Tuesday, September 19, 2017

I WILL; BE CLEAN

Sunday mornings at Grace, we are working through the book of Matthew. This past Sunday, we read:

When he [Jesus] came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean." And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying "I will; be clean." And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them." - Matthew 8:1-4

I love this passage, and I have written about it before here on the blog. But this week, new things jumped out at me from these verses...

Everyone of us - either while we walk this earth, or afterward, when we stand on the brink of Glory - every single one of us WILL experience a one-on-one, face-to-face encounter with Jesus. And, as we encounter Jesus, everyone of us fits into one of two categories of people:

The competent man. This man is knowledgeable, righteous, justified in all his actions. He is whole and complete; he has no need to be healed. The religious leaders of Matthew's day were competent men.

The broken man. This man is diseased, despised, desperate. Not only is he incompetent, but he has no hope of making himself better. God himself has labeled this man - the leper - unclean; and because of his uncleanness, he is forced to live life separated from God and from God's people.

The first man - the competent man - needs no healing. And guess what: when the competent man encounters Jesus, Jesus does not heal him. Whole, healthy, righteous people don't NEED to be healed, right? When the Pharisees encountered Jesus, they sought no healing, and they received none.

The second man - the "leper" - is desperately aware of his need for healing. And guess what: when the broken man encounters Jesus, Jesus heals him.

The truth is, ALL of us sons and daughters of Adam are broken. We are all lepers. We are all unclean. The question I face today is: will I deny my brokenness, thus denying myself the healing that only Jesus can provide - or - will I acknowledge my brokenness, and, like the leper, ask Jesus to make me clean?

The broken man - the leper in this passage - knows his desperate need. Although commanded by the law to stand apart from others because of his uncleanness, the leper pushed his way through the crowd until he stood before Jesus. This was an act of desperation.

The broken man approaches Jesus humbly, reverently - the leper knelt before Jesus.

The broken man recognizes that Jesus has the power to heal him - "Lord...you can make me clean" - and yet, the broken man asks with humility - "Lord, if you will..."

The broken man is not demanding. He does not pray: Heal me, Lord! Now!

He is not presumptuous. He does not assert: If I ask with faith, then God must grant what I ask.

He is submissive. The broken man submits himself, in speech, manner, and deed, to God's will rather than his own: Lord, if you will...

In response to the broken man's desperate, humble, reverent, submissive prayer, Jesus reaches out his hand and touches the man - Jesus TOUCHES him! - and says, "I will; be clean."

[Do you understand the magnitude of what Jesus has just done?! I am weeping as I write this, people. Excuse me for a minute...I need to step away from the computer and sing The Doxology.]

Jesus touches the man - the broken man, the leper - and heals him. But that's not the end of this story. Jesus then says, "See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them."

Jesus would not make a very good book agent. He does not say, "Now, friend, you need to schedule interviews with all the major TV networks and then secure a movie deal for your story."

Instead, Jesus commands this man, a man who has long lived outside the community of believers, to join in public worship, at the temple, with God's people.

And how is the healed leper to worship?

"...offer the gift that Moses commanded..." - If you look back in Leviticus, chapter 14, you discover that the process a priest went through to determine if a leper could be declared "clean" was complicated. It was messy. And, it was public.

In other words, although the leper had been healed, declared clean by Jesus himself, although this man was now a member of the community of faith, Jesus basically instructed him: "Testify to your brokenness."

Why, Lord? Why must I share my diseased and broken past with others? Why not forget the past, let bygones be bygones? Why can I not now just let others see that I am healed, whole, righteous, complete... 

Wait a minute. That sounds awfully like the competent man, doesn't it, so desperately wanting to convince others that he's okay.

Oh.

Why is the healed leper called to such outrageous, humbling, visible, joyful worship?

"...for a proof to them."

* * *

I am living proof that Jesus can and will touch a leper and make her clean.

But you won't appreciate that truth - you won't be amazed at how the story ends, and be moved to worship God yourself - if I don't start back at the beginning of the story...

And so, I must own my brokenness again, and again, and again. Not because my brokenness defines who I am, but because it testifies to the power of the Savior who redefines who I am, by bringing me into union with Himself. Not because I glory in my uncleanness, but because I glory in the Lord, who said to me, "I will; be clean."

* * *

And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean." And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying "I will; be clean."

Friday, September 15, 2017

SIGNS OF AUTUMN

While shopping for groceries this week, I found store shelves stocked with pumpkin-spice Cheerios, pumpkin-spice oatmeal, pumpkin-spice granola bars, pumpkin-spice coffee, pumpkin-spice coffee creamer, pumpkin-spice cinnamon rolls, pumpkin-spice candles, pumpkin-spice hand soap...

Seriously, people, is there nothing to which we will not add "pumpkin-spice" when the weather turns cool? I am surprised I didn't find any pumpkin-spice dog food, laundry soap, or toothpaste!

The inundation of all things pumpkin-spice is not the only sign that fall approaches:

Ironweed, golden rod, and ragweed are in full bloom. Achoo!


Soups, stews, and chili are back on the menu. Hot spiced tea is the beverage-of-choice on a cool evening. Who's in the mood for a fried apple pie?

Stores are stocking Halloween candy. Writing spiders, grown huge over summer, weave web decorations.


The road in front of the house is busy with the traffic of heavy equipment used to harvest grain - combines, headers, tractors pulling grain buggies.

Leaves on the sassafras trees are beginning to turn, and the dogwood is fruiting.


Fleece sweaters have been pulled out of storage. Plans are being made for the first bonfire of the season. S'mores and apple cider - yum!

The sky is dark when I rise in the morning, and the sun sets long before bedtime now. The cicadas sound sleepy, like they are dreaming already about next spring.

Autumn will be here soon. What signs of autumn do YOU see?

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

DOWNSIZING

This is a season of change.

After decades of living in a house bursting at the seams with people, noise, and activity, I find myself adjusting to life in a household of two. I miss my children!

On the UP side:

The bathrooms are much easier to clean now. A bathroom used by one girl - as opposed to a bathroom used by a couple of girls, plus four boys - really doesn't get very grungy over the course of a week.

Laundry takes a fraction of the time to do that it once did. Used to, I ran at least one load of darks, a load of lights, and a load of towels or sheets every single day. Now, on some days, I don't do any laundry at all. Weird.

Leftovers last...forever. This is a good thing if I don't want to cook, a bad thing if Helen and I really don't want to eat potato-ham casserole three nights in a row! The soup bucket in the freezer - where I dump all the leftover bits and pieces from dinner - fills up much more quickly now. Good thing we like soup!

I have time to read. It's been ages since I've had time at the end of the day to curl up on the couch with a good book and read simply for pleasure. Nowadays, I can finish a book in a couple of weeks. I don't usually fall asleep while I'm reading, either. Nice.

I can begin a project - say, cleaning out my closet - and keep working on said project until I'm finished. Without interruption. (Unless I throw out my back in the middle of said project.) How cool is that?!

If I put an item somewhere - say, I put the stapler in the closet under the stairs - it stays there, and is waiting for me exactly where I left it, the next time I need it.

On the DOWN side:

The quiet in the house is distracting. I am used to working with a hum of activity and conversation in the background. When all the kids were home, QUIET meant trouble. Now, all this quiet gives me the uneasy feeling that I am overlooking something that needs my attention before it escalates into an emergency. Too much noise makes it difficult to concentrate - so does too much quiet.

I have to handle technology problems all by myself. Blrrrrgh. I am a techno-dinosaur. Now that the young 'uns are no longer available to solve my technological problems, I am having to work my way forward from the Paleolithic age. (Can I brag? I installed a camera on my laptop for video-conferencing, all by myself, and IT ACTUALLY WORKS!)

When I begin a project - say, cleaning out my closet - I miss the help of young arms and strong backs. And how on earth am I supposed to get things out of the attic now?

When I lose something - say, the stapler, that I thought I put in the closet under the stairs - I have no one to blame for its not being where it's supposed to be, and no one to help me find it, either.

Sure, the bathrooms are easier to clean...but when I use the toilet in the downstairs bathroom and discover there's no toilet paper, there's no one to send upstairs for another roll. :(

I miss family read-a-louds. I miss the kitchen weave of six people dancing around one another, all wanting to have a hand in whatever cooking project is happening at the moment. I miss the coloring parties around the kitchen table. (Can somebody please make me a monkey poster?!)

This new season of life - this downsizing - is going to take some getting used to.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

ASK IN FAITH

This morning, in my current read-through-the-Bible journey, I found myself once again in the book of James.

I LOVE THIS BOOK.

"James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.

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

"If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith...

"Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial..." (James, Ch. 1, vv. 1-6a, 12a)

Few of you reading this blog know intimate details of my life. Suffice to say, physical and emotional and relational "trials" have been all over my radar screen lately. It amazes me how God puts me right back here in the book of James, at the very moment when I need to consider anew the truth and encouragement it contains.

God loves with such sweet precision!

But today is not the first time I have been blessed by this little book...

DOUBLE-MINDED MAN
- originally posted October 13, 2010

In our Sunday evening study of James, Deon tackled verses 5-8 of chapter one this week: "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God,who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways."

As if James anticipates the struggles we will have "joyfully" facing the trials mentioned in verse 2, he moves right to the topic of prayer. What do we typically pray for when we find ourselves in the midst of a trial? Usually, we pray something like "Lord, get me out of this situation!" - or - "Lord, make this trial go away!" - or - "Lord, FIX THIS!" James, on the other hand, counsels us to pray for wisdom.

For wisdom? First, James says to "count it all joy." Pretty radical. NOT my natural response to suffering or difficulty. Then, when I am screaming out "Lord, send me some relief!" - James says, "No, ask for wisdom."

Deon explained it this way: We read about God in Scripture. We study to know God better. But, we need wisdom to know how to apply the truths of Scripture to the messiness and heartbreak of life in this fallen world. That kind of wisdom is not natural to man - it is going to have to come from God. This is the kind of wisdom that changes our cry from a frantic "Get me out of this!" - to - "Help me to grow from this, Lord, and to know you better."

James encourages us further: he immediately assures us that when we pray for wisdom in trials, we are petitioning a God who gives generously, who does not belittle or scorn us for our ignorance and weakness, who is eager to answer our prayers. But....

Then James exhorts us to "ask in faith." Verse 6 has always troubled me. I believe God can do anything He pleases. My problem is, I'm often uncertain if I am praying His will. I want my friend Amy to be healed from cancer. What if God has other plans for her? I ask God to supply my daily needs, and I have some pretty specific things in mind...but maybe what I perceive as needs are really only wants? I have long struggled with the fear that I am, as James puts it, "a double-minded man," and that it is presumptuous of me to expect anything from the Lord.

"Faith is not believing God can. Faith is believing God will." Deon thus described the view he once had about this faith mentioned in James. That's my problem! I thought, I know God can, but I'm not sure He will! That uncertainty has long haunted my prayer life, but Sunday, God met my doubt head-on.

"That's what I used to believe," Deon continued. "But then I learned, if what I'm praying is not God's will...He won't. Faith is not knowing that God can, or knowing that God will. Faith is knowing God." Deon went on to explain that the kind of faith that stands through trials is faith based on knowing God, on believing what He says is true about Himself in Scripture. Folks, by the end of Deon's sermon, I felt like a tremendous weight of doubt and guilt and uncertainty had been lifted off my shoulders.

I don't know if God will heal my friend Amy. I don't know if He will give me a reliable vehicle to drive. But I do know....God is sovereign. God is good. God loves His children perfectly and gives us exactly what we need to grow in righteousness. I can pray with confidence, not because I am assured of the outcome I desire, but because I am certain, through the teaching of Scripture, that God is all-powerful and all-wise and He will give me nothing less than what is best.

My prayer is that the all-wise God will give this feeble, ignorant child the wisdom to see His purposes, to desire His will over my own, to approach trials saying, "Lord, teach me." I have no doubt - NO doubt - that, in time, He will do exactly that...because He told me He would, right there in the first chapter of James.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

BOXCARS, RIVERS, AND DRYER LINT

I have heard it said that a man's brain operates like a train - an engine pulling a string of boxcars. Each project or event or issue is tucked into its own little car, with no stacking the cargo from one boxcar with that of another. Everything has its own separate compartment.

I have heard it said that a woman's brain operates like a river - a mixed-up torrent of thoughts, emotions, events, memories, ToDo lists, dreams, etc., all swirling downstream together in a turbulent cascade. Every single thing...touches every other single thing. Everything is connected.

My husband informed me last week that since I need something to do with all the free time I have on my hands now that our youngest has started college, I should go to work as a teacher. Makes sense, right? Since I'm not teaching any students of my own (which means lots of free time, right?), why not get paid to school other people's kids?!

Maybe last week wasn't the best time for him to make that suggestion. I was laid out on my back due to a pulled muscle, wondering how on earth I was going to clean the house, shop for groceries, attend an awards dinner, prepare a reception for a recital, and cook for a houseful of weekend guests.

Forget the laundry. Forget writing assignments. Forget exercise class. Yes, all of those things were swirling in the background of my thoughts, but for several days, my mind was primarily focused on the tremendous challenge of standing upright and putting one foot in front of the other.

Today, the doctor gave me a good report: no complications with my wimpy kidneys! Yay! So today, I am back on pain meds and a muscle relaxant that loops me out. I feel like I have dryer lint for brains. I find it difficult to focus, but at least I am able to tackle the laundry and to catch up on email. (I apologize in advance if any of you receive an incoherent email from me!)

But back to the suggestion about teaching school - as soon as I hit the Free Time Jackpot, and when this fuzz clears out of my brain, I will give the idea some thought.

Friday, September 1, 2017

THE INCREDIBLE SWEETNESS OF GOD'S LOVE

(originally posted July 19, 2013)

A repost, because I find it harder than I expected to write while I am lying down...

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 4:6-7

To the right of this post, there is a place on the sidebar where you can "Search This Blog." Enter anxiety, or fear, or prayer, or a snippet of the verse above, and hit "Search":  you'll see by the number of related posts that come up just how much I struggle with trusting God's good providence in my life.

I've also mentioned in earlier posts how one characteristic of this new season of my life is mid-morning sleeplessness . . . which is not a bad thing, because being awake at 3:00 in the morning provides such a wonderful opportunity to pray without the distractions of a busy daytime house. However, these wee-morning-hour prayer sessions can also be times of earnest spiritual wrestling. I am learning, however, that God is not only awake and ready to talk at 3:00 in the morning, but that He deals so very sweetly with His children in the still darkness of the night.

I lay awake in bed last night (this morning) with some very particular worries on my mind, but also with a very real sense of the nearness and attentiveness of God. "God, thank You so much that You are here and You are listening! Thank You so much that I never, ever have to be alone with the fears that plague my heart!"

Then, the above verse came to mind. "...do not be anxious about anything..."

"But I am anxious, Lord. I am anxious about my tiny daughter who will be flying back home from Japan soon. And I am anxious about my son at boot camp. And I am anxious about my husband's health and his work. And I am anxious about..."

It was a long, long list.

But talking through that list with God last night, I did not feel at all as if He were listening with a frown on His face: "You stupid, sinful, wicked child! Have I not just told you 'Do not be anxious'? And yet that is the very thing you insist on doing!" No, it was as if He was embracing me in loving arms:  "Yes, I know you are anxious about Martha, and about Tom. What else are you afraid of right now?" No condemnation (Thank You, Jesus!), just mercy and grace.

Praying through my worries, it felt like I was taking each weight inside my heart and handing it to God. He never flinched. "Yes," my Father assured me, "I care about these things, too. Can you trust me with them, Camille?"

Yes. Yes, I can, because I know how much you love me, Lord. Because You are awake and listening at 3:00 in the morning. Thank You.

And so, with an unburdened heart I drifted off to sleep.

But that's not the end of this story.

This morning after breakfast, I sat down to finish working through the study for our women's brunch tomorrow morning. I like to write out the verses at the end of each chapter of our study - I process things better when I write them than when I read them. I flipped open the study book, looked up the passage written on the page, and began writing on a sheet of loose-leaf paper. . .

"Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air:  they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? . . . the Gentiles seek after these things, and your heavenly Father know that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow..." Matthew 6:25-34

And then I looked up and wrote the next Scripture reference on the list, Luke 10:38-42, the passage about Martha and Mary, where Martha was frustrated because her sister was sitting at Jesus's feet instead of helping her serve their guests. The passage includes this verse: "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her." Camille, Camille! You are anxious and troubled about many things! Be still, my child, and rest at the feet of Jesus.

Now, the funny thing is, this month's women's study is not about worry or about being anxious. It is about setting priorities, about using our time to do what God has given us to do instead of becoming distracted and stressed out by the to-do lists we or others create for us. But as I wrote out those verses this morning, I was overwhelmed with the sweetness of God - that He loves me so much that He wanted to continue our conversation from last night!

I finished the homework for tomorrow's women's study, then put on a kettle of water to make tea. A quick trip to "the library," where I read this excerpt from the June 2013 Tabletalk. Scott Devor, writing on the Christian's adoption into God's family: It is in Christ that we see [the] compassion of the Father most fully expressed. "He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" (Rom. 8:32)

Devor continues: As our Father, He gives us all things that we need, and knows them before we ask (Matt. 6:8). This is similar to what Jesus taught on the Sermon on the Mount - that if earthly (and sinful) fathers know how to give good gifts and care for their children, how much more will our heavenly (perfect) Father give good gifts and care for us (Matt. 7:9-11)?

I've been brought to tears this morning - not because of fear, but because my Father is so very, very good. Almighty God - who has destroyed nations, slain entire armies, who crushed His own Son for my sake - the sovereign, terrible, omnipotent creator and sustainer of the universe, has stooped to love His frightened daughter with such incredible sweetness and tenderness.



I am undone. 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

PRIVATE

PRIVATE: KEEP OUT!

I am a private person.

Raised by a lawyer and a preacher's daughter, I understood early in life the importance of not sharing every piece of information to which I was privy. I am by nature an introvert, so I am not inclined to tell others everything I personally feel or think, either.

Being a private sort of person is not a bad thing. Scroll through your Facebook feed, and I bet you'll encounter at least one post or picture to which you will respond, "Too much information! Keep that to yourself, Sister!" Some people seem to have no appreciation for privacy (their own nor others') at all!

Being a private person is not a bad thing. But there is such a thing as being too private.

I have been reading in 2 Corinthians this week. I feel like God wrote these words especially for me, preserved them across the ages, and then delivered them to me at exactly the moment I most needed to read them. (I LOVE how God's Word does that! Outdated? Obsolete? Irrelevant? Not on your life!)

In Chapter 1, Paul tells the Corinthian believers that if he is afflicted, it is for their comfort and salvation. If he is comforted, that, too, is for their comfort.

Paul's struggles and joys were not designed to be experienced alone, in private. Paul and the Corinthians shared in one another's sufferings and in one another's comforts.

"Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort" (v. 7).

If Paul had been an overly private person, if he had insisted on keeping his afflictions and his comforts to himself, his commitment to personal privacy would have been a hindrance to his own spiritual growth and to the growth of other believers.

What does this mean for me?

My suffering is not all about me. My struggles, my trials, the hardships I face - these things are for the sanctification of believers around me, too.

My comfort is not all about me. When God strengthens me, delivers me, gives my joy in the midst of trials, answers my prayers - that is for the edification of my brothers and sisters in Christ, too.

As much as I would like to keep these things "private" - to keep them to myself - I must not. Instead, I must go public, open the door of my heart.

* * *

In 2 Corinthians 1:11, Paul writes: "You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many."

Insofar as we share one another's burdens, we multiply exponentially God's blessing on the church and the thanksgiving such blessing elicits.

I may be a private person, but I cannot - I must not - keep such abundant goodness to myself.