Archive for the ‘Thorough Thoughts’ Category

h1

Musical Musing- Switchfoot “I Dare You To Move”

February 26, 2009

Dare You To Move

For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.

As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.

We are our one of our worst enemies. Pair that with our other great enemy, the one whose name means “the accuser” and you have a recipe for defeat and disaster, one that has been cooking longer than we’ve been breathing. But tonight isn’t about spiritual warfare, it’s about confronting the one enemy we can do something about: ourselves.

Failure, left to itself, breeds more failure. It takes effort to overcome. If I’ve tried something once and failed, it’s easier to just give up than it is to talk myself into getting up and trying again. It’s why we’ve got the tired and clichéd phrases like “get back up on the horse” or “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Let’s face it; every time we fall short, it’s far easier to just lay there than it is to get up. It’s safer-you don’t have as far to fall if you never got up, right?

Wrong.

You see, the better picture isn’t one of falling off your horse (or your bike) and laying on solid ground that isn’t going anywhere, but of falling out of a boat into moving water. There is no standing still, or laying still, in life. If you’re not moving forward, you’re being dragged backwards.

Have you ever been on a beach as the waves rolled in? If you stand on the shore, you may not realize what’s happening, but if you were out swimming in the water, you probably found yourself carried farther out than you realized faster than you intended. It’s called the undertow, and it’s the backwash of every wave. See, as the waves crash forward with all of that power, they’re actually a circle of current, and the energy carrying them forward circles backwards, too. If you’re not aware and working to counteract it, the same energy that carried the wave to land will carry you out to sea as it returns the energy back out. So you can’t fall down and stay down; you fall down, Beloved, and you get swept away; you drown.

Makes failure even harder to overcome, doesn’t it? Now you not only have to overcome your shortcomings, but you have to work against forces that would pull you deeper and deeper… no wonder depression is such an overwhelming and prevalent problem.

Paul talked about this problem of being overwhelmed in Romans. He knew what was right. He knew what he was supposed to do, but it was so hard to do it, and once he messed up, it was often easier to keep messing up rather than start over. It’s like being on a diet and blowing it… it’s easier once you’ve cheated to justify cheating the rest of the day, then the rest of the week, then the rest of the month… then you’ll start over next year… it just spirals out of control. “I have the desire to do what is good,” he said, “but I cannot carry it out.” What’s worse, he added, “the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing”!

I’ve known that feeling of life seeming to spiral out of my own control. I know what I should be doing, but for whatever reason, I just can’t seem to bring myself to do it. Or I know what I shouldn’t be doing, but for whatever reason, I can’t bring myself to stop. It tastes too good. It’s too much fun. Who cares why I do it… I know I shouldn’t, and I do it anyway.

So all of this sounds like fatalistic bad news, right? We mess up, we’re stuck. We get caught up in the undertow, we’re going to be dragged out to sea and drown. Paul was no different; why should we even try to live the “Christian” life? Why should we try to be good if we’re only ever going to fail? “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?”

Oh, come on, like you couldn’t guess where I was going with this? Absolutely you should NOT! Look at the title! I dare you to MOVE! I’m challenging you to overcome your own stagnation, your own tendencies to failure, and calling you to fight the undertow. I’m invoking the clichés: Get back on your bike and ride! Try, try again and again and again. Ignore Yoda… if all you can do is try, keep trying, Beloved!

Yes, I know, I just spent an entire page telling you that failure breeds failure. I just told you how the undertow drags you out to sea to drown you. I told you that if you fall down, you don’t lay still, you get dragged backwards… I made very clear how difficult it is to overcome your failures. Hopefully, I also made clear how high the stakes are. Your life is on the line, Beloved! Get over yourself and GET UP! MOVE before stagnation is your death!

But that’s not the end of what I have to say tonight. You thought I forgot that second verse, didn’t you? I didn’t, and while that’s the second half of tonight’s challenge, it’s also the best news I have to offer in the midst of this despair.

Where does “west” end and “east” begin? How far is it from the west to the east? How far can your mind fathom? That’s how much distance God promises to put between us and our sins. Not certain that’s good enough? What about this: “I…blot out your transgressions… and remember your sins no more”. God chooses to not remember our failures. Beloved, that’s like falling out of a boat in a storm and discovering you can walk on water! You don’t get dragged back by the undertow because you’re above it. God’s love and God’s grace gives you a chance to actually overcome your failures… not by your abilities, but by His grace!

That just leaves me with one last point: if God chooses to forget your failures, who do you suppose is the one trying to drag you down under the waves by reminding you of them? Either you aren’t letting them go, or you’re letting the Accuser win battles in your life by dragging you under waves that God set you to walk above. You get a fresh start every time you confess your shortcomings to God… don’t throw that away by dragging out dirty laundry He’s washed clean.

Beloved, it’s time to get up and move. It’s time to live as though you’ve never failed… because if you’ve confessed your failures to God, He’s giving you the chance to start over, just as if you’ve never failed. This could be your life, covered in the extravagant love and stunning grace of God. Just get up, Beloved. MOVE.

h1

Musical Musing: Casting Crowns – Set Me Free

February 16, 2009

Set Me Free

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33b)

I’ve have something working away within me for a few days now, and I’ve not sat down yet to work it out, partially because I’ve been working on a dozen other things (including the launch of humjah.com!) But as I read “Mad Church Disease: Overcoming the Burnout Epidemic
” by Anne Jackson, something clicked with me, something I’ve known all along, but that I needed to see again, in a new, fresh way.

You see, I’ve quoted that promise from Christ before; it’s one I quote often, actually. It’s a promise I live my life by. The version above says that we may have life to the full, but other versions, other translations, such as the New American Standard and the King James say that Christ came to give us life “abundantly”. Dictionary.com defines “abundant” as “present in great quantity; more than adequate; oversufficient” or “well” or “richly supplied”. I love this idea, and it’s one I’ve staked my life on.

The problem is that I’ve often ignored the first half of the verse. This abundant life, this richly supplied life is an answer to a problem. It’s almost ironic, really, that I’d ignore the presence of the problem… as much of my life as been marked by problems, how could I ignore them? But it’s tempting to go glibly along, latching onto the promise of abundant life, wearing rose-colored glasses that function the way a horse’s blinders do, and keep us so focused on positivity that we’re blindsided by problems.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not advocating a life marked by depression and pessimism, of always worrying and looking for the worst possible outcome; indeed, that lifestyle can only shorten your life. But I think it’s possible to ignore the basic fact that the promises of abundant life and victory don’t come without a precondition; you’ll need abundant life and victory to survive and overcome the battles that are coming.

You read that right. “To survive and overcome the battles that are coming.” And not just coming once, or once in a very great while, but constantly. That’s the first part of that verse in John 10:10. The enemy comes ONLY to steal, to kill, and to destroy. The enemy has a single-minded focus: your complete, total, and utter destruction.

“Why can’t we just be friends?” you ask hopefully, doubtful of the existence of any “enemy” or “devil” like I’ve described. “Can’t we all just get along?” The problem is, he’s counting on your hope, on your disbelief, on your optimism, on your blindness to him. As long as you remain disbelieving and blind, he can sneak up on you… and sneak attacks are so effective.

The narrator in the story sung in this song has suffered from such a sneak attack. Once, he was free. Once, he was hopeful. Once, he was optimistic. In this song, he’s literally demon-possessed… but who’s to say that can’t be speaking of anyone who’s demon-oppressed… not lost to the control of demons, but still so weighed by their presence that it marks everything they do?

Or, and here’s a radical thought: what if it’s someone who’s depressed? Or overworked, overstressed, overburdened by health-problems and the struggling economy. They’re working as hard as they can just to make ends meet, but no matter how hard they pinch, no matter what they do without, ends aren’t meeting, and they’re about to lose the house they dreamed of owning forever and bought a few years ago. Their son, the delight of their life, is seriously ill… maybe it’s a childhood cancer, or a genetic disorder, or a tragic accident that stole their baby’s health from him. The medical bills are piling up, and the time that the wife misses from work to take care of the son, shuttling him to the myriad doctor’s appointments, is threatening to take her job from her.

That’s just the bad-luck of life, right? I mean, that’s not the fault of the devil! Surely, if anything, it’s proof that if God exists, he’s neither good nor all-powerful. I know you’re questioning him. It’s OK. He’s open to your questions.

Except see, Beloved, that can be the Enemy, too. It doesn’t have to be, but it could be, coming by to find ways to kick them while they’re down. Because the enemy doesn’t play fair. He doesn’t play nice. He doesn’t play by the rules. His ONLY GOAL is to steal, and kill, and destroy. The enemy looks at this struggling family and isn’t satisfied when they curse God. He’s not satisfied until they curse God and die in so much debt that it drags their neighbors and extended family down with them, until the doctor treating the child questions why he ever thought he could possibly make a difference and leaves medicine convinced he’s a complete failure and kills himself… the enemy is looking for utter destruction AND collateral damage.

So where is the God I say is so good, and so all powerful in the midst of this? Let’s rewind a little. The family is still struggling, the son is still burdened by terrible medical problems, and mom has actually lost her job because of it. We’ll even take the house away… yeah, I’m being really ugly here. Because you might be right, and sometimes, this is just life happening. But now, let me show you how God steps in and begins to offer them victory over their problems and the abundant life over the enemy who wants nothing but total destruction and collateral damage.

The house payment was way more than they could afford; they’re forced to move into a small apartment, but because of their son’s illness, the apartment manager gives them a disabled-equipped unit. It’s easier for their son to get around on his own, and his despair and hopelessness begins to lift. They’ve lost mom’s income, but now she doesn’t have the stress of getting her son to school and to his appointments, and she can actually spend more time with him, and can focus on helping him with his physical therapy. Maybe he has some recovery. Maybe not… but she gets the quality time she couldn’t before, and in the few days they will have with him, every moment is precious. Their childcare costs go down, too, because they don’t have to worry about having someone to stay with him after school. Because their housing is smaller, and less expensive than their dream home, their housing dollars go farther… so while they’ve lost income, every dollar stretches farther than it did before.

And all of that is without considering if other people come into their lives to help out, or to ease the burden. All of that is without considering if Mom meets someone who offers to stay with the son once a week so that Mom can go out and just have a good cry to cope with the idea that she’s losing him. Or maybe someone offers them a vehicle. Or someone gives them money. Or groceries. It happens. God works in small ways to make big differences in lives every day through small gestures of kindness.

Christ came to give us victory, to give us life abundant. He came to set us free of all the chains the enemy would sneak onto us, the worry, the debt, the heartache. He promised us that we would have problems. He told us there would be trouble. He warned us that the enemy would come with one purpose in mind: to steal and kill and destroy us. Ignoring the enemy doesn’t make him go away; it just lets him pull the sneak attack and tear you down… until one day, you no longer recognize the face you see in the mirror. You’ve forgotten where your joy went. You forgot when you stopped saying “We’ll be OK, we’ve just got to make it to payday” and started saying “How am I going to tell her we’ve lost the house?”

So how do you go from chained to set free? The song answers the question beautifully, as did Christ. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” and, “the truth will set you free” and “you will be free indeed“! Paul told us that it is for freedom we were set free, and not to burden ourselves again with a heavy yoke (or chains). You turn to Christ.

You may, at this point, be objecting to what I’m saying. You may have some experience with christians or with christianity that has left you soured on the entire concept of God and Christ as you know it. Considering some of the things I’ve seen, I can’t say that I’d blame you. I’ve seen some things that turn my stomach, that make me ill. There are people who claim the name of Christ but have nothing to do with who He is at all. There are people who act in the name of God who would be shocked to find that God has nothing to do with what they are doing. (Jesus even tells us about those folks, too, warning that there will be a rude awakening).

But ask yourself this: If you’re right, what do you have to lose from reading some passages in a book? If you’re right, and there is no God, or He is unknowable, or He isn’t good and all-powerful, then reading the passages in a book… well, what can it hurt? Even holding a discussion with mid-air… if you’re right, the worst that can happen is nothing at all, right?

But what if I’m right? What if I’m not like any of those other “christians” you’ve met? What if the things I say are right, and the God I describe is real? What if there is an enemy as terrible as a describe… but a God as good and as powerful and loving as I describe? What do you have to gain if I’m right? You lose nothing if I’m wrong… but Oh, Beloved… what if I’m right?

Almost all of the links in this post will take you to Biblegateway.com. You can read the passages in context there, and if you have questions, email me. Even if I can’t answer them right away, I’ll FIND you answers. Read the book of John. Choose the translation that reads easiest for you (just tell me which one you were reading so I know what to reference), and learn about the man called Christ. Don’t take my word for it. Don’t take anyone else’s word for it. Read it for yourself. And the discussion with mid-air? I want you to talk with God. I know, you may not believe that God exists, or that we can know if he exists, or if God is knowable. But go into this with an open mind, and expect some sort of answer as you read John. Ask whatever you want. “Why did you let my great-aunt Mary die? Where is my cousin Sarah? Who are you? Do you exist? Are you the God that Heather claims you are? If you’re so good, why does hunger still exist? Can you make a rock so big even you can’t move it?” I don’t promise He’ll answer all of them… but I’m believing that if you open an honest dialogue with the God who created you to know you, and if you learn about the Christ who came to redeem you… well, you might be surprised at what you find out.

I’ve suffered from too many sneak attacks, and it’s time I remembered that I have an enemy out to destroy me. Chains are awfully heavy, and I’m not about to let them weigh me down. But what kind of “christian” would I be if I knew an enemy was out to get you, and I never warned you? If I am convinced that there is an enemy set on total destruction, isn’t it my obligation, my duty, to warn you? Isn’t that what love demands? As one of my favorite entertainers, a man I highly admire and greatly respect, and who happens to be an atheist and is utterly convinced there is no God, Penn Jillette said (speaking of a man who gave him a Gideon Bible), “…If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell, or not getting eternal life, or whatever… how much do you have hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe it, that that truck was bearing down on you, there’s a certain point where I tackle you, and this is more important than that…”

So you see, I have to ask you to try. Because I honestly believe that something much worse than a truck is coming for you, and I honestly believe that everlasting life is waiting for you, and I don’t hate you. Besides…

All you have to lose is your bondage.

*Note. As of the posting of the video, Penn still hadn’t changed his mind as to the existence of God, and the inclusion of his quote here is in no way meant to demonstrate that he supports the views or opinions, or even knows of the existence of this blogger. I think my quote keeps it entirely in context, and if he, or his lawyers, disagree, they can contact me by email and let me know and this post will be edited to remove it immediately. If you’d like to discuss your reading of John and your discussion with the “air”, and any questions you have, I’m also open to those, too… because you’re right… this is way more important than a truck (and I’m not quite built right to knock someone well over a foot taller than I am out of the way of a truck, but for the sake of your family, I’d surely try, and I don’t just say that to be nice. 🙂 )

h1

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?

h1

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.

h1

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.

h1

Carry You To Jesus

January 4, 2009

I will not pretend to feel the pain you’re going through
I know I cannot comprehend the hurt you’ve known
And I used to think it mattered if I understood
But now I just don’t know

Well, I’ll admit sometimes I still wish I knew what to say
And I keep looking for a way to fix it all
But we know we’re at the mercy of God’s higher ways
And our ways are so small

But I will carry you to Jesus
He is everything you need
I will carry you to Jesus on my knees

It’s such a privilege for me to give this gift to you
All I’d ever hope you’d give me in return
Is to know that you’ll be there to do the same for me
When the tables turn

And if you need to cry go on and I, I will cry along with you, yeah
I’ve given you what I have but still I know the best thing I can do
Is just pray for you

I’ll carry you
I’ll take you to Jesus on my knees

There are no words to express how impossible this time of my life has been. The depression, the despair, the disappointment at every step dogs me and drags at me, trying to drown me. I’ve asked for prayer in ways I’ve never asked before, been more open with people than I’ve ever been before, and been more broken than possibly I have ever been, or at least than I have been since I lost my father. The one constant question I get asked by family and friends, the one thing I hear over and over, is “if there’s anything I can do for you, just ask”… or “I just feel so helpless to do anything for you…” And the truth is, I’m not sure what to ask you to do for me- because the physical burden is one I can’t share, and it’s the one that triggers the emotional and psychological burdens.

But this song, from Stephen Curtis Chapman, this song speaks better to what I can ask you to do for me in this time than anything else. And not just me- I’m not the only person you know suffering impossible pain. Somewhere, right now, a mother is grieving the loss of her child. A spouse is freshly widowed and heartbroken at the loss of their mate, wondering how to go on in life. Someone lost their job, their livelihood, and doesn’t know how they’re going to make ends meet. Someone else lost a pregnancy, someone lost a promised adoption, and another woman is facing a pregnancy she didn’t plan for and doesn’t know how to cope with. Someone just lost their parent, their grandparent, their brother or sister, their best friend. Someone was betrayed by the person they trusted most in the world. Right now, as I write these words and you read them, someone you know, many someone you know (maybe even you) is going through an impossible situation and in all of them, you’re struggling with what you can do to help.

Maybe it’s coming along side of them and bringing them a meal, or providing for material needs. Maybe someone who has no energy needs someone with energy to do the million and one small things that need doing for them. Or maybe, just maybe, they need the distraction of the mindless everyday, the ordinary that has to be done without thinking about it, keeping busy so that they don’t have time to fall apart. I can’t tell you what the someone in your life needs beyond this: Carry us to Jesus.

Oh, my friends, my family, beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, there are not words enough to express how valuable this sort of intercessory prayer is for us. Let me put it in terms of battle, because Beloved, when we’re in impossible situations, we are in the midst of spiritual warfare, and winning a battle is exactly the mindset you should have.

The Spartans of ancient Greece built a phalanx. They had a shield that covered each man from neck to thigh when held correctly. The soldiers would come together and work as a single unit. Those on the front line held their shields together to form a solid wall in front of the unit, making it nearly impossible for arrows to penetrate through the wall and get to any one soldier. Those on the side would similarly shield the sides, locking the shields to form walls on the sides, and the ones in the middle would lift their shields over their heads and cover them all with a roof of protection. In so doing, these men formed a solid hedge of protection over themselves.

When you come before the Father in intercessory prayer, you are lifting your shield high, Beloved. You cover me, you cover the one you intercede for with your shield, hedging them in. And each other believer that prays comes along side of you, locking in with you, firming up that line of defense. The more men and women interceding for someone, the more coverage you offer them, the better they are shielded from the attacks of the enemy in this time of their brokenness and weakness.

I know how ineffectual prayer can feel at times; I’ve been there. I’ve felt like my words and thoughts were going into empty air, falling flat and pointless. But Beloved, your prayers are never wasted. Each whispered word, every brief remembrance is a shield hefted high to defend against the principalities in this dark world.

I’m hoping that this imagery will help encourage you. I know it’s been an encouragement to me. Whenever I’ve asked someone to pray for me, I’ve thought of them in this way, as a warrior lifting high a shield to cover me when I’m too weak to shield myself. When someone has said they’re praying for me, I’ve found encouragement in that, picturing the phalanx of soldiers hedging me in above and below, before and behind, on all sides. I marry the image of these soldiers covering me with the one of God interposing His body between mine and the enemies, and I feel very safe in my brokenness. I know that I can afford to be weak, because God is strong, and you are covering me.

And Beloved, when you are where I am, utterly broken, beyond hope, clinging desperately to anything you can find to find enough to get up for in the mornings… remember this again. Because when you are where I am, Beloved, then you are cradled in the arms of God, and I will be in your phalanx, holding high my shield, and returning the favor.

Thank you, Beloved, for carrying me to Jesus. After all, He really is everything I need. I know it may not seem like enough, but it is so much more than you can imagine.

h1

Living out “Footprints In The Sand”, or The Value of Relationship

January 1, 2009

Footprints in the Sand

One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord.

Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.

In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand.

Sometimes there were two sets of footprints,

other times there were one set of footprints.

This bothered me because I noticed

that during the low periods of my life,

when I was suffering from

anguish, sorrow or defeat,

I could see only one set of footprints.

So I said to the Lord,

“You promised me Lord,

that if I followed you,

you would walk with me always.

But I have noticed that during

the most trying periods of my life

there have only been one

set of footprints in the sand.

Why, when I needed you most,

you have not been there for me?”

The Lord replied,

“The times when you have

seen only one set of footprints in the sand,

is when I carried you.”

Mary Stevenson

Copyright © 1984 Mary Stevenson, from original 1936 text, All rights reserved

This was my father’s favorite poem, and I remember reading it at his funeral. I had no idea I’d find myself living it out almost 14 years later. It’s not that I’ve been dreaming of walking on a beach, or that I’ve seen my life flashing before my eyes… but I am very much aware that I’m in a period of my life that would show only one set of footprints in the sand if I were to look back over it. I’m unspeakably grateful for them, and I’m convinced that were it not for the Lord carrying me through this time, there would be no footprints in the sand. Instead, this would be the place where the tracks ended, and you’d find me in a heap on the sand, sapped of all energy and hope. This would be a place of death for me, even if I survived it physically, and the tracks in the sand couldn’t help but reflect that death.

And that’s what brings me to the other title of this piece, “The Value of Relationship”.

You see, Beloved, relationships aren’t about just getting through the easy times, they aren’t about being there when the sun is shining and leaving when the rain clouds begin to shadow the skies. Think about wedding vows, because the words traditionally spoken in a Judeo-Christian wedding are about the relationship between the bride and groom, but they’re also a reflection of the relationship between God and His Beloved Bride. “…To have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.” Do you see it in there? For better or worse. Which means that relationship is there when things go wrong. Relationship is there through the sunlit skies, warns of the coming storms, helps you prepare for them, and comforts you through them until you emerge on the other side, and then stays with you to clean up afterwards.

Yes, I did just compare my relationship with my God to my relationship with my husband, and I assure you that when he reads this, my husband will agree and approve of the comparison. The comparison is made in the Bible, too. The Song of Songs (also known as The Song of Solomon) is about a beloved and her lover, and is speaking as much of a relationship between a man and woman as it is about the relationship between the God who wrote it and we who read it. In Ephesians, when Paul speaks of the relationship between a husband and wife, he tells men to love their wives “Just as Christ loves the Church.” And the Revelation of John that closes the Bible speaks of the wedding feast of the Lamb, when Jesus will marry his Bride, the church that’s been waiting faithfully for Him. So this idea that the relationship between a husband and wife is a portrait of the relationship between God and us is right there for you.

OK, so what does that mean in the every day? What does that mean right now, when I’m living in a time where there’s only one set of prints in the sand, in this place that would be my death were I alone?

It means that this living relationship with my God allows us to speak to each other. And just as with my husband, things aren’t always sunny or perfect, there are times that things aren’t always perfect between me and God, either. There are times where my husband and I don’t understand each other, and we struggle, but our commitment to each other and to this relationship we have means that we work through the struggles together to find the other side, to find the answer. There are times I don’t understand why God allows me to go through what I’m enduring. There are times I can’t see what He’s doing, but I’m trusting that He’s good, that He loves me, and that this relationship with Him is worth preserving, and I listen to what He would say. It means that God is willing to let me cry out my rage and confusion, my pain and fear, knowing that as long as I’m speaking with Him, there’s still a chance for us to work through even this, there’s still relationship between us. It means that as long as I am honest with Him, I can rely on Him to provide answers and strength in my weakness.

Just as I am better for having my husband in my life, so too am I better for the presence of my God. There are places that I am incomplete, places I am weak or where my knowledge or skills are lacking, and where John’s skills complete me, where his strength complements me. I tend to be very emotional – he tends to be very rational. He can help give me the distance from passion I need to make good decisions, while I give him the heart to make compassionate calls. I hate to touch raw chicken – he doesn’t mind so much. In the places where I am weak, relationship makes me strong.

And that, Beloved, is where I am now. I’ve found myself in a place that has left me broken and utterly without any strength on my own to do anything. I’m in this place that would be my death were I alone… but thanks to relationship, I am not dead. Relationship with God and with my husband is carrying me through impossibility.

What does that look like? I mean, it’s nice to say that relationship is carrying me through, but what does that actually look like?

I’d been struggling to carry myself for a while, to withstand the health problems that were weakening, the constant pain that was draining my strength and energy. Indeed, at one point, I commented that “God’s scale of what I can handle&mine are 2 very different measurements,&I’m beginning to fear I’m going to collapse before I hit His mark.” I was asking friends to pray for me, knowing that I needed to rest in the arms of God, knowing that He was the source of my strength and the source of my victory, but somehow, I kept trying to stand on my own. And then I got a phone call that triggered some of my phobias again, and, well, there’s no pretty word for it-I threw a temper tantrum. That was the straw that broke this camel’s back, and I just fell apart. I told my husband I wasn’t suicidal, but only because it would take too much energy to actually make a plan and do something. I curled up in his arms (see the relationship there? Turning to him when I had no strength to carry myself anymore) and cried, utterly broken hearted.

But because I have relationship with God, too, He was speaking to me also, a soft voice whispering in my mind. He reminded me of what I’d said, that I needed to rest in His arms. And in my own mind, I answered Him, an internal dialogue (almost with myself, but I believe it was with God). “But Lord, I’ve flung myself from Your lap, and I don’t have the energy to even try to climb back up again.” Do you see relationship again? Openness… there’s no hiding truth here, no florid language, no fancy words or high concepts, just a conversation between a heart broken beyond hope of help, and the One who was only waiting for me to ask for it.

He gave me a picture, and I think He does it that way because I’m so visual. I was laying in his lap, facing in towards Him, and I was so small compared to Him… all I could see was His knees, His lap, and the bottom of his torso, just enough to see me there, in the one place I longed to be and couldn’t get on my own. And the enemy stepped in to attack, but I couldn’t lift my head enough to see where the attack would land, much less fight it off… I was that weak, that broken. It didn’t matter. In that moment, one arm swept me up, cradling me close to His chest and He stepped out, placing His body between mine and the attack. And then He spoke over me the Word I’d memorized, the Scriptures He’d given me before and I’d tattooed on my heart as His promise. “She is MINE. I have called her by name, and she is MINE. This is what the Lord, the Holy One of Israel says-I will give NATIONS in her place. Though the waters rise around her, they will not overwhelm her. SHE IS MINE.”

I wept, Beloved. I shook all over I was crying so hard, because a sense of peace washed over me that I cannot put into words for you. You see, in that moment, I knew I didn’t have to get through this. I didn’t have to get through these medical problems, I didn’t have to get through the treatments, I didn’t have to get through the days between them. I didn’t have to find the strength to pull myself together and survive every day. I was going to be carried far above it all by the Lord, by the One with whom I had a relationship. I am His, and He is going to carry me through it all. In my brokenness, in my weakness, He is complete strength.

And that’s not to say that it has ended there. Because I still got to the test that sent me into a temper-tantrum panic, and I was still trembling with fear. And there are nights that I can’t go to sleep because I am so struck by despair and fear. But relationship won’t let me go. I turn to music, finding the truths that are repeated by the songs and written in scripture, and there I find peace until I manage to slow my racing mind and trembling heart and can rest. And then I carry that with me into my day. And when I went to my test, I took my Bible with me. You see, Beloved, it’s the Word of God, it’s how He speaks to us. It’s His love letter to us, and I took it hoping He’d have something there for me, somehow, though I wasn’t sure where to look.

I opened back up to that passage in Isaiah 43, the one He’d crowed over me in my vision. I read it again, nearly weeping again with joy, but kept reading. And something leapt out at me. “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 desert and streams in the wasteland.” Most of my fears and phobias have risen out of things that happened to me in my past, so this was as if He was telling me “Let go of all of that. Take hold of Me here and now, and look and see what I am doing now!” I was reassured, and thought I was going to be OK. I went in to go through admitting process, and saw that they had something wrong, and it took all I had to not throw another temper tantrum (generally not a good idea in public). I repeated that scripture to myself, trying desperately to cling to new things, trying to cling to God and release my fears. And I got to the part “Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” and I cried to myself (again, silently, in my own head), “Oh, Lord, I don’t, I don’t see it, I’m blind!” I pulled the Bible out while they tried to straighten it out and looked for something that would help, but I wasn’t finding it. I was so frightened, even after they got it straightened all out. But I just kept looking at that Bible, kept looking for something in that love letter, and then He showed me exactly what He wanted me to see. “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.”

Do you see relationship? “Let go of the old, Beloved. Look and see the new things I am doing. Can’t you see it?” And when I said “Oh, Lord, No, no I can’t see it, I am Blind!”, He had an answer even for that. “It’s ok that you’re blind, Beloved. This new thing… I’ll lead you to it. I’ll make the darkness into light, I’ll make the road easy, and I will never leave you, my Love.” Relationship takes me blundering in fear and darkness and leads me to the comfort I need and carries me through when I am too broken to carry myself.

Oh, Beloved, this is my God. This is the beauty of relationship with my God. You are never alone. Even when you wail in the darkness, lost and confused, hurt and certain you’re alone… Beloved, you need only tell Him so, and He will RUN to you! This is the Father of the Prodigal son who watched for him from a distance and RAN to him to welcome him home. This is LOVE as you’ve never imagined, strength you’ll never known until you’re broken, and peace you could never possess on your own.

The value of relationship, Beloved. It is life. In this moment, right now, my relationship with God is LIFE. Why will you struggle on your own when Life is waiting to take your hand? How do you survive these moments of death any other way?