Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A Stormy Season

I don't even know what hit me or where it came from.  Only that it left me dazzed and threatened to alter my course.  Now that the dust has settled I can finally recognize what it is, a test of my faith.

A storm in the air, my family rushed out the door to a local park where we unfurled a kite.  Before long, it rode with the wind, dipping, curling, frolicing, and catching the light.  Each of us took turns holding the handles, feeling the tension on the lines and the energy in the air. Delightful!

Since that day, we've had many tumultous winds, yet, the kite sits in the closet.  Safe.  And I thought about faith. Certainly, I don't want to miss the joy God has for me by sitting in the closet!  And so I venture out into these trials, even though there are no answers, and in some cases, no end. Everything in me wants to resist and to sulk in the closet.  Yet, I will never see God's glory if I stay here.  Faith is the kite that ventures out to catch the winds!

I noticed something as we were flying our kite that blustery day.  None of us focused on our hands. Instead, we were always following the line of the string, looking up, and up, and up, until our necks were sore from all that tilting.  Likewise, the struggle of the last few months has caused me to notice something about faith.  It always looks forward and upward to our heavenly home.  Sometimes the pain can be so large that all I see is my own hands and they shout feeble insufficiency.  In this place is only fear and defeat where my soul aches and longs to be set free, for it knows this is not the life I was meant to live.  And yet, the tension on the lines is necessary for faith to fly.

The strings wound up on these handles, though amazingly thin, are strong and connect me to hope. There is glory at the end of this wad, if only I have the courage to unwind the tangle to the One who is in control of all things. Surely, this very trial was divinely orchestrated by God to deepen my faith in Him.  I don't want it to be wasted, but rather, to dip, dive, and soar in a dance of beauty.

And so I wait for Him in surrender, looking, not at my hands, nor at the wad of string, but at the eternal reward. Here I find true joy that is not the opposite of suffering, but rather its companion.

The winds have not ceased and the problems remain.  Yet, in faith I rest, because He is bigger.  And in this place I find a peace that surpasses all understanding, a peace that rides on the winds of adversity.

"...but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith."  Heb. 4:2

"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."  Heb. 11:1

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Comfort My People

Why is it that whenever I face a crisis, Easter becomes more vibrant, more personal?  Once again a tradgedy visits my extended family and I am cast into the story, not as an observer, but as a full fledged participator.  Last time it was a death.  This time an illness like nothing we've ever seen before, one entwined with intricate webs of confusion and exasperation.  We struggle and strive, seeking solutions but find ourselves stuck fast, immovable. Baffled, we face reality and ask, "Who will remove the stone for us?"

Mary comes to the tomb looking for the body of Jesus.  She cannot see past her pain.  It makes her world so very very small.  Caught in the fog, her mind is clouded and she cannot make sense of it all.

"Why have they taken the body of my Lord?" and "If you have taken Him away, tell me where you have put Him?" she demands through her tears. (John 20:11-16)

Then she hears her name.  "Mary!"

He knows my name,
He sees each tear that falls...
And hears me when I call...

Nothing escapes God's notice, no, not even this.  I don't understand, but I know the One who calls me. And He.Is.Trustworthy. Period. I have to believe the very real possibility that God has deliberately designated this storm for our family.  He knows the waters are dark and choppy, fraught with monstrous waves and relentless wind. All our striving at the oars is futility, and my heart cries out, "Jesus, come to us!  Come walking on these waters!"

Jesus came to Mary, but not in the way she expected.  Supposing Him to be the gardener, she did not even recognize Him . . . until she heard her name.  Then, at once, she knew who was speaking, not the gardener, but Jesus Himself.  I know the presence of Jesus is with us always, yet, sometimes He remains hidden for "without faith it is impossible to please Him."  (Heb. 11:6)

The tomb was opened, the stone removed, not to let Jesus out, but to let us in.  He invites us to come and experience His resurrection power.  The storms are His invitation to draw near and trust, to comfort, comfort my people.

Because He lives I can face tomorrow, 
Because He lives, all fear is gone,
Because I know He holds the future...

Instead of pounding against the obstacles, I step back, and looking out, try to grasp the bigger picture. God may not want me to push through for answers, but rather instead, come alongside, to walk this journey in support and comfort of another. When pain causes our world to shrink, a friend can widen our perspective and make it big. There are smooth plains beyond these stones.  I just need eyes to see.

Jesus is not a ghost, illusive, impersonal, and untangible.  No, He is seated at the right hand of God where He waits for His enemies to be made a footstool for His feet.  In the meantime, He makes perfect forever, those who are being made holy . . . all because of our risen Savior. (Heb. 10:12-14)  By faith I will wait for Him and trust.  Surely, He's got this!

Thou, O Lord, are a shield about me
You're my glory and the lifter of my head.  (Psa. 3:3)

Hallelujah!  He is risen! 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Face of Kindness

When I said my word for the year was to be 'moved with compassion', I never thought it would require conflict. While it may have conjured up an image of the poverty stricken on the other side of the world or even the social issues in my own neighborhood, that's not really what I had in mind.  My passion was to simply be a nicer person, to think of others before myself.  I know, that sounds so basic. How hard can it be to love, and to practice kindness?  As I'm finding out, it is one of the most difficult virtues I have ever pursued.

Love gets involved in other people's lives, even when its messy, and yes, even when it would be easier to simply ignore the issues and hope they go away.  And sometimes, kindness has to confront and make another person feel uncomfortable.  Peace does not necessarily mean I say what others want to hear, but rather, it comes only by addressing the issues.  More often than not, this involves some conflict.  Yet, the conflict can be a good thing, if it produces an end result that is authentic and which truly builds rather than tears down.

Joseph, (you know, the guy with the coat of many colors), sought reconciliation and healing for his family, but he knew it could never come about until his brothers were willing to face their past.  I've never quite understood why Joseph seemed to taunt his brothers before revealing his true identity.  It seemed harsh and mean, a stab at revenge, before he succumbed to forgiveness.  Yet, I realize now, that it was none of that. In reality, Joseph was moved with compassion!  He was doing what was best for them in a way that caused them to listen.  Wow! This kind of love is hard to swallow!

Past experience has taught me not to bulldoze ahead, nor to speak and later be filled with endless regrets for words that can never be taken back. Instead, I must proceed with great caution and first prepare the way with fervent prayer. But, more often than not, God is waiting for my attitude to be in the right place, so that I am truly moved, not with a critical spirit, but with genuine compassion.

God has called me to care enough to be involved. Not to meddle, but to build. Not to scold, but to reveal. And so I do the uncomfortable, stepping forward into risky obedience, seeking to come alongside another, offering my heart and my hands in deepest compassion. I never dreamed that this is the place where love would take me, that God might have uniquely positioned me as a tool in His hands "for such a time as this".

I have an author friend who wrote a book about broken glass, how it can be saudered together to be something more beautiful than it ever was before . . . stained, yes, but now catching the light in vibrant color and designs. (Broken by Design by Koni Attencio) I'm reminded that God never leaves us to flounder in the place of pain, but rather nudges us to move forward.  Even if the source of pain is never removed from our lives, we can count on Him to sustain us through it, for He promises a future and a hope.  In every trial, He graciously provides an opportunity to build a testimony.  No matter how deep the pit, beauty can come from these ashes, for my God is all about redemption.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Welcome Spring

We were standing around in the kitchen, when the subject of death came up.  My youngest pipes up with, "I'd rather die before the rapture because I want to be one of those that pops out of the grave."  I never tire of the humor that comes out of that child's mouth.

Yet, on a more serious note, it seems like this is all we've done over the last two weeks is bury, mourn, and contemplate heaven. One right after the other, God has been gathering in His seasoned saints from our church fellowship. But the sting of death is just not there, because we have the assurance of our loved ones in the very presence of God.  I never get over the wonder of that thought! Furthermore, during these times, the grace of God is so thick I can almost reach out and tangibly touch it.  I'm amazed at how His tender mercies uphold our hearts.

Only a few days ago, we sang these words at a memorial service, my sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, oh my soul!  I sang that verse strong and with all my heart because I am so eager for the day when I will be removed from the presence of sin.  Sometimes I get tired of the constant battle, the struggle against it, and I cannot wait to be freed from its pull. And I think, oh what joy, for these believers in Christ, not only to be in God's presence, but to be free from sin's entanglement.

I find these thoughts of heaven invigorating.  I cannot even perceive what it will be like to see Jesus face to face. And I think of these precious elderly saints who, one day were here, and the next moment, are there. Wow! What a sweet sweet salvation is ours!  Not to be disrespectful of the grieving, but let laughter fill the air!  All week that song by Rebecca St. James has been in my head. I don't think the song was meant for the context of heaven, but I find it fits beautifully. The anticipation of heaven brings such joy! It is amazing beyond amazing what God has in store for those who love Him.

These individuals who recently passed away all loved Jesus dearly, having followed Him for many many years. I find it peculiar that only hours before they die, they can seem fine.  For others it is not like that.  There is a greater struggle. And yet, either way, it seems that our health or lack of it doesn't matter so much as we think it does.  Sure, we all die from something, but still, "God knew the days ordained for us before one of them came to be," and when our purpose on earth is finished, God takes us. (Psa. 139:16) But He doesn't take us before then.

In just a few months, a dear friend turns 100, while only a few weeks later I turn half her age! But it never seems like it.  We can talk up a storm on any given afternoon.  Yet it does make me wonder. Why are some given more years on earth than others?  I firmly believe that it is because their purpose is not yet completed. It is no accident that we are here among this generation and in this time period. We are here on purpose, but we also leave on purpose. I'm so thankful that God knows when the time is right.

I've recently had a situation come up which gave me cause for great worry. And I wonder, why do I ever worry or get depressed?  I think it's because sometimes I live as though I do not really believe in eternity, or else I've forgotten what all is in store on the other side.  When Mary went to the tomb to look for Jesus, she was told by the angels, "Why do you look for the living among the dead?" (Luke 24:5)  Perspective makes such a difference in our lives.  I know these present troubles are only temporary. My problem has not gone away, and won't for several months, but the assurance that God is in control gives me great enouragement to carry on with joy.

Most assuredly, the half has not been spoken, this side the golden shore, oh there, will be still sweeter than it ever was before.  Oh the joys that await the believer in Christ, who's eternal destiny is sure, for "precious in the sight of the Lord, is the death of His saints," oh so precious. (Psa. 116:15) Now that places a song in my heart and a spring in my step.  Welcome spring!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Good Enough

When I discovered that the opportunity for free ice climbing was happening the same weekend as our youth retreat, the realization began to sink in.  God was providing a hands on illustration for the lessons we would be teaching.  Because He's amazing like that.

All my life I've struggled with the idea that I must try and try to be a good Christian, for I thought that only then would God turn His face toward me in favor.  Oh, I don't mean working for my salvation, (which comes only by faith in the work of Christ on the cross), but once saved, working to be an acceptable person according to the expectations of Scripture.  The bar was raised high and through discipline and self-denial I aimed to reach it. However, striving for goodness is harder than it looks, much like climbing ice walls.

Some students clamored quickly to the top, determined to conquer. And so it is with life.  The compliant or competitve personalities thrive under self-discipline.  Goodness seems effortless.  We dish out praise for a job well-done, when in reality, it is only a performance of natural strength.

Other students struggled.  They couldn't quite figure out how to dig their toe into the ice or didn't have the strength to thrust the axe such that it would catch the frozen surface.  And I thought about those students who resist being good.  Their adventursome personality must always push the buttons and test the limits.  Rules cause them to bristle and compliance is detestable.  Is Christianity all about outward conformity to a set of rules which we have determined are good?  I think not, and yet when we, as adults, hammer and pound for outward behavioral change, this is the message they often receive.

In reality, Christianity is about life in Christ, abundant and joyful. The heart is what matters, for authentic living flows only from the inside out. We can conform the outward person all we want, but until the heart is in the right place, outward conformity is temporary and results in either thinking less of ourselves in dejection, (failure), or more of ourselves in pride, (achievements).  Our own image then becomes the primary focus, an emphasis on self, which cripples our ability to overcome and thrive in love toward one another.

However, at the change of the seasons, every bit of ice, all our own goodness, melts away and comes crashing down. And where does that leave us?  At the foot of the cross, clinging only to our Savior, the bare rock on which we stand. His righteousness, not our own.  Most assuredly, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin, and when God looks at us, He sees, not our filth, but the holiness of Christ.

There comes a point in life when the weight of all those expectations pushes us under and we are left helpless. The realization that we can never work hard enough and never be good enough sinks into our being and we cry out to Jesus.  He alone saves and sustains us.  He alone gives the power to live free.

I am so very thankful that in Christ, there is freedom, not bondage.  But this freedom comes only as I surrender to God's terms.  I know, it sounds, once again, like rules.  Yet, the difference lies in the attitude of my mind. No longer do I strive to attain a goodness which God will accept, but rather, I align my will to God's, and through obedience, work out in my practice what He has already worked into my heart.  I live by His strength, not my own, for He Himself says,"my yoke is easy and my burden is light."  (Matt. 11:30)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Hearty Branches

I sheepishly raised my hand and looked around the room in disbelief.  Was I really the only one among 35 women who had traits of the lion personality?  As the leader went on to describe some of the not so desireable characteristics I wanted to crawl through a crack in the floor. Harsh. Direct. Was I really those things?

Most of the women fell in the nurturing golden retriever category, some among the fun loving otters, and the rest of them busy beavers. I found some solace in the fact that I also had strong beaver traits. Yet, as I thought about it, what could be more cold and uncaring than a lion/beaver combo?

I've always known that my nurturing was never high on the charts.  If the kids scraped their knee or threw up in the night, it was usually my husband who came to their rescue, not me. He always did the doctoring and consoling for the family.  And yet, over the last few years I've carried a deep desire to shepherd, to mentor and encourage, and so somewhere, there must be a smidget of golden retreiver in me.

Not long ago, I finished a study on the four gospels and one thing stood out to me.  Whenever Jesus faced the crowds, He was moved with compassion.  And I thought, "What is it that moves me?"  It was then I realized how often I am moved with a critical spirit, or moved with fear, or even pride. How many times have I been motivated to set things right, but done so in a prickly, harsh, uncaring manner?

With Valentine's Day in our recent memory, I thought it appropriate to write about my phrase for the year, and that is this: to be moved with compassion.  You may have noticed that this blog has been silent for a time.  This is because my energies have been spent elsewhere, but that is not all.  I felt some of my writing was sprinkled with judgment and carried a superior tone.  I thought that I dare not write lest I say the wrong things.

When a large truck parked in front of my house, it broke off some of the branches to my tree.  This branch sat on my yard all winter.  It was bare, exposed, and unsightly.  As I began to plan a Valentine Tea for our young girls, I needed an idea for table centerpieces.  With a little help from pinterest, it came.  I ran out to my yard and with great enthusiasm, snatched up that large branch, breaking off the smaller limbs.  I set them in decorated canning jars and performed some hot glue magic.  The transformation was amazing!  Those branches, so cold and dismal, began to pop with color!

It was then that the spiritual picture began to unfold before my eyes.  What I needed was not a change in my personality . . . but a change of heart.

I know you've heard the phrase, 'better to have tried and failed than to have never tried.'  It is so easy to let fear motivate our lives.  But "perfect love casts out fear."  (1John 4:18)  And so I do not hide in a corner, but rather, venture out into the great unknown, seeking to honor God with my life, even if that means I must be vulnerable and risk failure. And this, all because of love.

I don't want to be annoying in the lives of others, a clanging gong or a crashing cymbal. Yet, if left to myself this is where I fall.  And so this year my purpose, my goal, is to be moved with compassion, to let love motivate my thoughts, attitudes, and actions, to be a hearty branch plugged into the source of love, Jesus Himself.

And isn't that true for each of us?  Every personality has its strengths and weaknesses. Yet, God made us on purpose with our own unique temperment. Our life in Christ is not meant to squelch our personalities, but rather meant to work together with others so we might contribute to the whole. In this way, we grow and become balanced. Blessing results. Culturally, some are more accepted than others, but in God's eyes, each has a purpose and comes down to this one base denominator--love for God and love for one another.

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal...And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love."  1 Cor. 13:1,13