Archive for January, 2009

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The Metrics of faith…

January 31, 2009

I’ve been giving some thought to prayer lately, especially after what felt like rambling last night. I talked about intercessory prayer, and how if you pray that God will raise up someone to love those seemingly forgotten ones, someone to intercede for them, you are the answer to your own prayer. I really believe that, but I had a hard time expressing why I believe that, coming up with Biblical support for it. But as I lay in bed, talking it over with John, I think I found the answer I was looking for.

You see, being an answer to your own prayer is a matter of metrics, just as works are a matter of metrics. No, I’m not talking meters versus feet, here, but rather a means of measuring and quantifying your faith. I bet you didn’t think you could measure or quantify your faith, did you? We tend to think of measuring as belonging to the scientific world, and as faith as its own thing, completely separate and divorced from science. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and I don’t think God wants it that way. Still… I’m in danger of going off on this whole faith versus science tangent, and that’s not what I want for today, so let me get back on track.

There’s this entire discussion of faith versus works, as if the two are diametrically opposed, as if they are polar opposites. I think instead one is the measure of the other. That faith is proved by works. I don’t do good things in a desperate attempt to earn my way into heaven, or as a means of proving that I’m somehow adequate to receive what I’ve been given. That’s the “works” philosophy of salvation. Instead, we are given an extravagant gift, something so exceedingly beyond anything we could ever possibly earn. Faith says that we accept that somehow, the God who created the universe, condescended to His creation. Faith says that we accept that God wants a relationship with His creation, and that He wants it enough that He would condescend to provide the way to make it happen Himself.

OK, so if God does all the work of salvation, then how do our works come back into it? How can our works prove our faith if faith gives us a gift far beyond anything we could earn? Works are a measurement of our faith. Our gratitude for what we’ve been given is demonstrated by the good things we do. We don’t do them to earn our way into heaven or to prove our merit… rather, they are a demonstration, a measurement of our faith in God and what He’s provided for us.

Have you wrapped your brain around that? Great. (If not, chew on it for a bit, and then try this next bit out). If works serve as a measurement of our faith, then the same could be said of being the answer to our own prayers and praying in the will of God. (Stay with me here, folks. I promise, I’ll make sense in a minute). You see, prayer is just a discussion between us and God. Any discussion… whether that’s a rant in anger at Him, a desperate plea for help, a wordless cry of pain, or a long involved discussion. Those are all prayers. And just as in discussions between people on earth, folks you can see and touch more easily than you can God, some conversations make more sense than others… they go more “smoothly” than others. Have you ever thought of measuring the success of a conversation? How would you do that? Maybe… maybe you could know that a conversation had been successful if the other person did something you were asking of them. That might be a good measurement. For instance, if I asked someone to raise their arm, and they didn’t, I might judge the conversation as a failure. If they did raise their arm, I’d know I’d succeeded in communicating what I was trying to say. Makes sense, right?

OK, so prayer is a conversation. So what about the times it seems we get no answer? Does that mean that the prayer wasn’t heard? Does that mean that my prayers were ignored? Not necessarily.  For instance, going back to examples we can hear and see and touch, a four year old can ask for an ice-cream sundae before supper, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to get it. His mother understood the request, the conversation was a success, even though the child doesn’t think so. But Mom knows something the child doesn’t, and is over-ruling the child for the greater good of the child. The child wasn’t asking for something in the will of the parent, and in this case, the will of the parent is going to win. So maybe it’s a case of bad timing. What if the child’s younger sibling sees something shiny and pretty and wants it now? He asks his mother, but Mom says no. Again, the child might view the conversation a failure (assuming the child were capable of such rationalizations)… but because he doesn’t know what a knife is, or that it can hurt him, he doesn’t know that Mom was just protecting him. Sometimes, God says no to our requests because there’s something He knows that we don’t, and if we knew what He did, it would all make sense. I also know that not all unanswered prayers fit into these simple illustrations… but they’re a good starting point, and it’s enough to lead me to the next point I want to make. Prayer is a discussion, and part of judging the success of the conversation is if what you ask for is in the will of the one who can grant it.

Which brings me to this last point: when I pray and I ask for God to do things that He desires to do, He’s more likely to do them. My prayers are more likely to be successful when I’m praying His will. So how do I know I’m praying His will? Well, I can make it a point to build a relationship with Him, with His word, and learn about Him that way, and that will help. There’s another way, though: when you can see your prayers being answered AS YOU PRAY THEM, you know your prayer is successful. You must have been praying into the will of God. You must have been asking Him to do something He wanted to do anyway. Just as doing good things become a measure of your faith in God, being an answer to your own prayer becomes a measure of your ability to abide and pray in His will.

Delight yourself in the LORD and He will give you the desires of your heart. It’s easy for Him to give you the desires of your heart… when what your heart desires is what He desires for you.

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Love her like Jesus

January 30, 2009

I’d like to tell you the story of a young woman you may never meet. She’s 13 years old, and she gets $25 CAD each month to share between her guardian and herself to meet all her worldly needs. For my American readers, that’s roughly $20. She’s been orphaned, and when she first was brought to the attention of my friend, she was only 12, had already had multiple sexual partners, and was being tested for AIDS. She was fortunate enough to test negative. She’s lived with various family members, and as my friend put it, “like any typical 13 year old, she’s got a mouth and an attitude and she uses both!” She’s been used and abused, left with many physical scars from multiple beatings from people who thought she hadn’t shown them the respect they think they’re due culturally.

My friend is a missionary nurse in Namibia, serving the people there as a registered nurse, loving them even as she meets their medical needs. But she doesn’t shrink away from meeting other needs when she finds them. When she and the other missionaries there realized this young woman had no home to live in, having been turned out of another relative’s home, they enlisted the help of a translator from the village church they attend and set out to intervene. The girl’s aunt agreed to let the crazy white people, the missionaries, build a mud hut for her on the aunt’s property. The catch? While the missionaries had helped mud a hut before, they’d never built one before. Not only that, this is the rainy season. If it rained while they were mudding, or before the mud could dry and cure, the entire venture would be, well, forgive the pun, a wash. But that didn’t stop them. They enlisted the help of others, and yesterday, they went to the aunt’s property and built this young woman a mud hut. Apart from a few spits and sputters in the early morning, before the mudding, there was no rain… and as of 6 am local time, there still has been no rain.

So, what’s the big deal? Why am I telling you the story of this girl you’ll never meet, the story of a young woman that even my missionary friend will have to leave behind when she leaves the country to come home in a few weeks? Why did the story of this girl stop me where I am, here, thousands of miles away, safe in an insulated home that is in no danger of washing away in a good rain?

Simple, Beloved. God loves her. God created her to love her. She was born to be loved. Right now, there is no one in her life who can love her the way God loves her. None of her relatives love her that way. She’s just another burden to them. Another mouth to feed. None of her classmates love her that way. They beat her if she doesn’t respond the way they want her to. Everyone in her life holds her up to some standard and finds her wanting… and as if that wasn’t bad enough, they beat her and scar her young body for failing their tests. She has no one in her life that will love her the way God loves her; unconditionally, without expectation, a pure, undefiled love that can’t be perverted or misconstrued for anything else.

The story of this girl catches me where I am because I know this child. I’ve been this child. No, I’ve never been this exact child, living on less than $20 a month in sub-Saharan Africa. And I don’t mean to somehow minimize the stunning poverty and need of the undeveloped world… because absolutely, this girl’s physical needs are stunning. But just as Jesus recognized with the paralytic lowered through the roof to Him, her spiritual needs, the emotional wound in her soul, is every bit as desperate as her physical needs. And in that, she is no different than you or I are. You know her. You may have been her. But you’ve met her.

Here’s the good news; Beloved, God wants to do big things to draw her to Himself. He’s calling her name, faithfully pleading for her to come to the One who gave all He is to love her. You may never see the big things He is doing in her life, but that doesn’t mean He’s not doing them. In the case of the girl my friend knows in Africa, God has been staying the rains in the rainy season. He brought together a church and a community to give her a home. He brought women into her life to show her unconditional love, and even when my friend leaves, she won’t leave her friendless… the other missionaries will remain a bit longer. I’ll be honest, Beloved, I can’t see the way His plan will be fulfilled in her life, but in my bones, in the deepest parts of who I am, I know that He is working in this young woman’s life right now. He is doing big things to call her to a relationship with Him. Someday, she will look back, and she will see the men and women who loved her the way Jesus loves her, who were faithful to love her unconditionally until she knew how to be loved.

I don’t know if there’s anything tangible you can do for the girl in Africa… but that’s not why I’m writing tonight. If you want to do something tangible for someone in need, there are plenty of places you can do that. What I do want from you doesn’t cost you a penny… but it does cost your time and it does ask you to invest your heart in people… and that’s a radical risk, but it’s one that Christ made for us, so surely, if we’re going to be called by His name, it’s one we can take, right?

Pray for her. Pray that God will stay the rains. Pray He will protect her, not only until she can move into her hut, but also from the beatings that have marked her life so far. More than that, pray that God will bring someone into her life that will love her like Jesus loves her, with a pure love that can’t be perverted and distorted. God loves Dophelia. He wants someone to love her the way He does, someone from whom she can receive that love. And as He brings to your mind His other children, the other Dophelias, the Heathers, all of the children who feel like they have no one, pray for them, too. Pray for someone to come into their lives to show them they were never forgotten.

And Beloved, here’s the beauty of intercessory prayer: as you plead with God for someone to intervene in the life of the forgotten, He’s already answering the prayer… in you. You may not be the final answer, you may not be the tangible answer, the one that a Dophelia finally knows, but by lifting her up, by remembering her and loving her the way Jesus does (because He, too, intercedes for us before the Father, remembering us before Him), we’re already providing the answer to our prayer. And the more of us that remember her, the more of us who intercede for her, the greater the covering we place over her, the more room we give the Lord to work in her life.

Pray unceasingly. It’s all I ask. Yet… oh, Beloved, the power in that prayer, when you pray and you’re certain of the will of God. And Beloved, you can always be certain that it is the will of God that we are are loved the way He loves us! So pray, Beloved, certain that He means to answer your prayer, and watch. Because He’s stayed the rains for her so far… and I know He’s just getting started in her life.

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Book Review: Betty Crocker’s Slow Cooker CookBook

January 27, 2009

Book Review: Betty Crocker’s Slow Cooker Cookbook

OK, so I know this is a departure from what you’ve been getting from me. Be patient.

The fact of the matter is, while God has been feeding my soul, recipes from this cookbook have been feeding our stomachs. As I sit here and write this review, I’m eating a bowl of the Vegetable Beef & Barley soup. I altered the recipe a little (I’ve altered many of them a little, either because I couldn’t find the exact ingredients listed, or because I know our tastebuds, and the little alterations would suit us well), but at its heart, this is the soup from the cookbook. I’ve discovered several recipes in here that are outstanding and have become new favorites: this soup, the beef stroganoff, the Irish Stew (made with beef, not lamb), the potato & double corn chowder…

It makes planning meals easy, and that’s been really important while I’ve had little energy. Some of them take a little more prep time than others, but most of them are set them and forget them suppers that are so easy and so tasty you’ll be thrilled you tried them. The cookbook is a little more than $15 at Amazon, and if you shop right (even without coupons) you can prepare these meal with little or no added preservatives and at an excellent budget. You couldn’t eat out for less than you can prepare many of these meals, and because they take so little prep in the morning, and so little to serve in the evening, you couldn’t ask for an easier solution for a busy family. Even if your family doesn’t have time to come together and all eat at the same time, many of these meals are such that everyone can serve themselves from the crockpot as they’re ready, especially if yours has a “keep warm” setting on it.

I will note two life-savers that make crockpot cooking even easier for me: Crockpot bags, and a timed crockpot. Ours is a crockpot brand slow cooker with a timer on it. You set it for high or low heat, how long at that heat, and at the end of that time, it will switch itself to keep warm. There are others, too. No more worrying that I won’t be home in time to switch off the crockpot… I can set a stew working in the morning before I leave around 8 and know it will be ready for me when I’m ready at 7 that evening. Also, Reynolds makes crockpot and turkey bags. These little bags tuck into your slow cooker and you put all your food in the bag. Clean up afterwards is just a matter of tossing the bag and wiping out the crock. Even if it makes a mess by leaking or spilling, the mess is MUCH easier to clean up than it was before.

Chances are, my next post will be back to your (ir)regularly scheduled musings. I just had to share the joy of my crockpot & my new cookbook. 😀

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Musical Musing “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher”

January 26, 2009

Your Love Keeps Lifting Me (Higher & Higher) (As covered by Audio Adrenaline, orig. Jackie Wilson)

Your love keeps liftin’ me higher
Than I’ve ever been lifted before
So keep it up, yeah, quench my desire
And I’ll be at your side forevermore
Yeah

You know your love (your love keeps liftin’ me)
It keeps on liftin’ (your love keeps liftin’ me)
Higher (liftin’ me, higher and higher)
Yeah, yeah your love (your love keeps liftin’ me)
It keeps on liftin’ (your love keeps liftin’ me)
Higher (Liftin’ me higher and higher)

Now, once I was downhearted
Disappointment was my closest friend
But then you came and he soon departed
And you know he never showed his face again

I’m so glad I finally found you
Yes, that one, the one in a million, yeah
And I wish my lovin’ arms around you
‘Cause I can stand up and face the world

Come on, lift me up (your love keeps liftin’ me)
Yeah

In case you didn’t know it, I’m a little odd. For instance, this morning as I write this, we’re speeding down the highway (not literally speeding, as in going over the speed limit, but my husband is driving as I type away in the passenger seat). But that’s part of how I am… when one of these things hit, I have to get it out of me before I lose it, even if I get up out of bed to do that (which is what it usually means) or type while we drive to visit his family (which is what it means now).

I did a musing on a choir song we’re doing next week (no, really, come join us at Rejoice North next week to hear it… I’m SO loving this song, even more now!), followed by “Learning to Walk“, about coming out of the cave of fear I’ve been in for so long. That song, “Draw Me Nearer” really hasn’t left me alone, because there was still so much that the Lord was trying to speak to me through it, but I had to have the courage to leave my little cleft in the rock first.

You see, Beloved, in that first verse, when we sing “I long to rise in the arms of faith”… it’s incredibly difficult to rise very far when you’ve buried yourself in a cleft at the base of a mountain for fear of a boulder. All the weight of your fears and insecurities form very effective weights. But the writer of Hebrews told us to throw off everything that might hold us back or hinder us that we might run this race with perseverance… and the Lord patiently called me to creep out of my cave of depression, out of the darkness into light.

In the second verse, when I was praying “Let my soul look up with a steady hope…” I was so afraid to look up. All I could see was the boulder waiting to crush me, all I could see were all the problems that I might still face (and yes, even as I write this, I am in discomfort, and I might still face them, so it’s not my circumstances that are changing this morning, but my position to Christ, and thus my outlook on them). I couldn’t look up with a steady hope until I could bear to look up at all. I couldn’t have a steady hope until I could hope at all… and though I said I was hoping in the Lord, there trembling in my cave, I’d actually lost sight of Him, and clung to the cave of despair instead. But now, Beloved, now as I creep slowly out, I find myself looking up, and instead of seeing that fearsome boulder, all I see is His face, filling my view, blotting out any fears. His perfect love for me drives away any fears I’ve had, because all I can see when I look up is love shining from Him.

Which brings us back to that third verse… and to the song that started this post. “There are heights of joy that I may not reach ’till I rest in peace with Thee.” Oh, Beloved! Until I crept out, I was buried under a mountain of fears and uncertainties. My reach was limited to my own height… and if you’ve ever met me, you know that my height is pretty small. Add to that my fear of heights, and well, on my own, I’m not going very far. But Beloved, He calls us out of ourselves, out of our own limitations, out of our fears, to a place where we rest in Him, where we find peace that surpasses all comprehension in Him and Him alone. And resting in His Peace, resting in His embrace… well, Beloved, when you’re in the arms of the One who created the universe, what heights could you not reach? And if He created them, how could you be anything but safe and secure in His arms as He carries you there? I asked God to “Draw Me Nearer,” and Beloved, how He has, and now, His love is lifting me higher!

This song was written by Jackie Wilson, and even The Ghostbusters recognized the infectious joy it captures (OK, OK, so The Ghostbusters are a fictional group)! Audio Adrenaline covered it, and finally we see whose love is capable of delivering this kind of powerful high, this joy that captures you and lifts you and everyone around you: God.

Oh, Beloved, He is so good. He is so faithful. He is answering my prayers even as I breathe them out, in ways I couldn’t have imagined them being answered. The Great Physician came to where I am, found me quavering and quaking in fear and loss, and He lifted me into His arms. He hasn’t healed my body, not yet… and maybe not in my lifetime. But more than that, He’s giving me back my hope, He’s giving me back my joy… Beloved, He gave me back my LIFE. He came to give us LIFE, abundant life, overflowing. His love is extravagant, overflowing the bounds of reason. He’s the God who throws parties for just ONE soul who is found. Beloved, He is SO faithful.

God is good ALL the time. And all the time, God is good!

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Learning to walk…

January 23, 2009

I have been so hopeless. I’ve not even known how to put into words this dark place I’ve been in, but tonight I found the words… and once I was able to put it into words, I think I was able to start to work my way out again.

You see, my physical problems aren’t over. They might be gone by April. Maybe. If they aren’t, we undo some of the surgery we did… we take out the mirena IUD we put in, the thing that’s been causing me so much pain. Then, if my body can’t keep these problems under control, we have another pair of surgeries to try… except because I have adenomyosis, instead of simple endometriosis, that might not work, either… so we’d have to wait and see if that works. If that doesn’t work, then the only thing we can do to get the whole thing under control is a hysterectomy, which is a pretty radical surgery. But all of those add up to months and months of waiting and what ifs and who knows… maybe even a year or two. And all that time, any of them could fix me, or none of them could (though the hysterectomy would be a pretty effective fix for most of my problems).

It’s like all those physical problems are an enormous boulder at the top of a mountain, and I’m living in a cave at the bottom. Hope is the step it takes for me to leave the cave… but I’m so afraid of that boulder that no matter how depressing the cave may be, I’ve chosen the cave over the risk of being smashed by the boulder. It’s a soul-crushing, heart-breaking, hope-stealing existence. I’ve lost my connection to the abundant life Jesus promised, or the Joy that God longs for us to have.

I’d clung to the verses in Exodus 33, where God lovingly tucks Moses into the cleft of the rock for Moses’ protection. In my brokenness, I was content to cling to the safe walls of my cleft, too fearful to venture out. My fear kept me far from the entrance, but this evening, as I wept in despair, because we’re not meant to live in caves, disconnected from joy and the abundant life, I was called to the entrance.

Perfect love drives  out fear,” God called from the entrance, wooing me out. “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me… My dove in the clefts of the rock, show me your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.” And I knew again, as I’d known before, that I didn’t have to know how to get past the boulder. I didn’t have to see the end of the path, I just had to follow His voice. He’d provided me with a lamp for my feet, a light for my path. And when I don’t understand, He said I could rely on Him, and if I trusted in Him instead of myself, He would make my paths straight. After all, He’d told me already He was doing a new thing. “See, now it springs up. Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wasteland, Beloved, and streams in the desert!” He said He’d go with me, to lead me over the ways I didn’t know. “I will guide you along unfamiliar paths. I’ll turn the darkness into light before you and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will never forsake you.”

I’m sitting here and I’m writing this tonight so that I remember these promises as I begin this journey out of this cave of despair. I won’t see the path out. I’ll see each step as it comes to me, and He’ll give me the grace I need to take it. But when I get to the other side, I’ll look back, and I’ll see the way He handled that boulder. You see, for me, it’s a giant boulder. For him? It’s a tiny pebble. And yes, I may have to climb over it, I may have to tunnel through it. This release tonight isn’t about me being certain that I’ll wake up healed tomorrow… because I don’t know that I will be. If I am, I will praise my God for that healing. But even if I am not, I will not lose faith. Because my God can deliver me from this fire, or He can deliver me through it, as he did three young Jewish men, or He may deliver me into His arms (an unlikely scenario here, admittedly)… but in all things, My God has been faithful to me. I can look at my surgery on January 6th, 2009 for the most recent tangible evidence, if I need it.

So I’ve crept to the edge of the cave, and I’m taking the first wobbling step out. After all… He calls me His Beloved… and I am my Beloved’s, and He is mine. He’s calling me to come out, providing the path, lighting it, and guarding me the whole way, and loving me perfectly the whole way. Where is there room for fear in that? If God is for me, who can be against me?

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Draw Me Nearer

January 21, 2009

I am Thine, oh Lord, I have heard Your voice
And it told Your love to me
But I long to rise in the arms of faith
And be closer drawn to Thee.

Draw me nearer to the cross where Thou hast died
Draw me nearer to Your precious bleeding side.

Draw me nearer, Draw me nearer.

Consecrate me now to Your service Lord
By the power of grace divine.
Let my soul look up with a steady hope
And my will be lost in Thine.

Draw me nearer to the cross where Thou hast died.
Draw me nearer to Your precious bleeding side.

Draw me nearer, Draw me nearer.
Draw me nearer to Your precious bleeding side.
There are depths of love that I cannot know
‘Till I cross the narrow sea.
There are heights of joy that I may not reach
‘Till I rest in peace with Thee.

Draw me nearer to the cross where Thou hast died
Draw me nearer to Your precious bleeding side.

Draw me nearer, Draw me nearer.

Draw me nearer.

This is a newer arrangement of a hymn by Fanny J. Crosby, a blind woman who wrote many, many hymns in the 19th century. I stumbled across it because our choir is singing it (so there’s actually some “oooo”s and rounds and layering of voices in there that I didn’t reflect here… you have to hear this arrangement to get the true beauty of it). But the message of the song is solid… from the original hymn to this arrangement, and it speaks to where I am right now.

Worship has been so beautiful of late. I can’t put into words for you how it feels to sing songs and really believe the words I’m singing, to be in the midst of them. I don’t know that I’ve gotten through a service without tears streaming down my face, and I’m not sure that’s really a bad thing. I doubt I’ll get through this song without tears streaming down my face either, and again, I’m not convinced that’s a bad thing.

You see, Beloved, in these past months, I’ve been living in a place where I’ve had no choice but to be the Lord’s, to be broken and listen for His voice. And oh, Beloved… His voice, the soft whisper to my broken heart, is consistently the same thing. It’s consistently His love for me, it’s consistently His faithfulness, His provision for me even when I can’t see them. It’s Him going before me to smooth the path before my surgery, and providing a doctor who would reassure me and help me make right decisions not only for right now, but for further down the road.

Every step of this has been difficult, and I feared the day before my surgery that things would go wrong again… the hospital didn’t have record of both procedures being done, they had the wrong date, they said my surgery was “on call” instead of the scheduled time I’d been told… and every time the hospital had been involved up to this point, there had been similar problems, so I really didn’t have much faith that things would go well. But I got to the hospital that morning, and when there was a problem with the paperwork, the lady doing my admission just fixed it, without me having to do or say anything about it. The nurses were able to fix problems as they came up. They worked hard to find a good vein, and then worked hard to be sure they’d get in on their first try… and did. They drew their blood work out of the IV line… and drew extra, to be sure I wouldn’t have to be stuck again. The anesthesiologist ordered a breathing treatment to be sure that my asthma wouldn’t cause any issues, and everything just went right. They wheeled me into surgery, and while the surgical nurse and the anesthesiologist got me connected and settled in, my doctor stood there with me, just holding me, looking into my face, silently comforting and reassuring me. She never said anything comforting, never said anything, but just her being there with me was such a comfort and a relief. And I woke up better than I expected, easier than I expected, and was going home within 3 hours from the START of the surgery.

Before the surgery, I’d trembled in fear on the day of a test. I read Isaiah 43, and found the 18th&19th verses: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the dessert and streams in the wasteland.” When something went wrong again, as it did all the way through, I silently prayed in frustration “Oh, God, I don’t see it… I feel like I’m blind, and I can’t see at all!” The hospital personnel said they had it sorted out and sent me out to wait (not convinced that it was fixed) and I found the following on the previous page of my Bible… Isaiah 42:16: “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.”

Beloved, the day of my surgery, God went before me to lead me over ways I did not know. He made rough places smooth. He did not forsake me. Though it takes some faith to say “I am Thine” to God, I have been experiencing the rewards. When I have longed to rise in the arms of faith, He has been faithful to draw me nearer. He has been faithful to cradle me close. I weep in this first verse, because I’m living it.

And that brings us to the second, where we pray that God will set us apart for Him through His grace. It pleads for a steady hope… and here’s where my having learned the hymn first trips me up, because I want to sing “Let my soul look up with a steadfast hope” (instead of “steady hope”). It’s a prayer that our wills would be sublimated, aligned, lost in the will of God. That we would come to a place where what we want for our lives is completely aligned with God’s will so that our desires are God’s desires for our lives.

This is where I’m praying… because I’m losing hope. It’s hard to hope where I am… not because I’m cradled in the arms of God, but in the constancy of my physical suffering. I’m afraid to hope that I’ll be better soon, because if I don’t get better, than the blow of not getting well is even more soul-crushing than the constant drain of not being well… so I have a choice of hope and risk complete heart-break, or don’t dare, and live in a state of constant despair. So I’m praying instead that God will bring me to a place where I can find joy and hope in Him. That I can be renewed in Him, because there’s nothing in the temporal to refresh me right now. I know that’s depressing… trust me, I know. But that’s my prayer… to someday get back to a place where I can dare hope again. “Oh, God… let my soul look up with hope…”

And then we come to the third verse. I’ve always thought of this one as speaking of eternity, and certainly, that first statement supports that idea. But the second… oh, that second is beautiful, and it’s making me cry again, because I think maybe I might be there in some ways. “There are heights of joy that I may not reach until I rest in peace with Thee”… Oh, Beloved, why do we have to be dead to rest in the peace God has to offer us? Right now, God’s peace is the only rest I have, the only real rest… the place where my wounded soul and weary spirit is refreshed, where my breaking heart is offered healing, and I can sob for joy at the Love my God has for me. Beloved, I think it’s safe to say that there are heights of joy I could never have reached until I was brought to this place, where I had to be broken to arrive, this place of restoration and rest. And while it is certainly true that are yet greater joys to be found on the other side of this life, to say that we cannot rest in peace now is to unfairly limit God and deny yourself an amazing peace you need.

I would never pray that you be as broken as I am now. It’s heartbreaking, this place I’m in. It’s so beyond discouraging. But I am also almost supernaturally aware that I am not alone here. My Lord is here, and He’s answering my tearful prayer, and he’s drawing me nearer. He’s ready to do the same for you… if only you’ll ask it of Him.

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Twofer.

January 12, 2009

Twofer.

Yup, this one is a twofer, and I freely admit it. Actually, it might be a threefer. But I think twofer is good enough. Let me get the first part out of the way, and then we’ll get to the rest. Be patient… it’ll be good.

One of the bloggers I follow is Anne Jackson, author of Mad Church Disease. She’s giving away some PC software that includes books, bibles, and some research materials, and the requirements for entry (listed at her site, flowerdust.net) is that you comment with your favorite Bible verse and then blog about it, encouraging your readers to enter as well. Consider this your encouragement to enter… because while I’ve entered, we may not keep the software if we win. We might give it to our church, or our Sunday School class, or possibly give it to a small church that has few resources available to them, and let them get the use out of it (if we keep it, it would be to use for things like my blog, or for when we teach Sunday School ourselves). The winner will be chosen randomly from the commenters on Anne’s blog, so you can’t win if you don’t go to her site to enter.

So, what’s the other part of this twofer? Well, I’m going to tell you about the verse I entered, and why. I don’t know that I’ve blogged about that.

Zephaniah 3:17 is an amazing little verse, tucked into the “minor prophets” at the end of the Old Testament. It’s poetry, but not part of the poetic books. It’s a promise to the nation of Israel, and while I think we have to be very careful about taking national promises and giving them personal application, I think it’s safe here. Most importantly, it gives a snapshot of the heart of God, sort of a hint to how to understand the entire Bible… and all in this one little verse.

Pretty big claims for one little verse, isn’t it? Why don’t we start by looking at it?

The LORD your God is with you,
He is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.

Oh, I love this verse. I love it. It makes me cry with joy. But we’ll get to that eventually. Let’s see if we can deconstruct this bit by bit.

The LORD your God is with you.” Right off the bat, we have an introduction. You may not recognize it, especially if you haven’t grown up in church, but when you see the word lord capitalized like that, it’s something really special. It’s not just the top dog on the food chain, it’s not just a feudal power. When it’s capitalized like that, it’s referring to a name that’s so special, people are afraid to say it, lest they dirty it somehow. This is the name given to Moses in the desert when he asked who he should tell the people had sent him. This, Beloved, is the name of God… except, because it’s so special, people are afraid to even write it, for fear of dirtying it, of lessening it (the command to honor this name comes from the Second of the Ten Commandments, so it’s one people take pretty seriously), so all we get is “LORD” in all caps. But it’s still an introduction. “The God who took you out of Egypt, your God, is with you.”

There’s something else there. Notice that verb? It’s in the present tense. It’s not “I will be with you” or “I was with you”… No. This is immediate. This is right here, right now, in the thick of your hurt and your troubles, the God who delivered you from Egypt is here with you now.” Quite the first line, isn’t it?

He is mighty to save.” All the “he”s that follow are referring back to God, so out of respect to Him (remember, they respect His name so much they won’t even write it?), we capitalize it (in case you’ve never noticed why I do it). So now that we have an introduction, we get a list of promises… sort of attributes of God. These tell us who God is, and what we can know about Him. The first one? God is mighty to save.

God led the nation of Israel out of slavery in Egypt… they know He is mighty to save, but the reminder helps from time to time. We all tend to be a little forgetful. But if we’re going to take this national promise and make personal application, we need to be convinced that He is mighty to save, too. We need to trust in His omnipotence. It’s a big word, but what it means is that He is all powerful. It means there is not one thing, not one minute atom, not one spooky little quark, not one cosmic string anywhere, that is outside of the power of God. He may not choose to operate His power at all times, and we’re not even going to discuss the nonsense of God creating a rock so big even He couldn’t lift it, because that’s a circular argument for fools… but if God controls even the microscopic, then I can have faith He controls the macroscopic. I can trust that He is bigger than the mess I can make of myself, or bigger than the health problems I can face. If I really believe that God controls every speck of dust, then I am as safe at home in my bed as I am in a war zone (though I’m reckless enough to needlessly endanger myself… there’s a difference between confident in God and foolhardy).

There’s safety and confidence, assurance and comfort in that statement. My God, who is here with me now, is big enough to handle whatever comes my way. He is able to save me and preserve me, until it’s time for me to come home to Him, and when that day comes, He will be there, mighty to save still, to carry me to eternity.

He will take great delight in you.” Oh, Beloved. I cry to read these words. God will take great delight in you. Stop, and read them again, only put yourself in there. God will take great delight in me.

God. This is the God we’ve just said guided the Israelites out of Egypt. The God who has the number on every spooky little quark and cosmic string. The God who caused existence to exist. And God will take great delight in you. Not a little delight. No. GREAT delight.

Beloved, this is the Father who RAN for his lost son in Jesus’ parable in Luke. This is the woman who threw a PARTY over finding a coin. This is joy so great, so abundant that it spills over and affects everyone around. GREAT delight. This is joy that changes lives. And the omnipotent God looks at you, little you in your little corner of the world, and what comes into His mind, His heart? Great delight! Party-throwing joy. Belly-laughing goodness. God doesn’t look at you disapprovingly. He’s not sitting in Heaven judging you. He’s not Zeus, waiting to hurl lightening bolts at you.

This is the picture of a God who waits for you to open your eyes every morning, hoping you’ll say hello. He smiles every time you do. He laughs every time you do. And He’s eagerly waiting for the opportunity to be in relationship with you, to be the Lover of your Soul, your best friend. He wants to walk in the garden with you in the cool of the day.

He will quiet you with His love.” Have you ever seen a very small child throwing a temper tantrum? After a while, they’re so angry, they seem to forget how to stop crying… and that seems to upset them more. It becomes a self-defeating cycle. The more the child cries, the more out of control and afraid they are, and the more they cry, and the less they are able to stop crying. But they’re still angry, and if you pick them up, they’re liable to fight you still, so you have to hold them while they fight you. You know that if you can just hold them and rock them long enough, you can help them settle down, and break the cycle that’s frightening them. You have to love them, even when they think they don’t want it, until they’ve quieted enough to be free of their temper.

That’s one of the things I think of when I think of how God has to deal with us. In many ways, we are children, and we rail and flail wildly against Him, much like the small children throwing temper tantrums. But God, like a wise parent, is willing to hold us close and wait us out, loving us when we feel unlovable and unloving. He soothes our fears and anxieties with His faithful love.

As I’ve struggled through the past several weeks, I’ve experienced this repeatedly… times where my fear raised it’s ugly head and I reacted out of fear instead of from a place of trust in God. But every time, God has been faithful to quiet those fears with His love, and He’s been faithful to carry me through these impossible times with unfailing love.

He will rejoice over you with singing.” God will sing. God will SING. The God who spoke the universe into existence is going to sing. Even better? He’s going to sing for joy of you. Right now, God is composing a love song just for you. This same God we’ve been talking about, the one who delights in you, who calms you with His love, who is mighty to save you, right now, God is composing your love song. And here’s the thing that knocks my socks off… look at this world we live in. If he spoke this world into existence… what happens when God sings?

OK, so all of this is very nice, but where do I get off saying that this little verse is a snapshot of the heart of God and a hint to understanding the entire Bible?

The God who created the universe says He takes great delight in the people He created. He rejoices over them with singing. He’s mighty, able to save them, and quiet them with His love.

Does this sound like a God who damns people to hell? Does this sound like a God who does anything, ANYTHING, but LOVE unconditionally?

No, I don’t completely understand all the commands He gave in the Old Testament. I know there were laws He gave that existed to protect His people from disease. I’m also fully convinced that it has always been His desire to redeem every single one of us back to Him. He sent Jonah to the Assyrians in Ninevah to call those people to Him. God stepped out of eternity in the person of Christ to redeem us all to Him.

I believe that the heart of God is Love. And when you understand that Love moves Him, it changes the way you read and understand the Bible. When your entire view of God is shaped by this view of God, there’s no way it can’t shape how you view the Word he gave us.

That’s Zephaniah 3:17. It’s the love of God, poured out in 5 simple phrases. It changed how I understand God. It’s beautiful. I wish I could help you understand better. In the meantime… this, in a nutshell, is who I know God to be.

The LORD your God is with you,
He is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.