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

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

YOU'VE GOT MAIL!

"I hope I get a letter today. Do you think there will be anything in the mail for me today?"

Less than a week ago, letters were the currency of highest value at our house. A small white envelope in the mailbox transformed the dreariest day into an occasion to celebrate. A certain return address, a particular handwriting...these things wielded more power than sunshine.

But letter value plummeted this past weekend. Monday and Tuesday, there were no anxious, eager rushes to the mailbox at my house. No text messages from campus: "Anything in the mail today?" No bright smile and eager stampede up the stairs, treasure in hand, when the answer was Yes. No sad sigh - "Well, maybe tomorrow..." - when the answer was No.

Why did letter currency depreciate in value so drastically, so suddenly? What happened?

I'll tell you what happened. The name above the return address...that young man came home.

The sparkling eyes and bright smiles are no longer reserved for words written on paper. They are lavished with joyful extravagance on the actual person, the real thing, standing right here in the flesh.

We all love getting letters in the mail, don't we? Real letters, written by hand, by a real person, addressed especially to us, with love and tender affection.

As I watched the value of written letters plummet on the stock market exchange of relationship this weekend, I thought...

This is how we live as believers, is it not?, as we come daily to God's written Word, eager to read what He has written, especially for us, in love.

At least, I think this is how we should feel about God's Word, this beautiful, intimate letter written especially for His beloved, for us, for me.

As I witnessed a sweet reunion this weekend, I thought...

If my countenance does not now brighten at a letter from my Beloved, how will I respond when I see Jesus face to face? If I do not now delight in His words, will I then delight in His person?

But if I DO delight in His written Word today, if I read each word with eager anticipation, how very sweet must be the moment when I at long last stand before my Savior and behold Him in the flesh - see Him, hear Him, touch Him! I sometimes think my heart cannot bear the magnitude of such joy. Oh, how I long for that day!

Well, from all appearances, today is not that day of sweet reunion. Today is not the day I get to see Jesus face to face. But, guess what...

Today, Yes!, I have a letter!

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. - Hebrews 11:1

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then, I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. - 1 Corinthians 13:12

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

THE RECIPROCITY OF HOSPITALITY

Concerning hospitality, I am still processing...

In last Wednesday's post, I concluded that true hospitality requires both a generous heart and great courage, because true hospitality means inviting others into our world to commune with us not as visitors, but as intimates. (Read full post HERE.)

But hospitality is not a one-way transaction: hospitality is a dialogue. True hospitality entails bold, sacrificial action, and that action in turn necessitates a re-action. One person extends hospitality; another person receives that hospitality.

Post Japan, I have been trying to make sense of my experience of hospitality here at home in the hills of Tennessee. While I feel that many of us good ol' Southern folk have traded big, brave, genuine hospitality for its pale, timid, weaker little sister - Good Manners - I fear that many of us have also forgotten the art of reciprocity: we have forgotten how to truly receive. We have lost the gift of genuine "Thank you."

Like hospitality, the genuine "Thank you!" is a big, bold, courageous, sacrificial thing, too. It means laying aside my expectations and preferences, and actively choosing to be content with - no, to even delight in - that which I have been given. It means celebrating with my host, instead of just nodding and smiling politely from the sidelines. It means eating the octopus balls when what I really want is pork chops and gravy...and then realizing that the octopus balls are, yes, actually quite delicious.

Oh, how prone I am to "What I'd really prefer is..." - and - "Can I please have ---- instead?" - and - "Do you have anything else?" But true hospitality means meeting the light in my hostess's eyes as she offers me her holiday best with a reciprocal light in my own eyes that says, "Oh, how lovely!"

Alas! I find that I am prone to be DOUBLY inhospitable - how often I fail at hospitality in both directions!

Extending true hospitality requires a generous and courageous heart. Receiving hospitality requires a generous and courageous heart, too.

I want to be that big and that brave, after Japan.

Friday, October 20, 2017

NOW THAT FALL HAS OFFICIALLY ARRIVED...




Pumpkins. Pumpkins to eat, pumpkins to paint, pumpkins to carve...so many pumpkins!

Autumn in West Tennessee:  the weather alternates between summer-winter-summer-winter-summer-..., until it finally decides to let go of summer altogether and stay chilly for more than three days in succession. I am enjoying the cooler weather.

Other signs of fall in our neck of the woods include:

Hot spiced tea. My daughter says it smells like autumn in a cup.

Soup! Soups, chili, and stews are on the menu at least once a week, if not more. This week: "Hot Pot," made with smoked sausage, cabbage, onions, potatoes, and chicken stock. Mmmmm!

Pumpkin bread. My mom's recipe, made into sandwiches filled with pineapple-cream cheese spread.

Chex mix. I'm not sure why, but here at Kendallville, we only make this in the fall.

Our baking project for this weekend.

Real hot chocolate. Whole milk, cocoa, and sugar, simmered on the stove until steamy, then ladeled into mugs and topped with whipped cream. Yum!

Marshmallows. Toasted over a fire outside or inside in the fireplace. I don't stock marshmallows any other time of the year. Fall and on into winter, we sometimes go through a bag or more a week.

(Hmmmm, why do so many of our autumn traditions involve FOOD?)

Mums. My daughter just called to say she picked up several on clearance. We're having a planting party when she gets home from work this afternoon.

FIRE! Helen is planning our first conflagration of the season, hoping a special someone will be back home in Tennessee in time to enjoy a chilly October evening sitting around the fire with family and friends.

Fall weather means: time for a bonfire!

How does YOUR family celebrate the arrival of fall?

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

AFTER JAPAN: HOSPITALITY

Life presents relationships, challenges, and experiences that are best described as before-&-after events.

They create clear lines of demarcation in how we think, feel, relate, and engage - who we were before, who we are after.

Before Christ. After Christ.
Before children. After children.
Before cancer. After cancer.
Before Japan. After Japan.

Two completely different worlds.

So, how am I different, after Japan?

I am still processing, so my answer to that question is not yet fully formed. I do know, however, that I am not the same person I was a month ago. I do not want to be the same person.

While in Japan, my thinking was challenged significantly in two important areas: 1.) hospitality, and 2.) the visible church.

I was born and raised in the South. Hospitality is as much a part of my heritage as grits and cornbread. Everyone's heard of "Southern hospitality," right? We Southerners speak Hospitality fluently - it's our native tongue.

That's what I thought before Japan.

After Japan, I'm not so sure. I'm afraid many of us Southerners have traded true hospitality for a weak impostor: good manners.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for good manners and polite discourse. We should endeavor to always treat others with courtesy, respect, and kindness.

But good manners - does not equal - hospitality. Let me try to explain with an illustration...

Good manners is greeting the visitor at church on Sunday with a smile and a handshake: "Good morning! Welcome! We are so glad you are here. I hope you enjoyed the service, and that you'll come back again soon."

Hospitality is...

The young woman invited us to her house for the weekend. "Please! Come and stay! I want you to be my guests!" After the six of us arrived at her tiny abode, the woman confided to my daughter, "I am so glad you are here! But I wonder...where will everyone sleep?"

The houses I visited in Japan were small: a compact kitchen/living area, a bathroom/washroom, a sleeping room. Many single college students in America live in apartments that in Japan would accommodate a family of four.

A well-mannered Southern hostess would know better than to invite overnight guests to her house if she did not have space to accommodate them. Better to just smile, shake hands, say "So nice to meet you!" - and leave it at that. Be polite...but don't get all crazy!

But for my young Japanese friend, love for others trumped everything else. Her great concern was not - Do I have enough beds/bowls/cups for everyone? Rather, her great desire was fellowship, conversation around a common table, shared stories and laughter. She raced past "So nice to meet you" and pressed right on into "Please, come into my world, such as it is. I want to share my life with you!"

I visited many beautiful places while I was in Japan: ancient temples, fabulous gardens, parks and restaurants. Nothing was as beautiful as my young friend's home and the hospitality she and her family extended to us there.

After our visit, my daughter commented that true hospitality requires courage, because it demands that we be vulnerable. True hospitality means inviting others into our world, to commune with us not as visitors, but as family.

Politeness, good manners - those, while good, generally require neither courage nor vulnerability. They also don't require much heart. I can be polite even if I don't feel like it, even if I don't like you.

True hospitality requires a generous heart, and, yes, Martha, it requires courage.

I want to be that big and that brave, after Japan.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

LIFE OUTSIDE OF TIME

My internal clock is all out of whack.

I am not sure what day of the week it is, nor am I confident of today's date. I do know we are in the month of October now - yay, me!

My daily rhythms are off. My weekly rhythms are off. I feel like I am living life outside of time.

This time confusion is not without its advantages, though.

Life here in Japan is lived fourteen hours ahead of life in West Tennessee. It is six o'clock in the evening here. Martha is cooking dinner.

It is four o'clock in the morning in West Tennessee - four o'clock this morning, the one already past here in Japan - and it is four o'clock in Mississippi...and four o'clock in the morning is a wonderful time to pray for the day ahead for those I love back home.

My prayer sisters pray throughout the day back in Tennessee. And then, as their day ends, my day begins, and the baton is passed. It is pretty cool to know that we are praying for one another around the clock.

Before I adjust to day and night on the far side of the world, it will be time to head home, time to throw another wrench into the gears of my already malfunctioning internal clock.

I anticipate another season of time confusion. I wonder what blessings it will bring?

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

WEDNESDAY IN JAPAN

I can't think of anything that makes a person feel more like a near-goddess than bathing outdoors in the middle of a forest in a pool fed by a steaming hot river...

Sainokawara Open Air Bath
...except maybe bathing with your daughter and granddaughter after hiking up a mountain in brisk fall air.

Observations from a day of adventuring in Gunma Prefecture, Japan:

I always heard the Garden of Eden was located somewhere over in the Fertile Crescent, on the Sinai Peninsula. Perhaps whoever made that claim had never visited Japan.

On the train, on the bus, in a restaurant, on the street, in the shops...the Japanese people have overwhelmed me with their friendliness, helpfulness, and hospitality. The people here are beautiful.

I have an awesome son-in-law. Thank you, Justin, for this opportunity to not only enjoy time with your family, but to also explore your new home. It is lovely!

Monday, October 2, 2017

THIS BIG, BEAUTIFUL BRIDE

When you attend a very small church in a rural community that has little interaction with the world beyond the county line, it is easy to develop a small, narrow understanding of how Jesus's people look and talk and how they worship together.

It is good, sometimes, to step outside the bounds of one's normal routines of interaction, to see Christ's church with fresh eyes, to listen with fresh ears.

Sunday, I was blessed to attend the International Church in Takasaki with my daughter and her family. Among the small group of worshipers were representatives from five continents. The sermon was presented in two different languages. Believers from Italy, Zimbabwe, and Japan raised their voices together in songs of praise to our Redeemer.

It was a long service. Translating a sermon into multiple languages takes time. Singing a hymn in first one language, then in another, takes time. It was a long service; but reluctant to part after the closing prayer, those gathered lingered late into the evening for conversation and fellowship.

I was a visitor, an outsider...and yet I was made to feel very much at home. I, too, was loathe to part company with these precious believers.

I wonder: would these sweet brothers and sisters have been welcomed as warmly and made to feel as much at home if they attended my little church in the hills of Tennessee? Or would they have been too different?

* * *
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." - Revelation 7:9-10

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

SHARED SORROW, DOUBLE JOY

Speaking of the study in the book of Romans (see previous post HERE)...

When Paul was prevented from doing the thing he wanted earnestly to do - to visit believers in Rome - how did he respond? He applied himself diligently to the task before him - ministering to the church in Corinth - while he continued praying for and looking for opportunities to go to Rome.

I am so thankful God did not answer Paul's prayers with an immediate "Yes." Otherwise, we wouldn't have this amazing letter to the Romans!

It occurred to me this week that this great book gives us so many powerhouse verses of encouragement. It was in this season of deferred longing that Paul wrote:

"I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Romans 8:18).

- AND -

"And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).

- AND -

"What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31)

These verses were penned while Paul's desires were being denied by God.

Oh, for such faith, a faith that rests in and readily testifies to the unwavering faithfulness and goodness of God, even in the face of disappointment and unanswered prayers!

Ephesians 2 tells us that this kind of confident, rock-solid, unflinching, joyful faith is the gift of God. We can not conjure it up within ourselves. So, like the father of the child possessed by an unclean spirit, I cry: "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!"

This has been a season of "not yet" answers to prayer at my house. It would be easy to grow discouraged, frustrated, melancholy. But God, in his great mercy, has surrounded me with a community of believers who are committed to praying alongside me. When my own faith flags, these sisters and brothers remind me - again and again - of the goodness and faithfulness of God.

One fruit of this "not yet" season: we have learned that when we share our disappointments and sorrows, they diminish. Even more astounding, we have seen our grief transformed into worship and praise. One dear sister wrote, "God is causing us to rejoice - not in a certain outcome - but in God himself."

A Swedish proverb states: "Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half sorrow."

It is one thing to begin with joy, share that joy, and then see it multiplied into greater joy; or to begin with grief, and see that grief, when shared, made smaller.

But God is so much bigger than that. Our sovereign, all-powerful Creator transforms shared sorrows into joyful praise.

* * *
I will turn their mourning into joy;
I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
Jeremiah 31:13b

Friday, September 22, 2017

HINDERED

I am participating in an AMAZING study of Romans this fall with a diverse group of women who love the Lord and who want to dig deeply into his Word.

Yesterday, we walked together step-by-step through Romans 1:1-17. Among other things, we learned that Paul had long wanted to visit believers in Rome to impart to them some spiritual gift, that he and they might be mutually encouraged. However, at the time the letter was written, Paul still had not made it to Rome. Paul writes: "...I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented)..." (v. 13).

Paul kept trying to go to Rome, but God kept thwarting Paul's plans. (I am so thankful Paul did not make it to Rome when he first desired to go there - so thankful for this letter Paul wrote while God had him serving somewhere else!)

Although Paul was prevented from going to Rome, he did not sit idly twiddling his thumbs: he continued to pray for the believers in Rome; he continued to pray that God would allow him the opportunity to visit them; he continued to look for such an opportunity; AND, he served faithfully right where he was at the moment.

As we discussed this passage yesterday, we considered implications of Paul's example for our own lives.

Have you ever earnestly wanted to do something - kingdom work, no less - but been prevented? Have you made plans to serve, only to be repeatedly hindered in carrying out those plans? Have you prayed faithfully about a particular opportunity, only to have that opportunity denied over and over again?

Me, too.

Looking at Paul's response to hindered desires, I am encouraged to keep praying, keep asking, keep trying...and then to faithfully labor in the work God gives me to do right here, right now.

The bottom line is: I can trust God with the details of my life. I can trust God even when my prayers have not yet been answered and when my plans do not work out.

So, this morning - Friday morning, September 22 - I began the day with a pretty lengthy list of things I needed to accomplish. Today was going to be a full day, start to finish, but I felt like if I stayed focused and pressed into the harness, I could handle the work load.

I began the day in Romans, reviewing the passage and the things my group discussed yesterday. As I closed my Bible and prepared to jump into the day, before I even got to Item #1 on my ToDo list, my phone exploded. Five frantic text messages from my daughter who had encountered a problem at school. Another, not-so-frantic text from my son, who needed help with his car. A phone call, another text...

My plans for the day had been thwarted. God had other plans for me! I shifted mental gears, grabbed my purse, and headed out the door to address Crisis #1. After my first stop, I hopped back in the car and checked my phone - 11 missed calls!

"Jesus, what on earth is going on!" I exclaimed.

I think God must have been laughing:  "Remember what we talked about yesterday, in the book of Romans? About Paul's experience, and how that can encourage you?"

"Yes! Yes! Of course I remember." I shifted into Drive. I can trust God with the details of my life, even when my plans are hindered. By now, things had gotten so far off-plan, so ridiculous, that I was laughing, too.

Today, I did not do the many things I intended to do. That's okay. God had other things for me to do instead. Yesterday's reminder of God's sovereignty and good purposes in the life of Paul - and in my own life - could not have been more timely.

You want to know something really cool? Checking in here at the blog was not on my ToDo list for today. Today was going to be a run-hard-all-day kind of day - no time for writing.

But God, in his sweet providence, shredded my ToDo list before the day was half-started. God had different plans for me today. I am thankful that He put writing on his list!

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.

Friday, August 18, 2017

MY FAVORITE PLACE TO BE

My favorite places to be...

With good friends:














With my awesome siblings:
















With my children:












With the grandkids:




















Walking back on the farm:













But my VERY favorite place to be...

* * *

This week has been an emotional roller-coaster for me. My youngest son left for graduate school on Monday: HUGE happiness and excitement for him and for the opportunities that lie before him, and a heavy sorrow in my heart because I am going to miss him. Such big, contrary emotions crammed together inside my little heart - the walls of my heart ached with the strain.

Then, I received news from a dear friend that she will be moving away at the end of this month. HUGE happiness and excitement for her and for the opportunities that lie before her, and a heavy sorrow in my heart because I am going to miss her. Such big, contrary emotions, on top of big emotions, crammed together into my little heart - the walls of my heart ached with the strain.

New opportunities in my own life (I hope to write more about those in future posts!), bringing with them a tumultuous blend of happiness, excitement, and something akin to terror. Such big, contrary emotions, on top of big emotions, on top of big emotions, crammed together into my little heart.

I have thought this week that, surely, my heart must burst.

* * *

I poured a cup of coffee and headed out to the porch swing this morning in the gray shadow of predawn. A heavy fog covered the fields around the house.

Fog acts like a living thing. It breathes and sighs, lifts and rolls, caresses the hills like a mother's gentle hand on a beloved baby.

I watched the fog, mesmerized. And then, the magic of first light creeping over the horizon...the fog swirled and roiled, gathered itself together into a cloud, and whispered upward into the blue sky of a bright, clear day.

I love to sit on the porch swing in the morning and watch the world wake up. I sit on the swing with my coffee and my Bible and I wait to meet the God whose mercies are new every morning. It's my favorite time of day.

As I watched the fog this morning, with my Bible open in my lap, I thought, "God, you are here every morning, day after day, waiting to meet with me. I open this book, and I know that I will find you here again." The thought that the Creator of the universe condescends to meet with me every single time I open his Word - that He is there and waiting, and that He listens to and speaks into my heart - that thought brought me to tears.

I watched the fog - so beautiful! - and the rising light, and I wept because I felt so extravagantly loved. Not only does God meet me in the cool gray of morning, but, like a most attentive and devoted lover, He brings me such exquisite gifts.

Finally, I turned my attention to the pages open in my lap, to the next passage in my read-through-the-Bible plan, and I began to read.

(Did I tell you this has been an emotional week for me? Did I mention that my little heart has been stretched beyond what I thought it could possibly bear?)

After I watched the fog dance in the predawn and then melt away in the early light of morning, I read in chapter 60 of the book of Isaiah:

Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the LORD will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.

And I read:

Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult...

The word exult had a footnote indicated. I read the footnote (not something I often do during my morning devotion - reading footnotes), and the footnote said:

...your heart shall tremble and grow wide.

I looked up across the brightening hay field. "God," I thought, "it's as if you had Isaiah write these words, what?, almost 3000 years ago?, so that you could tuck them between the pages of this book like a long-hidden love letter, there for me to find and read today. Especially for me. Especially for today, when my heart is sore from so much stretching, when it feels like you are making my insides bigger than my outsides."

...your heart shall tremble and grow wide.

Yes, my Beloved!

* * *

I pray each morning that God will give me an awareness of his presence throughout the day. I KNOW God is always with me - He is everywhere. But I don't always FEEL like He is with me. Sometimes, I forget He is there. Sometimes, I think He is not with me at all, like He has abandoned me or hidden himself away on the dark side of the moon.

I am not always conscious of God's immediate presence in my life.

But when I am - when my heart trembles with the awareness that "God is here!" - THAT is my favorite place of all to be.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

THE JOY OF BATTLE

I am reading through The Lords of the Rings. The fellowship has just left Rivendell, "the last homely house east of the sea," to begin their tragic quest. My heart breaks for them. (Oh, how I long to visit Rivendell!)

I think this is perhaps my favorite fiction book ever. I am amazed - again - at how precisely and how beautifully Tolkien speaks to the life of the Christian.

This life IS a battle. Are you fighting with joy?

THE JOY OF BATTLE
- originally published August 20, 2011

I think I am just beginning to understand, perhaps the tiniest bit, the joy of battle. JOY. "They sang as they slew, for the joy of battle was on them..." - is this not the call of the Christian?

From our ladies' study this morning:

Many Christians look for some secret to make their lives free from struggle, but no such secret exists. The Christian life is always a battle. If people don't realize this and fruitlessly wait for the fighting to abate, they will either think that God is not faithful (since He is not providing an end to the struggle), or that they are doing something wrong. Either way, such persons will be continually frustrated....Only people who look reality right in the face and realize that they are engaged in a lifelong war against their sin, the world, and the Devil will live the Christian life with zest. It is in this reality that we apply the gospel, resting and rejoicing in Christ's sacrifice.....Struggle changes us, preparing us to live in God's presence.....the battle belongs to the Lord. - Tim Keller, study notes on 1 John

Reminded me of this post from back in December 2010:

RIDING HARD TO GLORY December 10, 2010 
I am halfway through the third book of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings - I am going to hate for this story to end.

Last night, I read of the fall of Theoden on the fields of Pelennor and of the fall of Denethor in the tomb of his father. Could the deaths of two men be any different?

Against the evil forces of Mordor, each was faced with certain annihilation. As the day of battle dawned before the gates of Gondor, both Theoden and Denethor understood that they would not see another sunrise. But consider how each faced death....

Theoden, king of the Rohirrim, rode into battle - rising in his stirrups he cried in a loud voice, more clear than any there had ever heard a mortal man achieve before: "Arise, arise, Riders of Theoden! Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter! spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered, a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises! Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!"

Hours later, as Theoden lay dying on the gore-strewn field, his last words were: "My body is broken. I go to my fathers. And even in their mighty company I shall not now be ashamed....A grim morn, and a glad day, and a golden sunset!"

Eomer, to whom Theoden had given the charge to rule the Rohirrim, honored his fallen king thus:"Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing. To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking: Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!" Tolkien writes of Eomer, And then wonder took him, and a great joy; and he cast his sword up in the sunlight and sang as he caught it..." Having paused to consider his fallen king - his example in life and in death - Eomer passionately led yet another charge against the terrible army opposing them.

But consider Lord Denethor, Steward of Gondor. Faced with imminent death, Denethor despairs and sinks into madness. Fleeing the conflict, he takes his wounded son Faramir to the tomb of his fathers and there builds a pyre on which he plans to destroy both himself and his son. He has no hope for himself or his son or his country - if Sauron and evil are eventually going to triumph anyway, why not at least choose the time and mode of their own deaths? Racing to save Faramir, Gandalf confronts Denethor: "The houses of the dead are no places for the living..." But Denethor replies, "...soon all shall be burned. The West has failed. It shall all go up in a great fire,and all shall be ended. Ash! Ash and smoke blown away on the wind!" Although Gandalf is able to save the wounded Faramir, Denethor leaps to the top of the bier and lights the wood at his feet, thus destroying himself.

Theoden lives fully, right up to the moment of his death - and his last words to those around him are a reminder that this life is not all they have. This life is worth fighting for, and dying for, precisely because of the glorious life that comes after. He passes from pain and broken-ness, through a "glorious sunset," into the sunrise of life eternal with his fathers. The Rohirrim are not afraid to fight, to live gloriously, because they are not afraid to die.

Lord Denethor, on the other hand, had only Here and Now - this present life was all the glory to be had, and it had all come to ruin. He was terrified of death and shadow and of fading into nothingness. Unlike Theoden, Denethor saw no "glorious sunset" - he saw only ash and smoke, blown away on the wind. Denethor wanted desperately to live a glorious life...yet was impotent to do so because of his overwhelming fear of death.

Thankfully, life for most of us isn't as horrific at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. But still, in small struggles or great, I yearn to face this life's difficulties and trials with a heart like Theoden's. A heart riding hard to Glory.

...the battle-fury of his fathers ran like new fire in (Theoden's) veins, and he was borne up on Snowmane like a god of old, even as Orome the Great in the battle of the Valar when the world was young. His golden shield was uncovered, and lo! it shone like an image of the Sun, and the grass flamed into green about the feet of his steed. For morning came, morning and a wind from the sea; and darkness was removed, and the hosts of Mordor wailed, and terror took them, and they fled,and died, and the hoofs of wrath rode over them. And then all the host of Rohan burst into song, and they sang as they slew, for the joy of battle was on them, and the sound of their singing that was fair and terrible came even to the City. - J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Thursday, August 10, 2017

THIS SIDE OF THE CHRYSALIS




A beautiful end-of-summer morning. If I were six years  old, I'd still be in my pajamas, eating Lucky Charms and drinking chocolate milk while watching cartoons at my grandmother's house. Instead, I'm enjoying the weather out on the porch swing as I work, wearing stretchy pants and drinking iced tea, chilling with the cat.

Six of one, half a dozen of the other, as the saying goes.

* * *

"Eeeeew!" This was my teenage daughter's response when she learned that our 80-something-year-old neighbor was dating again. When we drove past J's house, he and his lady friend were riding a four-wheeler together in the field next to the highway. "Old people should not be dating!"

I laughed and tried to explain that, inside our heads, we "old people" feel as young as we ever were. Our bodies may be wrinkled and saggy, but our eyes and our hearts are as bright as ever.

My young daughter remained skeptical. Apparently, she thinks there should be an age limit to new romances. "People in their 80s should not be dating," she protested. "That's just weird!"

I decided it would be pointless to bring up my friend who made the newspaper for being, at the age of 98, the oldest person to apply for a marriage license in Obion County. What about Abraham and Sarah, in the Bible? Well, that wasn't a new romance, so maybe their story didn't weird her out so much.

* * *

There are some songs that, when they come on the radio, you just have to dance to them, no matter how old you are.

"Is that your daughter?" The middle-aged man on the other side of the gas pump nodded toward the van I was fueling.

"Yes."

"Well, tell her I didn't mean to be rude. I was staring at her rather hard when I pulled in next to y'all. She was acting kind of strange," he explained, "and I wondered if something was the matter. She looks about the same age as my daughter. I just wanted to make sure everything was okay."

"Yeah, everything's fine," I smiled. I bit my lip to keep from laughing. Thank you, Jesus, that he didn't notice her mom, car dancing alongside her in the front passenger seat. He'd have thought we were both completely whacko!

Maybe my daughter and I should act more mature when we are out running errands in town and our favorite songs come on the radio. Maybe, but why?

* * *

When Sally directed us into the chair pose at yoga practice this morning, knees around the room crackled like Pop-Rocks in Dr. Pepper, my knees included.

When I practice yoga, I feel like I am about twenty-three years old. I feel strong and alive and positive, like life has many good things and lovely adventures in store.

My knees remind me that I am fifty-three, actually, not twenty-three. Such disparity between the physical me and the me inside my head!

* * *

When the kids were little, we did one of those butterfly garden kits for a science lesson. Eggs hatched into caterpillars. The caterpillars wiggled and squirmed and fed on rich brown goo until they grew large and swollen and stiff.

Like creaky grandfathers, they slowed to complete inactivity, wrapped themselves in small woolen blankets, and slept the sleep of old age.

But in their hearts, they were not old at all. They were young. Young and very much alive.

In fact, these ancient larvae were so young that they had not even truly been born yet, not born as what they were ultimately meant to be.

Then one day, immobility and brown wrinkles gave way to ravishing color and lighter-than-air new life.

Such magic took my breath away.

* * *

Inside our heads, sweet daughter, we are all very young. Does that seem strange? It shouldn't. Not when you think about it, really.

Here, whether we are eighteen or eighty-eight, we are all still this side of the chrysalis, and that is very young indeed.