Friday, November 4, 2011

Out of the Mouth of Babes



My five year-old came bounding into my bathroom Monday morning with a paper waving wildly in his hands, all the while exclaiming, "Mommy I typed out a Bible verse for you!  It's Philippians 4:1 and it is an important verse!"  I read it, while stroking his hair, amazed at his pastoral care for his mommy and after thanking him asked for tape so I could post it on my bathroom mirror.  I looked at it several times that day, reflecting on it's admonishment to stand firm in the Lord.

Later that day, after harshly speaking to the boys about getting water all over the bathroom, he reminded of the verse on the mirror, saying, "Mom, remember Philippians 4:1, it will help you!  It says, 'my brothers' and you're my brother and everything will be ok."  Out of the mouth of babes.  Yes we are brothers in the Lord.  And yes, everything will be ok.


How often are we taught that our believing children, husbands, parents, siblings, in-laws, etc., are primarily our brothers and sisters in Christ?  We read books and hear sermons and attend workshops on how to relate to one another horizontally and we focus on the obvious verses:  wives respect your husbands, children honor your father and mother, parents teach your children while you walk in the way, etc.  Therefore, it appears that the majority of verses that admonish us in how we relate to one another, especially in New Testament writings, are applied to our relationships with people outside of our blood relations. 


But who are my mother and brothers?  As Christ said in Mark 3:33-35, those who do the will of my Father in Heaven.  This INCLUDES my believing husband and children and parents, which means ALL those verses about our relationship with the saints apply to how I treat my blood family as well.

I often take my spiritual temperature by how I am acting around the saints at church, coworkers, or people in the world in a variety of situations, but these people are acquaintances, or at best, friends I go on playdates with.  I am virtually untouched emotionally by these people - they don't rattle my cage enough for my nice little mask to come unglued. But my close family and the few intimate friends I have, have glimpsed, even gazed long at the grotesque monster under my mask.  Who is that grotesque monster?  Where in the world did she come from?  That can't be ME?  Ah, but it IS me - the me in my raw sinful state who exposes my entitlements and my demands for all that I deserve from these people who rub against me most acutely. Why do I act so evilly toward those or in the presence of those I'm most comfortable with?

These are the people that challenge every area of my heart.  God has placed them there to not just rub some edges a little softer, but in His hands, He uses them and circumstances in my life to actually mold me into a NEW creation.  Perhaps beautifying that grotesque monster.  All the verses I think apply to all others besides my immediate family, also apply to how I treat my believing family members as well.  When Ephesians 3:2-3 says, "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace," does that only apply to those outside my four walls of safety that I rub up against?  It applies to how I relate with ALL believers - that includes my husband, children, parents, siblings, et al.

In pondering this paradigm, I appease myself by thinking, well then, I just need to serve my family, even when they wound me or choose not to meet my needs.  I need to be humble and gentle and patient.  And this is true, but King David takes it a step further....Psalm 16:3 says, "As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones in whom is all my delight."  Delight?  Delight????  It's not just enough to "serve" them I must delight in them?  That raises the stakes.  That means that when I'm pained by those close to me and all the saints at church I avoid for fear of being cornered with information and circumstances I don't feel like dealing with, I am not only to live peaceably with them, in one mind and spirit, I am to DELIGHT in them.

Delight means "a high degree of pleasure or enjoyment; joy; rapture."  I definitely feel these emotions much of the time with my husband, children, good friends, certain foods and entertainment and accolades.  But then I consider brothers and sisters in my community and around the world and those whom I avoid or have been deeply wounded by or feel anxiety when confronted with their presence and think, how I can I feel enraptured by these saints?

As David says, the saints are the excellent ones.  This includes me and all believers.  WE are the excellent ones.  We are greatly rescued, dearly loved, and currently, even today, being conformed to the likeness of Christ.  We are excellent because we are Christ's, not because we are lovable, talented, clever, or cool and popular-types.  That means with all those I am covenanted with in Christ - my blood relations, in-laws or church family - I am challenged, maybe even defeated, by David's words to go beyond duty and service to delighting in them.  

Can I do it?  Not in my own strength nor in the current state in which I am, but I pray as the saints serve to rub me into another shape altogether: Christ using His saints to help in conforming me to His image,  may I dare to delight in the saints.  May I live peaceably in my own home with my husband and children and believing relations.  May I apply, God helping me, all scripture to all of life and to my relationships with those who are the saints.  When Paul in Galatians 6 admonishes the one who is spiritual to help restore with gentleness him who was caught in a sin, may I apply that to my children, not just to an unnamed believer.  How often to do I "catch" my children in sin as opposed to those I only see for 2 hours on Sunday?  Oh my - restore them with gentleness several times a day?

 
My brothers and sisters live with me, one even sleeps in my bed.  May I grow in delight in them as well as in all my brothers and sisters in Christ in my city and around the world.  Soli Deo Gloria!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Keeping it Real

I am standing at the kitchen window looking into the backyard on a beautiful Saturday morning, admiring my 2 1/2 year old, Soren's, exploration with the water hose, when along comes the 5-year-old, desiring to exert his seniority, and I watch him try to knock over his brother, unprovoked.  I'm thinking - I don't want to interrupt my momentum in the kitchen to deal with this behavior.  I would be stopping all day dealing with behavior if I disciplined every little thing.  But, as God has been opening my eyes, little by little, not fast enough, to the ugliness of sin, I call Brennan inside and have him wait on his bed until I get to a stopping place and hopefully can instill in him that God is beautiful and sin is ugly.  What should we choose?



I have become increasingly burdened since these children were thrust from my loins, that if I don't love God with all my heart, mind, and strength; if I don't seek Him with my whole heart; if I don't enjoy Him; if I don't see Him as beautiful; if I don't see my sin as ugly--I will never be able to instill a love and joy and worship of God in my children.  (Thankfully, it is not totally up to me - they are the Lord's.)  I have to keep it real.





I can be diligent to teach them the Word, to memorize scripture, but the Word became Flesh.  The Word is a Person.  Am I teaching them relationship?  Certainly they are happy and comfortable with Mom and Dad.  I am happy for that.  Sweet joy and innocence.  But as they increase in reasoning and logic, in existential realities, are we demonstrating a relationship with our Creator?  A love and utter joy of being with and worshiping the One who plucked us out of the race to destruction?

For the last six months I have been happy - perhaps deeply joyful for the first time.  I have enjoyed laughter and giddiness, serving my husband and children.  I don't know the last time the world seemed right, maybe never.  In the midst of this peace, I was handed Ann Voskamp's book "One Thousand Gifts," an amazing gift from a dear friend!  I began to employ much-needed tactics on living in the moment and savoring moment by moment His gifts.

Then another gift came along....a beautiful dazzling glittering gem.  An amazing opportunity that would jumpstart my career again, validate me to others (ugly pride) - adding many benefits and immediate satisfaction.  I can't believe this opportunity was being handed to me after so much desert has been tread!  With more pros than cons, I held the phone in my hand to tell the director, YES, YES, YES!  I'd be crazy insane NOT to do this project!  This will never come along this way again.  To my utter shock and dismay, I said no.  Those two little letters which walk side by side between 24 others, but when lifted out of the line up and put together, they stop momentum, thwart desire, tempt me to despair.  Which I did.

I despaired.  Again, after 5 years of desert and sacrifice and, I'm embarrassed to say, no joy for not drinking of His well ever before me, here I am again.  Hazy, grieving, sad, I keep hearing His voice saying, "Are you going to thank Me for this?Am I going to Thank Him?  We are to thank God for all things.  ALL things.  ALL things are from His sovereign hand - He who sits enthroned with cherubim guarding His glory, crying Holy, Holy, Holy!  Whose throne emanates an emerald rainbow.  Who is separated from His subjects by a sea of glass.  Who many times a day is worshiped by the 24 elders falling prostrate before Him, casting down their crowns at His feet, saying,  

Worthy are you, our Lord and God, 
to receive glory and honor and power, 
for you created all things, 
and by your will they existed and were created!
 (Rev. 4:11)

This is the God we worship and have relationship with!  Am I going to thank Him?  If I don't, I stay miserable.  If I do, I let go.  Can't I have both?  Can't I hold on to my fleeting life and have Him too?  Jesus said, "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it,"  Luke 9:24.  Lest I sound mortifying, let me say that I believe the season will come for me to perform again.  Maybe even soon.  But this was not the time for this opportunity in particular.  As Bonhoeffer says, "Self-denial is saying only: He goes ahead of us; hold fast to him."

There is a much more important lesson for me.  I thought I had this joy thing and thankfulness figured out.  "I was doing all the right things."  But just when I think I've learned the art of joy, He has to teach it to me a thousand different ways to etch His story into my heart. (Paraphrased from Ann Voskamp.)  It is His story.  But I am the subject of it.  I am the recipient of His amazing grace.  I am in His gaze.  The apple of His eye.  Not because of me - because of Him!  If I mold a vase from clay, bake it in the kiln, paint it and put it on my mantle to enjoy, it can't say that I am enjoying it because the vase has beautified itself and chosen to make me like it.  I enjoy it, because I made it as it delights ME.  We are created by Him for HIS enjoyment.  His enjoyment of us is our joy.  God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden in the cool of the day enjoying fellowship with the people HE created.  And they enjoying Him.

It is sin that brought the rift, the sadness, the fear, the fleeing, the enmity with holy God.  

My ugly sin.  God's glorious beauty.  His glorious mercy, mercy, mercy.  Christ's righteousness draped over me, covering my nakedness, just as God covered Adam and Eve's nakedness with clothes before leaving the Garden.  Not because we are striving to do rightly, but because GOD is bending low to fellowship with us.  To eat, walk, live and dialogue with us.  This is what I want my children to know.  This is what I want to know.  I don't know how to impart it to them, save believing it and living it myself.  I believe!  Lord, help my unbelief!  Soli Deo Gloria. 




Saturday, February 12, 2011

Big Love

The water ran down my face and neck, making tracks in my makeup and dropping swiftly onto the carpet below.  The pastor said, "Christi Carter, I baptize you in the name of The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit."  Then he baptized my brothers with my parents at our sides.  A common element used everyday, for many necessities:  water.

The bread is passed after the pastor says, "On the night He was betrayed, He took bread, gave thanks, and when He broke it said, 'This is My body, broken for you.  Take and eat; do this in remembrance of Me.'"  Then the pastor lifts the chalice and says, "In the same way, after supper, He took the cup and said, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood, do this, whenever you drink of it, in remembrance of Me.'"  Everyday elements.  Bread.  Fruit of the vine.  Whenever you eat and drink of it.  Remember Me.  (I Cor. 11:23-26)

Brilliant!  We use water for many uses everyday.  We eat bread and quench our thirst everyday.  He used the most basic and normal elements that He consumed and we consume everyday to remind us each meal and in between to remember His covenant to us.  Christ didn't leave us with just teachings, and prophesies, and thoughts to remember.  He gave us tangible, normal, everyday objects, used for many things, and tells us, whenever we use them, to "do this in remembrance of Him."  His covenant unwraps itself and makes its home with us and in us and around us.  He knew we needed these reminders midweek when not in the sanctuary of Sunday morning.



In the same way, God, rich in mercy and Big Love, gave us other very tangible ways of learning His love.  Though my age was documented as 20-something, I was still preteen emotionally; needy of affirmation, needy of connection; needy of contentment and peace; needy of direction; needy of pure love.  Just before I was married, the Holy Spirit spoke to me while reading His word, during a quiet time, showing me He was going to mature me emotionally, that He was lifting me off of the stump I had been sitting on since I was 12 and walking me down the path toward Big Love.  He was going to teach me to open my fists that had been clinched, ready to protect myself from the onslaught of intimate pain, and receive His Love.  I had no idea how this would manifest, but I trusted.

When the Shepherd, my dear husband, married a teenager, emotionally, he married a girl who was untrusting, broken, quickly provoked, and a bottomless pit of graceless venom.  He patiently washed me, pursued me, caressed and comforted me, smoothed oil on my wounds, and waited for me to receive that which was all around me - Love.  The love of the Shepherd was the Big Love of God the Father all around me everyday.  That untrusting girl needed the Big Love of the Creator, filling the bottomless pit with His Grace.  God used the most common person in my everyday life, the one who shares my blankets, my food, my movies and books, my daily routine to usher His Big Love into my sagging heart.  



Fast forward five years and in walks another person of His grace into my heart, teaching me about being a child in God's house.  This little person was in constant need of nourishment physically and emotionally, constant need of attention and elements necessary for growth.  Still in constant need of correction and patience, hugs, assistance, affirmation, direction, guidance, comfort, and love, love, love.  He and his little brother desperately need their Heavenly Father's Big Love to fill their sin-stained holes.  God has not only given me to them as a means for them to experience the Father's character, but He has given them to me for me to experience the Big Love of a perfect Father as I love them with all my heart in my finite imperfection.  Matt. 7:11, "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!"



Our God is a God of Big Love.  His Big Love is shown in the everyday, seemingly mundane elements and imperfect, even unloving, people who grace us with their presence on a daily even momentary basis, making each moment a sacred gift of His grace.  Teaching the truths we read in His word, hear from the pulpit, sing with the throng, and taste in the sacramentsMay I slow down enough to savor the moments and see with a pure lens the Big Love that surrounds my heart with constant holiness in the daily drudgery and liturgies of life.  Soli Deo Gloria.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Being Available (A follow up to "Kingdoms Made of Sand")

Good vs. Better and Good vs. Best

Choices
Choices
Choices
Choices

Faced with so many wonderful, fun, career-growth, etc., choices in life, how do I reach for the best, when this potentially good thing is being dropped in my lap?  Having spent 35 years of my life on the career path, I have been making the same choices out of pure habit for years.  Saying NO to a stepping stone toward the next tier is still unthinkable!    How do I decline a great opportunity handed to me on a silver platter, no less?  

I thought, well, I'll take time to pray about it.  Pray about what?  Aren't the answers all around me?  It's like saying, I'm going to eat a bowl of Cheetos and pray that they'll turn into carrots on the way down.  Well, that's just lack of self-discipline--not making right choices because I want immediate gratification for my fleshly lusts without consequence.   I wanted to take time to pray to lust after it a little longer and hold it and keep turning it over and taking it in, until I couldn't part with it and HAD to have it.

However, the answers truly were all around me.  What has God been speaking to me for five years, even 10 and 30 years, preparing me for the job I'm already doing?  I'm watching small fast-moving legs walking back and forth from room to room collecting objects and listening to high-pitched voices, as they ceasingly work to build their imaginative world out of odds and ends and toy objects.  This is the job I'm doing--being available.

I counseled with my musical/homeschooling/teaching/singing soul sister who said that when her kids were young, she turned down countless opportunities simply to be available.  

Being. 
Available.



To eat wooden food cut with a little wooden knife by tiny hands, to point out middle C, to listen to a new reader who wants to keep reading Psalm after Psalm after Psalm, because it's fun to read out of his new Bible.  To wipe eye-crusties, to watch a toy lion balance unnaturally on two legs, and play Uno Moo for the 40th time today.  To look into my husband's eyes and soak in the smoky blue and write to you and take a phone call from a friend.  To research curricula and encourage friends "thinking" of homeschooling.  To....etc., etc., etc.  Endless list.
  



I did indeed decline, Happily/Sadly, this wonderful opportunity in order that I may be available.  I prayed, hoping the answers around me would change, but God just pointed me again to the feast around me of His mercies and grace in my own messy home and all that He's given my hand to do during this season.  I can indeed fit more in.  I can indeed do the potential new career job one day a week with my eyes half closed, but I need to be available.

Thank You, Lord for showing me, again, the obvious and the great joy that is mine right now, without needing more.  

It was a Kingdom Made Of Sand
But You've Blown it all Away
I Can't Believe That I Can Say
That I'm Glad.





Friday, February 4, 2011

Kingdoms Made of Sand

Once I held it in my hand, 
it was a kingdom made of sand,

but now You've blown it all away, I can't believe that I can say:

that I'm glad.


This lyric, from the old Amy Grant song "So Glad," was the first song I ever accompanied myself with for an audience.  I had no idea it would become so significant in my life.  Kingdoms made of sand....How am I like the foolish man, building his house on the sand?  

I think back to growing up going to the beach, on my knees at the water's edge, surf tickling my feet, sand inside my onepiece suit, sun edging into my exposed back, digging the mote around our castle.  Placing shells of protection around the perimeter, lest pirates pillage inside.  Only, nothing can protect my castle from the onslaught of a coming wave. A wave of destruction, gathering up the castle and returning it to sea, leaving no trace of its former existence.  A safe distance from the tide, but it only takes one.  "All Your waves and billows have rolled over me." (Psm. 42:7)

I think of Jesus' parable about the Wise and Foolish builders in regards to the foundations they built upon--Christ being the Rock and our fallen understanding being the Sand.  One was clearly wiser to build his house upon a foundation, and one clearly had never been to the beach to see what the tide does, especially in a storm, to structures with no foundation.  

However, what about the materials we use to build ON Christ our Rock?  Didn't Paul talk about our works being tested with fire?  I Cor. 3:11-13 says, "For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work."  So, that which I lay on top of my given foundation can be fruitless.  I have a choice.

I am at a crossroads, looking at what I am currently building, that doesn't look like much except endless chores and unresults.  Yet, with great peace I pursue these activities, with a song in my heart and lots of kisses to cheeks and bellies and sniffs of glimmering crowns of sandy brown.  As I consider an additional choice handed to me, drawn in by it's sparkly exterior and whispers of rich rewards, it fills my nights with restless images and my days with a slight gnawing.  The answer seems so simple!  Why do I keep going back to tempt myself with it's attractive shell?  Is it the lusts of my heart or God giving me a unique opportunity?

Am I a different person now at 40 and can handle an extra responsibility?  I'd like to think I don't get so caught up in a project mentally and emotionally that my affections become misplaced.  I'd like to think I'm mature enough to segment my duties....hm.....choices....wood, hay, straw, or gold and silver?  I don't know.  May God lead me into all peace, to keep digging for the gold and silver with which to build fruitfully....How does one know what is under a beautiful exterior until one takes it apart--either gold or wood?  Silver or straw?  Anyone else struggle with choices?  Good vs. better?   I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Seasons....seasons of our female existence.  There is a time for everything.

And I'm so glad, 
glad to find the reason that I'm
Happy sad, that You've blown it all away, and I'm
So glad
Though it hurts to know I'm leavin'
everything I ever thought that I would be....

Once I held it in my hand
It was KINGDOM MADE OF SAND
but now You've blown it all away
I can't believe that I can say--



That I'm glad......

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Surrender

We finally watched "The Soloist" this week.  I seriously thought Jamie Foxx's character would be an amazing cellist, down on his luck, homeless, and then "discovered" and playing professionally in no time.  Happy ending, right?  I was so frustrated at the end of this movie!  I wanted a happy ending for him--for all of us.  But as Rob pointed out to me a couple of days later, "happy endings" aren't necessarily what we should be seeking in life. 

We have had several hard events in our church in the last couple of weeks--and the last couple of years.  But this last week we have been praying for a few friends who are in the hospital--some with dire circumstances.  For one of them, a good friend of ours, I told Rob to read Psalm 40 when he goes to visit, "I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him."  Really encouraging, right?   

Rob responded saying he was thinking about Jeremiah 31, when Jeremiah prophesies about the New Covenant, "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people...I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”  Now, Rob doesn't recommend this scripture to be shared with everyone suffering, but felt strongly about the context of this passage for this particular individual and where he is in his walk.  But I, sitting there perplexed by what he just shared, listened as Rob explained that we need to be reminded of God’s greater promises.  He voiced his concerns that, without the context of a greater purpose, we often are giving false hope to those who are suffering.  We want to give comfort for the moment so we share verses that seem to ensure recovery.  The truth is God's greater work includes us but does not end with our wellness on fallen earth. "For it is GOD who is at work in you, both to will and to work for HIS good pleasure," Phil. 2:13.  

Not everyone recovers.  Some have long sicknesses, some die, some lives are altered forever.  Why are we entitled to recovery?  Why are we entitled to life itself?  We poo-poo theologies that preach claims of what we are entitled to have in Jesus' name.  Yet we preach other, more "spiritual," entitlements.  Then the sufferer holds onto a hope of what he wants to happen and when it doesn't happen as it "should" he suffers a greater trial--disappointment with God.  I am not advocating a pessimistic, disbelieving, cynical attitude toward God, I am grappling with how to honestly surrender my life and not hold my dreams and prayers higher than God's purposes and plans.

Consider Christ.  He didn’t hold His position as the second person of the Godhead – worshiped day and night by the angels, crying, "Holy! Holy! Holy!" – as something to cling to for His own advantage, "rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!" Phil. 2:5-8.  If Christ didn’t claim entitlement to His rights as deity, how then am I entitled to my sinful, prideful, small state of being, which is less than a drop in a bucket in the span of time?

We should indeed cling to the promises of hope in God's word, pray for full recovery, and cry out to Him in our time of need.  As our physical sickness is a reflection of our spiritual sickness while living in a fallen world.  BUT GOD is at work in all of creation, in every nook and cranny, redeeming His people and His earth for His purposes and pleasure.  Each of us is a part of His redemption plan, and we know not where we fit in, until all is revealed in glory. 

Just as the end of "The Soloist" revealed a greater good for all involved; a higher purpose than a happy earthly ending for one person -- full recovery for all of God's children will come!  Full recovery for our fallen state, physical and spiritual, will be revealed in glory, in which we, the bride of Christ, collectively will embody Christ's work of redemption!  We are participants in God's sovereign will and pleasure for a happy ending for us, not as individuals, but as a people, "chosen by the Lord out of all the peoples on the face of this earth to be His treasured possession," Deuteronomy 14:2.  Soli Deo Gloria!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Idols (A piece of my journey)

I met a lovely German woman while playing pool at a party one night.  Visiting her dear friend, my voice teacher, she was enjoying an extended stay in the states before returning to her home in Pullach, a Munich suburb.  At 70 years' young, she stayed up with me half the night speaking in broken English and playing games.  Sometime before dawn, she tells me that if I ever want to come to Germany I am welcome to stay with her.

At the time, I thought that would be so fun!  I coveted the freedom to travel and explore the world.  But alas, my commitments held me in Nashville for the time being.  However, not even 2 years later, everything, seemingly, in my life had ended--I didn't have a job and felt like I didn't have a friend in the world.  I was a caged animal ready to escape and find a new home.  So I wrote to her and asked if her offer still stood.  She told me she didn't need any house help, as she had just hired a maid from Portugal, but I could come and pay her rent.  So I booked a one-way ticket to Munich, packed up my life and boarded the plane.

That first month was a montage of jet lag, excitement, homesickness, freedom, exploration, and loneliness.  No stranger to loneliness, I enjoyed beginning a life free of attachments and the exhilaration of the unknown.  However, the fear of needing a job to provide for basic needs pushed me into despair.  The realization of being so far from home and not having planned financially weighed heavily upon me.  

One Sunday morning, not knowing where to find an English-speaking Protestant church, I walked into a Roman Catholic cathedral that had advertised a Hassler mass performance.  The strains floated down from the choir loft and swirled round my soul.  The only element of the service I understood was the music.  I didn't understand the language nor was I familiar with catholic ritual.  But the aesthetic beauty of the service ripped open my heart.

I sat in the cathedral after all the parishioners vacated and wept to the core of my being.  I began wringing out all the years that were chasing after me with their pain and despair.  I realized I was the same person as I was just weeks prior, boarding the plane in L.A.  I could run away but not from myself.  And now I was penniless and had no way of medicating the pain that I somehow had been able to mildly suppress in the states.  I despaired of life itself.

"You planned this little escapade," I heard a voice say, almost audibly (after all I was in a house of God), "but now I'll tell you why you're really here."  Playing Bible roulette, I randomly opened the Bible to Isaiah 30.  The chapter opens with, 

"Woe to the obstinate children,”
   declares the LORD,
“to those who carry out plans that are not mine,
   forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit,
   heaping sin upon sin;
2 who go down to Egypt
   without consulting me;
who look for help to Pharaoh’s protection,
   to Egypt’s shade for refuge.
3 But Pharaoh’s protection will be to your shame,
   Egypt’s shade will bring you disgrace. 

My eyes were opened to see how obstinate my heart was, how I had strayed from God my Husband, my Maker; to see how I was living in only the shadows of His path to avoid true intimacy with Him, trying like Jonah to take a boat to Tarshish; to see how I was seeking relief in anything but Him.  

The passage goes on to talk about Israel (me, in this case) rejecting God's message and how, "this sin will become for you like a high wall, cracked and bulging, that collapses suddenly, in an instant.There I was in a Catholic church in Munich under a pile of the rubble of my own sin of defying my Father's warnings, confused and crying out for rescue.   I continued reading, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.  You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’  Therefore you will flee!"    I fled...until I was stopped, just as the chapter goes on to say.

So far Isaiah 30 was playing the reel of my life, until, "Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.  For the LORD is a God of justice.  Blessed are all who wait for him!"  I relished those three little letters, "y-e-t."  Just because all my sin abandoned me under a mound of chards, the Lord didn't abandon me.  The gleam of His grace had just begun to pierce the darkness.

Forgive me for including this entire next paragraph of Isaiah 30, but it is too exciting to omit:

  "People of Zion, (me) who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. 
How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you.  
20 Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction
your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them.  
21 Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”  
22 Then you will desecrate your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them, 
“Away with you!” 

Not only will I weep no more, but I will get SICK of my idols.  I LOVE MY IDOLS!  It baffled me that I would come to a point when I would actually WANT to desecrate them.  I was in awe of this God who could change a heart so drastically.  

Isaiah 30 ends in triumph!  Isaiah prophesies to the people that they will prosper--the sun will shine, the rain will grow their grain and wine to abundance and the Lord will show His power and awesomeness and the people will CELEBRATE and SING.  (Ok, now, right now, today, I am crying reading this, hearing that I will SING.  For those of you who know my struggles with my voice, this is cause for rejoicing.)

With my soul illumined by the Light of Life, I bounded out of the cathedral with joy and peace.  I was out of the shadows, the hiding places, and back walking with my Husband, my Maker.  He said, "You will hear a voice behind you saying, 'This is the way, walk in it!'" Not knowing how to remedy the predicament called, "my life," I was assured I would be led through this process.  And a long process it was.  

During this season I read many books, practiced many disciplines, such as prayer, meditation, fasting once a week, etc.  I was never in want--God provided for my many needs and I even studied voice and sang in ensembles and solo for gatherings and organizations.   I found a church, made friends, and grew much in my faith.  Being in a foreign country, it felt like an extended vacation.

My lowest point, however, came three months into my trip.  I was very sick with a fever for six days.  I was so scared and alone that I cried out to God--wondering if the Lord did indeed exist.  But when asked if I would give up on believing on Christ, I responded, "Lord, where else have I to go?  Whom else have I but You?"  I felt something within me break.  Chains fell off of me and I was finally free of my idols.  I said, "AWAY WITH YOU!"  And interestingly, my fever also broke, and the next day, though weakened, I was recovering.

God brought me through the Isaiah 30 journey, practically verse by verse.  I knew when He sat me down and told me why I was really there in Germany, that I would know the exact moment when it was time to come home.  And seven months later that moment came.  He provided a way home a mere two weeks later, and I came home to my new ventures of learning about classical education and eventually meeting my husband.  A new chapter, a new journey.  An amazing path.

I have had other times of living in the shadows, but He always leads me through Isaiah 30 and opens my bags and shows me my idols that I've been lugging along the path that have been slowing down the journey or taking my eyes off the road altogether.  He is so faithful to us.

In the day of idol-desecrating, "The moon will shine like the sun, and the sunlight will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven full days, when the LORD binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds HE inflicted,"  Isaiah 30:26.  S.D.G.

 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Perfection

My son gets hurt and immediately gets angry, not wanting any comfort from me.  If he can't make the Legos stick together as planned or accidentally drops his newly made bristle block rocket and the pieces scatter, he cries in frustration.  If he is exasperated with Mommy making him practice his violin piece again, he is quick to abandon all effort.  Why is he so quick to roar his rage or cease trying?  He is coveting perfection.  He has an entitlement to all circumstances benefiting him.  He, like all of us humans, has happily ever after in his heart.

I recently watched Eat, Pray and Love, a story about Elizabeth Gilbert who goes on a quest for true happiness and contentment.  What I really enjoyed about this movie, other than reminiscing about my solo trip with a one way ticket to self-discovery a mere 15 years ago, was her astute awareness of each moment.  All her senses were heightened as she navigated her way through unfamiliar alleys, restaurants, languages, taxi rides, countrysides, relationships, and liturgies.  She faced the demons of her past, the fears of the present and the unknown of the future and eventually found contentment, even in the uncertainly of where her decisions would lead.

The other realization I encountered while watching this movie is the fact that we all are on the quest for perfection.  Every ideology and theology perpetuates an ascent to perfection.  Not one religion ends haphazardly.   No one plans an unfortunate event.  Super hero stories exalt good triumphing over evil.  Classic fairy tale characters live happily ever after.  Why do we seem to hold this optimistic perspective?  Because God has put has put eternity in our hearts.  God Himself lives in perfection and we are created in His image.  

God created a perfect earth in a perfect universe and placed on earth two perfect people.  These two people reflected God's image of beauty, community, and perfection.  All-loving, honoring, joyful, content and useful.  When these image-bearers sought perfection within themselves, rather than in God Himself, their beauty faded, their light turned to darkness, they bore not the image of God, but the image of themselves.  Our image apart from God is a mere outline, a faint mist of the perfection in which we were created; the perfection we were created to reflect.

It is interesting to me that every human being, fearfully and wonderfully made in his/her mother's womb, craves perfection.  Why is food industry so huge?  We want perfection!  Why are malls filled with shoppers?  We want perfection!  Why do we do any manner of hobbies or recreation for enjoyment?  We want perfection.  I love my cup of coffee every morning--it is my friend for a variety of reasons I don't need to expound upon right now--because I want perfection.  If someone brought me a weak cup of coffee in the morning, my day would be undone.  My perfection would be tainted.  The irony is, each of these perfect possessions or savors or moments is always tainted.  Even if it's tainted in just knowing it will end.

As Elizabeth was aspiring to a "perfect" life, I thought how connected we all are in our quest for perfection.  Whether Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Communist, Atheist, Gnostic, Pagan, Addict, Optimist or Pessamist, we are all aspiring to be a "Perfectionist."  God has placed this in the hearts of men.  Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, "He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end."  Though we are seeking perfection in everything from a cup of coffee to clean dishes, from our job performance to our marriages, we cannot conceive perfection from God's perspective.  We strive for the perfect whatever, be it a feeling, a relationship, an accomplishment, or a substance, but only God is perfect.  Why do we keep seeking perfection apart from the author of perfection?  Why do I prefer a good cup o' joe to fellowship with the God of the universe who dwells in beauty?  Why do we seek perfection through our own strength and merit?

Perfection only exists in God.  It is God, the regenerator of our hearts, indwelling us through His Spirit by Jesus Christ, who is perfect and who reflects His beauty and His image through us.  The more we become like Him, the more we bear His image and He redeems His creation in and through us.  Perfect thoughts, actions and words will not come until glory, but Christ in us is our perfection, here on fallen earth and in glory.  Soli Deo Gloria.




Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Divine Roadblocks

Hannah Hurnard's allegory Hinds Feet on High Places, tells of the journey of Much Afraid from the Valley of Humiliation to the High Places.  One would think this is just a straight shot up the mountain to the high places, but as it turns out, she doesn't have the proper "feet" to climb the crags and cliffs.  It is along the varied path, with all its twists and turns, ups and downs, that her two companions, Sorrow and Suffering, lead her and she develops her hinds' feet on which to leap through the High Places.

Much Afraid's journey takes her through the Desert, to the Shores of Loneliness, into the Forest of Danger and Tribulation and through the Mist.  And then, instead of ascending toward the High Places, Sorrow and Suffering lead her down into the Valley of Loss.  It is there she almost abandons the Chief Shepherd's path for her own path.  Faced with the decision to abandon His love, she becomes more terrified thinking of being without His love, than continuing on His crooked path.

At the Place of Annointing, Much Afraid finally surrenders to the Chief Shepherd, laying down her life, and trusting Him to carry her up the mountain.  At the mountaintop the Shepherd reveals that He is the King of the Kingdom of Love in the High Places.  She still endures many more trials, tempted again to leave the path, but finally awakes in the High Places with her new hinds' feet with which she can leap up the steep crags.  

In the High Places the King gives Much Afraid the new name Grace and Glory and gives her a crown made from the common stones she collected along the way that are now turned to jewels.  Finally, He introduces her new companions Joy and Peace.

Based on the scripture, "The Sovereign Lord is my strength he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights," Habakkuk 3:19, Hinds' Feet on High Places is
about "crucifying your own will for that of your Lord. Every acceptance of His will is an altar of sacrifice that helps us to progress and mature in our walk with Him."  (From the blog Seeking First His Kingdom.)  What if Much Afraid had abandoned the rocky path?  Where would she have ended up?  Certainly not in the High Places, certainly not with a new name and new companions!  Not only did she not abandon the path, she gained a more beautiful life and glorious existence than she could ever ask for or imagine!

Just like Much Afraid's path, our paths never go the direction we think they will when we start.  And our companions also aren't what we expected.  Hence my life verse being, "Who can make straight God has made crooked?" Ecc. 7:13.  So what do we do when we come to a roadblock that blocks us from continuing in the direction we want to travel?  The path we have put all our energies into traveling?  

Roadblocks come in many shapes and sizes.  They come in the form of any manner of loss and change, injury and disease, tragedy or death; a challenging person, a broken machine, or dead end.  A mere cold or flu, seemingly unlife-altering, can be a roadblock.  Even an accident on the freeway that thwarts our plan is a roadblock, literally.  Whatever the shape or size of our roadblock, it causes us to pause.  Sometimes for long periods of time.   This is a very uncomfortable period of time.  This is not something we planned.  What do we do with it?

Horatius Bonar in his book Night of Weeping--When God's Children Suffer says, "Oftentimes nothing but adversity will do for us. 'I spake unto thee in thy prosperity; but thou saidst, I will not hear.  This hath been thy manner from thy youth, that thou obeyedst not my voice' (Jer. 22:21).  We need to be turned out of a home on earth that we may seek a home in Heaven.  Earth's music is too seducing and takes away our relish for the new song.  God must either hush it or take us apart into a desert place that we may no longer be led captive by it but may have our ear open only to the heavenly melody."

My first instinct when I hit a roadblock, after looking at it in wonderment for awhile, is to how conquer it.  I begin putting all my energies into remedying this situation, coming up with a plan of action and scaling the mountain before me so I can continue along the path I've always traveled--to continue with my life as it was before this mountain.  Do I even consider God's great mercy in placing this mountain, this roadblock, in my path?  Do I consider that there may be another path to take?  Do I consider whether this is actually where the path takes a turn, rather than straight ahead over this mountain?  

Would I continue trying to scale this mountain to the other side if I knew there lay a cesspool on the other side, or a bed of thorns, or a cliff, or even a lake of fire?  Pausing before this roadblock to consider God's purpose is the hardest discipline we encounter.  Because as Jeremiah said (paraphrased) "Disobedience has been your pattern your whole life."  Why?  Because Adam and Eve mistrusted God, leaving His path for something they desired more than Him.  Their pride in believing in themselves rather than God, put us all on the path of sin and misery.  Thus is the estate of mankind.

God graciously puts these roadblocks on our path to direct us to Him.  The goal is not to conquer the roadblock to get back to life as usual.  The goal is to seek God for wisdom in where that roadblock is leading us.  It could be, as is often the case for me, that the roadblock, the simple ones that slow me down for a few minutes or days, cause me to search my heart, with God's illumination, and let Him shed light on the sins that so easily ensnare me.  Only then, once He's revealed them, can I repent and turn from the sinful path onto the Chief Shepherd's path.

And of course, the big roadblocks, the life-altering roadblocks, are God's means of mercy to stop us cold, to take us to the desert, away from the world's seductive music, and to play for us a new song.  Psalm 40 begins, " I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. 2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. 3 He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.  Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him."

Oh Dear Ones!  He doesn't want us to just continue playing our song, He wants to give us a NEW SONG!  He wants us to not just set our idols aside but to ABHOR them.  To say, "Away with you [idols]!" Isa. 30:22To be joyful in God our Savior and walk in His ways.  We can't do this just going our way--our way is sin and misery unless God intervenes.  Praise be to God for His mountains, His roadblocks, that lead us to His path.

As believers, we are on His path.  As believers, we will never leave His path, He will keep us on it, just as He kept Much Afraid on her path to the High Places.  She couldn't see the way and she was confused about her traveling companions.  But the Chief Shepherd led her to the roadblocks and down the crooked path through the darkness to show His unfailing love and faithfulness and cause His love to grow in her heart.  He led her to the High Places gave her a new name and new companions, Joy and Peace.

Even if God's purpose is for us to scale the mountain, and continue on the current path, oh, may we not despise those trials that come, but through perseverance, may they be servants of God to accomplish His work in us, that "we may perfect and complete, lacking nothing" James 1:4.  S.D.G.