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.