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!