Saturday, September 30, 2017

I first started thinking about this thirst for life and meaning when I read an article about a brain surgery. It was beautifully written. Although it was a different brain surgery than the one I had had I could still identify with some of the things described. Towards the end of the article the author asked the surgeon if he believed in God, in life beyond the dead. He responded by simply shaking his head and replying, "This is it."

The rest of the article seemed colored by this interchange. Without a belief in God even though the surgeon was seemingly able to rule over life and death in the end he described life as meaningless. As I read this I remembered the words of Ecclesiastes 2:11, "When I considered all that I had labored to achieve, I found everything to be futile and a pursuit of the wind. There was nothing to be gained under the sun." Life lived under the sun believing that there is nothing beyond death is as empty as chasing the wind.

I spent last week visiting my daughter Abigail in the hospital because she is on bed rest with her pregnancy. One day I received two calls; each call was telling me of the death of a friend. The next day I was told that another friend who had spent two weeks with me at Christmas had been given only a month to lives. With all this going on I woke up at 4 am thinking about this thirst that we all have for life and purpose.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A Battle to Believe

Even though it happened over thirty years ago the memory is still fresh.

I woke up as if someone had just dumped a bucket of ice water on my head. In my dream I had seen someone abducting my daughter. The nightmare was so real that I could see her face staring at me from the rear window of the car as it drove away. My heart pounded in my chest as I stood on the gravel road, helplessly watching my daughter being taken away from me. My eyes shot open and I ran to my little girl's room only to find her sleeping peacefully in her bed. It had been a dream, only a dream. However, it awoke a battle of doubt inside me.

I was now wide awake and facing my fears because I now had to confront the reality that, even though my child was sleeping safe in her bed, there were other children who were not safe. There were grieving parents whose children had been taken from them. I began to pace the floor tormented with these thoughts. "Lord!" I prayed, "I want to trust you, but I don't know how!"

I prayed and paced for most of the night. It was an honest battle with doubt. I now believe that true faith isn't an absence of fear or doubt, but instead it's when you humbly bring these struggles to the throne of grace. That night I prayed and cried until I received mercy. The core of my fear came from the ancient doubt presented by the flickering tongue of the serpent. "Is God really good? Can you really trust Him?"

That night I kept going into my daughter's room. Part of my pleading with God was this, "Lord, I trust you as long as I can see that my child is safe. But I know that faith is being sure of what you hope for and confident about what you don't see. I want to have this kind of faith, but tonight I don't!" My struggle wasn't only with my doubt but with my desire to have faith. Finally, I felt the peace of God and I heard His voice in answer to my cry, "Sarah, I will give you the grace to trust me tonight, and I will give the grace to face anything I allow to come into your life."

This happened over thirty years ago. I have found God's promise fulfilled over and over as He has met me with both mercy and grace to face many trails and heartaches. I am grateful that I do not have to pretend that I am strong when I am really weak, but instead I am invited to bring my weakness, my doubts and my fears before the throne of grace and there I find mercy and grace to help in my time of need. He is faithful. He is good. He is worthy of my trust.

Friday, September 22, 2017

"Come up here"

"Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!"

 "Absolute futility! Everything is futile!"

 "Absolutely pointless, everything is pointless!"

All of these are different translations to what Ecclesiastes describes as life simply lived, "under the sun." As I read these words I can almost hear the words to a song in Les Miserables  playing in my mind.

"Turning, turning, turning through the years
Minutes into hours and hours into years
Nothing changes, nothing ever can
Round and round the roundabout
and back where you began!
Round and round and back where you began!

How very depressing it would be if this was the only way to look at life lived here on earth, from birth to death. But there is another way. I've been thinking about this a lot lately. Two years ago today I had brain surgery. The last two years have been very hard and life-altering. However, I have found that the more difficult my life has become, the more I need to focus my attention on life "beyond the sun."

This Summer while recovering from my sixth surgery I decided to use my time studying the book of Revelation. I was only on the third verse of the first chapter when I came to these words, "Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near." This word for blessed means "possessing the favor of God, that state of being marked by fullness from God."*

In this book that unveils God's eternal plan there is an invitation, "After this I looked, and there in heaven was an open door. The first voice that I heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this" (Revelation 4:1). This invitation comes with a blessing to see beyond the sun all the way to the throne of God.

This Summer as I read and reread the words of this prophecy I felt the full circle of God's love. In the beginning God had come in the cool of the evening seeking fellowship with His creation, but the fellowship was broken by sin and rebellion. Death, sorrow and grief became part of the human experience.

In the book of Revelation there is the promise of a new heaven and a new earth. God at last will dwell with His people. "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will exist no longer, grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous  things have passed away. Then the One seated on the throne said, "Look I am making everything new" (Revelation 4:5).

Life is not meaningless. Life is not futile. Life is not pointless. Look carefully; read the book of Revelation and you might just find an open door that will reveal a picture of what is above the sun.

* Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary, New Testament

My Life is Like This

I was running late. The van was packed with grand-kids. There were two teenage boys in the back, two car-seats in the middle and my granddaughter in the seat beside me. That's when I saw it. A car was turned on its side in the ditch. As I whisked past I thought I might have seen someone in the driver's seat.

"Mimi! You're not just going to keep on going are you!?" Here, my dear readers, I will confess my heart to you. I was running late. The van was packed with grand-kids. Not only that, but as I whisked past I thought the woman in the driver's seat might have had a phone in her hand. I had more to do than I had time to do it in. Nevertheless, I did turn the van around and go back to check and see if I could be of help.

As I slipped into my bed that night I was exhausted. In my mind I began to review the events of the day. I was supposed to teach a class, but found out instead I had a doctor's appointment so I had to cancel my class. I had planned to do several things around the house, but by the time I got home from town there was no time left. In fact, a great deal of what I had planned to do ended up needing to be changed.

I closed my eyes and smiled as I remembered the verse I wrote across my to-do list. "Man makes his plans, but the Lord directs his steps" (Proverbs 16:9.) I blanketed my mind with peace as I humbled myself and surrendered  to the Lordship of my God. It was then that the words from Jeremiah came to me. "I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown" (Jeremiah 2:2). "Ah, Sovereign Lord!' I prayed, 'this is how I want to live, totally surrendering my will to yours!"

As the sweetness of sleep came I heard yet another verse I had been memorizing whisper to my spirit. "What is this coming up from the wilderness like columns of smoke, scented with myrrh and frankincense from every fragrant powder of the merchant?" (Song of Songs 3:6). Yes, yes, I thought as I drifted off to sleep; life is very much like a wilderness to me. But, oh, how sweet to be led by columns of smoke and the fragrant presence of my Lord.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

A Complicated Story

His name isn't given, simply his title: "a man of God." But he is called "a man of God" seventeen times in one chapter! And to be honest, it's a rather unusual story.

According to Wikipedia, "man of God is a biblical title of respect applied to prophets and beloved religious leaders." This nameless man was a prophet. He was sent to Bethel by a revelation from the Lord. He boldly called a curse against the altar that King Jeroboam had built and was in the process of burning his sacrifice on. When Jeroboam reached out his hand to have the man of God arrested, his hand withered.

Upon request the man of God restored the king's hand, but refused his invitation to go home with the king and be refreshed and receive a reward. This man had been commanded by the word of the Lord that he was not to eat bread or drink water or go back the way he came. In obedience to the word of the Lord, the man of God turned down the king's invitation and went another way home.

This is where the story gets confusing. There was an old prophet that was living in Bethel, and his sons had witnessed what the man of God had done. As soon he heard about it he instructed his sons to saddle his donkey and he went in pursuit of the man of God. When he found him he invited the man of God to go home with him to eat some bread. The man of God repeated to the old prophet the same thing he'd told the king. However, the old prophet responded by saying that he was a prophet like the man of God. He told him that an angel had spoken to him by the word of the Lord and that he had been given instruction to bring the man of God back with him so that he might eat bread and drink water. He deceived the man of God. But he really was a prophet. And when he went back with him to his house to eat bread and drink water, the word of the Lord came to the old prophet and he cried out that because the man of the God had rebelled against the commandment of the Lord his corpse would never reach the grave of his fathers.

When the man of God has finished eating the bread and drinking the water the old prophet saddled  a donkey and sent the man of God on his way. But he never reached his destination because a lion met him along the way and killed him. Then the lion just stood there and so did the donkey! The old man went and retrieved both the donkey and the man of God.

Are you confused? Maybe just a little? I have not been able to get this story out of my head all Summer. It's like a riddle I'm trying to solve. And somewhere in the riddle I think there is a message. I think the story is confusing because some truths are hard to understand.

The first tangle I want to untie is the part that says that the old prophet deceived the man of God, but that the man of God's life was cut short because he rebelled against God's commandment. In trying to sort this out I thought about when Satan tempted Eve to disobey God's commandment. First there was the temptation. Then, once Satan got Eve to look at what was forbidden, she was deceived. She was deceived because she chose a believe what Satan said instead of what God said. Next came rebellion and then death entered the world.

I've been thinking about this pattern, and the more I've thought about it the more I've begun to recognize it repeated again and again and again. The book of James says,"No one undergoing a trial should say, 'I am being tempted by God.' For God is not tempted by evil, and He Himself doesn't tempt anyone. But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desires. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death" (James 1:13-15).

Back to the story of the man of God and the old prophet. The old prophet takes the corpse of the man of God and buries it in his own grave. He grieves over this man of God and instructs his sons to bury him in the grave where the man of God is buried and to lay his bones beside the bones of the man of God.

This is not the last time the man of God is mentioned. Three hundred and forty years later his prophecy was fulfilled. Josiah, who had been mentioned by the man of God, asked about a monument that had been constructed beside the altar. When he is told about the man of God he declares,"Let him rest. Don't disturb his bones." There is no question that, though his life was cut short, he was a man of God.

There is no question that this story is about a man of God, but what happened to him and why did it happen? Just as Eve was deceived and consequently chose to rebel against God by eating the forbidden fruit, the man of God was deceived and rebelled against God by drinking water and eating bread. One rebellion took place in a garden, the other took place in enemy territory. Both resulted in death.

I have been thinking about this story all Summer. I have looked at it from all different angles. Day after day, then week after week, and finally month after month, I have considered this man of God. I have wondered how to share all I have learned, but to be honest I'm not sure how. If you live long enough you begin to grasp that life is very complex and there are often no simple answers. I believe that this story illustrates that reality. This story also reminds me that "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).

*1 Kings 13, 2 Kings 23:17,18

Monday, September 4, 2017

Healing the Bruised Soul

Growing up in the South I spent most of the Summer barefooted. This also meant that often my foot would strike a hard object and I would end up with something called a stone bruise. I would go limping and crying to my mother and beg her to do something to make the pain go away. Her answer was always the same, "Some things simply take time to heal."

The last couple of years has been really hard, and the other day I realized that I had a soul bruise. I realized this while I was listening to the radio. The man on the radio was talking about the money he had lost when there was a stock market crash. He told his financial adviser that he considered the money God's money and God could do whatever He chose with His money. I thought about all the ways my life has changed in the last couple of years and I prayed, "Lord, the same is true with my life. It belongs to You and You can do with me whatever You like." Then I cried.

My prayer was simple and honest, but why did I cry? I cried because when my life hit hard places my soul was bruised. There are hurts that are real, there are adjustments that I'm struggling with, there are times I just want to turn back the clock. But I can't. So I take a deep breath and pray, "Lord, my life belongs to You and You can do with it what You will. I choose to trust You."

My prayer of surrender to God is not a magic formula that takes away the pain. One of my goals as a Christian is not to pretend that I am stronger than I am, or that I am immune to the sufferings that comes from living in a broken world. I want to be honest. I want to be humble. And so just like I did as a child with a stone bruise by going to my mother for comfort, I go to my Heavenly Father and pour out my pain and confusion. Then I wait.

I wait, still hurting, still feeling the tender bruise in my soul. There are times when I feel a deep sense of confusion and I can't understand the why. This is when the who is more important than the why. I gave my life to Jesus and I believe with all my heart that what He allows He will redeem. Sometimes it just takes time. So I wait. I wait with expectation. I wait with expectation because I have tasted the sweet water produced by desert streams. I have rejoiced in the azure blue sky that is hidden at times by the clouds. And I know that my redeemer lives.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017