Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Whatever Lies Before Me

Sunday morning and we're in church. We'd missed a couple weeks, so it was good to be in a crowd of believers. The worship music was top notch, and one of my favorites was leading. We started singing a popular song - 10,000 Reasons - and the line that normally trips me up completely knocked me off balance and flat onto my face in a matter of seconds.

The sun comes up, it's a new day dawning
It's time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes

So often I start my day with a quiet time and by the time I eat lunch I'm playing the "Where's God" version of Where's Waldo? In the busy-ness of the day I lose sight. I forget my purpose. I get off track or just leave Him in my dust. So when I hear this verse, I always try to make it a prayer that I would stick with God all day. I also love the thought that somehow, in some small way, the life I live sings a song about God. I tell His story. Granted, I don't do it well always, but just the promise that He chooses to use me to sing HIS song
means a lot to this girl.

But this day the poke at my heart was a little different. This Sunday, God wasn't going to wait for the message to get my attention. He had something very personal and urgent to say to me with these familiar words. As they were on my tongue, the thought crossed my mind, "This isn't how I pictured it." I was talking about life, of course. It's not the way I planned it.

Don't get me wrong. My life is good. My life is great. I have more than I could ask for and certainly more than I deserve. But there are a few circumstances that are not the way I want them to be. I've prayed and worked toward a different end. Even now I pray continually for a change. I suppose if you've taken a breath today you can relate.

What we plan, what we hope for, what we expect to happen does not always turn out. Sometimes it goes the opposite direction. I'm there in a couple areas of my life. And so on this Sunday morning, with this song, God asked me, "Whatever passes, whatever lies before you, will you sing my song?" In other words, are you with me through this? Do you trust me even though this isn't what you asked for?

My mind went straight to Daniel's friends: Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Life for them certainly did not pan out the way they planned, but they make a statement of faith in Daniel 3 that surpasses all others. "Our God is able to do what we ask, and He will do it, BUT EVEN IF HE DOES NOT, He is still God." That's my paraphrase.

These 3 men were remarkable. They were Jewish nobility. They were entitled to thrones and honors and riches in Israel. Then Nebuchadnezzar came and captured them. They went from princes to slaves. They were moved to a foreign land, they were given new names, they were trained to serve rather than be served. Their worlds went upside down. Everything they expected from life was tossed out. All they worked for, all they trained to be was for naught.

Then one day things went from bad to worse. They angered the king they served. Their lives were on the line. At this point, death might not have been a bad option, but it was the method of death they were facing that would have scared them: a furnace of fire. Ouch! And yet, when faced with circumstances far from anything they had ever hoped or planned for, their faith stood firm. "This isn't what we intended, but then again, we are not God. He knows best."

Their faith was unshaken. They knew that no matter where they were in life and what they faced, that God was still on His throne. These events that transpired had not taken their Sovereign Lord by surprise. He was not quickly making up a Plan B. He was the only God who was able to rescue them from this powerful king, so now would be a foolish time to abandon their faith in Him.

This is close to where I am. Not at the edge of a fiery furnace, but facing something that only God can change. The thing staring me in the face is so big, scary and devastating, that no one can challenge it and win except God. I didn't invite this thing into my life, at least not intentionally, but it's here. Only God knows why. I've asked Him to take it quickly, but He hasn't. Only God knows why. While it's in front of me, it seems to be growing, and only God knows why. He knows if and when it will go. He knows why it's here. He knows what it's doing to me.

What He wants to know is will I sing His song through this long day to the very end? Will I sing His song if this thing stays before me?

Many verses come to mind to support this idea. Many reasons why faith must not waiver in the face of trials or unplanned circumstances come to mind.

Here are some things to consider.

1. If we only trust God when He does what we want, who is really our god? Are we not asking Him to serve us instead of us serving Him? Saving faith believes God - who He is and what He promises - and acts in obedience to Him. God is not to be manipulated. If we tell God we will follow Him if He does what we ask, we misunderstand who is in control.

2. God is sovereign. He does sit on a throne, and nothing that happens on earth shakes His position. He does not get caught unaware. He does not sleep or go on vacation. He sees all. He knows all. Nothing comes our way without being sifted through His hands of love. Hagar found God saw her in the desert when she and her son were fleeing for their lives. The woman at the well found God knew her past and had written her future.

3. Our trusting God in the midst of tough, unexpected circumstances does not mean we do not grieve or suffer. Nehemiah heard his home had been destroyed. His people were suffering. He longed to go home and be of some use. He wept, he lost sleep, he did not eat for days. Through all his grief and anguish, he cried out to God, who in time made a way. Expressions of grief or sorrow are not statements of faithlessness.

4. God sees the end from the beginning. We often assume the present IS the end. We are impatient to see the story play out. We can't see past today. Even death is not the end as far as God is concerned. Ask Lazarus. Ask the widow who's son was raised on the way to his burial. Don't give up on God being able to work. Don't assume He is running out of time. God owns time.

5. Our unconditional faith in God says He has the right to rule our lives. He has that right because He made us. We can trust Him to rule our lives because He loves us. We know He loves us because He sent His Son to die for us so we could know Him and live with Him as sons and daughters. He promises to work all circumstances for our good. Good is defined by God, not by us. Good has to do with eternity not necessarily with the present moment or with pleasure.

This flood of hope poured over me through the rest of the song. The thoughts came so quickly, and I had no way to record them, and I was afraid I'd lose them before I got to where I could write. Before I knew it, it was time to sit and hear the sermon. That too was full of truth and hope, but my mind kept drifting back to these thoughts. At the end of the service, we sang It Is Well With My Soul.

Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say
It is well, It is well with my soul

Life is bound to land us in some place we never meant to be at some point. When standing at the edge of that furnace door, we will do well to say, "My God is able, and whether or not He does what I ask of Him, He is still God."

"Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that You are the Holy One of God." John 6:68. Amen.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Time Passes By

It's been two years since I blogged. Yesterday in church, God spoke to me about writing for the first time in a long time. I mean a really long time. He gave me a topic and the ideas just kept flowing. It's going to take me some time to develop the topic and get it up here, but it's in the works. In the mean time, as just sort of a test to see who's out there and interested, I'm going to take an older note I wrote on facebook and share it here. I read the post yesterday and thoroughly enjoyed the remembrance. It's about the book The Yearling. The book is really a must read for any child wanting a complete education. The story is sad and difficult to swallow sometimes, but the writing is phenomenal, and all the characters are lovable. I don't think a kid should read this alone. It's best as a read aloud by Mom or Dad, snuggled up on the couch, and for goodness sake, read it slowly and take time to pronounce the words with proper dialect and inflection. Really let the story and characters come alive. Here's what I originally wrote:

I read The Yearling several summers ago to my oldest two children. I stopped somewhere about the time the Baxter family started spring planting. I knew my kids and I could not handle the coming ending. For a while, Isaac and Bekah were none the wiser. Jerusha read the book by herself a while back. She hated it. Of course she did. She had no warning and no one to help her sift through all the emotion.

Well, this summer I set out to read it again to Malachi, Jedidiah and Asher. At first Asher and Malachi hated the book. It bored them with it's long descriptive paragraphs. They even took to reading other books silently in the same room while I read aloud. But eventually, Penny Baxter's good nature won their hearts, and Buck Forrester intrigued them, and they all 3 got excited whenever I'd announce, "It's time to read."

It's not just the dying of the deer that is so rough on me. This book pulled at my heart many times, and I found this second time through that I genuinely loved Ma Baxter, in spite of her cold tendencies. The author has a way of expressing what a man or a woman feels that seems so universal. Even though I've never lost a baby, Stephan and I have struggled along, and I felt I could understand some of what Ory feared and why she help back affection and worried so much.

Of course, everyone loves Penny. He's the sense and sensibility, the wisdom and the humor to the book. He couldn't make an enemy. His love for Ory brought me to tears, and his gentle way of speaking to her and assuring her... I don't have words to describe the power a husband can have on a wife. Again, I tried to relate, and I found that over the last 19 years, Stephan has often used gentleness and wisdom to quiet my irrationalities, and his kindness has overwhelmed me some days. 

There were countless lessons to be learned from all the characters. Buck wanted to be decent, but he was drowning in the sin and corruption around him. If any of us got on a roof to nail it down, but our tool belt was full of spatulas and whisks, we'd not get far in our work. We might recognize we had the wrong tools for the job, and we might even take them out, but if they weren't replaced with the correct hammer and nails, or drill, bits and screws, we still couldn't get the roofing down. I think Buck must have been that frustrated. For him it was easier to go along with what he knew than branch beyond it and be alone.

And there's Jody. Boyhood to manhood. With an 18 year old and a 12 year old and 2 more coming up behind, I understand Jody better this time through the book than I did last time. I found I wasn't as sympathetic to his desire to protect Flag, but I wished time and again I could jump in the book and shake Ma Baxter, urging her, "Hug him. Love on him. You'll be better off. Some day, you'll look back and wish you had."

Along with analyzing the characters and comparing myself to them, I found a few quotes that I hope I never forget. Some hold some punch to them, but one is just because I love the English language and do my best not to butcher it. Hopefully it will make any reader smile.

Upon Ory (Ma Baxter) finding out Fodder-wing, the yougnest Forrester, had died:
He said, "I never seed a family take a thing so hard."
She said, "Don't tell me them big rough somebodies took on."
He said, "Ory, the day may come when you'll know the human heart is allus the same. Sorrer strikes the same all over. Hit makes a different kind o' mark in different places. Seems to me, times, hit ain't done nothin' to you but sharpen your tongue."
She sat down abruptly.
She said, "Seems like bein' hard is the only way I kin stand it."
He left his breakfast and went to her and stroked her hair. "I know. Jest be a leetle mite easy on t'other feller."

During the cold winter:
Penny said, "You and me had ought to be gittin' out that speller, boy."
"Mebbe the roaches has ate it."
Ma Baxter poised her needle in the air. She pointed it at him. "You best study your grammar, too," she said. "You'd ought to say, 'The roaches has eat it.' "

When the store had been out of the brown alpaca Ory needed to expand her wedding dress, she refused to buy enough black alpaca to make an entire new dress for the Christmas doin's in Volusia:
Penny presented her with the black alpaca the evening the cake was done. She looked at him and at the material. She burst into tears. She dropped into a chair and threw her apron over her head and swayed back and forth with every appearance of grief. Jody was alarmed. She must be disappointed. Penny went to her and laid his hand on her hair.
He said, "Tain't the lack o' will I don't do sich as that for you all the time."

If you haven't read the book, I realize I've partly spoiled the plot. Still, you should take time. Your heart will be touched.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

It's been a while...

... and I don't want to bore anyone with the details of the last 3 months. So let's just say, Isaac graduated, I did virtually nothing all summer, Isaac moved to college, and I am not considering re-entering the real world. I am not fully committed to that yet. Summer is so fun for me. Doing nothing can be so entertaining. But that's not the point of today's blog. I have something far more important to say.

"Historical Jesus"

In my quiet time this morning I was rambling on about all sorts of issues in my life when it dawned on me that if I were really in the presence of Jesus, would I really be able to just keep babbling like this? Wouldn't I be a bit more awe struck and perhaps silent? It would certainly take Jesus to hush this girl. So I confessed right away that I was allowing insignificant stuff to hinder my time with my Lord. I remembered the Psalm that says Jesus - even in a crowd - is enthralled with me. So I paused to soak all this in and to give proper respect and attention to my Jesus.

Now, I have been doing a Bible study on 1 John. I'm really only at the beginning, but I have already learned so much. Did you know John was the last living apostle? People sought him out from all over the Roman Empire to hear him tell his stories about Jesus. He was the world's last connection to Christ. Ok, don't read anything into that. I don't mean that when John died, we lost our way to God. I just mean, he knew the stories and by the time he was in his 80s he probably told them in such a way that people hung on his every word. Church officials would interview him to ensure their practices were in line with Jesus' teachings. He was a strong link between Jesus and the new church.

In his first letter, John wrote to dispute the claims of the Gnostics. Who would name themselves that? Anyway, do you know what they believed? Here are a few things:
1. Jesus was not a man. He looked like a man, but he really wasn't. Why not? Because they also believed
2. Flesh is evil and spirit is good. Jesus could not have had flesh and been good. In following that logic, the also concluded that
3. Sins don't affect the flesh, so they don't really matter, and from that they decided
4. Sins don't really exist. So they did what ever they wanted.
I know you are thinking they were crazy, and they were. What's the point of a Savior, with or without flesh, if you don't sin? They talked themselves out of needing Him. And still they were influencing the church. They were leaving congregations, and causing real believers to doubt their salvation.

Don't lose me here. I know this is a lot of head stuff, but hang tight. I have a point.

So John wrote 1 John to assure the believers that they were saved. He said there were two tests to prove it: 1. They had a proper view of the nature of Jesus. John reminds them that he saw Jesus, he touched Jesus, he studied Jesus. Jesus certainly had flesh. The recipients of his letter had received that truth and believed it.
2. They had a proper view of sin. They acknowledged that they had sinned. Therefore, God, who is faithful and just, had forgiven them.

Now this is where it gets fascinating. I started contemplating John's relationship with Jesus. He had been a fisherman and left his occupation to follow Jesus. He lived with Him, he ate with Him, he fished with Him. He even saw Him die on the cross. He saw the blood flow. Not only this, but John alone got the task of taking care of Mary after Jesus died. John certainly knew the humanity of Jesus.

But that's not all. In Matthew 17, we're told John saw Jesus transfigured. That means he saw Jesus in His glory, as He was in heaven before He came to earth. Veggie Tales says it like this: He was real shiny! John saw Jesus as Abraham did when Jesus came to tell him Sarah would have a baby, as Hagar did when she thought she and Ishmael would die in the desert, as Joshua did before he went into battle. John not only knew the humanity of Jesus; He knew and experienced the deity of Christ as well.

If that doesn't make you want to knock on John's mansion door some day, I don't know what would. I, for one, have lots of questions.

It's plain no one was better qualified to speak with authority on the nature of Christ than John.

At this point, the history buff in me was tingling all over. Call me weak in my faith, but I get excited when I get historical proof. Sometimes I just need the boost. I need to see the scars and put my hand in the wounds. So when my study led me to two other historical references to Christ, I just nearly came unglued.

1. Tacitus wrote around 109 AD, "Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus..."
2. Josephus wrote in 90 AD, "Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day."

Are you not blessed by this? As early as 60 years after Christ's death and resurrection, a historian, who never became a believer, made mention of Him. If you wanted to write down what happened 60 years ago, would you not find someone who was alive then and ask them? Wouldn't you expect a relatively accurate account of what went on in that time? This is like getting it straight from the horse's mouth. In courts, hearsay is not admissible, but witnesses are often called to testify on subjects that they are considered experts. Here we have 3 men, John, Tacitus, and Josephus, giving either their own expert witness or the written version of someone else's expertise. As my Bible study author said, "JESUS WAS A MAN IN HISTORY."

I still haven't made my point. I still haven't told you how He really led me this morning to worship. I sat in my bed pondering all this. Some of it I'd been digesting for a week; some of it was fresh on my mind. And here's what came to me:

Jesus must have been a huge deal. He worked miracles. He opened eyes, He raised the dead. Sometimes I think we dismiss those because we don't see them happening. We read Jesus' story like it's a fairy tale, but Josephus said Jesus' works were so wonderful he doubted calling Him a man did Him justice. Jesus stopped people from working, and they followed Him. He entered villages, and everyone stopped what they were doing to see Him. People crowded into strangers' houses to catch a glimpse of or to touch Him. Crowds of thousands followed Him for days without food. Don't overlook this. What if someone came to Austin and life as we know it stopped? What if Dell and Google employees walked away from their desks to see the newcomer? What if 5000 men were sitting on the shore of Town Lake, not for a concert, but for a sermon? What if they sat there 3 days? What if their kids weren't in school all that time? Would it not be on the news?

Jesus was a big deal. He was real. He walked on earth and dramatically rocked people's worlds. He altered history. He changed the calendar. He took over the Roman Empire. No one like Him ever existed. He is God eternal. He was a man so we could know Him. He alone is worthy of our praise.

"Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace."

Monday, May 2, 2011

I'm busy, but I can't remember with what!

If I could focus long enough to write a "to do" list for the next 3 weeks, it would have things like: mail the last graduation invitations, grade the final school assignments, register for summer activities and Bekah's SAT, spray for poison ivy, buy tissues for graduation, and on, and on, and on. (In case I haven't been outspoken enough and drawn enough attention to myself for everyone to know, Isaac, my firstborn, graduates in two weeks. There are related events this week, the next and the next. There is also real, ordinary life happening simultaneously.)

Today I had the kind of morning when you wake up, knowing there are at least one million things to do, but you can't remember any of them, so you nervously pace the house and dabble here and there. Meanwhile, your heart races and your head hurts, and at some point you realize you are getting absolutely nothing accomplished.

I knew when I woke up I'd be most productive if I had a quiet time first. Some famous theologian once said he had too much to do in a day not to begin by talking to the Lord. In my head that makes sense. Still, I took time to get a few obvious and simple chores done, I read all about Osama bin Laden and checked the weather, and I spent time on facebook. Then, when it dawned on me that I wasn't making progress, I finally sat down to have a little talk with Jesus.

"Savior, I come. Quiet my soul." And He did. Of course. Almost immediately, He began to show me two ways the next few weeks could go.

The first way looked familiar. I could be busy with tasks and make lists and cross off duties as I get them done. I could race around like a chicken with my head cut off, asking the Lord to bless my efforts. I coudl boss my family around and lose my temper when they don't assume correctly what I am thinking or what they should be doing.

OR I could do something new and profound. I could put relationships first. I could spend the next 3 weeks focusing the bulk of my attention on my husband and my children. I could be attentive to their needs and trust God to be attentive to mine. The Lord spoke very specifically to me about my marriage.

Surely I am not the only wife who gets so consumed with life that she conveniently and habitually puts her husband on the back burner. It's easy to believe a grown man can take care of himself while I tend to the rest of the world. Maybe you find it odd that when I come to Jesus in prayer and ask for help, He speaks words like, "Tend to your husband." I do too. The only thing I can think of is that He's trying to make sure that I don't panic and allow the things that seem urgent have tyrannical rule over my life. Stay focused. Continue to invest in what matters. Why should the events of the next few weeks take precedence over your family and over relationships? What is so important?

The interesting thing to me is that in His mercy, He showed me this at the onset. In kindness, the Lord spoke to me before I even stepped into the water. He didn't wait until I was knee deep in a whirlpool to say, "Shoulda, coulda, woulda."

To confirm for me what He was talking about, He took me to Zechariah 4 today.

 1And(A) the angel who talked with me came again(B) and woke me, like a man who is awakened out of his sleep. 2And he said to me, "What do you see?" I said, "I see, and behold,(C) a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl on the top of it, and(D) seven lamps on it, with seven lips on each of the lamps that are on the top of it. 3And there are(E) two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left." 4And I said to(F) the angel who talked with me, "What are these, my lord?" 5Then the angel who talked with me answered and said to me,(G) "Do you not know what these are?" I said, "No, my lord." 6Then he said to me, "This is the word of the LORD to(H) Zerubbabel:(I) Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts. 7Who are you,(J) O great mountain? Before(K) Zerubbabel(L) you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward(M) the top stone amid shouts of 'Grace, grace to it!'"
 8Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 9(N) "The hands of(O) Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also(P) complete it.(Q) Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you.

There is so much in these 9 verses for us to learn historically and spiritually, but here's what I got out of it that relates to my busy-ness:

The lampstand is God. The bowl is the Holy Spirit, full of oil to anoint the saints and to empower them. The olive trees represent the lawgiver and the priest. Jesus fulfills both of those roles, and by the pressing of those olive trees, the bowl is filled. In other words, Jesus supplies the oil (salvation) that the Holy Spirit pours out on us to be and do what we are made to be and do.

And the angel used this picture to show Zechariah that in human power the task of building the temple was impossible. It would require the Work of God. The people must put their faith in Christ and be filled with His Spirit to do what God was asking them to do. And as the mountains were leveled, as the work was completed, the people would acknowledge that it was all because of GRACE!

Oh, sweet readers of this blog! We must understand that the very breath we take in this instance is an act of grace. We must depend wholly on God, not just for salvation, but for every minute of life and every task we take on. We cannot get to a point where we have learned enough or have enough power to stand on our own. We can only become more and more dependent on grace. Today, my prayer for myself and for those that read this (bless you for taking time to do so), is that we would stand under that lampstand and allow the Holy Spirit to anoint us with the oil from Christ. That we would rely fully on His work in us. And as He completes the tasks before us, may we stand up and shout, "It was grace!"

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Falling Flat on My Face

It's often that it happens that I read something, catch on to an idea, and spread the word without really allowing the concepts to penetrate my own heart. I'm quick on the pick up, and I get excited about something new, and my first instinct is to share it rather than learn it.

So just as often, God graciously backs me up with some words like, "Let's put into practice what you just put into words."

This exact scenario played out in my life last week. I sat in my chair at the computer and typed all about looking ahead to Christ, even in pain and trials. And no sooner was the blog posted than I got my feelings hurt and felt threatened and looked right down at my own belly button. I shrunk into self absorption.

Take a minute to stand up and try to retain your full height while looking at your own stomach. It's impossible to be all we are meant to be if we're all wound up in a ball of self. That picture just came to me, and I am sitting here, bending my neck toward my belly. The kids sitting behind me must think Mom's really lost it this time.

Carrying on, I fell flat on my face last week. I ate my words. I got called out on being a hearer and not a doer. I am so glad I did. I think I mentioned the last time I blogged that I was looking for ways to usher in true, authentic and sincere worship this Easter season. Well, there's nothing like getting caught in sin to remind you of the work Christ did on the cross. To think that I am forgiven! To consider His love for me when I behave like this! I am overwhelmed!

Don't mishear me. It's not like when God first said, "Excuse me, Teresa, I need to correct your attitudes and behaviors. You're a ways off track," that I replied, "Really, God? That's great! I was hoping to mess up so I could realize the full extent of Your love for me and understand better why Jesus suffered and died."

My reaction was more like, "Uh-uh. It's not my fault. I was prompted by so-and-so. Plus, hormones."

I love hormones. I blame them for everything. They take the fall when I break out and when I find new grey hair, when I lose my temper, and when I feel fat. Sometimes I think hormones are just a nick name for sin nature.

But now, a week later, in hind sight, I can see that God was up to something good. It is always His kindness that leads us to repentance. I heard a song this weekend that said something like - What if rain from the skies is really Your mercy in disguise? - Geez, if that doesn't grab your heart and make you take a closer look at what's going on, I don't know what will.

So I spent the better part of last week wrestling with God, sometimes on His team against myself, and sometimes against Him. I nursed my stiff neck and finally surrendered. And then you know what I needed? Some love!

I read a long time ago that after you discipline your child you should hug them and remind them you love them. Don't end with the spanking, but with a hug. I don't always remember that, but I did this weekend. I had been disciplined and corrected, and I wanted to crawl into my Father's lap and be held and rocked. So He let me up, and He spoke the most amazing words to me:

Jeremiah 31:20 Is not Ephraim my dear son,
   the child in whom I delight?
Though I often speak against him,
   I still remember him.
Therefore my heart yearns for him;
   I have great compassion for him,”
            declares the LORD.

I could feel my broken heart being stitched back together. I am no different than Ephraim. God delights in me. He remembers me. God's heart yearns for me. He has great compassion for me. AND FOR YOU! Can you believe it? Could we be more loved and treasured?

I hope this week you are able to sense and experience the depths of the Father's love for you. Even if He speaks against you and corrects you, nothing will separate you from His love and compassion. He sees where you are and what you are battling. He sees your hurting, and He cares. He cannot forget you. He cannot give you what you think you deserve. He already gave that to Jesus on the cross. All that's left for you is His wide open arms for you to fall into and be held.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Blessed Redeemer!

Believe it or not, I'm home alone. That doesn't often happen to a mom of 6. So I took full advantage of my time. I ignored dinner and laundry and the floors to play the piano and sing at the top of my lungs. Truly that's a noise only Jesus could appreciate, and even He might plug His ears on some notes. I wouldn't blame Him.

Anyway, being that Easter is coming, and I am trying to focus my heart and mind on Christ's sufferings and death to usher in appropriate and sincere worship on Resurrection Sunday, I sat down to play a few hymns.

A line in Blessed Redeemer struck me like a slap upside my head:

Father, forgive them
Thus He did pray
Even while His life-blood
Flowed fast away
Praying for sinners while in such woe
No one but Jesus ever loved so

The idea that while He was suffering He was praying for someone else just sent my head spinning.

I workout. You know, sit ups, pushups, running... I exercise. When you do a squat, so I've been told, it's proper form to look straight ahead or a little upward. When you do a plank or pushups, I believe you are supposed to look straight down. But a while back, I noticed something about my form. I could look ahead for the first few squats, but when my legs started hurting, and I started questioning if I was doing them correctly, I would look down. Same with pushups. As soon as I felt pain or the pulling of muscles, I immediately dropped my head and looked at myself. It really frustrated me, and so I asked God about it one day while I was working out. He said, point blank, "When it hurts, you quit trusting, and you get self focused." Say what? I thought about it a bit, and I realized it was true. I couldn't see the squats I was doing looking up at the trees. I couldn't tell if I was doing them correctly. I had to just assume that since my back was straight and my eyes were up, that I was doing well. When my legs started aching, I started doubting, so I needed to see with my eyes if my form was right. But then, by looking down, I bent my back and started using incorrect form.

Can you see where I am going? We walk by faith. We keep our eyes focused on Christ. But when it hurts, when we get offended or tired, or when we aren't sure we're doing right, we take our eyes off Christ and look at ourselves. We get absorbed in our pain and forget where we're going. Not only that, we stop trusting that Jesus is going to see us through the pain. We try to become self reliant. We want to decide what our walk should look like and where we should go and how it should feel.

The interesting thing about proper form is it's injury prevention. If I stay with my head tucked to my belly while I do pushups, I will end up with knots in my shoulders and neck that keep me stiff for days. You know what a stiff neck means, don't you? According to 2 Chronicles 30:8 ("Do not be stiff-necked, as your ancestors were; submit to the LORD,"), stiff necks are a result of rebellion and lack of submission. Stiff necks mean we lack proper form. We aren't bending the way God is asking us to go.

What does all this have to do with Jesus? Well, the way I see it is He was able to pray for sinners while on the cross because He had proper form. He kept His eyes on the Father.

1 Peter 2:23 says, "When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly." Jesus trusted the Father to take care of Him. He didn't decide He hurt too much and was just going to come up with another way. He didn't for a moment lose sight of the mission He was on. His thoughts were beyond Himself and on to bringing glory to His Father and salvation to you and me. His pain was real and intense, yet He kept His focus on the task at hand. He finished the job.

What could prove His love for you more than this? He is a Blessed Redeemer!

P.S. If any of you that read this have a verse from Scripture or a line from a song that is helping you preprare spiritually for your Easter celebration, please share it by commenting on this blog. I'd love to see us encourage each other and together consider all that Jesus did for us at the cross.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Kernel of Wheat

For 3 years, Jesus had ministered to people. He had taught; he had healed. He was sought after for His miracles, and an awesome silence struck crowds when He spoke. His audience was often in the thousands, but occasionally he met privately with people in pursuit of truth.

But now it was the week of His death. A new day had dawned. In this last week, His ministry took a turn. His focus was changed.

John 12:23-24: Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds."

Jesus knew the things He had done to this point were good. His miracles were important. He had changed lives. He had abided in the will of the Father and accomplished all He was to do up to this point. Now, the climax, the ultimate purpose of His coming, was at hand. It was time for Jesus to die.

It must be so. His death was the only way to win our salvation. He would fall to the ground, and we would become the fruit of His obedience.

Yesterday, as I heard this story on the radio, I was on day 4 of wrestling with the Lord on a particular issue. My will vs. the will of God. To some of you, a wrestling match with God seems pointless. Why would I stand up to someone who is so strong and so right? Frankly, because I'm stubborn and foolish. Anyway, immediately, I thought to myself, "I also must die for God's full purpose in me to be fulfilled." I even said it outloud to one of my kids. I must completely lie down my own purposes, my own plans, and my own will. Anything "my" must go. And to the extent that I surrender all that is "mine," I will produce fruit.

Therefore, I urge you, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship...