Tuesday, June 27, 2017

SWEETER STILL

The song "I Keep Falling in Love with Him Over and Over Again" contains these words:

"When I first fell in love with Jesus,
I gave Him all my heart.
I thought I could not love him more
Than I did right at the start.
But now I look back over the mountains and the valleys where I've been...
It makes me know I love Him so much more than I did then.

"And I keep falling in love with him
Over and over, and over and over again..."

* * *

It's been a rough week. Heck, it's been a rough decade. But this past week, rougher than usual. By Sunday morning, my ship was dragging bottom.

Then...

Sunday morning during worship, a friend preached about the plagues God inflicted on the people in Egypt. A couple of points from James's message that really stood out for me:

- Through the plagues, God displayed his omnipotence, providence, mercy and judgment. God created and rules over all of creation: God is sovereign, even in the midst of terrible circumstances.

 - In the plagues, God had a purpose for the Egyptians (including hardhearted Pharoah), AND God had a purpose for his people. While the Hebrews were exempt from some of the plagues, they were not exempt from all of them: God's people suffered under the plagues, too. While God was displaying his power to the Egyptians, He was also transforming the faith of his chosen people. One group ended up broken, wanting the presence and power of God to depart far from them; the other group was moved to worship and was empowered to embark on an arduous journey that demanded they live out their faith in the terrifying but life-giving presence of God.

I felt like Sunday's sermon was written just for me, like God used James (who knew nothing of my heartache) as a mouthpiece to speak to me the very words I needed to hear. Life is hard, people. It is hard for all of us, whether we are redeemed or lost. The good news is: as a child of God, I can be confident that my heavenly Father rules my life and He uses everything - even terrible things, even painful consequences of another's sin and hardheartedness - for my good and for his glory.

Sunday evening, while I was still weary and my heart still sore, a young friend shared her own grief and broken-heartedness, and then she shared how encouraged she had been by the words of another song, "Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken." Together, I sang with sisters in Christ:

Man may trouble and distress me,
Twill but drive me to Thy breast.
Life with trials hard may press me;
Heaven will bring me sweeter rest.
Oh, tis not in grief to harm me,
While Thy love is left to me;
Oh, were not in joy to charm me,
Were that joy unmixed with Thee.

Go, then, earthly fame and treasure,
Come disaster, scorn and pain
In Thy service, pain is pleasure, 
With Thy favor loss is gain.
I have called Thee "Abba, Father;" 
I have stayed my heart on Thee;
Storms may howl, and clouds may gather;
All must work for good to me.

Soul, then know thy full salvation
Rise o'er sin and fear and care
Joy to find in every station, 
Something still to do or bear.
Think what Spirit dwells within thee;
Think what Father's smiles are thine;
Think that Jesus died to win thee;
Child of heaven, canst thou repine?

Could these words have been more timely balm for my sore heart?! I think not!

But THEN...

Yesterday - Monday - my brother David had a heart attack. I received the news yesterday evening...he and my sister-in-law Tracy were at the hospital...still awaiting test results...messages flying back and forth between family members eager for the latest update, fervent prayers, a restless night...

This morning, a phone call. It was David. Yes, he had had a heart attack, but all is well. From the hospital, David called this morning to tell me, "I have a policy that when I'm feeling down on my luck, when I'm tempted to feel sorry for myself or to think 'Woe is me,' I think of someone else and then I focus my attention and prayers on that other person. I just wanted to call you this morning and tell you that I love you and to let you know I was praying for you yesterday."

David knew nothing of my personal grief, yet - while he was waiting in the emergency room for test results and then undergoing treatment for a heart attack - while I was praying for him - he was praying for me. I wept and laughed at the same time as I told my brother that God knew how much I needed those prayers yesterday!

These past few days, God has been telling me over and over how very much He loves me. He is such an attentive and persistent lover of my soul!

I have written before about The Incredible Sweetness of God's Love. People, this love keeps growing sweeter and sweeter. God is so good. He meets me in my need. I cannot help falling in love with him, over and over, over and over again.

* * *

Are you weary? Is your heart sore today? Perhaps these words will encourage you as they encouraged me and my young friend:




Monday, June 19, 2017

THE GIFT OF FORGIVENESS

Several times over the past few months - more times than I want to admit - I have wronged another person and needed to ask forgiveness. It is humbling to go to a brother or sister and confess, "I was wrong. I am sorry. Will you please forgive me?"

Also humbling, in a very different kind of way, is when the other person responds with "Oh, it's no big deal" and then completely skips over the issue of forgiveness. Or when the person replies "I'm not really into the whole repentance/forgiveness thing" and just walks away. Or worst of all, when the person says and does nothing at all. Ouch.

I have had several occasions to ask for forgiveness over the past few months, and I have noticed a strange phenomenon. The adults of whom I have asked forgiveness, with one exception, have either casually dismissed my personal sin and my need for forgiveness, have dismissed the need for repentance and forgiveness in general, or have ignored me altogether. By contrast, the young people of whom I have asked forgiveness - every one of them - responded, quickly and simply, with "I forgive you," followed immediately by a hug, a smile, or a kind word of encouragement.

I do not know why this is - why the young people seem so much readier to forgive. I do know, however, that I want to be more like they are. I want to be quick to repent and quick to forgive...not only quick to forgive, but to articulate that forgiveness, to speak forgiveness to the person who has asked for it.

Over the past few months, I have learned from these gracious young people: "I forgive you" is a gift.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

GOODREADS GIVEAWAY: BETHEL ROAD


Just in time for beach or poolside reading! Now through July 15, you can enter for a chance to win one of ten free copies of Bethel Road at Goodreads.com.

When Kathy Parks takes a wrong turn on a winding country road, she discovers her dream house: a dilapidated but beautiful brick Victorian on Bethel Road. Kathy must first convince her husband Ron that the derelict house is salvageable. Then, she wonders, should she tell him about the ghost in the downstairs bedroom?

Join Kathy on a journey to discover the true meaning of home as she searches for a place she can call home forever.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

THE STING OF GRACE

Thinking about the wonderful grace in which we walk in Christ Jesus, it occurs to me anew that grace carries with it a sting.

Abstract grace - some disembodied concept that floats around inside my head - that doesn't sting. No, that kind of grace is safe, faraway, romantic, painless.

But the grace that is mine in Christ is not abstract. It is real, practical, personal. It reaches into the mess of my day-to-day life and touches my flesh, my mind, my heart, my soul. It touches what I say and think and do. It touches everything about who I think I am. No part of me escapes God's relentless grace.

Whatever this grace touches, it exposes. Not sin in the abstract - sin that is mine by virtue of my being a daughter of Adam, that faraway misty sin - but sin in the particular. My actual, lived-out, freely-chosen sin. My pet, I-don't-want-the-world-to-know, today sin. MY sin.

This exposure hurts. (I did so want to believe better of myself!) Sometimes, the pain of exposure is excruciating. Sometimes it hurts the people around me, too, because they stand too close to me or because they love me.

Perhaps it is fear of this exposure and pain, this initial sting of grace, that makes some people so reluctant to receive it. Grace can indeed appear terrible.

But I can testify...

That initial sting, however painful, is nothing - NOTHING - compared to the joy that follows as grace washes over the great festered sores in my soul and transforms rancid flesh into living tissue.

All this thinking about grace brings to mind the following post from a couple of years ago... 

NAKED
- originally posted August 17, 2012

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."
 - Romans 1:16-17

"I am not ashamed of the gospel..." Why would Paul make such a statement, unless there was some possibility, some assumption, even some likelihood, that shame would be a natural emotion for someone associated with the gospel of Christ?  Why would he need to assert that he was not ashamed?  Ashamed of what?  What is shameful about the gospel?

I suppose there are lots of answers to those questions, but one in particular has occupied my thoughts this week.  Let me try to explain...

By trusting in and testifying to the gospel - by confessing my own complete poverty and filthiness before a holy God, and by resting only in Christ's righteousness applied to my account - I am basically proclaiming to the entire world that I am a Loser.  Worse than a loser.  No, I am not "all that and sliced cheese."  I can't even do the first little thing, take the tiniest fumbling baby step toward a right relationship with my Creator.

The gospel - the "good news" - begins with the very bad news that I am a sinner, that I hate the things of God, that not only do I deny His holiness and justice, but I run from it with everything I've got.

But captured by God's grace - captured and captivated! - captured by grace which flows from God's infinite mercy, I have been made new.  Transformed by my Creator from a God hater to a God lover.  Not because I desired God and sought Him out, but because He desired me and pursued me.  Not because of any virtue in myself, but entirely because of the virtue of Jesus.  Not because I had faith, but because Jesus is faithful.  Not because I have within myself one iota of righteousness, but because Jesus has applied to me the very "righteousness of God."

As a redeemed sinner, I find the gospel message beautiful - it is life and hope and joy and peace.  But the gospel also has a dark side...it exposes me for what I truly am.  I cannot tell you about the radiant beauty of Jesus without exposing the darkness in my own heart from which He has saved me.

If I am going to tell you that Jesus died to save sinners - I am going to have to put down the facade, strip away the self-deception that so desperately labors to make me (and you) believe I have any righteousness in myself.

To truly believe and rest in and live out this gospel - it's like standing in front of the world naked.

Yes, the shame of the gospel would be too great to bear, were it not for the glory of Christ, were not for Christ's covering me with His own righteousness.  Thankfully, the gospel is powerful - powerful enough to overcome my shame.  Indeed, it is the very "power of God for salvation"!

It's a power that makes a dirty, trembling, naked sinner look up in faith and joyfully proclaim to the world around her, "I am not ashamed!"

Thursday, June 8, 2017

PERSEVERANCE

The waistband of my denim shorts is too tight. Guess I need to lay off the brownies and chocolate chip cookies...again!

I am intimately acquainted with the indulge-expand-oh,no!-cut back cycle. Over the years, I have learned that the third day of "cutting back" is the hardest.

Day 1, I am super-motivated. I imagine how trim I'll look and how much energy I'll have when I achieve my weight-loss goals, and I tell myself I'll go shopping for cute new clothes.

On Day 1, I am also not very hungry. Saying "No" to those brownies and cookies is really not that difficult (especially when I'm thinking about how awesome I'll look in a month).

Day 2, I am still motivated, but my fuel tank starts to feel a little empty. I enjoy a big, beautiful salad and grilled chicken for lunch, but then I immediately wonder if there are any chocolate chips hiding on the top shelf of the kitchen cabinet. I catch myself. "No, no, no...not going there!"

Day 3, I am ready to eat bark off a tree, as long as it's battered, deep-fried, and smothered in gravy. When I munch an apple for "dessert" (ha!), images of hot-fudge sundaes dance through my head.

Day 4, forget those images of the future thin me: I'm all about thick me today!

Here's the thing...

I can set admirable goals - lose 10 pounds. I can have lofty ambitions - write 1000 words on my manuscript today. I can intend to do wonderful things - love my neighbor. But if I lack perseverance, none of those amazing things are going to happen.

You know what? I don't have much perseverance. My perseverance reserves run completely out in about four days. Or less, depending on what I'm persevering - or not persevering - toward.

In the Bible, perseverance is called a fruit of the Spirit. Perseverance is a God thing. Perseverance is not the same as will power, which I can conjure up on my own. Will power is my resolving, "I will do this, by golly!" Perseverance is me actually doing it. One is inside my head. The other works its way out through my hands and feet and words and actions.

If I don't have perseverance, and if God is the source of perseverance, then, obviously, I need to be petitioning my Father for this gift: "Father, I need perseverance! Please, give me some! Help me persevere!" I need to be knocking on his door, day in and day out, pleading for this Holy Ghost gift.

I need to persevere in asking for perseverance. Sounds like a Catch 22, doesn't it? Except that, when I ask for perseverance, God always gives me exactly the amount I need.

Maybe it won't be enough to turn down that brownie or to type out that 1000 words, but it will be enough to draw me back to Himself so that, in my need, I can pray once again, "Father, I need more perseverance! Help me persevere!"

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

INIGO MONTOYA, LIFE, AND THE GOSPEL

Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride

As a young boy, Inigo Montoya stood by helplessly as a mysterious six-fingered man murdered his father. When Inigo tried to defend his father, the six-fingered man left the boy with scars on both his cheeks.

Inigo dedicated his adult life becoming a master swordsman, hoping one day to meet the six-fingered man once again. His life's ambition was to find the six-fingered man and avenge his father's death.

In a scene near the end of The Princess Bride, Inigo finally confronts the six-fingered man: "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

As a boy, Inigo had been no match for the six-fingered man. Young Inigo challenged his father's murderer, and he was humiliated, left with two gruesome scars to remind him and everyone he met that he was inadequate, a failure.

Unfortunately, here at the end of the movie, Inigo is still no match for the sadistic, cowardly, dishonorable Count Rugen. Rugen taunts Inigo as he proceeds to puncture just about every major artery in Inigo's body. Inigo, faint from loss of blood, collapses against a wall.

Confident that he has mortally wounded Inigo, Count Rugen stands calmly before the young man and waits for him to collapse onto the floor. Instead, Inigo straightens, winces, and repeats: "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

The six-fingered man is stunned. Inigo's knees buckle, but again he regains his composure. "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

Every time Inigo repeats that phrase, he grows stronger. Advancing on the six-fingered man, Inigo duels him until, finally, the six-fingered man is defenseless and begging for mercy, terrified for his life.

As a child, Inigo had not been defeated - he had only been scarred. Those scars motivated him to study, to learn, to grow strong, and to face down the thing that shattered his world when he was a boy.

When he finally faced Count Rugen, Inigo was no longer a weak, cowering child. He had grown into a focused and determined young man and a master swordsman.

What do I learn from Inigo Montoya?

I learn that although my past shapes me, it does not define who I am. The scars I bear are not the end of my story.

In this particular scene from The Princess Bride, I am reminded of the many times I have faced fear, shame, a sense of inadequacy or worthlessness.

"My name is Inigo Montoya." When I am at my lowest, I need to remind myself who I am and, more importantly, whose I am: I am a daughter of the Most High King.

When he fought Count Rugen, Inigo was strengthened by repeating his lifelong resolution. When I face the adversary of my soul, I am strengthened by repeating the truths of God's Word.

"My name is Camille, and I am a beloved child of God. My God is sovereign, He is good, and He loves me very much."

Yes, I may have scars, but, no, I am not defeated.

Friday, June 2, 2017

MMMMM, DIRT!

Photo courtesy of Dawn Guy of Troy, TN. Thank you, Dawn!

When I was a little girl, my grandmother used to tell me, "Everybody needs a little dirt to scratch in." Grandmother loved working the earth. For as long as she was able, she maintained a garden and small orchard. At 98 years old, Grandmother no longer has the physical strength to dig with a shovel or run the tiller (although her mind is still sharp as a blackberry thorn!); she does, however, keep several potted plants in her room at an assisted-living facility. Grandmother stills believes that "scratching in the dirt" is good for the soul.

Research backs up Grandmother's claim. In her article "How to Get High on Soil," Pagan Kennedy wrote that M. vaccae, a microbe found in soil, "has been shown to boost the the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine circulating in the systems of humans...In other words, [M. vaccae] works in much the same manner as antidepressant pills." (Pagan Kennedy, "How to Get High on Soil," The Atlantic, January 31, 2012. For entire article, click HERE.)

The smell of healthy soil, it turns out, is a natural mood booster.

We country folks are not surprised. When heavy rains of early spring give way to sunshine, farmers head out to the fields with ginormous "do-alls" and 36-row corn planters. The air fills with the rich earthy smell of freshly-turned soil. Roll down your car windows as you're driving down the road and inhale deeply, and your mood instantly brightens. Inhale too deeply, and you just might get high!

Almost seems like we humans were created to scratch in the dirt...like we were meant to live life in a garden.

* * *

"...the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the LORD God planted a garden...and there he put the man whom he had formed..to work [the garden]." Genesis 2:7-8, 15