.
When I was 16, I had my one and only boyfriend. He was a year older than me and everything I wanted in a boyfriend: Hispanic and Good-looking. His brother was dating my cousin and after months of flirting over the lunch table, I, very boldly wrote him a "what's the deal?" letter. His response was to call and ask me out on a date. I don't really think we spoke much after that. The next month was full of kissing and not much else. Surprisingly to both of us, when he tried to go further, I turned into the Karate Kid (wax on/wax off) and pushed him away. Finally, he tired of getting nowhere and broke up with me. Looking back I think that was the first time he'd really spoken to me since asking me out.
Now, I didn't want him to break up with me. I wanted a boyfriend (even a bad one). All of my friends had boyfriends and were going on dates and taking group photos and such. All of them were also not reflexively pushing their boyfriends away. Of the girls in our group, I alone made it out of High School with my virginity in tact.
I wasn't a believer then, so I can only explain my behavior as God sovereignly protecting me from what I clearly wanted, in spite of myself.
When I think of how differently my life could look had I not gone all Ralph Macchio on my boyfriend, it is very humbling. That compromise could have led to more compromises...likely would have led to more compromises. I could have gotten serious with someone who wasn't serious about me. I could have gotten pregnant. I could have gotten married to an unbeliever. Instead, I went to college, dated no one, became a Christian and graduated with my virginity still in tact.
I wish I could say that with virginity comes purity. It doesn't.
The years since my hormones kicked in have been frought with urges and fantasies and sin.
But His mercy is new every morning and, regardless of my weaknesses and failings, I am pure in Christ. My virginity is a filthy rag just like every other righteous thing I do. It hasn't earned me one ounce more of grace or made me any less Christ's than those who "messed up". No, my virginity, my attempts to live a pure and holy life, gain nothing for me in the balance of eternity. Whatever crown I am given will fall just as surely at Christ's feet on That Day, whether it has the virginity jewel or not. Our righteousness isn't about us...it is about Him. It is about showing Him as great. It is about bringing Him glory in the eyes of a sinful world. It is about being holy as He is holy that others might see what our Great God can do in the life of a sinner, and hopefully lead them to repentance.
It is also about proving His Word true.
The bible is full of promises regarding His faithfulness and ability to subdue our passions and cravings, and to work in through and in spite of them. In our weakness He is made strong. In my weakness as an unregenerate sinner, He sovereignly strengthened me to ward off the advances of a very aggressive and very attractive boy. If He did that then, before I knew Him, there is nothing He can't do in me now. I have a Savior who extended grace to me when I was His enemy; who DIED for me...I need never know defeat.
And, through Him, no one else should have to either.
How Great ... Is Our God
Sing with Me
How Great ... Is Our God
And all will see
How Great ... Is Our God -- Chris Tomlin
(special thanks to my "editors" on this post, Mandy, Regina and Cheryl who helped to tone down my candor and remove some excess "me")
Monday, April 23, 2007
This portion of scripture has always been particularly meaningful to me, as I assume it is to most believers. It shows us the sameness of God. He truly changes not. He provided the lamb to redeem Isaac and He provided The Lamb - Christ - to redeem us. He was then and is now The God Who Provides. It also shows us His sovereignty. He sovereigly fulfilled His promise to Abraham, though his wife Sarah was old. He sovereignly called Abraham to sacrifice his son, led him to a particular hilltop, and stopped him at the exact moment in time some poor animal was getting himself caught in a bush. But as I read it again this weekend, something else struck me:
God provides for Himself everything He ever requires from us.
Whatever it is that we lose or are required to sacrifice, God first had to give.
He gives and He takes away.
He gives, sometimes, for the express purpose of taking away.
Certainly, He gives knowing He will take away.
On the surface, that sounds a bit cruel, but we do not serve a cruel God. What He does He calls "good", even when at first it may seem a painful kind of goodness. But, His taking away is no less good than His giving is, for His motive is always to work all things together for our good, to display His favor on our lives and bring Glory to His Name. The God who rejoices over us with singing could not be glorified in causing His children to suffer needlessly. But He can be glorified as we endure our sufferings, our losses and our sacrifices in light of His Character rather than our pain or disappointment. In this, in our hope and joy anchored in His goodness (not in circumstances) He is glorified and the world sees The God Who Provides, is full of tender mercy and steadfast love, who is our Comforter, and Healer, and Faithful Friend.
There is no loss we can suffer which should threaten to shake or diminish the truth of who God is in our lives...who He promises to be. He gave Himself for sinners such as us; what have we lost or been asked to sacrifice that can compare?
I humbly suggest the answer to that question is: Nothing.
That is not meant to diminish the real pain and difficulty that comes with what is taken or what we are required to sacrifice. But, could we truly call these things losses or sacrifices were it not for the pain? The pain is part of it, I think. In Job, it says ...he wounds, but he also binds up; he injures, but his hands also heal. Job 5:18
He injures, but His hands heal. He takes away, but He gives and promises whatever toll He takes to satisfy our soul. (John Piper) That and so much more. He promises that all things...all loss, and sacrifice, and pain, and suffering...will work together for good. He promises that goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives - not just on the days when we don't experience pain. He promises that our loss will be gain and that He has set joy before us that we can endure anything we face today. And more than all of this, He promises that, whatever comes or doesn't come, whatever we lose or keep, whatever sacrifice is required, He will never leave us, nor forsake us. He will provide the lamb - whether that lamb is a way out of loss or a way to bear it - and underneath it all are the everlasting arms to carry and comfort and heal.
He will provide all that is required...all we can do is say: AMEN!
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
“When we plead with God and have not realized success, we become more earnest and more intent and our hunger increases. If we obtained the blessing when we first asked, we would not have a sense of mercy’s value.” -Charles Spurgeon, Beside Still Waters p.31
What comfort I have found in God’s word and books that help me meditate on His word.My dear friend Gretchen Allen had been telling me that she often fell asleep with this book in her arms but I wasn’t motivated to read it until I myself became desperate for comfort. Life can be confusing, but God’s word is wonderfully simple and oh so sweet.
“If the ships of prayer do not speedily return, it is because they are heavily loaded with blessings. When prayer is not immediately answered, it will be all the sweeter when the answer arrives. Prayer, like fruit, is ripened by hanging longer on the tree.” (Spurgeon)
The above was written by Mary Murphy. Her son Ian just turned 22 yesterday...and has been in a coma since September. The Murphy's are related to a family from my church, which is how I came to know about their situation and their blog, which was set up to keep people informed and praying. Mary, her husband Steve, Ian's girlfriend Larissa and other friends and family post nearly every day, giving updates on Ian's progress, specific prayer needs, answers to prayer and such; but they also share what the Lord is doing in them through this time of watching and waiting and standing on the promises of God. Time and time again this site has slapped me back into reality, as it did the other day when I read this post again for the first time. In fact, the Lord has used this site and sharing times with other friends and family members over these last couple of weeks to give me a heaping helping of much needed perspective.
I've spent a great deal of time mulling through my thoughts and emotions about my current circumstances, which I regard as problems...my continued struggle with weight-loss, my current living arrangements, my recent rejection and continued singleness. In the midst of that, I've read blogs by the Murphys and my friend Sarah in Canada and single moms and parents with wayward children, friends who are facing cancer, childlessness, divorce, even death and have seen that I do not have problems. I have preferences which are not being satisfied. My circumstances are not the problem, my heart is...sin is. And that problem was effectively dealt with at the cross.
Last night, as I was mulling over these thoughts and (honestly) avoiding prayer, the Lord broke through my resistance and just really convicted me of how much I've been living for myself, pursuing my purposes, submitting to my preferences and feelings. It was quite a humbling moment.
I am so grateful that I know such a faithful and kind and persistant God, who is not content to leave me where I am, but kindly, gently brings me out of the cave I carved with my bear hands and into His glorious light.
I am waiting for mercy...and that mercy is guaranteed. No matter what else I am waiting on, mercy is given new and fresh each morning. It might not come the way I wanted or expected, but the Lord is faithful to give it nonetheless...even when my sinful heart begrudges it. And I am very thankful for that. I pray I can keep that perspective and trust that as I wait, He will meet me with mercy and grace and make me strong, as He has done for the Murphy's and Sarah and so many others.
And, if you think about it, please pray for them!
Friday, April 13, 2007
I have found that in times of disappointment of any kind there is great help in these words. There is the fact. Feelings may say what the will, but they cannot touch the eternal fact. One of His good promises is "Whatsoever is right I will give you." Another is this: "The Lord will not withhold good things from them who walk in innocence." "No good thing will He withhold," so that thing that is not given could not have been good for us.
He knows what is good.
It is just here that faith is tested sometimes very sharply, and we begin perhaps to distress ourselves over the condition attached to the promise. Is it because of something in me that this good thing - as I believed it to be - is not given? God, who searcheth the heart, alone knows our need of the cleansing Blood for motive in prayer, but if by His enabling we will to desire His will, then we may leave all
torturing thoughts and rest our heart on Him. "No good thing will he withhold"..."There hath not failed" - nor ever can fail - "one word of all His good promise." -- Amy Carmichael in Edges of His Ways
Torturing thoughts. I had some of those yesterday. Try as I might to keep them to myself, the Lord wouldn't have it that way. He arranged a conversation with a co-worker which forced these torturing thoughts out into the open, and thus, began to dispel them.
In any situation, I think, we can find a way to cast blame. Sometimes that blame lands on others, but if you are like me, often times that blame is heaped upon ourselves. In my current situation (the recent rejection of my affections) it is very easy for me to list all the reasons why it was right and reasonable for this man to choose as he has: I'm fat and unattractive; I live in another state; I talk too much and give my opinion too freely, I am far too emotional; oh, and did I mention I'm fat? But my friend gently reminded me yesterday that the list of my perceived shortcomings have nothing to do with anything, a Sovereign God is in control of what does and does not happen in my life. He orders our steps. He inclines and softens and hardens hearts. He withholds no good thing. And He keeps His promises.
The Lord has not specifically promised me a husband, but has promises to be my husband. He has not promised me a care-free life, but has promised to bear the cares I cast upon Him. He has not promised me a life without hardships, trials, and loss, but He has promised to work all things together for my good and to give me all grace and all sufficiency in all things at all times. He has not promised that I will never have to fight sin or temptation or opposition, but He has promised to fight for me, to advocate and intercede for me and that He will never leave me or forsake me. Because of this, though I do face disappointment and loss right this very minute, I can say with certainty and even enthusiasm that "not one of His good promises have failed me!"
Thursday, April 12, 2007
Yesterday evening I was able to spend some time with a dear friend of mine. This friend is also my very long-suffering piano teacher...and about 17 years younger than me. Since I've been a bit distracted lately and hadn't really practiced, and considering she is preparing for her Senior Piano Recital...yes, that is Senior in High School (I am very old)...I thought it would be fun to just hang out, look at her senior pictures and maybe hear a few of the pieces she is preparing. Because my God "looks after me", I got so much more than that. My friend began to play a medley, which is a beautiful arrangement of As the Deer and another song (which I have since forgotten). She began to play and the words to this familiar song flowed through my mind...then my heart...and then I was in tears.
As the deer panteth for the water,
So my soul longs after you.
You alone are my hearts desire,
And I long to worship You.
You alone are my strength, my shield;
To You alone may my spirit yield.
You alone are my hearts desire,
and I long to worship You.
You alone are my strength, my shield...my heart's desire - never have those words rung more truly in my heart. I can't even express how thankful I am for that, for the sovereign care of God and for my friend being willing to play that song for me. It was a gift and a great kindness from the Lord to me.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
I think there are times in every believer's life when we are called to forsake what seems good and right to us in order to have God's best for us. Often times, that best isn't readily apparent. Often times, it is a fight to see any good at all coming from our loss. We must stand on faith. He promises to work all things together for our good and to make all loss gain, and this is more true than any thought or emotion we may have. He also promises that He is our advocate, our intercessor, our defender and our shield.
Yesterday, I felt the comfort of that shield more powerfully and tangibly than I ever have in my life. I was called upon to forsake what I saw as a very good thing - my friendship with a wonderful, godly man - in the hope of God's best for me. My affection for my friend, and my desire to be more, had caused a great deal of emotional conflict and confusion. My heart and head were full of him and this distraction had begun to have a negative effect on my life and walk. I saw sin cropping up where it had not been, I cried a lot, I began absent-mindedly running red lights...I knew something had to give. Nothing and no one is worth hindering my relationship with the Lord...or dying in a traffic accident! After counsel from leadership at my church and much prayer and wrestling, I decided it was time to come clean with my friend about my feelings and end the friendship.
During my prayer and wrestling, I was filled with dread. I couldn't think about being rejected or never hearing from him again without sobbing. I knew he would be kind and that the decision to end our friendship would not be his recommendation...that wasn't what caused the emotion, it was the loss. I didn't want to lose this treasure, yet I didn't want to trample upon the Grace of God in my life simply to keep what I wanted, either. So, I obeyed, expressed my heart and the Lord kept anxiety away. Then, I braced for the pain of his response. When it came, my chest throbbed, tears fell, the hurt was real, but it was not overwhelming or devastating. I expected to fall apart, dissolve into a puddle of sobs, but I didn't. I was wounded, but not mortally so...I was ok.
I was amazed.
So when I read the verse above this morning, I couldn't help but put my own name in it: Fear not [Tina], I am your shield; your reward shall be very great...And [she] believed the Lord and it was counted to [her] as righteousness. (Genesis 15:1,6)
Believing the Lord that He is working out His best for me, though it involves loss and pain, is where I stand. His shield about me yesterday was His seal, His proof to me that I am right where He has called me to be. Nothing has changed. All is as it should be. His plan is still His plan and still playing out. This friendship was a problem for me, but Corrie Ten Boom says:God has no problems,only plans. When ours are interrupted, his are not. His plans are proceeding exactly as scheduled, moving us always (including those minutes or hours or years which seem most useless or wasted or unendurable) 'toward the goal of true maturity' (Rom 12:2 JBP). Believing God that this is truth is the first step to that maturity...and whatever else His plan holds for me.
I can't see a thing. When I try to envision where the road will lead now that this door has closed, I see barren desert wastes. But He says the lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. I am choosing to believe what He, my shield, says rather than what I see. His promise, His hope is my shield as I wait for my faith to become sight.
Until then, I walk, one unvieled step at a time, believing God, seeking His purpose, seeking to honor Him, trusting in His steadfast love. He says that none of His plans will fail, His purposes will be accomplished and that He will give me the desires of my heart. I think yesterday He saw that more than anything else, the desire of my heart is to walk closely with Him in fellowship, unbroken by selfishness or striving or sin. I pray that He is honored and pleased in that, though it has come with some pain and grief. I think he is. I think this loss was a way for Him to show me what the desires of my heart really are...and I am comforted to see that truth.
I could have chosen to hang on, hoping in a man, getting what I could from the friendship, enjoying whatever attention this man gave me, but by God's grace I didn't. I chose to forsake what was good for what is best. A Pastor friend told me "this was not only the right thing to do, it was the righteous thing to do." And in so doing - in the losing - God both revealed to me and gave me the desire of my heart...and a shield besides.
You have given him his hearts desire and have not withheld the request of his lips! Selah...you make him glad with the joy of your presence. For the King trusts in the Lord and through the steadfast love of the Most High he shall not be moved. (Psalm 21:2,7)
The fears of death and of the grave
Are whelmed beneath the sea
And every heart, now light and brave
May face the things to be. --Frederick Von Hardenberg
Thursday, April 5, 2007
Mighty to save. That phrase has just been ringing in my heart this week and along with it, this verse:
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith-- that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, (Phillipians 3: 8-10)
Mighty to save...and the power of His resurrection.
Surely, the resurrection proves Our Lord's victory over hell, death and the grave is God's promise to us, His guarantee that He can and will save us - that He is mighty to save. But, the thought that has been with me this week is just how critical it is for us to know that salvation isn't just an eternal issue...it is a today issue. Our Lord was mighty to save on the day of Christ's resurrection, and He should be as mighty to us on any old Tuesday night as He was the day we surrendered our lives to Him. He is as mighty in the moments of our deepest loss and pain as He is at the peak of our worship on Sunday morning (or Saturday or in the car, as the case may be.) He stood between us and death that day on Calvary, and He stands there today. He also stands between us and anything that will come against us, any sin, any loss, any fear, any deferred hope, any sickness...anything. He stands interceding and advocating and protecting. He stands mighty to save, yesterday, today and forever.
Father, may we hear you rejoicing over us with singing and be quieted by your love for us. May we count all loss if that is what is required to be found in you and know, everyday, the power of your resurrection! For your glory and your Name's sake...amen!
Tuesday, April 3, 2007
For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. (Romans 14:23)
I would never say that I have the Gift of Faith, but I certainly do believe I am better able to pray and act in faith on behalf of others than I am for myself. When I am made aware of a friend's need, no matter how dark, how upsetting, how impossible, I am able to say "But God...!!!" In those moments, His truth fills my heart and rolls off my tongue freely. Though I may be grieved, emotional, even afraid for my friend, I can still be filled with hope and have great expectations of our great God.
But when it comes to me...to my stuff...my response isn't nearly as expectant and faith-filled.
My stuff tends to feel much bigger and more in my face, even overwhelming ... and, did I mention that it's mine? The burden I carry then isn't just an empathetic, emotional one. The threat of real loss and pain looms large, and all of my senses and faculties are trained upon that circumstance or issue or person...oh, and how I can avoid loss and pain. In this state, rather than feeling filled with hope and expectancy, I am often fearful, anxious, even sad.
That is how I felt last night. I'd fought it off all day and distracted myself with work, but once that was gone and all was quiet in my car, the emotion and tears come.
I am so thankful that He regards us in our pitiable estate and has mercy on our sinful and deceitful hearts! No matter what I think or feel or even do, He is faithful to show me that He is near, He is true, He is faithful and that He still speaks to His people today. So, though the evening ended in tears with a side of despair, His mercy was new this morning...
What I believe the Lord showed me is that He is the same God always and that I can have the same expectancy and faith for "my" stuff because, really, my stuff is still someone else's stuff.
My stuff is HIS stuff.
My issues are His deal. He can give me the "distance" I need to pray in faith and rejoice in the hope of what He will do because He is always standing between me and whatever problem or circumstance or issue that comes my way. When I see that, my perspective is right and I can have the same peace, the same hope, the same faith, I have when I pray for my friends because HE is the same God and His promises are equally true, whether I am praying for a friend or praying for me.
So, Big, In My Face, Somewhat Saddening Things...But God! The faithful God who keeps covenant with His own, who promises that He will never leave us or forsake us; who promises to work all things together for good, who promises to withhold no good thing, who promises to do exceedingly, abundantly, beyond all we can even think or ask; and who promises that none of His good promises shall fail , is here! We can't see Him all the time but He says He is upholding us with His righteous right hand and that His everlasting arms are beneath us and promises to make our steps sure. This God who spoke the world into existence and sustains it by the power of His word, is for us! Our stuff is His stuff. So let's rejoice in that and watch the working of His power!