Tuesday, December 12, 2017

HEART & MOUTH

And he [Jesus] called the people to him and said to them, "Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person...Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person... - Matthew 15:10-11, 17-20a

* * *

I read once that you can tell what is inside a cup by observing what spills out when the cup is bumped; that similarly, a person's heart is revealed by what pours out when his heart is "bumped" by difficulties or trials.

A writer at The Christian Working Woman posed this question: "You know, it's not difficult to look good when everything's going okay. But it's at those times when we have to endure some unfavorable circumstances or some unpleasant treatment that we find out what we're like on the inside. I'd like to ask you: When your cup runs over, what spills out?"

When your cup runs over, what spills out?

Ouch! This question stings!

When I am angry or confused, do my words reflect faith in God's sovereignty and goodness - or - do they expose an overwhelming terror that my life is spinning out of control, hopelessly beyond the reach of God's wisdom and power? When someone hurts my feelings or disappoints me, am I able to speak words of truth and grace, words flowing from my identity in Christ - or - do my words smack of evil thoughts, false witness, and slander, words that flow from a need to justify or defend myself apart from Christ?

I would love to think that I am a strong, secure, kind, forgiving, gracious, truth-telling, Christ-dependent woman...but am I really? Never mind the virtuous self-image inside my head...what do the words that come out of my mouth say about me?

Our words are a litmus for understanding what is inside our hearts.

Sadly, my words often reveal that I am not the paragon of faith and virtue I'd like to believe. Rather, my words expose me as fearful, grasping, spiteful, weak-faithed and completely self-absorbed.

What am I to do then?

I could resolve to keep my mouth shut. To simply say nothing at all. Or, I could resolve to speak only positive, happy words, limiting my comments to topics I feel good about and avoiding topics that make me feel angry or afraid.

Only problem with such noble resolutions? The mean, nasty thoughts are still inside my heart and my head, even if I don't say them aloud. And unfortunately, sooner or later, the vomit inside my heart will erupt out of my mouth: I find I cannot not speak it.

So, what am I to do when the words coming out of my mouth are the equivalent of spiritual vomit?! The only thing I CAN do: own the wickedness inside my heart. Don't deny it, don't excuse it, don't try to explain why it's not so bad - just OWN it.

NOT - "I was having a bad day" - or - "He really pushed my buttons!" - or - "She asked for it" - or - "I just needed to get that off my chest."

INSTEAD - "Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!"

I must own the wickedness inside my heart, and then repent.

When I downplay or deny the wickedness coming out of my mouth, I choose death over life, bondage over freedom, darkness over light.  I choose my sin over Christ's mercy, forgiveness, and righteousness.What a sad, sorry, terrible choice!

But when I own the wickedness coming out of my mouth, when I confess my sin and carry it to the cross, then I find that Jesus is faithful and just to forgive me of my sins and to cleanse me from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

Jesus takes my dead, rotten heart and my sinful mouth and my bitter, wretched words, and He gives me His righteousness instead. He gives me a living, loving heart, a heart overflowing with "rivers of living water," and He gives me a mouth that speaks truth and grace.

* * *

When your cup runs over, what spills out?

Jesus, please, please, please, let it be You.

Friday, December 8, 2017

WE NEED THE GOSPEL, NOT THE GOSPEL+

A young friend shared with me recently that attending worship, rather than being encouraging, had a depressing effect because the services focused so much on how to be a better person.

We have probably all been served, at one time or another, a dose of do-this-good-thing-and-live. Sadly, the purveyors of this bitter and unsatisfying draught are often well-meaning brothers and sisters in Christ, people motivated by love, who sincerely desire good things for us. Sadly, these would-be encouragers fail to see that how-to-be-happy advice, because it directs us to something other than Christ, often has the opposite effect, that of fostering spiritual depression.

Just as no To-Do list will ever save us, so no To-Do list will ever sanctify us or make us better, happier people. God himself must save us - in Jesus, He does just that! Likewise, God himself must sanctify us, through the power of his Holy Spirit.

In my Romans study this week, I read: "Sanctification does not make us aware of our goodness, but our sinful ways. We cannot become more Christlike by trying harder. Instead, we must depend on His [Jesus's] victory...[our struggle with sin] leads to deeper fellowship with Jesus as we lean on Him as the solution to brokenness."

We cannot become more Christlike by trying harder. This is the same truth my discouraged friend discovered.

The solution to spiritual deadness is new life in Christ. The solution to my need to be a better person is Christ's righteousness on my behalf.

So here we are  back at the Gospel. Back to complete dependence on Christ.

When I am struggling, I do not need to hear how I can be a better person. I need to hear: "Run to Scripture and see how much your Father loves you!" I need to hear: "Pour out your heart to your Father in prayer. He is listening, and He will not turn you away. He will save you."

I do not need to hear "Do this list..." - but - "Jesus covers this, too."

The Gospel doesn't just save me - it keeps me. The Gospel is not only life for the spiritually dead - it is food for the living.

Another sweet sister summed up our situation in the church today this way: "We need the Gospel SO BADLY."

All I can say is: "Amen."

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

A GREAT CALM

The cacophony of voices inside my head of late has kept sleep at bay. Trying to make sense of life events, of the practical living out of this faith, of human thoughts and feelings, of the many ways we engage with and interpret God's Word and try to understand its claims on our lives...

Mental work is physically exhausting. Unfortunately, my brain sometimes forgets to be quiet long enough for my body to rest.

Again last night, I lay awake, trying to quiet my teeming brain. I prayed, "God, what do you want to teach me? Please, Lord, quiet all these voices so that I can hear you."

Still, the tumult.

Then, a verse: "You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you." (Isaiah 26:3)

...whose mind is stayed on you...

As the many voices clamored to be heard, I considered each voice and then, with great effort, set each one aside. "No. I cannot listen to you right now. Right now, I want to hear the voice of my Father." Slowly, the noise subsided. Finally - finally! - a place of quiet, peace and rest. You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you...

Again, this time in the stillness, I prayed, "God, what do you want to teach me?"

* * *

Several weeks ago, one of the deacons at Grace filled in for Brother Billy during Sunday morning worship. Justin preached on the passage in Matthew 8 where Jesus calms a storm. Maybe you are familiar with the story: Jesus and his disciples get into a boat to cross over the sea. A great storm blows up and their boat is in danger of sinking. Jesus's disciples cry out for Jesus to save them. Jesus calms the sea. (See Matthew 8:23-27)

Last night, God brought this sermon to mind again. "Camille, can you remember any of the points that Justin made during his sermon?"

Yes. Yes, I could. Because although I was familiar with the story before that Sunday morning, several of the points Justin shared that morning really jumped out at me. Things like...

  • Several of the men in the boat with Jesus that night were fishermen.
  • They were well-seasoned sailors.
  • Not only were they able, experienced sailors, but they also knew the particular sea on which they were sailing.
  • They knew the weather patterns on this sea.
  • They knew about the sudden windstorms that blew down from between the mountains and across the water, and they knew how to manage their craft in these storms.

These men were in their element. Even in a storm, these men were fully competent for the task at hand, the task of getting their boat safely across the sea.

Jesus took these men into their area of greatest competency, and there, He created an extraordinary storm - a storm so other-worldly that they were forced to turn their attention from the task at hand and from their own competence, to Jesus himself. And when these master seamen did just that - when they looked to Jesus - then...

* * *

As I considered this passage again last night, it occurred to me - this is what Jesus does in the lives and hearts of his followers, over and over again. He takes us into our areas of greatest competency, and He lashes our craft with wind and waves until, in desperation, we are forced to peel our hands off the rigging and fall at his feet, until we cry with his disciples, "Save us, Lord!"

Seasoned sailors - in their element, at the top of their game - begging a sleeping Carpenter to save them from the sea. A carpenter. Seriously?

It doesn't make sense, people. It just doesn't make sense. But then...

"Then [Jesus] rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm" (verse 26).

* * *

So, all of this is what God brought to my mind in the sleepless hours of the night. He reminded me of this great truth:

The work that God does for me and in me and through me, God does that work himself, without my help.

I want to think that I contribute something to that work, to think that by virtue of my skill set or my experience or the knowledge I possess, I help sail the boat safely across the sea. But over and over, God smashes through my competency. I am distressed to find (yet again) that I cannot cling to the rigging and at the same time cling to Christ.

Over and over, my sailing skills amount to nothing in the presence of the might, majesty, sovereignty, and glory of God.

Does this realization discourage me? No. No, it has quite the opposite effect. Kneeling in the presence of the Carpenter, I find comfort, assurance, and peace, and I am moved to worship.

At the feet of Jesus, the most turbulent storm is dispelled. At the feet of Jesus, I find a great calm. At the feet of Jesus, all the voices are silenced. All that's left is praise.

It doesn't make sense, people, but there it is.

You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. - Isaiah 26:3

Thursday, November 30, 2017

STAINED GLASS

STAINED GLASS
- originally posted March 30, 2011

Last weekend, I was blessed to attend a women's retreat at Riveroaks Reformed Presbyterian Church. This was a wonderful, fast-paced time of fellowship and study with my sisters from Grace and ladies from other churches in our presbytery. While waiting for one of our sessions to begin, I enjoyed studying the beautiful stained glass window above the pulpit area at the front of the sanctuary. The colors and the detail were gorgeous, a song of worship set in glass, illuminated even on a gray day by the light of the cloud-shrouded sun.

On the sleepy drive back to Obion County Saturday afternoon, I considered that my life - our lives as believers - are not unlike that stained glass window. Bits and pieces of color and light, carefully fitted together into a God-glorifying work of art.

I had recently been thinking about how life is full of unexpected, unimaginable joys and disappointments. Thirty years ago, I could have in no way predicted the path my life would take. As a young high-school graduate, my course was set: I was going to college, first for an undergraduate degree and then for a degree in veterinary medicine. I was going to establish a practice as a vet, specializing in large animal care. At some point, I would marry, and then maybe have two or three kids. La, la, la, la....

Anyone who knows me knows that none of the above actually happened. My life took a very different course. Along that new path - the one I hadn't planned for - God brought me incredible blessings and joys that I could not have even imagined for myself.

He also brought - and brought me through - tremendous heartache. It's as if, on a handful of occasions, He completely shattered my heart. Allowed it to be splintered into a thousand pieces. But, those heartbreaks are being redeemed. I was thinking Saturday, that it's like He's slowly taking the broken pieces and fitting them together into a living portrait of His grace, something even more glorious than that brilliant window in the sanctuary at Riveroaks.

Back home, I thought it would be interesting to do a little research on how stained glass windows are made. And this is where it really gets good...

The glass used in these magnificent windows is not made of bits and pieces of "accidents," broken chips swept up to be recycled. No, the glass is created specifically for each window. First, an artist designs the window. Then, glass blowers painstakingly create the varieties of glass needed, in exactly the colors and weights specified by the artist. The window-maker carefully cuts each piece of glass according to his pattern, and then grinds it to fit precisely into his design. When each piece - created, shaped, and fitted together with incredible care and precision, from beginning to end - is finally in place, the window maker "sets" the glass so that it is strong and structurally sound. Not only are these windows beautiful, they are extremely heavy - but, by the wisdom of their creator, they are designed to support tremendous weight.

God is not about the business of having accidents and then scrambling to clean them up into something that looks intentional. It's not as if He goes, Oooops! I made a mistake. I'm so sorry you're disappointed. - or - I'm so sorry your heart is broken. I didn't mean for that to happen. I will try to find a way to make it better somehow. No, God is not in the business of gluing together broken pieces of the ball He dropped, the fragile pieces of my heart.

Because God never drops the ball.

Rather, God has a plan and a design from the very beginning, from before the foundation of the earth.  And every single thing that comes into my life - from the joy of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7! children, to the grief of shattered relationships - every single thing is a carefully planned and orchestrated part of His design and purpose to create in me a work of art that displays His glory and beauty to the world around me.

The fire of the glass oven is not an inconvenient consequence of the art of stained glass - it's the deliberate, carefully heated, closely monitored birthplace of something glorious.

Monday, November 13, 2017

TOO MUCH LASAGNA

Thirty years ago, if you'd walked into my house late one afternoon and told me, "You need to prepare dinner for 15 people tonight," I'd have freaked out. Feed fifteen people at the drop of a hat? You've got to be kidding!

But if you cook for two, then add a couple more, and then a couple more, building up your cooking muscles gradually over time, cooking for 15 becomes no big deal. Pretty easy peasy, actually.

When your family starts shrinking, when those chickadees grow up and fly away from the nest, that presents another set of challenges for a cook.

After years of preparing meals daily for seven or nine or fifteen or twenty people (Friends are always welcome!), I am having now to learn to cook for only two.

And it is freaking me out.

On tonight's menu: lasagna.


My recipe makes two 9" x 13" pans of lasagna. Used to, when everyone sat down to dinner, we ate both pans. But even one 9" x 13" pan of lasagna is too much lasagna for Helen and me.

Don't get me wrong: Helen and I like lasagna...we just don't like it THAT much. Not enough to eat it for lunch and dinner EVERY SINGLE DAY THIS WEEK.

Tonight, I divided my recipe into three smaller pans. Even after putting more than half of the lasagna in the freezer, and even after inviting company over to help eat the pan of lasagna that is now baking in the oven, there is still TOO MUCH LASAGNA. We will be eating leftovers for days.

So, here's a question for you sweet people:

What tips do you have for cooking for two?

Monday, November 6, 2017

YESTERDAY MORNING



Yesterday morning began with tears.

Life for me is generally a bit of a mess, but in one particular area, I am extraordinarily broken. And in that area, it seems that lately, day by day, I grow noticeably weaker, more vulnerable.

It's like God is removing my outer defenses. The last buffer. The remaining sea wall that holds back inundation.

Like He has issued the command: "All shields down."

The storm had been building for several days. Yesterday, the storm broke.

Before, I have felt utterly broken. Yesterday morning, I felt broken and exposed.

* * *

Yesterday morning began with tears. But tears or no, the need still stood before me to do the next thing, and the next. So I sat down yesterday morning to do the day's assignment for my Romans study group:

Read Romans 5:3-5.

I read...

"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 5:3-5

God could not have spoken with greater precision into the need of my heart.

After answering the homework questions about the Romans passage, I pulled out my daily Bible reading schedule. The schedule I'm not actually following. I don't even know if I'm behind or ahead - I gave up looking at the dates months ago.

Yesterday's New Testament reading: 1 John 2. Christ is my advocate. Abide. Abide. Abide. The word kept popping up over and over. I read the chapter a second time. Abide. Abide. Abide in him.

SUCH precision.

Then, I flipped over to the day's psalm, Psalm 138:

"I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart...for you have exalted above all things your name and your word. On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul increased.

"For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly...

"Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my live...

"The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever."

Such sweet, life-giving precision.

* * *

Yesterday began with tears, but it did not end there.

I can rejoice in suffering, because God's love has been poured out on me.

The Lord WILL fulfill his purpose for me.

His steadfast love toward me endures forever.

And reminded of these truths, my strength of soul increased.

* * *

"He will wipe away every tear from their eyes..." - Rvelation 21:4a

He has begun already.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

REST


As the sun slips closer to the western horizon and a soft gold filters across the hay field in front of the house

The busy chatter of songbirds drifts across the yard from the woods behind the house, weaving melody around the rustle-music of wind-tossed leaves

From somewhere behind me, a cow bellows; a crow replies

The gray kitten twists herself around and around my legs, passive petting, her purr outsizing her tiny body

And sitting here on the porch swing, it is almost possible for me to imagine that all is right in the world

I can almost imagine, for the briefest moment, that no one is hurting, no one is broken, no one is dying

Like suffering itself has been forced to pause, to inhale, to catch its breath

And in this small quiet moment

There is rest