Thursday, February 28, 2013

Being still when waters roar because He is God

Psalm 46
God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble. 
Therefore we will not fear,
Even though the earth be removed,
And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; 
Though its waters roar and be troubled,
Though the mountains shake with its swelling.

There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God,
The holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. 
God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved;
God shall help her, just at the break of dawn. 
The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved;
He uttered His voice, the earth melted. 
The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge.

Come, behold the works of the Lord,
Who has made desolations in the earth. 
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
He burns the chariot in the fire. 
Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth! 
The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge.

God IS our refuge and strengthHe IS with us, and He IS a mighty Deliverer, and He WILL BE exalted He IS a very present help in trouble.  It is all true!  

It is also true that this side of glory, there is trouble.  How else could He be an ever present help in the midst of it?  Jesus told us in John 16:33 that He made certain things known to us..."so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

Last night I crawled into bed with an aching heart...and my husband, God bless him, sat quietly and listened to me.  Then, we prayed together for Christ to be exalted as the Deliverer of all the troubles in the lives of those we hold dear.  We weep with a number of friends who are weeping in ongoing scenarios of trouble.  For some right now, it feels like "waters are roaring," threatening to swallow them whole.  Their world, as they know it, is being severely shaken.  Feelings of hopelessness taunt them as deliverance seems doubtful to the human eye.  But we are not called to live by feelings, or even by sight, but by faith.  Faith in the One who is a very present help in trouble.  Can we be still together, and know that He is God?  Can we trust Him together for that next breath, and for enough light on our path to take one more step at time? 

I don't mean "trust Jesus" in some trite way.  I mean, let Him be the foundation upon which you stand.  Let His Word be a lamp unto your feet.  I know the temptations to veg, the flip on movies and tune out, to go numb.  I know the temptation to obsess with work as a diversion as well.  Or there is always that Costco size bag of peanut m&m's to snack on...surely that will comfort you, until guilt comes knocking.  I also know about painting on smiles and trying to pretend it away.  But none of these things will hold us up.  We need to flee to our Refuge, our Strength, our Help.

This is the God who creates storms with good purpose, and calms storms in His time.  The One who says in Job 38:11, "This far you may come, but no farther, and here your proud waves must stop!" The One who makes blind eyes see, and replaces hearts of stone with hearts of flesh.  This is the One who sets captives free.  He makes wars cease.  He will be exalted among the nations, exalted in the earth. So come: "come, behold the works of the Lord."  Don't let your expectations of your future be configured by present circumstances, but by the One who delivers and resurrects.  He has an eternal perspective and knows exactly what has to happen and where He needs to take us in the process of conforming us into Christ's image.  He is transforming us and this world.  Be still and know that He is God.  "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths." ~ Proverbs 3:5-6

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Hello Father, goodbye fear

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 
For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, 
but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, 
"Abba, Father."
~ Rom 8:14-15

These verses have been mulling around in my brain for weeks.  What does God tell us we did NOT receive?  What DID we receive?  I think it is amazingly kind that God does not contrast fear, or "the spirit of bondage again to fear" with something like peace or courage.  As nice as those attributes are, He gives us something far better. He tells us we have received sonship!  He's adopted us...we get HIM.  Goodbye Fear, I am in my Father's arms.

All of creation is His handiwork. I love this quote by Abraham Kuyper: "There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: 'Mine!'" Yep, every square inch belongs to Him.  No matter where we go in earth, sky or sea...we are in His backyard.  Why fear?...He always has His Fatherly eye on us.  Nothing is able to separate us from His love (Rom. 8:37-39). Not even the really hard stuff we sometimes face.

While sitting in my chair one morning, sipping tea and enjoying the quiet before the kiddos awoke, I began watching the shadows dance on the floor as the sunlight made its way through the window.  God was giving me the gift of a few minutes to rest and reflect on His Word.  Oh how I need those quiet minutes with my Father!  I was chewing on those verses out of Romans 8 when I noticed the shadows.  Have you ever seen a shadow without light? It dawned on me that I haven't. Psalm 23 came to mind.  The first half of verse 4 says: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil..."  More shadows for me to ponder...this time the shadow of death.  That is not a very friendly sounding shadow.  How can someone walking through the valley of the shadow of death NOT fear?

The verse goes on: "For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me."  It is that same idea...goodbye fear, I have my Father.  He's my good shepherd and He will take care of me.  The shadows on my floor are not scary at all, but being a rather symbolic person, I couldn't help but think of shadows figuratively.  The shadows we live in can be dark and frightening and full of unknowns.  Do they make us fearful? And do we find ourselves clinging to strange things like the picture above portrays so well because of fear? Or do we remember that shadows are a proof of the we remember that our Father is with us and is taking care of us, lovingly leading us even when we need to go through a valley of shadows, even the valley of the shadow of death?  

"...I have set before you life and death, 
blessing and cursing; 
therefore choose life, 
that both you and your descendants may live; 
that you may love the Lord your God,
 that you may obey His voice, 
and that you may cling to Him
for He is your life..." 
~ Deut 30:19-20

Monday, February 11, 2013

You are not alone in the dark

And the Lord, He is the One who goes before you. 
He will be with you, 
He will not leave you nor forsake you; 
do not fear nor be dismayed.
 ~ Deut 31:8

Three posts back I wrote about learning to walk...Chloe, my sweet toddling inspiration was at my house yesterday.  Last week she was barely making a few steps, and now she is puttering around fairly well.  I was hoping to encourage you (and me) to keep that imagery in mind when considering God's people learning to walk in His ways. It does us good to cheer each other on, and to be there to help each other back up when we go down.  Sounds good, right?  Then I wrote about doesn't come easy (like anger, bitterness and revenge), but Jesus gives us what we need (an ocean of mercy purchased with His blood) in order to forgive those who sin against us.

But what if we want to help someone up, and being filled with gratitude for the ocean of mercy we've received from God we stand ready to forgive every offense, even the incredibly painful ones, but the offender refuses the help?  What if they have fallen down and they don't want to get up? What if they argue that they haven't fallen at all and they are walkin' just fine, thank you very much? What if they are choosing an idol over God and nothing you do or say seems to register?  What if it is your spouse, or your child, or a parent, or a close friend?  People experience raw pain in this life...these sorts of scenarios play out in our lives and in the lives of those we love.  I know (in part).  Excruciating does not come close to describing it. I bet every one who reads this knows what I am talking about.  Maybe your spouse is threatening divorce.  Or maybe there is ongoing unresolved conflict that has created a very odd living arrangement for the rest of you in the house.  Or maybe you have a child who thinks you're old fashioned and that God is perfectly fine with them shacking up with someone.  The list of possibilities is very long.  You'd be the rare exception if at some point in your life, either you or someone close to you has not had your heart ripped open and trampled on in this ongoing, no easy fix sort of way. 

My son asked me to read from 1 Samuel 8 this morning.  The kids and I sat around the kitchen table doing just that.  It told us about how Samuel's sons did not walk in his ways.  The elders came to Samuel and said they wanted him to appoint a king for them like the nations round about them.  This was nothing short of a rejection of God as their king.  Samuel knew this and he was not happy about it.  God confirmed it in verse 7: "And the Lord said to Samuel, 'Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.'"  Of course the people didn't see it that way.  God told Samuel to warn them, but also to heed their voice, which is what Samuel did.  He had to entrust them all to God as he watched them all fall down, refusing to get up.

People fall down, and it is good for us to reach out to them with grace-filled hands.  Forgiveness does not come easy, but God gives us all we need.  But if someone rejects our help and refuses to repent, reaching out and forgiving doesn't bring the peace we long for.  Like Samuel, we can pray and entrust them to God.  We can pursue peace, but we have limits (Romans 12:18 tells us "as much as depends on you, live peaceably")...other people make choices.   Psalm 120 expresses the anguish of one whose peace pursuing life is not reciprocated: "In my distress I cried to the Lord, and He heard me. Deliver my soul, O Lord...Woe is me...My soul has dwelt too long with one who hates peace. I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war."

When we don't know how to take the next breath, God hears our cries.  As far as it depends on us, let us pursue peace.  Let us reach out with grace-filled hands.  Let us forgive as Christ forgave us. And let us entrust those we love to the only One who can change hearts.  We may not know the next step to take, but we have the promise of God that He will never forsake us.  He will lead us, one step at a time.  He is the Light in the darkness.  Let us follow Him, even when it hurts, even when our life feels overwhelmingly disoriented and we fear the sun will never shine again.  Take the next breath He gives...He is holding your hand and will not let you go in the dark.

If you know someone is going through a hard time like this, walk with them.  Be present.  Listen with a gentle and merciful spirit when they are speaking out of raw pain.  Tell them you love them and mean it. Hope for them when they are feeling hopeless.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The foundation of our Savior in marriage

"All the self help methodologies in the world cannot help you, unless you repent.  It is like thinking that the solution to a house full of garbage is to go in and polish the silver…that is not the solution and it will not work. Nothing but repentance and forgiveness solves the problem, and when you do that you have a place where you can begin to rebuild on the right foundation, the foundation of our Savior and have the life you stopped thinking is possible." ~ Steve Wilkins

My husband and I are in our 20th year of marriage.  Besides Jesus, he is my best friend and my favorite co-conspirator in life's grand adventure.  Loving God and loving people together is our family mission motto. But we mess up in a myriad of ways ~ when love gets twisted, pain, frustration, distrust and anger quickly enter as unwanted guests, often bringing other undesirables with them.  Steve Wilkins is right...self-help methodologies are not the answer.  Yet how often do we turn to them?  How often do we make one small compromise after another in our marriages, learning to stuff the pain and begin a life of coexistence, a businesslike relationship at best, letting the friendship and joyful love God intends for us slip away?

When there is trouble in marriages, the tendency seems to be to stop listening to each other.  We tend to nurse our own hurts. The story we tell ourselves about the other can get quickly skewed as we dig through our filing cabinets of past sins (forgiven though they supposedly were) and build our cases.  So God in His kindness often sends friends our way.  There is a reason Psalm 141:5 is in the Bible:  "Let the righteous strike me; It shall be a kindness. And let him rebuke me; It shall be as excellent oil; Let my head not refuse it."  I memorized that verse early on in our marriage because it never quite "feels" like a kindness to be order to count it a kindness, I have to trust God (in contrast to my own reasoning, self-justifications, and feelings).  I have to be willing to hear those who love me as His messengers when they challenge something I am doing or saying.  My experience is that they have usually been right, and I have needed to repent.  God has shown us great mercy throughout our marriage, moving us to repentance quickly.  We have friends who have spoken the truth in love to us, and we have grown in thankfulness for their kind strikes over the years. 

Maybe there are areas where you could use some encouragement. There are a gazillion resources available, and I have read many of them.  Some are much more helpful than others.  There are 3 (a book, a sermon, and a sermon series) that I highly recommend.  Sometimes books and sermons can be like friends, kindly striking us.

The book ~ What did you Expect?, by Paul David Tripp.

The sermon ~ Forgiveness in our Marriages, by Steve Wilkins (This is a segment from a series he gave on marriage at a church camp this last year in all means, feel encouraged to listen to the whole series, but this one in particular I found to be incredibly good stuff, and applications can easily be made to relationships in general too).

The sermon series ~ an eleven part series titled "Real Marriage," by Mark Driscoll, available free for download here. Father, give us ears to hear! I intend to listen through these again. Excellent!

We want the next 20 years to be even better...more grace-filled, more fruitful, more joyous as we serve our Father together.  A number of friends have recommended Timothy Keller's book The Meaning of Marriage.  A fresh copy just made its way to my "soon to read" pile...I'll keep you posted.  Of course, the best resource of all is God's Word which is the basis of the instruction the above mentioned teachers offer.  May God give everyone who is married the desire to honor Him in their marriages, and may we avail ourselves to the helpful teaching He's graciously made available to us.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Forgiveness doesn't come easy, but He gives us what we need...

In Matthew 18:21, Peter asked Jesus how often he should forgive a brother who has sinned against him.  "Up to seven times?", he asks.  And Jesus answered him: "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven."

That sounds like a lot of forgiving. Do you have a hard time with that?  It hurts to be sinned against.  Sometimes the way we're sinned against seems to drain our very life out of us.  Though I have a tremendous amount of friendly and loving experiences in my life to be thankful for, I am not a stranger to being sinned against. I have crumpled to the floor under the weight of very harsh words. I have lived with the shame of feeling like damaged goods because of abuse experienced as a child.  I have been bold faced lied to, cheated and betrayed. We live among brokenness and sin...criticism and bitterness and anger and the desire for revenge is what comes easy.  Not forgiveness.  Is Jesus telling Peter (and us) to do the impossible? 

What does He know that we tend to forget?  Why is it so hard?  Read the rest of Jesus' answer to Peter in Matthew 18:23-35.   "Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.  And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.  But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made.  The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, 'Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.'  Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.

"But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, 'Pay me what you owe!'  So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.'  And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt.  So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done.  Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me.  Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?'  And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.

"So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses."

As much as we've been sinned against, that isn't the whole story is it?  We ourselves have sinned against God, indebting ourselves to him way beyond our ability to repay, requiring an ocean of mercy.  We don't like to remember that part of the story when we are busy wallowing in our self-justified pain.   The paraphrased version of Jesus' story is this: the first fella was given an ocean of mercy...the second fella needed a teaspoon's worth which the first fella withheld.  Not good.  The lesson: don't follow the example of the first fella.  Instead, remember that YOU and ME owed God so much that Jesus had to bear the full measure of God's wrath in our place in order to forgive us.  Praise His name for doing so!   When Jesus tells us to forgive, He's not asking us to do anything He hasn't already done.  And He much more so.  Let us not confuse our wasn't a teaspoon of mercy you and I needed. 

Sometimes the pain we suffer is so intense we can barely breathe.  But He gives us the next breath, and the next as He reminds us that what He suffered for us cost Him His life. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, our Redeemer. When the pain is real, let us ask God to help us be like Jesus who prayed "Father forgive them..." while He hung on the cross.  Having been forgiven much, let us forgive others freely as vessels of His amazing grace.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound!

I love this picture available at John the Baptist Artworks.  
It is titled "Equal at the Foot of the Cross, Equally in Need of Mercy."

Learning to walk

I love watching little ones learn how to walk.  Those first wobbly steps are amazing!  Think of all the coordination, muscle toning, balance and whatnot having to come together to take even a single step.  Everyone present immediately turns their attention upon the little one in the room, cheering him on.  It's so exciting! "Come to Papa...walk, walk...that's the way...yeah, you did it!  Let's do it again :-)."

Everyone knows much practice is needed.  And everyone knows the little one will fall, but they encourage him nonetheless.  People help him up, cheer him on, and over time the falls become less frequent.  Soon enough there is a smooth and steady walker to chase around.  I have yet to witness anyone yelling at a little one taking her first steps, or labeling her a failure as she tries.  Nobody seems to get upset at her for falling down.  Maybe that is because we expect falling down is part of the process of learning how to walk.

Jesus chose me before the foundation of the world to belong to Him, and I woke up to that fact when I was fifteen.  Thirty two years later, I am still learning how to walk as a new creation in Christ.  It is a different walk altogether.  Chris Wilson, one of my pastors and long time friend, talked about how the old man doesn't go down easily in his sermon this past Sunday (you can listen to it here).  My personal experience affirms his point.  I still fall.  That's why verses like Romans 8:1 that tell me there is now no condemnation for those in Christ are precious to me.  They are the words of my Father helping me up, cheering me on, encouraging me to walk again.

Prov 24:16 says; "For a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again."  Christians fall down.  And sometimes the harder we try, the greater the fall.  It is incredibly good news that God adopted us based on the sacrifice and righteousness of Christ in our place.  He is our Father.  And He is the very BEST FATHER EVER.  He keeps holding out His grace-filled hands, calling us to "come to Father," and helping us back up when we fall so we can learn to walk. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Indicatives, Imperatives, Astronomy and God

"The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands."
~ Psalm 19:1

We began an Astronomy unit study in our co-op recently, and I began the first lesson by introducing the concepts of indicatives and imperatives.  My students scratched their heads.  I probably would have also, if I were them, but I knew where I was taking the lesson so I encouraged them to hang with me.  What are indicatives and imperatives?  And what do they have to do with Astronomy? 

Indicatives demonstrate or exhibit or describe.  They indicate something. Make something or someone known.

Imperatives assert or command.  They relate to authority and rule.

I talked with my curious students about the book of Ephesians (they were still wondering what this had to do with Astronomy...are you too?).  Ephesians has 6 chapters, and the first 3 have no commands that I've ever noticed.  If you know of one, let me know.  God tells us He has blessed us in Christ, chosen us before the foundation of the world, adopted us to be His kids, forgiven us, and all kinds of other wonder-filled things relating to the power of God and Christ's blood covering us and His love and grace abounding toward us according to His wisdom and rich mercy.  Indicatives.  Describing, making known who He is and what He has done.

Chapter 4 begins with Paul saying  "I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called....".  Here come the DO's.  Because of who God is and what He has done, love one another. Because He has mercifully called you and me to Himself, walk as children of light. Because He pursued us in love while we were yet dead in our sins, THEREFORE walk now in a worthy manner.  Husbands, love your wives.  Wives, be subject to your husbands.  Children, obey your folks.  And for 3 chapters Paul gives us a bunch of "do this, don't do that" sort instruction.  Some imperatives.

Do you slow down when reading God's indicatives?  I used to skim over them, to my peril.  True story. I think I have experienced every horrible consequence of skipping straight to the do's and don'ts...things like pride with its various falls, fear, and the nastiness of being critical of others as I thought too highly of myself.  Now I pause and ponder.  I want to know Him: His character and wisdom and love and power and goodness and sovereignty and justice...everything about Him.  I want to soak up His mercy so that when He tells me I ought to be putting off and putting on, I want to.  The "therefore" is there for a reason.  All those indicatives are there to help us know Him and trust Him.  And they help us to know that the imperatives are not a list of rules from an angry guy in the sky that is waiting to zap us the moment we mess up.  They are instructions from our Father on how to live like He does. When we fall, He is there to help us up and to cheer us on.  The indicatives make it clear: We have THE BEST FATHER ever.   And we get to be His kids. What kid on the planet who knows His dad rocks doesn't want to be like him? 

This has everything to do with Astronomy because our Father is the One who spoke this amazing universe into existence.  It declares His glory and proclaims His is a giant indicative!  I told the kids that for the next 8 weeks we were going to get to dive into the WOW factor of God.  Eight weeks of exploring our Father's glory and handiwork is in store and I wanted us to get excited about it.  This isn't just learning the names of planets and facts about how far away the sun is.  Oh is SO MUCH MORE.  Oh that our peeks into His heavens might make us hunger to know our Father better.

Father, thank You for your mercy...thank You for declaring Yourself to us, and making Yourself known in Your word, and in Your creation...thank You for rescuing us and making us Your sons and daughter's by adopion.  Use these weeks of study to cause us to desire all the more to therefore walk in Your ways.