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.

Friday, March 3, 2017

A Memory Awakened by a Song

I wrapped myself in a warm blanket and sat on the porch waiting for the Sun to rise. As I sat waiting for the Light, my spirit was lifted up in praise through the words of a song.

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

The music awoke a memory that was so fresh is was as if I were reliving it. In my memory it was dusk and I was once more in the car on my way the hospital to have brain surgery. All the way there I listened to the same song over and over.

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Your and You are mine

I saw again in my memory the small bed on which I lay surrounded by doctors. I felt so small and vulnerable, yet in my heart I heard the song.

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand will be my guide
Where feet my fail and fear surrounds me
You've never failed and You won't start now

After the surgery my face became paralyzed. For three months I was unable to close my eye without taping it closed. The eye doctor told me I had two weeks before I would lose the vision in my eye. So I found myself going back to the hospital this time to have surgery on my eyes. Again I lifted my broken spirit with the words of the song.

So I will call upon Your Name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

They didn't put me to sleep for the eye surgery but instead they told me that they could play music for me to take my mind off of what they were doing. Once more I let the words of the song become my prayer.

Spirit, lead me where my trust is without boundaries
Let me walk upon the waters 
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wonder
And faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior

The next morning I went out while it was still dark. I wrapped myself in a warm wool blanket and I waited for the dawn. Today these memories were reawaken, and once more I felt the joy of having my soul rest in my Savior's embrace.

Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) by Hillsong


Thursday, March 2, 2017

What Kind of Love is This?

Every year it happens. I'm reading through the Bible and I get to Leviticus and find two chapters talking about leprosy. I have to admit it's hard to read about this skin disease. The word pictures of an infection that appears deeper than the skin is a hard one to look at. And so, this is where a lot of people who thought they would read through the Bible decide that maybe there is a better use of their time.

Why is so much space given to how to deal with this dread disease? I believe it is because when we look closer we realize that this disease that begins by attacking the joints and bones before it is ever seen in the skin is a picture of sin. Just like leprosy, sin has a deforming effect on man who was made in the image of God.

In time leprosy takes away the ability to feel pain. You might think this is a good thing, but without being able to feel pain someone with leprosy can't feel when what they are holding is burning their hand. Sin has the same effect: it silences the conscious. Because leprosy is so contagious it eventually brings isolation. Sin is also contagious; spreading like an untreated infection it destroys it's victim and eventually isolates them from friends and families.

In Biblical times there was no cure for leprosy unless God intervened. This year while reading Leviticus I began to weep. I saw Jesus more clearly than I'd ever seen Him before. I saw that He who knew no sin had become sin so that I might become the righteousness of God in Him. I think for the first time I understood the words of Isaiah a little more clearly.

"He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering who knew what sickness was. He was like someone people turned away from; He was despised and we didn't value Him. Yet He Himself bore our sicknesses, and He carried our pains; but we in turn regarded Him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced because of our transgression, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds. We all went astray like sheep; we have all turned to our own way; and the Lord has punished Him for the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53).

What kind of love is this that would cause the perfect, holy Son of God to leave His place in heaven and come to earth to touch a leprous sinner?! How could the Father bear to give His only son to bear the shame and bring the cure for those deformed by sin?! Why! would He lavished His love on us and wash us with the blood of His own son so that we could become His children?! What kind of love is this?