Friday, August 12, 2016

My IMpotent God

The theme song from the movie Prince of Egypt has been stuck in my head all week because I heard a beautiful rendition of the song by two famous artists.

These are the words:

"Many nights we've prayed with no proof anyone can hear;
In our hearts a hopeful song we barely understood.
Now we are not afraid, although we know there's much to fear -
We were moving mountains long before we knew we could.

There can be miracles when you believe. Though hope is frail, it's hard to kill;
Who knows what miracles you can achieve? When you believe, somehow you will -
You will when you believe!

In this time of fear, when prayer so often proves in vain,
Hope seemed like the summer birds too swiftly flown away.
Yet now I'm standing here - My heart's so full, I can't explain
Seeking faith, and speaking words I never thought I'd say.

There can be miracles when you believe. Though hope is frail, it's hard to kill;
Who knows what miracles you can achieve? When you believe, somehow you will -
You will when you believe!

They don't always happen when you ask,
And it's easy to give in to your fear.
But when you're blinded by your pain,
Can't see your way, get through the rain -
A small but still, resilient voice
Says hope is very near!


There can be miracles when you believe. Though hope is frail, it's hard to kill;
Who knows what miracles you can achieve? When you believe, somehow you will -
You will when you believe!"

What bothers me about listening to this song over and over in my head is that the "theology" in it is all wrong!  In essence it says, "I've prayed and prayed and God has either not heard me, or has chosen to ignore me - to the point that now I've lost all hope. Now I must take matters into my own hands. I must be fearless in the face of fear. If I will believe long enough and hard enough, I will cause miracles to happen. This will be of my own doing - I can WILL them into existence."

Even if the song does not deny God, it does render Him, well...

Impotent

When something is IM-potent, it is completely lacking in strength.

im-po-tent adj. 1. not potent; lacking power or ability. 2. utterly unable to do something. 3. without force or effectiveness. 4. lacking bodily strength, or physically helpless, as an aged person or a cripple... *

Potency is strength, power!
 
po-tent adj. 1. powerful; mighty 2. cogent (convincing; forcible), as reasons, motives, etc. 3. producing powerful physical or chemical effects, as a drug 4. possessed of great power or authority. 5.  exercising great moral influence... *

When you smell a potent odor, you are compelled to cover your nose. It is too strong to handle. It may even overwhelm you with its power, regardless of the fact that it is an invisible force.

Impotent
Although it's not really a word that is used to describe God, it has been on my mind a lot lately as a characteristic that we subconsciously subscribe to Him.

Why do I think that this is a current "attribute" of God?

Because we are robbing God of His power in many ways -  like the way that we  portray Him in movies...


A couple of years ago, I wrote about watching the movie Soul Surfer with my children and how the Hollywood portrayal of Bethany's response to the shark attack was somewhat different from her real-life reaction to it:


"There was no hesitation.


No angst.

No doubt.

She was confident in God, and had no need to distrust His methods!

I thought back to the movie. The Hollywood Bethany struggles.

She falters.

She agonizes.

She doubts.


Hollywood portrayed it the only way they knew how. The way that they felt was relatable to the most people.
It occurred to me that people who do not have Christ (and even some of us who do!) do not understand how this could be! How could someone (even a little girl of 13) go through this trauma and, not only remain calm while she is enduring it, but proceed with confidence afterward?"

At Bible Study the other day, one of the ladies mentioned that there is a new Moses movie out. One that is not worth seeing. She described the parting of the Red Sea as taking all night while a light breeze blows on the water drying it up to a trickling stream.

I can see it in my mind's eye.

No climactic orchestration as the sea parts and the water towers over the Children of Israel on both sides, fish swimming alongside, and old shipwrecks exposed. Just a boring wade through a little stream. In fact, what's the point of even making a movie about it? I mean, who wants to watch something that dull?

One of the other ladies shared what a minister had told her about visiting a church in which there was a guest speaker telling the story of the Exodus that way. A woman stood up and started praising God in a very loud voice. It was so disruptive that the visiting minister paused and addressed her.

"I've always thought that God parted the Red Sea and the children of Israel walked through on dry ground, followed by all the chariots of Egypt." she said. "You are telling me that it was just a little stream they crossed. That's an even bigger miracle! All the armies of Egypt drowned in just six inches of water!!! PRAISE GOD! PRAISE GOD!"

... and we rob God of His power by the way that we see Him, think of Him, and by the way that we live.

I believe that that is the kind of robbing that is spoken of in Malachi 3: 6-12:

I the LORD do not change... Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty.

“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.

“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’

“In tithes and offerings.
You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the LORD Almighty.

Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty.

God does not need my money - this is robbing Him of His power. When I do not tithe, it is equal to me saying "I do not trust You to provide for my needs." This kind of lack of trust stems from a perception of God that He is either unable, or He is unwilling to care for me.

In the song it talks about prayers being in vain and miracles not happening when we ask - to the point that we give up hope that there will ever be an answer.

If I have been praying for a very long time about an issue that burdens my heart, and it feels as though my prayers hit the ceiling and fall right-back to the floor, it is easy to begin to believe that God does not care for me - that He is either unable or unwilling to do something about it.

These are but two tiny examples of how I can rob God of His power in my perception of Him or in the way that I live, but there are dozens of other ways that we do this.

The best way to combat a lie is with the truth of the Word of God.

What is actually true of God is that He is OMNI- potent!

om-ni-po-tent adj. 1 almighty or infinite in power, as God or a deity. 2. having unlimited or very great authority. -n.3. an omnipotent being. 4. the Omnipotent, God *

Yours, LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. 1 Chronicles 29:11

All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What words these are! With authority and power he gives orders to impure spirits and they come out!” Luke 4:36

And the people all tried to touch [Jesus], because power was coming from him and healing them all. Luke 6:19

When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases. Luke 9:1

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 2 Corinthians 4:7

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21


Back to the song...

The Israelites had been in Egypt for 400 years!

When they first arrived, they had fled a famine and had been welcomed there in peace and plenty. But as time went on, things began to change:

In time, Joseph and all of his brothers died, ending that entire generation. But their descendants, the Israelites, had many children and grandchildren. In fact, they multiplied so greatly that they became extremely powerful and filled the land.

Eventually, a new king came to power in Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph or what he had done. He said to his people, “Look, the people of Israel now outnumber us and are stronger than we are. We must make a plan to keep them from growing even more. If we don’t, and if war breaks out, they will join our enemies and fight against us. Then they will escape from the country."

So the Egyptians made the Israelites their slaves. They appointed brutal slave drivers over them, hoping to wear them down with crushing labor. They forced them to build the cities of Pithom and Rameses as supply centers for the king.

But the more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more the Israelites multiplied and spread, and the more alarmed the Egyptians became. So the Egyptians worked the people of Israel without mercy.
They made their lives bitter, forcing them to mix mortar and make bricks and do all the work in the fields. They were ruthless in all their demands. Exodus 1:6-14 NLT

I have no doubt that as these events began to unfold, the Children of Israel began to cry out to God.  I am sure that they did feel as though no One was listening - that their prayers were hitting the ceiling and falling to the floor. That God was either unable or unwilling to help them...

When our baby died, someone gave me a poem that talked about the tapestry that God is weaving. It said that, though we hate the dark threads that are often woven into our lives, God has a purpose for them. They are necessary to the beauty of the finished product. Not only that, but the tapestry is being woven from heaven, so we can only see the underneath side - and there is nothing very lovely about the back side of a tapestry. It looks like a jumble of colored strings and nothing makes sense. Yet, from His position, God can see the picture in all of its beauty.

This is what was happening with the Children of Israel. The threads of their tapestry started out bright, but became gradually darker over the course of those 400 years.

But the tapestry was not intended to stay one dimensional...
Dull...
Colorless...
Dark...
God was working out the pattern. And just at the right time - He made a change

The LORD said [to Moses], I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” Exodus 3:7-10 NIV

What does this have to do with the song?

Perspective

If we truly believed that God loves us and has a plan for our lives - a plan to prosper us and not to harm us, a plan to give us a hope and a future..
(Jeremiah 29:11)

Then the song would look more like this:



  

 







Many nights we've prayed - but we know God has heard our prayer;
In our hearts a hopeful song we barely understood.
Now we are not afraid, we know with God we need not fear -
He was moving mountains long before we knew He could.

God can do miracles when you believe. Though hope is frail, it's hard to kill;
With faith so small it's hard to see? We must believe God always will -
All things He will acheive!

In the times we fear, when prayer so often seems in vain,
And Hope is like the summer birds too swiftly flown away;
I look up and stand right here - My heart's so full, I can't explain
Seeking faith, and speaking words I never thought I'd say.

God can do miracles when you believe. Though hope is frail, it's hard to kill;With faith so small it's hard to see? We must believe God always will -
All things He will acheive!

They don't always happen when you ask,
And it's easy to give in to your fear.
But when you're blinded by your pain,
Can't see your way, get through the rain -
A small but still, resilient voice
Says hope is very near!


God can do miracles when you believe. Though hope is frail, it's hard to kill;With faith so small it's hard to see? We must believe God always will -
All things He will acheive!









* quoted from The American College Dictionary 1947

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Is My Voice Meant to Praise the Lord, or Change the World?

This past week is an interesting week in history. If you have watched the news or listened to the radio at all, your ears would have been filled with reminders of the civil rights movement in our country years ago - a necessary and  positive change.

You would also have been reminded of the legalization of abortion for any and every reason - a crime against the lives of millions of American children over the last 44 years.

I had a bit of ironing to do, so this afternoon I drug everything out and put on one of my favorite movies to accompany the task.




Amazing Grace is a movie that should be in the viewing library of every Christian family. It is the true story of William Wilberforce, a British parliamentarian who made it his life's work to improve conditions in his country. Over the course of time, he made life better for poor people and animals, but his greatest accomplishment was the abolition of the slave trade in Great Britain - which led the way for the eventual abolition in the United States as well.

"No Englishman has ever done more to evoke the conscience of the British people and to elevate and ennoble British life."
Plaque from Wilberforce's birthplace, Hull.

In light of the events of the news, the movie seemed more poignant to me than usual. Not long ago, I wrote about how it seems that we as Christians have gone soft, blended in to the culture, become powerless...

This has been on my mind a lot lately, and these verses came to mind:

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." Matthew 5:13-16 NKJV

Salt is an amazing thing! It is used for more than just a kitchen seasoning, it's uses begin with food preservation, such is in "cured" meats and range through medical uses like fluid IVs and catheter cleansing.

Even when it is "thrown out in the road," it is still potent. We live in the Great White North and use salt to melt ice on the roads.

Our bodies require salt - during my childhood, my father owned a business which supplied feed for farm animals. One of the products that we always had on hand were salt licks - it is that crucial the health and well-being of the body.

I googled salt to see when it loses it's flavor and discovered that it doesn't. It has an indefinite shelf life unless it exposed to a lot of moisture - but even then, it is still salty

I continued to puzzle over this verse as I tried different wording for my search.

What can make salt lose its "saltiness"?
One source suggested that the only possible way to ruin salt was to mix something else into it. Not like pepper or garlic, but to contaminate it with something undesirable.

Like dirt.

 It occurred to me that  this verse is saying that the one-and-only-thing that can make us ineffective as Christians is sin.

Just like salt is effective in a variety of  places: to season or preserve food, melt snow and ice,  clean and purify, etc. God places each of us in a particular situation - our time in history, the country and culture in which we live, our family and circle of friends -  so that we can season the environment with God's grace, melt hard hearts, and even bring purity into a situation.

But if our lives are contaminated by sin, we will be able to do none of those things.

Matthew Henry, a renowned theologian from Wilberforce's time says this on the subject:

"Mankind, lying in ignorance and wickedness, were a vast heap of unsavoury stuff, ready to putrefy; but Christ sent forth his disciples, by their lives and doctrines, to season it with knowledge and grace, and so to render it acceptable to God...If you, who should season others, are yourselves unsavoury, void of spiritual life, relish, and vigour; if a Christian be so, especially if a minister be so, his condition is very sad; for he is irrecoverable: Wherewith shall it be salted? Salt is a remedy for unsavoury meat, but there is no remedy for unsavoury salt. Christianity will give a man a relish; but if a man can take up and continue the profession of it, and yet remain flat and foolish, and graceless and insipid, no other doctrine, no other means, can be applied, to make him savoury. If Christianity do not do it, nothing will."


But our Purity is just one side of the coin.


"My walk is a public one. My business is in the world, and I must mix in the assemblies of men or quit the post which Providence seems to have assigned me."
From William Wilberforce's diary

Remember this verse?

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." Matthew 5:13-16 NKJV

Just like Salt represents our purity, Light represents our influence.

God did not place us here to sit in our houses and not allow our lives to touch anybody else, or to keep our faith "private" and not share Hope with people at work, at the grocery store, at the gym, or any place other that we frequent. He put us here to SHINE!

"Do you intend to use your beautiful voice to praise the Lord, or change the world?
...Surely, the principals of Christianity lead to action as well as meditation."*

I think about the life of William Wilberforce. In the movie you can see the struggle he has in his desire to sit quietly with God or to answer the call on his life to action. I've gotten the same impression about Martin Luther King Jr. from documentaries I've seen about his life. He was content to pastor a small church - yet the call to action was simply too great to ignore.

"Mr. Wilberforce. We understand you're having problems choosing whether to do the work of God, or the work of a political activist."
"We humbly suggest, that you can do both."*

God is calling US.

You.

And Me.

First to stay pure, then, to act. Both sides of the very same coin.

What does this look like in everyday life?

It will be different for each of us. For some it will mean making a purposeful time to study the Word of God with our children. Maybe for one it will be laying your hand on the shoulder of a friend at work who is hurting and offering up a prayer for them in that moment. For another it may be teaching a Sunday school class or taking on a civil injustice.

But God's Word is clear: as we offer ourselves to Him in a holy act of worship, His plan for our lives will be revealed.
"Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." Romans 12:1-2 NIV


"If you make the world better in one way, it becomes better in every way. Don't you think?" *




*Quotes from the movie Amazing Grace


 
 


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Thursday, February 5, 2015

I think I'm in Like

I had appointments in town yesterday and, though I don't usually stop anywhere to eat when I am out and about, I was so hungry that I took the time to sit down in a cafĂ© and grab a salad.

The two women in the booth next to mine were discussing their husbands. Since I was alone, and had no one to converse with, I could not avoid overhearing their many complaints. One of them was especially disparaging.

Her husband did not plan his next business trip the way she would have done it. She has to rag on him to do the most menial tasks. After they had moved in together, she had to cajole him to finish his degree. He does not eat often enough, or at the right times. He does appreciate exercise the way she does....

After listening to this "lovely" conversation for a while, she bowled me over by announcing to her friend that she had informed him that he had better not say anything [about her role in the struggles of their marriage?] to her because she is so desirable that she could find someone to replace him in no time flat. She could have someone new in her bed by that very night, in fact!

CaioPizzaItaliano.jpg
photo credit
I had heard more than enough. I wanted to lean over the partition and tell her that she is no great catch, and that any new man that she could hook would soon learn to regret it.

Instead, I disposed of the rest of my salad and left.

"What happened?" I wondered to myself as I walked to my car. There must have been a time when she thought the world began and ended with this man, yet now she had nothing but vitriol for him.

I continued to mull over it as I drove home. It occurred to me that this may be a fleeting emotion - maybe they'd just had a big fight and she was venting her frustrations to her friend without thinking about how powerful words are, and that they have a lasting effect on others.

I thought back to a time in my own marriage when I had to learn this lesson the very hardest way. We had hit a rough patch in our marriage and I blamed him. I had a good friend at the time whom I called nearly every day.

Each day, the conversation would deteriorate into a one-sided husband bashing, and each day she would try to encourage me to do what was right... to obey scripture... to try something new to make a difference.

I was full of excuses for why I could not improve my marriage - I had tried this or that (probably only for a minute) and it had not worked. Besides, it was all his fault anyway!

After weeks of listening to me count and recount my husband's many faults (how did she endure it?), she said, "Why don't you just leave him?"

I was shocked! That is not what I wanted to hear!
I still wanted my marriage, this man - but I was unwilling to take responsibility for MY part in the problem and fix it. She had made many good suggestions as she tried to help me understand that I can only control ME.

I could not change what my husband said or did, but I COULD change what I said or did.

How I would respond.

How I would love.

How I would serve (and with what attitude).

I had ALL of the power concerning whether or not I even LIKED him.

It took me a while to catch on to all of this - but one change I made right away: I stopped complaining.

Yep. That was it. The very first change.
photo credit
It was like a mirror had been held up to my heart with her question, and I finally saw all of the ugliness that had been lurking there, and understood that I needed to stop up the flow of these caustic words.

Most women do not marry men that we don't LIKE to begin with - yet somehow, along the way, we loose sight of the very things we liked about the man in the first place!
I think that is just one of the reasons we are exhorted in scripture to control our thoughts:

  "...we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." 2 Corinthians 10:5

 "And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise." Philippians 4:8(NLT)

So Ladies (and Gents, if you're prone to complaining), the next time you open your mouth to speak a word...
out loud...
that, once spoken, can never be retracted...
close your mouth quickly and think: 
 
"Is what I am about to say really true?"
"Is what I am about to say going to bring honor or dishonor to my spouse (or to me by saying it)?"
"Is what I am about to say the right word to edify the hearers in this moment?"

"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." Ephesians 4:29 NIV

"Is what I am about to say going to paint a lovely word picture, or an ugly one?"

"A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver." Proverbs 25:11 KJV

"Is what I am about to say going to cause the hearer to admire my spouse more? Or less?"
"Is what I am about to say excellent and full of praise?"
...
Years have passed (we are celebrating 19 years next month!), and we have hit several more rough patches, but one of the things that I have been learning is to zip my lip. I have tried to talk to other Godly women when we have struggled, but I continue to feel as though the speaking of negative words - even toward someone who is plugged in to God - casts a shadow over their perception of him later on.

The best thing that I'm discovering is this: when I talk only to God about it, often the frustrations are resolved within a few days, but without the lasting effect of the word spoken to another in a moment of anger.

It is paying off.

I am DEFINITELY much more in LIKE with my husband!

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

God's Waiting Room

"Do you want to listen to some whining?" I asked, as my mom answered her phone. I heard her chuckle.
"Why? Do you have some for me?"

She listened as I recounted my frustrations with living in half of the house after the lower level was flooded by rising ground water, the carpet was lifted and dried with large fans, and the damage was assessed and a plan of action was discussed.

It had taken a full month.

Not a single room in my house - except maybe the upstairs bathroom - was not affected by this problem. Most of the contents of the lower level were stacked in boxes in the garage. The kids dressers, too - their clothes piled in baskets in my bedroom. Toys took over the "adult" living room, and coloring books and crayons commandeered the dining room table.

In addition, the smaller space was leaving the children stir-crazy - not to mention house-bound because it would not stop raining. I left story time one morning to change a dirty diaper, only to be met with loud bangs that shook the floor and rattled the metal heat vents. I ran to see what was causing such a racket. The kids were standing on the back of the couch and jumping to the floor (death wish, anyone?).

Preferring their own creativity over coloring in the lines, the children kept looking for any scrap of paper on which to color. One day I discovered that they had used a jury duty form - which must be signed and returned - because I had started filling it out and had been interrupted, leaving it on the dining room table.

photo credit

"The chaos is seeping into my brain," I moaned to my mother. "I like things to be neat and orderly, but every room is a mess. I don't even know where to start. I wander around a house filled with things that need to be done, and I don't even know what to do!"

For some reason, difficult things always seem more tolerable if you know when they are going to end. I can put up with annoying hair if I have an appointment on the calendar for next week. It's no big deal to run the kids all over the county for a sports season because you know when that running ends...

It is when there seems to be no end in sight that the waiting becomes unbearable.

Yet...

Scripture promises that God will not give us more than we can bear without making a way for us to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

That way was to Take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Even the to do list... The gotta gitter done list... The disorganization....

God is not a God of disorder but of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33), so I had to reign my thoughts back into line with order and plug away at the chaos until it came into line as well.

Eventually the home was put back to normal

...And in hindsight, I can say that I am thankful that God continues to send opportunities like these to remind us, reteach us, and reshape us more and more into the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-29).

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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

His Grace is Greater


I’ve been in one of God’s waiting rooms for a couple of months now regarding my part of our family income. I am trying to sit quietly and listen for His voice saying, “This is the way, walk in it,”[1] but I am simply not hearing His voice and, to be honest with you, I am getting a little impatient.

I am in the book of Jeremiah right now (Yep. The Weeping Prophet) and I wanted to cross reference a verse in Isaiah about being tested and refined “in the furnace of affliction.” As I flipped to the page, my eyes fell on a passage that I had underlined when I was in that book:

“This is what the Lord says – Your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: ‘I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea.”

Obviously, God is speaking to the Israelites through these two prophets, spelling out the trouble that was coming to them because they had not been faithful to Him – but I saw this, also, in the reverse. This is the unchanging God who teaches ME what is best for me and directs ME in the way I should go.
- Is it not, then, probable to assume that IF I pay attention to His commands, I will have peace like a river and righteousness like the waves of the sea?

Yes, I know that much of the Old Testament is specific to the Israelites, but I also know that “ALL scripture is given by God, and is useful for teaching…and training in righteousness”[2]  so that I might be equipped to do what is right. If He would take the time to show me this verse, then today it was written just for me.

As I spoke to my friend Stacy on the phone a little later, I mentioned the verse that I had cross referenced about refinement, and told her a story that I had heard about some women in a Bible Study wanting to better understand why God uses the analogy of silver refinement so often. They made an appointment with a local silversmith and went in to watch him work. With a careful eye, he kept the silver in the flame until all of the impurities were gone, explaining that he could not take his eyes off of it for a second because if it was in the flame too long, it would be ruined. He showed them that when all of the impurities had been burned off, he could see his reflection in it – that is when he knew that it was ready.

“God puts us into the furnace of affliction in order to bring all of our impurities to the surface and be skimmed off,” I went on to say. “The goal is to be able to see His reflection in us.”
Though I was the one talking, God was turning these words back into my own ears.
I am trying to accept this waiting room as an opportunity to be refined. A chance for impurity to be removed from my life, and for my faith to grow. I am already seeing how God has provided in small ways…

This morning, an old song popped into my mind. It is about God’s provision for our salvation, but these words played over and over in my mind all morning, and I sang outloud as I did my work:

He’ll give us strength to simply trust Him through times we may not understand;
We will gain a sweet assurance no passing doubt can dim.
Our lives are safely in His hand.
Though countless souls have come to Him, so desperate and lost;
with faith no greater than a tiny seed,
 
Each one has found a wondrous truth beneath His simple cross:
 
His grace is greater than our need.




[1] Isaiah 30:21
[2] 2 Timothy 3:16-17

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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Joy on Trial

Wednesday I left work at 1:30 to head to a 2:00 appointment with the school guidance counselor and my high school senior about college stuff (Yikes! Not already!). As I walked around the back of my car, I noticed that my tire was flat. Rim-on-the-ground, not-getting-to-a-gas-station flat. I did what any competent, self-respecting adult female would do - - I called my husband.


"I'll just change it myself." I said to him (we'd had a car with chronic tire problems, so I have changed a few of them).

"No," he said, picturing me in office attire with heels and knit gloves crawling around on the ground on a 32 degree day. "Call the number on the back of the insurance card."

As soon as the arrangements were made, I called the school to let them know I would be missing the appointment. They patched me through to the guidance counselor who informed me that my son was already in her office and we could do the meeting over the phone. Oh, OK!

I turned on the car and warmed up my frozen toes as we talked. Forty-five minutes later, assistance arrived and I watched as my rescuers struggled to get my Suburban to release the spare tire which is mounted on the underside of the vehicle where all of the salt used to make winter travel more safe here in the Great White North had managed to seize up the mechanism. After another forty minutes of struggling, now with frozen fingers and a bent screw driver, he gave up.

"You will have to call a tow truck," he said. "When you call the insurance company back, they will probably send me. It will take me 45 minutes to get back to the shop to get the tow truck, and another 45 minutes to get back." he explained as he described how insurance-initiated assistance works. I decided to call a closer place though it was not on the insurance list, knowing that I would have to pay the fee myself and wait for reimbursement from the insurance company.

"We are so busy with tires that we will be working until 8:00 tonight, but I will call my dad. He used to own this company, and retired 14 years ago." the local guy said. An hour later a delightful older gentleman arrived. "Where do you want to go?" he asked. "I can take you home or where ever you want."

I had been to my local mechanic for an oil change the day before and had mentioned that my husband wanted new tires on the Suburban. The mechanic looked at them and said that Hubby was right - he wouldn't haul kids around with those tires through the winter, either. "Everyone wants their tires done right now because bad weather is coming this week, but I can do it Monday." he had said, and he ordered the tires right then.

I named the mechanic's shop and said, "Bring me there. I have an appointment with him for tires on Monday, but he said that he might be able to do it as early as Friday afternoon."

I called the mechanic to let him know that we were coming, and he informed me that my tires had already arrived! He would bump another project and do it first thing in the morning. "I take good care of my regulars." he explained.

I told my husband where I was, and asked him to pick me up on the way home. FIVE HOURS after discovering the flat tire, I finally arrived at home.

* * * * *

 A while ago my Aunt told me that people stop praying because we think that God is not answering our prayers. I had been feeling that way because I don't see anything happening on my one big prayer (a story for another day). A few weeks ago, I decided that it was time to get out my One Thousand Gifts notebook again, and document the small ways that I can see God working in my life. It is an amazing discipline - it opens your eyes!

All through this inconvenient ordeal, I could see God:

219. The roadside assistance dispatcher asking first if I was in a safe place - yes! Yes I was.
220. I did not have to miss the school meeting.
221. I could not have changed that tire if I had tried!
222. A kind man called out of retirement just to help little me.
223. New tires already ordered, in, and ready to be put on.
224. The mechanic doing it the very next day - a day in which I had no where to go.
225. Proper tires JUST before the first snow of the season.
226. Being able to see, even while I was in the midst of the awkward situation, that this was God's will for me today.

As I went to pick up my newly-tired vehicle Thursday evening, Family Talk  was on the radio and I heard the testimony of Bobbie Wolgemuth's struggle with cancer. "Our Joy is on trial" she had said to her husband when she got the diagnosis. She understood that trials are sent for a purpose in our lives - and people watch how we respond to them.
 
"Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing." James 1:2-4 NLT

A flat tire pales in comparison to stage four ovarian cancer, yet the principle is still the same: when we go through challenges in life, the way we respond to them shows people what we REALLY believe. If we have been even the slightest bit open about our faith, we are being watched. Our audience is wondering if Christ really makes a difference in our lives, or if it is just a bunch of empty words.

I passed this test, but how I wish that I would pass all of them  with my joy intact!



 What challenges have you been facing lately, and how has it caused you to grow? Feel free to comment on your Joy being on Trial.


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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Letting Go

I feel a big life change coming, and it has inspired me to get rid of stuff. This will happen in the form of a garage sale – even though I hated the only garage sale I ever held.
I just have a strong urge to purge! I find myself walking through my house, picturing it streamlined and clean - pared down to the things that I really want and need, and free from clutter and, well, STUFF.
Today’s project was an antique trunk in which I store old linens and curtains that I don’t really use, but have saved in case I might use them again some day.
It also contains bags of my children’s baby clothes and other sentimental items surrounding their infancy. Considering that my “baby” turned 5 last week, I felt that it was time to look through those things and see what I really wanted to keep. I had sorted some of the baby clothes before, so they were in neat Ziploc bags, and the name of the child with whom I most associated the outfit was written on the outside of the bag. Soon I came across this tiny outfit:
 


“Why is this in Ben’s bag?” I wondered out loud to myself.
Suddenly it occurred to me – this is the outfit he was wearing when we took him for a repeat blood test shortly after he was born. The initial test had some kind of problem, so we had brought him back to the hospital and watched as they pricked his little heel and squeezed blood stain after blood stain onto a card while my tiny boy cried. Since this is usually done in the hospital nursery before the baby is released, I had not witnessed the uncomfortable event before (or since), and I choked on the lump in my throat as I held back my own tears.
 
I looked out the window and watched this now bigger-than-me-boy throwing a bat (instead of a ball???) back and forth to a friend in our front yard and wondered why I would hold on to something that is attached to a painful memory for so long.
I’ve been thinking about it all afternoon.
Why do we hold on to things for so long?
We hold on to words spoken to us (even in our childhood), and continue to live as though those words were true. I remember a conversation I had with a new friend on the first Sunday that I sang in her church. I told her that my voice teacher in college said that I would never be a really great singer. Whenever I get up to sing, those words swirl around in my head…. and bring along an increased dose of nerves!
We hold on to the sins for which we are most vulnerable and tell ourselves that we are powerless to overcome them. Why, then, did Jesus die for our sins – if not to show us that He had power not only over death, but also in our lives?
We hold on to abuse and live as though we brought it on ourselves because, somehow, we deserved it. We seek out other abusive relationships because we still believe that somehow we deserve it.
We hold on to STUFF.  Not only stuff that is attached to bad memories like the baby outfit, but also Stuff that is attached to good memories – like my desk.
About a dozen years ago, my husband bought me a roll-top desk because I’ve always liked them. The reason I’ve always liked them is because I loved my grandfather very much and he had one. I was fascinated by the many tiny drawers, and intrigued by the mystery of what could be in each of them.

 
I like my desk, but I no longer use a large desk-top computer, so the extra space has become a catch-all for papers needing my attention and books needing repair. It is also cumbersome, and difficult to move – which would not be much of a problem, except that the lower level of our home flooded this year, requiring multiple desk moves. I am starting to realize that I do not need a large piece of furniture to hold on to memories of my Grandfather – and a smaller piece could serve me quite well.
After all, isn’t that what our stuff is supposed to do?
To SERVE us. Not to keep our lives so busy maintaining it, that we miss out on important moments with our kids, or opportunities to serve God.
Truth be told, I spend way too much time with my stuff. Organizing it. Picking it up. Rearranging it. Picking it up. Dusting it. Finding places to put it. Cleaning it. Picking it up…
I am ready to do with a lot less stuff in my house, and free up some of my time for more worthwhile things.
I am ready for less junk in my heart, too.
I’ve been pondering what scripture tells us to hold on to and what to get rid of.
What to get rid of:
“…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles…” Hebrews 12:1
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” Ephesians 4:31
“Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit….” Ezekiel 18:31

What to keep:
“…hold firmly to the word of life…” Philippians 2:16
“…hold on to what is good…” 1 Thessalonians 5:21
“…keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.” 1 Timothy 3:9
 “…hold firmly to the trustworthy message…” Titus 1:9
“…hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.” Hebrews 3:6 
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23
 
The Apostle Paul figured out how to evaluate what was important and what was not and he shared the secret with us:

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him… , not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained."
Philippians 3:7-16

This should help me to know what to keep and what to get rid of!

How about you – what have you been purging from your life lately? Feel free to leave comments about your own journey.
 
 

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