Saturday, December 6, 2014

Suffering well even in little things, is, well, sometimes hard.

I am going to write about this today, because, well, it's been on my mind.  I have been sick since Thursday night with a migraine and then what we think may be the flu (fever, coughing, congestion, and sinus headaches.)  Now on the suffering scale, this is really not a big deal.   It's nothing compared to an autoimmune disease, or the death of a close loved one.  I know that.  But it's still unpleasant.  And its always at times like this that I struggle to figure out how faith looks in these situations.   I know there are times in the Bible that people suffered, and it was always to bring about God's greater plans in the world.  But the degree to which we resist said suffering is where I struggle.  How do I bear up under suffering in a way that honors God?  I do not see a passivity in suffering in the Bible.  What I do see is a recognition of our dependence on God  Let's look at this example in Exodus 17: 8-16:

Now Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim.  And Moses said to Joshua, “Choose us some men and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand.” So Joshua did as Moses said to him, and fought with Amalek. And Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill.  And so it was, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.  But Moses’ hands became heavy; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. And Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.  So Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.”  And Moses built an altar and called its name, The-Lord-Is-My-Banner;  for he said, “Because the Lord has sworn: the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation."

First off, I see this as a time for suffering for the Hebrew people, and by extension Moses.  His arms grew weak, yet he knew that keeping them up in obedience to God was the key to winning the battle.  But ultimately, it wasn't even about Moses' strength.  Because it was a task to great for Moses to do alone.  He needed others to come alongside him and support him.  His weakness here was on full display.  As were the children of Israel.  It was not great military strategy or tactics, or great leaders, who brought victory.  Ultimately, it was God using human vessels to reflect His glory.  I can see this clearly here.  I just sometimes struggle with what that looks like in my day to day life.  

I think suffering well requires a lot more wisdom than I have.  I think it means having discernment, and knowing when we are called to stand in victory against the enemy, but also discernment to recognize when we are only fighting the hand of God.  Honestly, I want to be that kind of prayer warrior.  I don't want to rail against God in his sovereign plans and purposes, but I also want to be cognizant of when those plans and purposes include me "lifting my hands" to ensure victory.  

Thinking more on this, I think there is definitely a good kind of rest in Christ.  One that rests in His unfailing love, that He is wiser and smarter than I could ever be, and a trust that He is going to "work all things for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose."  (Romans 8:28).  At the same time, it is not unbelief to pray for healing and restoration, but rather a command of God.  If I ever use God's sovereignty as an excuse for lazy faith, I have failed to understand it rightly.  For it says in James 5:14-20: 

 Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:
And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.
Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.
And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.
 Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him;
 Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.

I see in this passage the flip side of God's sovereignty: that He also uses our prayers to change events and situations for His glory.  The common denominator of both sides is a recognized neediness for Christ to be at work.  Of myself, I can do nothing.  That is where I so often struggle it seems.  How often would I rather just DO something than wait on the Lord to be at work, and cry out to Him?  But He is what I truly need to be at work.  Any other thing, any other person, I place my trust in above Christ becomes an idol.  Including myself.  
 I share this not because I have arrived, but because this is the crux of where God is growing me.  Oh Lord, I need greater wisdom.   I need to be more like a child, and less like a woman, sometimes.  And tonight, Lord, I need physical healing..  Thank you that you are faithful, even when I have not been.  Maybe there is more to this than what I see: If so, Holy Spirit, teach me.  Give me wisdom.  Help me to always trust you, but also know when to fight against injustice.  Or suffering.  Help me accept what is mine to bear, and reject what is not from you.  That's what I want, Lord.  To be faithful in all things, not just easy things. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

"Teach us to number our days"

So teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
-Psalm 90:12

Today has been a difficult day. For most of the week, I had already been struggling with discouragement and heartbrokenness in some other areas of my life.  But after some time in my Bible with friends last night, I felt encouraged and ready to step back into the "ring" and "gear up", so to speak.  But then I started the day with a phone call from a good friend who informed me that another good friend had died.  Thing is, the friend who passed away is not someone I have talked to in a long while, mainly because we moved and life is chaotic and busy in a home with six kids.  This friend had a larger than average brood of her own, and so while we had talked of getting together for a visit, we were never able to make it happen.  But in my heart, I still treasured this person and while I am deeply, deeply thankful for the time God had her in my life and her family was in my family's life, I also feel such heartache that the world no longer has her presence in it.   Our daughters were friends as well, and well, it's just hard to consider that I will have to wait until heaven now to see her again. 
Then as I was in shock from the news of this and trying to confirm what had happened on the phone, my two year old got past the baby gate in the living room and went into my room and got into my hearing aid case.  I realized she had escaped pretty quickly, but not fast enough to stop her from getting into the hearing aid batteries, two of which were spread out on the floor.  And I couldn't remember if there were only two batteries in there, or if there had been three.  I panicked, called poison control, and quickly took my baby girl to the ER to have a chest x ray.  Thankfully, she had not ingested any.
So today has been a roller coaster ride, and throughout it I have felt overwhelmed, in both good ways and bad ways.  Overwhelmed by sadness, overwhelmed by how out of  control I feel, and especially overwhelmed by my lack of ability to do anything to minister to friends far away other than pray for them.  But when I consider my friend's life, I am also overwhelmed, but with good things: Overwhelmed with joyful tears when I remember laughing with her over the joys and trials of parenting, overwhelmed with encouragement when I remember some of the spiritual conversations we shared, and how she would spur me on to good works.  Overwhelmed by God's goodness in my own life, that he would see fit to allow me to know this person and live a season of my life with her as my friend, and that we could share each others' load and make each other's burdens lighter, somehow, just by being friends.  I wish that every relationship I had could be that meaningful and blessed.
I came home to a meal that had been brought to our family by another good friend, one who has just come into my life since we moved to Alabama in the last couple years.  Another friend who makes me glad to know her, and who challenges me by being my friend to love God more and to run the race with endurance.  I am a blessed person, that I have SO MANY friends around me I can say that is true of. 
 It is humbling and sobering to me to  realize today anew that I have NO IDEA what the future holds.  I could be here for fifty more years, or the Lord could call me home tomorrow.   And last night, with friends, I discussed the scripture at the top: "Teach us to number our days."  And from that conversation and hearing some of their thoughts as well, I believe I could say that that scripture means to live in a state of awareness of the finiteness of life.  Every moment is sacred.  Every moment we can choose how we will use it for the betterment of eternity.  We should live with an awareness of accountability for the way we spend our minutes, our hours, our days, weeks, months, years.  We should recognize the time we have for what it is:  an opportunity to be stewards and give it back to Him.  The giver.  The one it belongs to really.  Because all of our time is in His hands.
2014 has been a hard year.  I started the year out upbeat,eager to see what God would do.  My family and I have seen challenges with our finances, struggles within our local church, as well as personal illnesses in our home.  We have made three trips to the emergency room this year, which is a family record, I believe. Somewhere in the middle of 2014, I lost steam.  I became focused on the problems I was seeing around me, and I lost sight of the race I was supposed to be running.  And the running became hard, like running in mud. 
But 2014 has been a good year, as well.  God worked out the details for a family vacation that we could never have afforded on our own, one that my kids were the ones to say they wanted and prayed for.  I told them that we did not have the money to go on any expensive vacations this year, but they could pray about it and tell God their desires, trusting God that if he wanted to work it out, he could, but if he didn't we would be content without it.  And then God amazed me and even in that trivial, inconsequential-in-my-mind-to-anything-of-eternal-value thing, He  brought their prayers to fruition.  Of course, even more important than a family vacation is my son's health.  My son with Crohn's disease is doing better than ever.  He feels well, he is gaining weight, and except for the NG tube he has in his nose a few days a week,  you wouldn't even know he has an autoimmune condition.  God has been faithful in so many areas of our life.

There is so much I haven't done yet that I want to do.  I haven't written a book. I haven't been to Ireland yet.  Or New Zealand either.  I haven't seen my children all grown up yet.  But my times are in God's hands, and hopefully, as I am gaining a heart of wisdom by numbering my days, I will be increasingly faithful with how I spend that finite amount of time I have to spend on this earth, knowing that the choices I make will count for eternity. 

I have to say I like how Psalm 90 ends.  Verses 15-17 say:

 Make us glad according to the days in which You have afflicted us,
The years in which we have seen evil. 

 Let Your work appear to Your servants,
And Your glory to their children.

And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us,
And establish the work of our hands for us;
Yes, establish the work of our hands.

Friday, November 14, 2014

A poem: The Soldiers

I wrote this poem last night, and thought I'd share it here.

The Soldiers

David was donning his saber,
Grand armies he fought in his yard!
And as he went out,
He declared with a shout,
“Mom, I'm off to work hard!”

"Where are you going?” said Mom.
(For Dave was quite handsomely bedecked
With a pirate's kerchief upon his head,
And much ammo around his neck.)

Jon followed him, wearing a sword,
And around his neck was a cape.
The two young soldiers,
Their armory worn,
Stared back at their mom, mouths agape.

“Mom, can't you tell? We are fighting!
Defending the yard from our foes!
With a victory to win,
Amidst all the din,
We'll probably dig out a foxhole.”

“Very well,” said Mom rather calmly,
As she gave them a hug and much lovin',
“Just be sure to be done
By fifteen to one,
For our lunch will be out of the oven.”

“Oh, we will, Mom. “ And outside they jaunted,
Fearless and brave to the core.
And Mom paused and she smiled,
Wishing time would stop- for a while,
These two boys from growing much more.

For right now, she knew, they pretended,
But someday they'd grow up to be men.
And she hoped and she prayed
That for all of their days,
For truth and justice, they'd defend.

Someday, the foes would be real foes,
Like fear, and doubt, and greed,
Though the foes wouldn't be men,
Yet again and again,
They must do battle as they ever have need.

So Mom said a prayer as she watched them,
That God would guard their way,
And help her to be,
The mom that they'd need,
To teach them until that day.

Then Mom said a prayer for their daddy,
For though he was strong and brave and true,
It was wisdom he'd need,
From Jesus to lead,
And God's grace to see them all through.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Divine appointments

Then the apostles gathered to Jesus and told Him all things, both what they had done and what they had taught. 31 And He said to them, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. 32 So they departed to a deserted place in the boat by themselves.
33 But the multitudes saw them departing, and many knew Him and ran there on foot from all the cities. They arrived before them and came together to Him. 34 And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things. 35 When the day was now far spent, His disciples came to Him and said, “This is a deserted place, and already the hour is late. 36 Send them away, that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy themselves bread; for they have nothing to eat.”
37 But He answered and said to them, “You give them something to eat.”
And they said to Him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give them something to eat?”
38 But He said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.”
And when they found out they said, “Five, and two fish.”
39 Then He commanded them to make them all sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in ranks, in hundreds and in fifties. 41 And when He had taken the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and the two fish He divided among them all. 42 So they all ate and were filled. 43 And they took up twelve baskets full of fragments and of the fish. 44 Now those who had eaten the loaves were about five thousand men. -Mark 6:30-43

This is the passage the Lord brought to my attention tonight, and I had to share.  Did you notice what it says in verse 31?  The disciples were living such a hectic life of ministry that they didn't even have TIME to eat!  I never noticed that before.

Have you ever felt that way, as a mother with small children?  I know I have.  I remember well those first months of motherhood, when it seemed I was fortunate if I showered and dressed in a day, and even getting food in my body was a serious challenge. I also know how easy it is to use busyness as an excuse for letting our time alone with God slide to the end of our priorities.   How awesome that we see Jesus here, challenging and encouraging the disciples to get away from the crowds for a while and seek the rest and quiet fellowship with Him that they needed.

Funny thing is, it didn't work out so well for them, did it?  I mean they TRIED to get away from the crowds, but then what happens?  The crowds FOLLOWED them.  Sheesh.   There have been times that just for the pleasure of a quiet moment, I have sought the bathroom.  Yes, I admit it.   And even there, I have often found that little people will still come running.  Because toddlers, and little guys, just like the crowds around Jesus apparently, don't have a great understanding of BOUNDARIES. lol It can be easy in that moment to get frustrated, and wonder if there will ever come another moment where someone is not expecting you to meet a need.  That is an exaggeration, of course, but sometimes that is how it FEELS in that moment.

But I love what happens next.  Did Jesus get angry or send the people away?  No, instead we see that
Jesus saw them clearly, through compassion's eyes, and that compassion sparked ACTIONS of love toward these hurting, needy people.  Because he knew that while moments seeking the Father are a blessing and sometimes necessary, Jesus was always seeking to do the will of the Father.  And he recognized what some would consider a major inconvenience, as actually an OPPORTUNITY for God to display His love and care in a miraculous way, and also even a way to once more TEACH the disciples (and boy did they need it.) By making themselves available for God to use them in an unplanned, inconvenient way, the disciples were the ones who benefited the most, because they came to know Jesus more intimately, in seeing His power on display.  What an awesome thing it is to be used by God to bless someone else, and to be a witness to Him working in their life, using you as a vessel of honor to do His work!

While the disciples were focused solely on what resources they could physically see as available to them, Jesus had an understanding of the divine reality that He was in no way limited by the physical realm, but only by God's limitless resources of ministry.  And as He trusted the father, He was able to access what He needed in that moment to minister to those before Him.  That is the kind of relationship I want with my heavenly father.  Not a materialistic view of God, but one where I live in such sweet fellowship with Him, and awareness of His presence in my life, that I don't become impatient or unkind when my family, or others I am called to love, come to me with needs beyond my finite resources and energy.  Instead, I want to immediately take it to God in prayer, and trust Him to meet that need according to HIS will, for that person's life and for mine as well.  I want to be faithful to attempt my best to find time to get alone with God, to meditate on His word, and to be changed.  But when my efforts to get alone with Him are thwarted, I want to recognize His sovereignty in my life and receive with gratitude, not frustration, the divine appointments with people he sends my way, some of them the little people within my own home. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Spiritual "amputation"

“You have heard that it was said to those of old,‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.  -Matthew 5:27-30

 I have been reading a booklet over the last few days by Jay Adams, entitled, Temptation: Applying Radical Amputation to Life's Sinful Patterns.  Some of the ideas I am sharing here are discussed in that booklet, but some of the ideas I am sharing in this post were discussed at the counseling conference I attended last week.  One of the things I took away from the conference was that when we counsel others, we should always strive to get to the root of a behavior, rather than just dealing with eliminating the outward manifestation of that behavior.  Many times, if you can determine what the person is really wanting, you can then determine how to rethink about the issue in a Biblical way, and help them to demolish the idols in their own heart.   The other idea I took away from the conference is the idea that repentance is much more than words.  It involves not just the "putting off" of sinful behaviors, but the "putting on" of right behaviors.  In other words, a thief stops being a thief not just when he quits stealing, but when he becomes generous.   A liar quits being a liar not just when he quits lying, but when he decides to be truthful.  And sometimes, in order to grow in godliness, "spiritual amputation" is necessary. But what does that mean, you ask?

 "Spiritual amputation" is what Jesus is talking about in the opening verses of this post.  Matthew 5 is what I consider one of the greatest chapters of the Bible.   Basically Jesus is teaching in his "sermon on the mount" about how the kingdom of God is supposed to work.  He starts with the beatitudes, which are diametrically opposed to how most of the world's kingdoms operate.  In God's economy, the greatest people are the most humble, the meek,  and basically those who have come to a recognition that they are poor in spirit and need God to equip them and enable them to do His will. The most blessed are those who are hungry for God's truth, because they recognize that they are insufficient within themselves to be a reliable standard for righteousness.  In God's kingdom, the most blessed are those who are persecuted when they have acted righteously on God's behalf, by loving others at cost to themselves.  

Jesus has bigger fish to fry than merely toppling political regimes, like the Roman government.  No, instead Jesus is interested in toppling idols within human hearts.  At this point, he goes on to say that his followers are to be salt  and light in a dark world.   He continues to expound on his points with examples, illustrating that the righteousness that God requires is more than mere outward behaviors; the truth is that these outward behaviors, like adultery and murder, are sins because they are an outward manifestations of the human heart.  He's wanting his listeners to understand that what they need are not just to ACT holy, but to be MADE holy by God, on the inside.   And it's at this point in his sermon that Jesus says the verses I have listed, and he tells us that it is better to cut off a part of yourself, and go to heaven, than to remain wholly intact and burn in hell.  

Jesus isn't speaking literally here, but figuratively.  For the past few days,  I've been reflecting on this concept and how it ties into Biblical repentance.   The word repentance means to stop and go in the opposite direction.  It encompasses so much more than just feeling bad or guilty for doing wrong; it entails agreeing with what God says about sin, and then aligning our thinking with His thinking.  It means becoming wholeheartedly committed to crucifying the flesh and its attempts to be on the throne of our hearts.  

Sometimes, in order to do that, "spiritual amputation" is required.  In this passage, Jesus is indicating how extreme the change might have to be, when he uses the "right eye" and the "right hand" as examples.  Most people are right handed, so it would be a much bigger deal to lose the right hand, or dominant hand, than the left one.  But sometimes, in order to overcome sin, we have to be willing to "handicap" ourselves, so to speak.   For example, in the movie Fireproof, the main character Caleb (played by Kirk Cameron) struggles with a pornography addiction, and at one point in the film, he becomes so determined to overcome his problem that he actually takes a baseball bat to his computer.  This is what I am talking about when I say "spiritual amputation."   When I am struggling to overcome any sin, especially sins which are steeped in habitual behavior patterns, one of the ways I can wage war on sin is by making it very difficult for me to sin on "autopilot."  And that's where spiritual amptutation comes in.  I am willing to deprive myself of something I consider convenient or that makes my life easier, if it means it will make it very difficult for me to engage in sin without consciously thinking about it and having to make a larger than average effort.  

I am praying that God will help me have wisdom to apply this Biblical strategy to my own life, in the battle I am fighting, in conjunction with the Holy Spirit's work in my life,  to manifest God's victory in my life over sin.  I do this, not to earn my salvation, but because I have already been accepted and redeemed by my Savior through his life, death and resurrection as an atonement for my sins, and forsaking those sins is the only reasonable response to this great love that was bestowed on me.  My desire to please God is so great that I am willing to sacrifice convenience and/or comfort in order to be more like Christ.  I am not always there yet, to be honest, but that is the goal.  That is where I want to be.  The idea of progressive sanctification, of Overcoming sin,  should be one of the expected consequences and fruits of every believer's conversion.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Limiting Facebook....ugh

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. -Phillipians 4:8-9

I have been thinking on this verse the last few days. The last week I spent at a Biblical counseling conference in Indiana, being trained to help both myself and others to think biblically about their life and problems. And I have also been considering the way I try to reach out to others, and how effective those things I do are. One of those things is facebook.

Now, I am not trying to bash facebook. Facebook is not good or bad, of itself. It's like the internet; it's just a tool.. And people can use tools for good or evil. What God has been reminding me of, though, is that I want to, as the verse above says, think on things that are “true.” That means not just seeing the side of something that people want to present, but the whole picture. It means seeing the best in someone, but also being able to see the painful realities in a way that edifies and uplifts the other person. It means being willing to weep with those who weep, and laugh with those who laugh. I think there is a tendency on facebook, because of the way the medium works, for people to show only their best moments, and not to be honest in sharing their struggles or real hurts. Again, I am generalizing here, because there are certainly exceptions. And I think this is a tendency for all of life, not just facebook, but because of the way that facebook is shared in status posts and short snippets of a pictures of someone's day, it seems to be more vulnerable to this being the case than other methods of friendship building. The end result of this is that instead of getting an accurate picture of the whole person, we get a one sided view, that at times neither edifies or uplifts anyone.

Life is not meant to be a spectator sport. With that in mind, I have decided to keep my facebook, but plan to be on there in a much more limited capacity. While there have been times facebook has been a valuable ministry and relationship building tool, more often than not it has been a timesuck in my life, and distracted and hindered me from building REAL relationships with people. Truth is, I love every one of my facebook friends, though I am limited by geography and time in expressing that love, as well as by the other person's willingness to receive that love. What I wish is that I could know each of my fb friends in a real, life transforming way for both of us. I wish I could have families over for dinner, and that I could talk with the ladies I know, individually, over a cup of coffee, and we could chat, and share our struggles, and if they had something that would help me in life, I would listen, and if I had something to help them in life, they would listen. And not just listen; that is unsatisfying. But that we would both be DOERS of the knowledge that would help us grow. And both of us would prayerfully change and grow. But that isn't what happens on Facebook most of the time. Many times I put things up, and instead of it being life transforming, as I long for it to be, it becomes another “soundbite”, another fragmented thought for people to argue over or examine, apart from the context of real relationship. And the fruit I see from that has been, frankly, discouraging. There is nothing more frustrating to me than sharing a thought that has really ministered to me, only to find that because the other person has not been in my life or heard that thought in the context of real relationship, the ideas become twisted and deformed from what I meant them to be, and meaningless, endless debating and arguing is the only result, it seems. I have very little patience with that sort of thing. I have little drive to force my beliefs on others, or to try to convince someone who has already decided they need nothing from me, but only wish to argue for the sake of arguing, or even to use my wall as a soapbox for their personal agenda.  Respectful debate of ideas has its place in life, but it can also be pointless if the other person only wishes to change others, but never wishes to learn or grow themselves.

I confess, however, that Facebook used as another means to grow real relationships can be a wonderful thing.  I have seen it do that in instances where it has allowed me to keep contact with old high school and college friends; for example, several college friends I had not seen in years even showed up at the hospital to see us when Joseph was at Vanderbilt last summer. I know that it can mobilize prayer for people.  When we are lonely and people are real, it can be a tool to remind us that others are having similar struggles and we are not all alone. I have also enjoyed private conversations with friends on facebook messaging that have ministered and encouraged me. So I am not slamming facebook; if I were, I would be removing my account entirely. But I'm not. I am just hungry for more, and facebook isn't meeting my needs, or helping me to meet many of the needs of others I see who are actually the ones God has put around me, to build deeper relationships and grow in discipleship.

With that in mind, I believe I am entering a new phase of my use of facebook. I will be uninstalling my facebook app on my phone, and while this means that I won't be sharing pictures (the downside for me in uninstalling it, since I share to bless relatives who are far away), I am hoping it will work to aid me in limiting the amount of time I am on the internet. It's far too easy to click on my phone, in a spare moment, and surf my home screen on facebook, rather than to sit and engage in the world around me. I will also be removing my game apps, like Words with Friends, again, not because they are all evil or bad, but because FOR ME the times I use them are usually times that I could be seeking to be involved in what's going on around me, and I feel very convicted about that. At the same time, I am not just going to be limiting facebook and other internet. I am going to attempt to replace them with working toward intentional, deeper relationship building with those God puts around me. I am praying God will send me ladies to love in this capacity as well, both inside my church and out. I am planning to facilitate a book group/Bible study in my home on a monthly basis to have real, face to face interaction. I am going to be doing more regular date nights with my kids (I already do with Joe), and also some of that time I will replace with reading books on growing and counseling and helping others. I am also praying God will help me to more intentionally build relationship with my kids.  

I will still be on facebook from time to time, but I will no longer be posting as frequently. I will continue to share links to my blog as I post, however, and lurking from time to time. Emails will be a more reliable form of communication, however. :)

Why am I sharing this? For a couple reasons. First of all, I want prayer, because I need discernment and discipline to be aggressive in doing the will of God in my life, and I don't want to miss divine appointments or opportunities. And discipline is one of those fruits of the spirit I am sorely lacking. Secondly,  I want people to know that if they are feeling empty or disconnected, that they are not alone.  Thirdly, the best thing I think we can do is take our focus off ourselves and be the proactive person to reach out beyond ourselves to others. It is all too easy to complain that others aren't being open and reaching out to us, but it isn't really helpful to making our situations better. And I would rather be open and honest about my struggles, and make a move toward someone that results in people rejecting me, but eventually I will find the people who will love me and walk with me, than be the hypocrite who complains that no one cares, but in effect I am doing the same thing because I keep myself closed off from others. And truthfully, I can say from my facebook wall, there are many, many other people out there who are open and honest and want real relationships.  Some of them may be as lost as I am about how to achieve those kinds of relationships. But clueless or not, I am going to make the effort to try.

Hopefully, when I have achieved a better balance in my life, I will be able to return to Facebook in a larger capacity, posting again, without it becoming the behemoth time sucker that it has often been. Until then, if you are a facebook friend, and you are interested in possibly getting together to do a book club on growth/bible study once a month, then contact me by email and I will let you know when I have a date set.

Want to know the funny thing about the verse I shared at the beginning? If you look at the rest of the chapter, the context of that verse is relationships: our relationship with God first, but also, our relationship with others. The first part of the chapter immediately preceding the above verse says this:

Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved.
I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life.
Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!
Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.
Be anxious for nothing, 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 minds through Christ Jesus.

Then listen to the verses following the verses that I quoted earlier:

But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress. Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God. And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Now to our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.
Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, but especially those who are of Caesar’s household.

Do you see that? We need our relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ to be deep enough, authentic enough, that we are invested in each other's lives. And that won't happen, for me, if I am not willing to step out and open myself to other people, even their rejection. And I don't say that in a trite manner; I have known plenty of that in the past, and I am sure I will know it it in the future. But it's irrelevant to the calling God has on my life to love others.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Character qualities for Close Friendship

One of my favorite characters in literature is Anne of Green Gables.  I especially love the relationship that Anne has with her friend Diana Barry, whom she calls her "bosom friend."  That kind of friendship is the rarest, most precious treasure of friendship that we can have, I think.

I have had the privilege of having some really close, "heart-to-heart" friendships with other women that God has brought into my life, but I will be honest in saying it's been a LONG time since I have had that kind of relationship.  Joe and I have reached a great place in our marriage, and for that I feel incredibly blessed and thankful, but I don't believe anyone apart from God is meant to fill EVERY need in our lives.  Joe is not my savior, nor would it be realistic, or even healthy, for me to expect him to be.  It's taken me a while to figure that one out, I admit.

So, while I am not lonely in my marriage, I confess that I would like to cultivate God-honoring, deeper friendships with at least a few ladies to hold each other accountable, to help me to grow into a more Godly wife and mom, and to just spur each other on to good works in Him.  I've had trouble at times in the past in recognizing when a relationship I had with someone was one that I could pursue as a deeper relationship, and when someone didn't really want to be more than an acquaintance.  Thinking about this made me consider what qualities I would be looking for in the kind of friend I am talking about, and then the idea of making a list of those qualities appealed to me, in order to clarify what I am looking for in a deeper friendship, and hopefully it will call out to those ladies I know who might be hungry for this as well.   So without further ado, here are the qualities I am looking for in a close friendship with other ladies, and that I also would wish to cultivate in myself to be the kind of friend that I would want to have:

1.  First off, you have to WANT to have close friends yourself, and not feel satisfied by what friendships you already have, that you have closed yourself off to additional, deeper friendships.  This is NOT an attack on those who already have close friends and want no more; I recognize that we all have limits to what we are able to handle and maintain with regards to relationships, and sometimes the fact of the matter is that some people have no more room in their heart or life for any more additional close friendships.  I get that.  While I do think in a more general way people, most especially Christians, should seek to be inclusive rather than exclusive where they are able,   I  don't expect that everyone I meet should make room for me to be in their "inner circle".  Even Jesus chose the apostles, and from then, he had an inner circle of guys that he was more intentional about pouring his life into.  If this is how he was in life, why would I expect to be different?  So if you are reading this post, and your life is too full already, I understand, but apparently we are not called to be best friends.

2.  I value true tolerance, coupled with honesty, truth seeking, and humility.  In other words, if you want to be my bestie, you do NOT have to live your life just like me.  You can work 9 to 5, your kids can go to public school, you can eat cereal and Dominoes for dinner every night of the week , you can be an organic vegan tofu foodie, or you can be better at me than housekeeping (which isn't hard to be, actually lol), you can be a Democrat or Republican (I am libertarian, but I digress), you can have NO children or one child or twenty children, dye your hair purple and be covered in piercings and tattoos (which I find unattractive and don't see the draw of, but again, is irrelevant to my point),  you can be divorced or single or married (though I'd prefer if you weren't married to the mob, but again I digress), you can believe evolution is true or intelligent design.  Here is the deal: you can be almost anything that I am not, so long as you RESPECT what I am, and we are able to TALK about our different points of view without name calling, and you are OPEN to new ideas and wanting to learn something.  If your automatic assumption is that all Christian, homeschooling moms of four or more kids are judgemental and insane, that only backwoods hillbillies who have the IQ of a piece of lint teach their children about creation science, and the lifestyle God has CALLED me to live for MY family offends you, then we are going to have trouble finding common ground.  If every time someone questions something in your life, you get offended that they DARE to say a decision you have made might be detrimental to you, then we also have problems.  I have no issue with people who believe differently than me, when someone I care about brings a concern to me, I try my best to listen to what they are saying, unless they try to FORCE their way upon me or belittle me for being different.  There has to atleast be common ground of mutual respect for each other to have any meaningful relationship.  True tolerance doesn't demand that we all be exactly the same; it says that we can strive to live side by side and pray for one another, even if we disagree or even think the other person is wrong about something.  It says we can discuss and think through ideas, and be humble enough to respect when we disagree, and expect to learn from others.   I want to have friends that challenge me to grow as a person, and even help me to grow in my faith by thinking about things and really examining the reasons I do what I do, and think what I think.  But if it's totally one sided, if they think the only reason they want close to me is to change me, but never honestly receive anything themselves, then I don't see how the friendship will be that beneficial.

3. I will say I am really hoping that the Lord will bring some other Christian ladies in my life, to have this sort of friendship with, that we can help each other grow in our faith.  I don't mean that is a requirement to be my friend, or even a close friend that I will love deeply, just for me, it would be a blessing to have a friend of like faith, one who also WANTS to grow in their walk with the Lord, and KNOWING Him more and more.  And for this particular kind of friend, I would love for us to have the common ground of LOVING the WORD OF GOD more than our own opinions and ideas.  Sometimes, as a Christian, it can feel like the culture, and even cultural Christianity, are at odds with my faith.  It would be wonderful to have a friend who prayed with me, and valued growth in their walk as much as I did.

4. To be a heart friend, you have to be willing to be VULNERABLE, and AUTHENTIC.  If you are unwilling to admit you have struggles, or questions, or that you sometimes have problems, if you are one of those people who thrives on public appearances and a positive public image, then I am probably not the best friend you want or need.  At the same time, it'd be great to find a person like that who also likes to laugh and looks to have joy and have fun in life.   If we can spur each other onward to contentment in all things, but also see areas of life that need improvement and spur each other on to that as well, then that would be pretty much awesome.

5.  You have to be willing to care about my concerns and needs as well as your own passionate projects.  By this, I mean I think it's great if you have something you feel strongly about; I have those things too.  Isn't finding a cure for Crohn's disease at the top of everyone's list of important things? Also, I think homeschooling is awesome.  Oh wait, you mean not everyone feels that way?  Well, that's okay.  I can respect that your life may revolve around other things than mine.  But if the only time you really care about interacting with me is when I try to understand the passion you feel for your particular passion, then probably we won't be heart friends.  We can be friends who like each other and understand a common passion together, but heart friends like each other for themselves, not just that the other person will listen to them talk ad nausiem about their one particular cause or passion.   This is an area of particular concern in my search for heart friends, because I have been misled in the past.  I have formed friendships with people in the past, sought to understand them through their passionate cause of choice, only to figure out that the care they felt for me was limited to the degree I was interested in their hobby, or cause, or even network marketing company.  There is nothing wrong with sales; it's an honorable profession.  But if you feel that the only way I will be able to grow in fellowship with you is to embrace this secondary thing you do, then it's probably good for me to know that upfront, accept our relationship for what it is (which is fine, in its proper place), and move on to continue looking for those who are willing to be selfless enough to put as much energy in knowing me and loving me as a person, without gain to their cause, as I want to know them.

6.  If you want to be my heart friend, don't marginalize my sacrifices in life, and I'll try not to marginalize yours either.  In other words, don't say, when you hear I have six kids, "Oh wow, you must have the patience of Mother Theresa! I could never do that!  I would just go insane with that many kids, trapped with them at home all day!"  First off, if God calls you to do something, he equips you to do it.  That doesn't, however, mean it's all smooth sailing, or that things won't be hard some days.  I make sacrifices to do what I do.  I know that other people, who have made different choices than I have made, have made their own kinds of sacrifices.  How about if we just accept that God is doing sometimes different things in our lives, and that looks different for different people? I can't imagine what it's like to be a single parent, or a woman whose husband is deployed, or any myriad of things, but I make it my goal to try to understand best as I can, and not trivialize their sacrifices by saying how I am too good to ever be in their shoes.  Since I don't know what the future holds, it would require an immense amount of pride for me to do that. 

5. Walking in love and forgiveness is an essential trait of being a heart friend.  If you are one of those people that holds a grudge forever, then it's going to be really hard for our friendship to grow.  I am going to mess up, and make mistakes, and say something stupid.  And so are you.  If we know each other long enough, the flaws and any sin issues we have are going to be exposed.  And growth is messy.  I want to know that we can have permission to be imperfect and make mistakes, but be slow to anger and quick to forgive.

6. If we are going to be heart friends, gossip will have no place in our relationship.  I want to know  when we share our flaws, that they will not be used as weapons.  No one is perfect, and as someone who has a big mouth, I know what it is to say something you regret.  But I want to know that we will both value keeping a confidence, and that we will strive to see not just the best in each other, but in others as well.

7. The last thing I would really like in a heart friend involves geography, but it isn't the most essential thing.  It would just be really helpful if said friend lived close enough we could actually hang out sometimes.  IF you live farther away, that's okay too, if you are willing to call or visit or just put forth effort to maintain the friendship.  I have several good friends, that were heart friends at one time, but now due to geography and the busyness of our lives, we just are not as emotionally close as we used to be.  And that is just life; I am as much to blame as they are.  I know they know I love them, and they love me.  We are just at different places in our lives now, and that's how life is.

I am posting this, hoping that there are others out there, especially locally, who maybe want that kind of friendship too.  I am hoping soon to start a Bible study soon in my home with ladies who are looking for just that kind of friendship.  If that interests you, let me know by private message.  If it doesn't, that's fine too.  I would appreciate prayer though; I sincerely want to be intentional about loving and building relationships with those God has called me to love, and I need Him to show me and give me discernment and wisdom in this area. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

RPG game update

I thought I would take a minute, while I am sick, to update about my rpg game that is supposed to help me succeed in real life.(our whole clan has been battling a head cold since last Friday, and I am one of the last to fall victim to the plague of 2014.  As I type, my youngest son David has been laying beside me, also convalescing.  This morning, he has also been throwing up, so I am hoping it's just nausea related to congestion, and not an additional stomach virus.)  I blogged about starting the game a couple times back, so go back and read that if you have no idea what I am talking about.  The upside of me being sick is yay, you, lucky reader, get MULTIPLE posts from me today.  I know, I know. 

Anyway, I have already killed the sucker a week in. lol My firstborn is doing the game as well, and she says I set my standards too high for goals to reach on my habits and dailies.  I will say one of the things I check off everyday is "drink coffee."  That is my one gimme check each day, as well as "shower/dress".  lol But I have also set goals like wake up with Joe, read my Bible and pray, work out for 30 minutes,  do a load of laundry and move it to the dryer, as well as checking off all the indidual homeschool work I have to do with each child, like Dave's reading lessons, Jon and Rebekah's grammar and math work, meeting with Joseph and Kate to go over their independent work progress, and read aloud time each day and science with the younger kids.  The homeschool work gets done, the coffee drinking and Bible time usually do as well, and I also am doing pretty well at menu planning and making sure meals are fixed.  Housework is sometimes a struggle to stay on top of, and so is exercising.  I suppose that, coupled with the fact that I have been the one in best shape for much of the weekend and early part of the week, with Joe, Kate, and Rebekah not feeling well, has been the reason for the death of nightelfmohawklady, as I have affectionately named her.

The upside to rpg games is I immediately revived her, and while I am sick, I put her in an "inn" to rest, so while I am recovering I don't kill her again.  It's funny to me how my life often dovetails with what God shows me in my quiet times, and sermons I hear and such.   I mean, I have been really giving my utmost to go after knowing God with my whole heart, and then BAM we get hit with sickness again.  I start to feel discouraged, and question why these hardships are coming again, and he speaks to me through Exodus yesterday (my last post, which got posted this morning.)  He gently reminds me to trust Him to bring me through, and to rely on His strength, not my own.  I will be quick to cry out to Him, but strive to be slow to complain.  Haha, but it's not a "natural" response for me to be supernaturally joyful when kids are puking, I am sick, and life still is moving forward.  What is cool is seeing how God still provides in the midst of this stuff.  My eldest has a job now, and I was dreading the thought of having to drag myself into the car to drive her to work, but turns out her boss is sick as well, and because someone else would be teaching the Lego class in his place, he gave her the option to show up at the school or miss today.  With the sickness going around, I chose that she could miss.  So God just made it easy for my schedule to clear a little bit.  It's the little things like that, that I notice lately. 

The awesome thing, to me, about trusting God in circumstances, is that in doing so, you are no longer limited by the laws of cause and effect, or even your own resources.  I know that when God has called me to do something, he will make a way for me to do it.  Because really it will be him doing it THROUGH me, not me really doing it at all.

I'm still praying about the rpg game app.  I'm not sure yet if it's helping me, or hindering me.  The little avatar, decked out in battle gear amuses me.   And I am so nerdy; I admit, I get a little thrill when I check a box and it rewards me with coins in the game to buy more weapons and battle gear.  The problem for me, sometimes, is I have always struggled with a  tendency to validate my worth based on my performance.  So I am not sure if a game like this might encourage that for me personally, or if I am mature enough now to let it motivate me, without feeling worthless if I am not doing "well", or earning "coins" for getting things accomplished in real life.  Silly, huh?

When I consider how old I am, and how often I struggle to be disciplined in sometimes such basic ways, I get discouraged and frustrated.  But when I consider all that God has done in my life, in spite of me, and all the ways He has shown His love to me, and the growth that has occurred, however small at times, I feel encouraged greatly.   The two biggest disciplinary nemeses in my life are regularly exercising, and being disciplined with regards to setting a schedule for myself, and following it.  I have come to see that while I am most definitely a gal who is nerdy in loving to check a box, in my personality I am actually more of a free, creative, artistic spirit than I ever realized.  In that regard, I am not much of a Martha.  So maybe my blog should be named Being Martha, becoming Mary.  lol I am only Martha in that I must discipline myself continuously to keep Christ at the center of my life, and to not let busyness crowd him out of first place.

Calibrating True North

This morning, during my quiet time, I have started reading Exodus again, as I just finished the book of Genesis.  This morning I reread Exodus 5-7.  Moses and Aaron approached Pharoah for the first time, to tell him to let the Hebrew slaves go and worship God in the wilderness, and instead of letting them go, he increases the workload of the slaves.  Here is a portion of what I read in Exodus 5:15 all the way to Exodus 6:1: 

 Then the foremen of the people of Israel came and cried to Pharaoh, “Why do you treat your servants like this?  No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, ‘Make bricks!’ And behold, your servants are beaten; but the fault is in your own people.”  But he said, “You are idle, you are idle; that is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’   Go now and work. No straw will be given you, but you must still deliver the same number of bricks.”   The foremen of the people of Israel saw that they were in trouble when they said, “You shall by no means reduce your number of bricks, your daily task each day.”  They met Moses and Aaron, who were waiting for them, as they came out from Pharaoh;  and they said to them, “The Lord look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”
Then Moses turned to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.”

 But the Lord said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he will send them out, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land.”

I was thinking this morning as I read this, about how we as Christians are to accurately judge if we are truly following God, or if we are not.  How do we know what is right and what is wrong?

That thought led me to think about true north.  I mean, if you are in a room full of people and you ask people which direction is north, you might actually get a bunch of different answers, if people don't know.  But that doesn't change the fact that there is actually a correct answer.  It might be confusing, though, if you're in that room, and people are pointing in different directions.  Sometimes, life is like that.

It's evident in our culture to me as well; we as a people seem to have lost our bearings on how to discern what is right and wrong.  At times, we confuse moral ambiguity with compassion, and other times we confuse legalism with holiness.  However, when you talk about right and wrong, you have to first believe there IS, in fact, right and wrong.  And while there are some people who will argue that point today, most of us still have a basic sense that some things are just evil, or wicked.  But even once you have decided you concur with the idea that there is good and evil, right and wrong, then you have to decide what SOURCE you will use to determine what is right and wrong.

Whether people are honest about it or not, everyone who believes in the idea of good and evil has to have someone or something they use to judge what is, and is not, evil.  Some people use their feelings as a standard of righteousness, while others seem to adhere to the idea that if the majority of people feels something is morally okay, then it is.  But feelings are fickle, as are cultures.  If there truly is an absolute truth of right and wrong, and I believe there is, then there has to be a better way to judge that than by depending on our feelings, or what the culture says about what is okay, and what is not.  When I look at history, I see example after example of times where a government (including our own; I read to my children just the other day about the trail of tears, for example), has sanctioned and given their proverbial blessing on the mistreatment of a people group.

For me, the most realable standard I have found has been the Bible, in its entirety, and most especially the life of Jesus.   There are books written, much more eloquently than I could express, laying out how the Bible came to us, and the basis for faith in it as the inspired word of God, as well as books that discuss the life of Christ and the way he fulfilled so many of the prophecies spoken about the Jewish Messiah.   So my goal in this post is not to rehash that, or even argue with someone about it.  What I do find frustrating, however, is when I see comments or statements made by people who claim to be followers of Christ, but most of the things they adhere to or stand by as right and wrong appear to be based on their feelings or culture, not a knowledge of God's word. I say that is how it appears, because when you ask them WHY they believe what they believe, they have little support to give to their beliefs Biblically, but will tell you all the reasons why a loving God could NEVER be any other way.  In other words, they are relying on their feelings as a yardstick to measure God's justice and holiness.   But if we are to truly be a people who claim follow Jesus, we should make it our goal to think Biblically in all things, as he did, not to just be comfortable with something because the church culture says it, or our friends are okay with it, or even just because a preacher we like says something, but to KNOW what the Bible says and know WHY we think what we think.  I am no Bible scholar, but I don't think you have to be to study the Bible, and receive something from it.  I do think it requires care not to take just one verse and build a whole doctrine on it, but to look at the whole thing, at patterns and the things I see God saying over and over.  I never want to assume that just because a prophet or person God used in the Bible did something, that makes it sanctioned by God as right, or even the "holy way" of doing things.  David was an adulterer; that does not mean that God condoned adultery.  It just means that God uses sinners, which all of us are, to bring his plans and purposes to pass. 

Another way that people determine if they are on the right path sometimes, is by the circumstances of their life.  An assumption that can be easy to make, especially and most usually when life is going swimmingly for the individual making the assumption, is that if you are doing the right things,  you will be blessed with all the right outcomes, and not have to experience many trials or hardships in life.  Now, I will admit, when I read the Bible, I do see a pattern that blessings follow obedience.  In other words, when people are obedient to do things the way God wants them done, they do often avoid some of the pain which sin can bring into life.  For example, if I am a businessman, and I choose to run my business with honesty and integrity,  then I will  hopefully never endure the pain of going to jail for fraudulent business dealings, and I will have the respect of others who deal with me, and enjoy a good reputation in my community as an honest, upright man.  That is the general principle, I believe, which often comes to pass.  At the same time, doing things God's way is NOT a guarantee of success.  Nor does it ensure that you will not suffer unjustly.  In fact, if you are not only trying to live your life in a way that pleases God, but also actually seeking to love God and others well, and you have an intense passion to know Him more, then the pattern the Bible sets for those types of people is very different in some ways from the standard pattern of blessings following obedience.  The blessings from God still follow, but the persecution from the world, and the onslaught of trials, and hardships, actually seems to increase exponentially.

As I read the passage in Exodus, that was what I noticed.  God is on a path to deliver his people, and the path is not going to be all sun and flowers.  In fact, at the initial stage, things may seem to get worse, not better.   The good news for the Hebrew slaves, if they would have listened, is that God KNEW it was going to get worse before it got better, and He was not taken by surprise.  He actually proclaimes to his people that Pharoah wouldn't listen, and that He was planning to use Pharoah's hardness of heart as a way to show the Egyptians, and His own people, and ultimately the world, that He truly is the Lord, and that He alone is worthy of honor and glory.  And then He sets out to do that spectacularly.

The tragedy for the children of Israel in this story is NOT that they are slaves, enduring persecution.  The real tragedy is that when God begins to deliver them, they respond with murmuring and complaining, focused only on their immediate circumstances instead of the amazing fact that the God of the universe is acting on their behalf to deliver them.  The sole focus of the Hebrew taskmasters is the physical reality they see, not the spiritual reality that Moses has told them is going to come to pass.   And this is not a one time occurrence; over and over in Exodus, and in other books of the Bible as well, we see the pattern of God's people being so focused on their immediate circumstances that they whine and complain about God's provision, and put no trust in Him as their provider and protector.  Which, when you think about it, is pretty crazy.  He is the God of the Universe.  He knows the end from the beginning.  He fulfilled prophecy after prophecy.  He creates life with only the words of His mouth as tools.  Truly.

Hubris being what it is, it's always an easy thing to observe the behaviors of other humans in the Bible, to see their folly exposed, and to assume that we ouselves would never be so foolish.  When we are angry, it's righteous indignation, of course.  When we complain about our spouse, for example,  we rarely see it as an issue of our sin, but of theirs.  When we murmur about the tribulations we go through,  we're not questioning God's provision in our life.  At least, that is what we tell ourselves.

But when we begin to recognize ourselves in the story of the Hebrew slaves, when we come to God and acknowledge to Him that, "actually, yes God, I have murmured and complained.  I have questioned your provision in my life."  When we repent and ask God to help us trust Him anew, because we recognize that with regards to our own stories, we are not at the end of the book yet, so to speak, then we can begin to truly experience the blessings that follow the obedience, that often come in the midst of trials and unjust suffering, and sometimes because of them.   The awesome thing is that once we as Christians begin to get a handle on this, life becomes more of an adventure and less of a drudgery.  Even the hard parts become more bearable, because we know that God is just writing our story.  Our job is not to figure out all the answers, but to trust and obey, and to enjoy the ride.  The single greatest blessing any human can have bestowed upon them is to be called a friend of God, and to be a witness to the world of His glory, majesty, and power.  What an awesome privilege it is to sit back, popcorn in hand, and watch our God do wonders.  And he still does.

Don't lose heart, believer, if trials have come.  Examine your life, repent of sin and strive always to walk closer with Him who will never leave or forsake you.  And when the trials come because you are serving Him, rejoice!  Hallelujah! He who began a good work in you is going to finish what He started.  Sometimes his processes may seem painful, sometimes they may not make sense to us, but we can trust Him.  He is good.  He loves us.  Remember the great and mighty things He has done in the past, and see that the outcomes themselves prove this truth to be so.  No one would think to look at the clay on a potter's wheel, still in the process of being shaped and formed, and judge the artistic ability of the potter.   Yet this is how we view God.   We are still being shaped and formed, and we want an answer RIGHT NOW for the suffering and hardships we endure.   But that is not how it works, friend.  God is our "true north" in life, and we must always recalibrate our life to orient toward Him, not the other way around.  

That is what I see in these verses I shared, and I hope it encourages someone else.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Have you ever felt forgotten?

Yet the chief cupbearerer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him. -Genesis 40:23
 After TWO WHOLE YEARS, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile,  -Genesis 41:1, the very next verse)

Today, I read Genesis 40-42, basically the story of Joseph's journey from a prisoner in Pharoah's prison, to his rise as the one in Egypt second only to Pharoah in power and rule.   The thing that really caught my eye today were the verses I highlighted above.  All along, Joseph was being faithful with the responsibilities God had given him to do, and using his gifts and talents to be a blessing to those around him.  Up to this point in this story, it seems like Joseph is just continually getting the short end of the stick.  He even gives the cupbearer and the baker the interpretation of their dreams, and asks the cupbearer to remember him when he is restored to his place in Pharoah's house.  But no.  Instead, this verse tells us that TWO WHOLE YEARS pass before anyone remembers Joseph. 

 For us, it is the span of two verses, that we read in an instant.  But for Joseph, I wonder how slowly that time passed.  I wonder how often the temptation crept in to doubt God, or to wonder if God had forgotten him.  As I read these passages, one of my favorite psalms came to mind, Psalm 13.  It is a pretty short psalm, one written by David, and it begins,

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
    light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
    lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

I always liked this psalm, because I could identify with it.  I mean, sometimes, it is a painful thing to wait on the Lord.  Especially when you feel forgotten.  

Maybe you are the girl who is still single, and the greatest desire of your heart is to marry a  young man.  And you are watching all your friends marry, you are being the bridesmaid at all the weddings, and meanwhile, there is no young man in site for you.  So you keep trudging on, to school or to work, day in, day out, and wondering why others make falling in love with the right person look so easy.  I am not that young anymore, but I remember feeling that way at one time. 

Maybe marriage isn't the issue at all. Maybe, like me, you have struggled with the two headed beast of anxiety, or depression.   Maybe you had a dream at one time, like Joseph, but instead of living that dream, your life feels like a treadmill of work and eating and sleeping.  Or maybe, for no reason you can pinpoint, you just struggle to get up in the morning, because it feels like you are living underneath a cloud of sadness.

Or maybe you are married, but childless.  And for months, or years (though when you are waiting on something, months can often FEEL like years), you have attended baby showers for your friends, and made dinners for those friends when their babies came, and hoped and prayed for a child of your own.  And no child has come.  yet.  But when your arms are empty, while you watch others' arms so full, that waiting can feel like forever.  And though you can keep the doubts at bay most days, on some days it's harder, and you wonder: has God forgotten me, or does he really care about my pain at all?

Or maybe you have a child, but instead of the dreams you envisioned for that child of a normal, healthy life, you are instead watching that child struggle, day in, day out, with a life-altering disease, say for instance,  Crohn's disease.  I will use our experience here, because it is what I know, but it could be any diagnosis, like juvenile diabetes, or asthma, or even as rare as renal HSP.  Whatever it is, I know God is a healer, and he still works miracles.  I believe he guides us as parents to help our children.  But sometimes, for whatever reason, God holds back.  You are waiting, and trusting, and your child is still struggling.  And you watch, and it hurts so bad to watch, you wish that YOU were the one struggling to breathe, or having stomach aches.  Because what you want for your kid is that they can be well, that they won't have to deal with inhalers and nebulizers, with medications and colonoscopies and NG feeding tubes, with specialists  and wheelchairs.  So you read, you study, you get advice left and right (some of it conflicting, by the way), but ultimately, you know it is in God's hands.  And while others around you seem to think nothing of taking their kids to the park, you realize that your life has changed fundamentally, and things that used to be no big deal feel like planning an expedition.  And the temptation is there, to doubt and to wonder: has God forgotten me? 

Or maybe, it's worse than that.  And I admit, I have never gone through this, but I have loved those who have, and my heart has ached for them.  Maybe you are the parent of a child who is now in the arms of Jesus.  I can't begin to fathom the pain of missing them, or the hole that must fill your heart.  It seems unendurable to me, and it is easy for those like me who have never experienced such loss to whitewash over it, to breeze past it.   Because, frankly, pain makes most of us uncomfortable.  We want to sail onward to the happy ending, not sit with you in the sackcloth and ashes.  But for you, the reminders are there daily.  And God is faithful; he can indeed give the garments of praise for the garments of mourning; he can give you peace in the midst of deep despair.  He can work supernaturally in your heart to cause you to dance when the world says you should be on your face in the dust.  I have seen him do this, for dear friends.  But that doesn't mean there won't be any dark days, or it won't still hurt to miss them.  I am sure the temptation is there, to ask that question at times: Has God forgotten me? 

I have never lived all these situations, but only a few of them.  I have never been in prison, like Joseph in the Bible.  But that doesn't change the answer the Bible has given me here: the answer, my friend, is NO!  God has NOT forgotten you!  We  should not judge God's love for us by our circumstances, but by His word.  And that is why we need His word, day in, and day out: to remind us and to transform our thinking, so that when the trials come (I said WHEN, not IF), we will persevere in them, and our faith will be such that we will be able to say, like the Psalmist in Psalm 13, when he has remembered and reminds himself:

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. 

 I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.

The thing I see in Joseph's story, also, in Genesis 40-42, is that with the plans of God, no pain is pointless, for the child of God.  When we give our heartaches, and our struggles to Him, when we submit ourselves to him in faith, he doesn't promise immediate deliverance, but he does promise he will not leave us or forsake us; he will walk with us through every struggle and trial.  And we cry out to him, he will give us peace that passes understanding.  And he will use every trial, every struggle, if we give it to Him, for our good and His glory.    And best of all, he will open our eyes more fully to all the ways he has indeed dealt bountifully with us, even in the midst of pain and suffering.  

We may be like Corrie ten Boom's sister, who praised God for fleas in the concentration camps during WWII.  In Corrie's book the Hiding Place, Corrie writes, 

We lay back, struggling against the nausea that swept over us from the reeking straw.

..Suddenly I sat up, striking my head on the cross-slats above. Something had pinched my leg.

“‘Fleas!’ I cried. ’Betsie, the place is swarming with them!’

“‘Here! And here another one!’ I wailed. ‘Betsie, how can we live in such a place!’

“‘Show us. Show us how.’ It was said so matter of factly it took me asecond to realize she was praying. More and more the distinction between prayer and the rest of life seemed to be vanishing for Betsie.

“‘Corrie!’ she said excitedly. ’He’s given us the answer! Before we asked, as He always does! In the Bible this morning. Where was it? Read that part again!’

“I glanced down the long dim aisle to make sure no guard was in sight, then drew the Bible from its pouch. ‘It was in First Thessalonians,’ I said. We were on our third complete reading of the New Testament since leaving Scheveningen.

“In the feeble light I turned the pages. ‘Here it is: “Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all…’” It seemed written expressly to Ravensbruck.

“‘Go on,’ said Betsie. ‘That wasn’t all.’

“‘Oh yes:’…“Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.’”

“‘That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. “Give thanks in all circumstances!” That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!’ I stared at her; then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.

“‘Such as?’ I said.

“‘Such as being assigned here together.’

“I bit my lip. ‘Oh yes, Lord Jesus!’

“‘Such as what you’re holding in your hands.’ I looked down at the Bible.

“‘Yes! Thank You, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here! Thank You for all these women, here in this room, who will meet You in these pages.’

“‘Yes,’ said Betsie, ‘Thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!’

She looked at me expectantly. ‘Corrie!’ she prodded.

“‘Oh, all right. Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed suffocating crowds.’

“‘Thank You,’ Betsie went on serenely, ‘for the fleas and for–“The fleas! This was too much. ‘Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.’

“‘Give thanks in all circumstances,’ she quoted. It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.

“And so we stood between tiers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.”