Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Letting Go and Taking Hold

Gratitude opens my fist so that instead of clutching what was, I am free to take hold of what is.

Tomorrow I will go to Vanderbilt to receive twenty shots in my face. One of the after effects of my brain surgery was that the nerves in my face rewired. This causes my facial muscles to misfire. For instance, when I close my right eye the muscle in my chin contracts. This also means that if I am too expressive I will get a painful charlie horse. Before my surgery I made great use of facial expression but that is no longer true.

This is hard. I recognize that I have a choice. I can either be grateful for the doctors and procedures that help to lessen the effects of my rewired face, or I can grumble and complain. This is not an easy choice. Every time I open my mouth to speak I feel the misfiring muscles. This is not a one time choice, it is a process of letting go of what used to be and accepting what is.

Not long ago I was at a family gathering and someone told me how a group had been discussing my face. She wanted to encourage me by pointing out how much better I looked. I realized I could be grateful for the improvement in the way I looked, or simply hold on to the grief I still feel.

I look around me and see others who have gone through life-altering changes. On the outside they appear to be the same, but deep inside they feel as if their soul has been bruised. What they once took for granted is gone. Sometimes it feels like being a prisoner of the past.

Healing comes slowly. I don't choose to pretend there isn't loss and grief, but I do choose to recognize the blessings that surround me. There is something holy that takes place when I pursue gratitude. I am reminded that we get the word Eucharist from the Greek word eucharisteo, which means to give thanks.

God of the Macro and the Micro

The corridor is dark. The way is unknown. Or perhaps it would be more correct to say that the way is unknown to me. However, the one who does know the way has offered me a light that shines in the darkness.

For the last several months I have immersed myself in the book of Daniel. Having read his words and having looked through his eyes at the visions given to him, I feel like I know him. He was a man, an alien. He was fulfilling God's purposes in his generation. The prophecies God gave him were like a light that shined down the corridor of time. Daniel didn't fully understand all God showed him, but what he did understand was that God was in control.

For the past three weeks I have been studying the last section of Daniel. Daniel is now an old man and his assumptions of what was to take place and what was actually happening didn't match. He was mourning. He humbled himself before the Most High God. When God sent His messenger to Daniel the curtains of heaven were pulled back. Man was given an understanding of the spiritual realm.

What Daniel was told he could not understand. He was a man whom God esteemed highly, a man dearly loved. Amos 3:7 tells us that, "Indeed, the Lord God does nothing without revealing His counsel to His servants the prophets." There are one hundred and thirty five prophecies that have already been fulfilled from the eleventh chapter of Daniel. What these fulfilled prophecies point to is a sovereign God. The Ancient of Days is seated in the heavens and He holds the scepter in His hands.

I believe that the God who is God of the macro is also God of the micro. The Lord of Hosts who rules over angel armies, the Most High God who is sovereign over kingdoms and nations, principalities and powers, is also Lord over my life. I am invited to humble myself just as Daniel did and bring my prayers before the throne of the Almighty. I rest in the truth that, although the corridor may seem dark and the path I should take is unknown to me, it is known to Him.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Not Easy but Good

I remember thinking as we drove over the mountain on my way to have brain surgery that perhaps it was a bad idea to let someone drill a hole in your skull. As soon as that thought come into my head I felt like a scaly hand grabbed me by the ankle and was pulling me beneath the water and I would drown. That's when I asked my husband if he would mind listening to a song with me.

The song was Oceans  by Hillsong, and it had become my theme song. I bathed my mind and soul with the words of the song and fear lost its grip on me. "You call me out upon the waters, the great unknown where feet may fail. And there I find you in the mystery, in oceans deep my faith will stand." I confess I do not understand the path my God has chosen for my life, and sometimes my feet fail and I find myself slipping beneath the water. However, I have chosen to worship Him by not only accepting my weakness but also by entrusting myself to His love. And so when my strength fails I rest in His embrace.

When I was a teenager I was told that God loved me and had a wonderful plan for my life. That sounded really good to me and I had a preconceived idea of what good would look like. But I was wrong. What I have found is very much like the words I find in the song. God's grace abounds in deepest waters and His  sovereign hand has been my guide. Sometimes while facing life's challenges my feet have failed and fears have surrounded me. But in the midst of the struggles of life God has never failed me. Grapes are good, but sometimes it's the crushed grapes that gladden the heart.

The good that God has chosen for me sometimes includes tears and sleepless nights. Times when I feel that I've come to the end of my strength. These difficult times have taught me to accept humility as a gift. Acknowledging my weakness allows me to call upon His name. By faith I keep my eyes above the waves. The waters rise, my strength fails, but I have chosen to rest in His embrace and once more I find the comfort that I am His and He is mine.

I have not found life to be easy, but I have found it to be good. I believe that I am guided by a hand I cannot see but by one that I trust. And so my love song continues to be, "Spirit, lead me where my trust is without borders. Let me walk upon the waters wherever you would call me. Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander, and my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior."

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Glorifying God Through Brokenness

It's hard to believe that it's been five years since our last conversation.

The sky was painted with the colors of dusk. All of nature seemed to be wearing the delicate hues of Springtime on that April evening five years ago. We sat together in companionable silence as we so often did while watching the sun slowly sink behind the mountains.

His wife of over sixty years had died earlier that week. Both of our hearts had been made tender by grief, so when we finally spoke it was not about the temporal things but about the eternal. That night I asked him the question that I often asked him. It was something his mother had taught him when he was a young boy. I asked him about the true meaning and purpose of life.

His ninety one years seemed to fade and I heard a sweetness in his voice that must have been an echo of what his mother heard when she first planted this truth in his soul. His eyes were bright with the light of eternity as he said, "The chief end of man is to glorify God, and enjoy Him forever."

Papa was a farmer, a man of the earth. One of the most humble men I have every known. He knew that God used broken things. Broken clouds to give rain. Broken soil to plant grain. Broken grain to give bread. Broken bread to give strength. As we sat there that night reflecting on the meaning of life there was a sense of being grounded. That night there was the humble understanding that glorifying God is sometimes done when we bring our broken hearts to Him, simply believing that He can make sense out of what we ourselves do not understand.

Looking back I can still feel the joy we shared that night. Joy is a strange byproduct of grief that is mixed with faith. As we sat in the twilight looking beyond the horizon we both believed that what we were experiencing was simply a chapter of a bigger story being told. Peace blanketed our aching hearts as we thought about what it meant to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. I didn't know then that that would be my last conversation with Papa. Forever began for him the next morning when he stepped into eternity.


I used to think that we brought glory to God by the big things we did for Him. But now I understand that we glorify Him when we bring Him our brokenness and find it redeemed.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Art of Waiting

It was 43 years ago that my husband asked me to marry him. We were only engaged for six weeks, but I can still remember what it was like to wait, and while waiting prepare, for my wedding day. Every day was filled with preparations and every night I would put Steve's picture under my pillow. It was the longest six weeks of my life!

I was thinking about what it is like for a bride to wait for her wedding day because I was teaching this week about Jesus' second coming. The Jewish wedding ceremony began with the young man making a covenant with the bride. He would then drink a cup of wine with her to seal the contract. Finally, he would pay a bride-price to the father of the bride. At this point, the waiting would begin, because now he would leave and go to his father's house to prepare a bridal chamber for her.

Jesus used the very phase that the groom would use when leaving his bride when He said, "I go to prepare a place for you." I was only engaged for six weeks, but the Jewish bride who was waiting for her groom didn't know how long she would have to wait. During this time she was to be preparing herself for her wedding. She would wear a veil whenever she went out among other men because she was set apart. She was one for whom a price had been paid.

As the days became weeks and the weeks became months the anticipation would grow. The tradition was that his coming would be a surprise. Perhaps he might even come at midnight. The bride would gather her bridesmaids, her sisters, anyone whom she had chosen to be part of the wedding party, and they would begin to wait with her. Of course they would have oil in their lamps just in case he chose to come at the midnight hour. When the time finally came, the groom would gather his friends and begin the journey to his bride's home. When he was close enough for his bride to hear, he would let out a shout. That was her signal that she was about be caught up by the one for whom she's been waiting.

When I turn to the last chapter of the Bible I read again and again and again these words of Jesus, "Look! I am coming quickly!" I want to be like the princess described in the Royal Wedding Song of Psalm 45. "In her chamber, the royal daughter is all glorious, her clothing embroidered with gold." When did she do the embroidery? She did it while she was waiting and preparing herself for the return of her groom. So, I am waiting with the anticipation of a bride, hoping that my embroidery will be completed by the time I hear the shout.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Consider the Clouds

I smiled when I saw that yesterday was Consider the Clouds Day. It was also the day that I was to teach about the prophecy of One like a son a man coming in the clouds. He came before the Ancient of Days and was given authority to rule, and glory, and a kingdom. Yesterday when I considered the clouds I also considered the One who would be coming with the clouds of heaven.

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the Spirit of God hovered over the surface of the waters. He brought form from the formless and gave light where once there had only been darkness. The crown of His creation was man, created in His own image. And to him he gave dominion and the right to rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth. God saw all that He had created, and the man made in His image ruling, and He declared it very good.

Dominion was forfeited and Paradise was lost when sin entered the garden. The temptation to doubt the goodness of God was offered through the mouth of a serpent. The knowledge of good and evil brought with it a curse. Not only was man cursed, but all of creation was cursed as well. Now labor would be painful and the ground would produce thorns. When sin entered the garden, death became a reality, an enemy all would encounter. All would have been lost--but a promise was given that one day the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent.

The second Adam came just as the Creator had promised. The first temptation to rebel against God had been presented to the first Adam in a garden where all his needs were met. Though he was full, he wanted more; though he'd been given the privilege to rule all of creation, he wanted more; and in the process he had worshiped at the wrong altar. The second Adam was tempted in every way the first Adam was, except he was tempted in a wilderness not a garden. He was hungry not full. The devil showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor and offered them to him if he would fall down and worship him. The second Adam didn't challenge the devil's right to rule, but he refused him the right to be worshiped.

When Jesus, the second Adam, came, his followers believed that he had come to reclaim what had been lost in the garden. He spoke of a kingdom, and the title he used for himself was The Son of Man. The prophet Daniel had seen One like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. This One came before the Ancient of Days and was given authority to rule, and glory, and a kingdom. His dominion was not to be like that given to Adam in the garden because His dominion would not pass away, and His kingdom would not be destroyed. Those who followed him thought he had come to restore dominion. They didn't realize that he had come first to break the curse of sin and death. He took the thorns of the curse and wore them as a crown. And when he died, he laid death in its grave.*

How confused Jesus' followers must have been watching him die, seeing him resurrected, only to see him taken up as they were watching. They watched as a cloud received him out of their sight. They were still gazing up into heaven when suddenly two men in white clothes stood before them and told them that this same Jesus whom they had seen taken up into heaven in the clouds would return in the same way.

Jesus had come first to break the curse, but the promise was given to his followers, just as the prophecy was given to Daniel, that one day he would return in the clouds. On his return he would be given authority to rule, dominion that would not pass away, and a kingdom that would never be destroyed. So, for today, I consider the clouds and wait for the promise of his return.

*John Mark McMillian "Death in His Grave"

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Joy in His Presence

"You hide them in the protection of Your presence" (Psalm 31:20).

I know I've read these words many times, but at the same time I feel like I've never seen them before. This morning the idea of being hidden in the protection of God's presence filled my heart and my mind with a holy sense of wonder. I held the thought in my mind until peace penetrated my soul, and my spirit and heart filled with joy.

I believe that you can read the Bible dutifully and find it to simply be words that lie flat on the page. That is why before I open God's word I ask the Spirit of Truth to reveal Himself to me. This morning I felt like I was drinking living water. When I meditated on hiding myself in the protection of God's presence, I felt like I was having Holy Communion and eating the bread of life.

Next, I opened a book I am reading by Charles Spurgeon on Joy and Redemption and found these words. "Amid a stream of troubled thoughts, there stands an island of rescue and redemption which supplies standing room for wonder and worship, while the music of the words sounds sweetly in our ears like the murmuring of a river. Read the entire psalm carefully and it will arouse your sympathy (Psalm 89), for the author was bearing bitter reproach and was almost broken-hearted by the grievous calamities of his nation. Yet his faith was strong in the faithfulness of God. So he sang in that night of his sorrow. Greatly does it glorify God for us to sing His high praises in storms of adversity and on beds of affliction. It magnifies His mercy if we can bless and adore Him when he takes as well as when He gives. It is good that out of the very mouth of the burning fiery furnace there should come a more burning note of grateful praise."

Something beautiful happens when you find your protection in the presence of God. When you hide yourself beneath the shadow of the wing of the Almighty you find more than security. When you find your resting place close to the heart of God, even if the circumstance of your life remain the same, you are changed. All who anchor themselves in the Lord become strong and courageous.

Not only do I find protection in the presence of God, I find redemption. There is a great exchange. The heavy garments of sorrow are exchanged for the festive garments of praise and joy.