Thursday Repost

And again, I find myself shortish on time and longish on things to say. Cramming every moment of writing time into my novel in hopes of having a finished product ready to pitch in September when I attend a nearby conference. And dealing with teens, intractable headaches, etc.

But some bit of good news! I have a tumor inside my skull. While it may not sound like good news, it is. It is very tiny, almost certainly benign, treated with medication, explains a few odd symptoms I’ve enjoyed of late, and may even have something to do with my headaches.

The truth is, even if it wasn’t benign, it would still be good news. Whatever God wants to do with me is His business. I am His either way. To live is Christ; to die is gain. Truthfully.

But without further ado:

https://letusruntherace.net/2015/12/16/on-tents/

Beauty?

Once again, I am underwater with intractable migraine, teens, a novel, and some article deadlines. Speaking of teens, today I wanted to share this post by a certain teen I am very proud of. I’ve been forbidden to say the name, but suffice to say I love this kid tons of tons!

Enjoy!

theeliteonearth

Beauty has many meanings. From the Chinese who wrapped their feet as babies, damaging their bone structure to the Maya who would place boards on their heads to gain sloped foreheads, everyone seems to expend so much effort for beauty. I have never met a single person who truly did not care what they looked like. Never.

What does beauty mean? You could look it up in the dictionary or ask somebody, however everyone has their own idea of beauty and it could not be simply explained entirely by definition. There is only one completely reliable source we may look to.

Psalm 50:2 states, “From Zion, perfect beauty, God shines forth.”

Zion is believed by many to be the place of God’s ruling during the end of times as found in Revelation 12. So, from where God reigns there is flawless beauty. The Bible also tells us we are made…

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A Distinctive Voice

A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
(Isaiah 40:3)

He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
(John 1:23)

Once again, I have been largely absent in the blogosphere. Many apologies to the fine writers I follow but whose posts I have not had time to read. Someday, my friends. Someday…

Until then, suffice to say I’m in a very lonely season, at least in my home. For now, I’ll keep the details sketchy, but for anyone who’s had three teenagers at once and a husband who works 70-80 hours on the average week, you may be able to imagine a bit.

However, I am honestly grateful.

Unlike a previous season about 17 years ago when God used my extreme isolation to bring my attention to Himself, this time I do have friends around.

But the biggest difference is this time I have Him. He is with me always, and I do not doubt it now while I was ignorant about it then.

As often happens with me, I lift up my concerns to the Almighty during these intervals of seeming solitude. We talk them over, my Father and I.

A few days ago when I lamented my inability to engage the people I love most in a discussion about the Lord, He reminded me of the above verses. I’ve been reflecting on them since.

It’s a nerdy little grammatical fact that there is some slight ambiguity in translating the  Hebrew of the time period to modern English. This is not due to ambiguity of the language so much as it is due to a lack of punctuation in the ancient tongue as well as a tremendously different syntax.

*** As an aside, none of these perceived ambiguities affect the tenets and doctrines of the Christian faith any more than the absent comma in the sentence, “Let’s eat Grandma,” refers to an actual act of cannibalism.  We see the same principles in written English when it is not meticulously worded and punctuated. The Hebrew of the day was often passed on orally for those not studying to be a rabbi, so voice tone and inflection were more useful than punctuation. 

I love how the ESV Bible reflects this ambiguity in the translation of Isaiah 40:3 and John the Baptist’s quote in every Gospel account. Is it a voice crying in the wilderness, or a voice crying out, “In the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord?”

What my Father has been reminding me lately is that it doesn’t matter. Even though at my worst moments, when a migraine or a migraine prodrome have me feeling horrid and my kids are taking offense at the mere mention of God’s Word, I am not allowed to throw my hands up in defeat.  (And for the record, I mean when I am talking about my own conviction, not beating them with Bibles).

Whether I am a voice crying in a wilderness of disinterest, or whether I am crying out for them to make a straight path for the Lord in the wilderness of their hearts doesn’t matter. I need to be that voice; to keep crying out whether anyone responds or not.

You see, the love of Christ compels me to speak. If I did not mention Him or speak His word, my very bones would burn with the fire of trying to contain it and I could not keep it in.

If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.
(Jeremiah 20:9)

Walking with my Father the other day, it hit me.

This isn’t just my job. This is our job.

Church, it is our job to be the voice of Truth. It’s irrelevant whether we cry out in a wilderness of cultural apathy, strife, confusion, conflict, racism, injustice, persecution, mockery, anger, and immorality or whether we are crying out that a straight way for the Lord be made through this wilderness.

We cannot despair. Nor can we compromise the message of the Gospel to make it more palatable or speak an altered and sanitized “gospel” which only comforts and never confronts. The consequences are too dire.

This doesn’t mean casting off discretion and berating everyone without mercy. This simply means openness about what is and is not sin according to the Creator; honesty about where we have, ourselves, been set free from slavery to sin; and genuine in our acts of mercy, our pursuit of righteousness in all aspects of our lives, and devotion to the Kingdom and Righteousness of God.

And the darker our world becomes, the more disctinctive our voices will be.

If we truly love the people we serve, we need to love them enough to tell them the truth. The Gospel Truth. The best news there ever was or ever will be.

Assassination of Self

For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh…
…For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
(2 Corinthians 4:11, 17-18)

The call to homeschool is a call to sacrifice.

No, wait. It’s been on my mind lately as I’ve found myself advocating for a troubled young lady. But there’s more to it. Hmmm, maybe –

The call to be a parent is a call to sacrifice.

No, no. Not there yet. To be married? Single? To work? To stay home with your kids? Be a missionary? Be a friend? Be alone? Write? Eat? Breathe?

Ah, yes. It’s all of those and more.

The call to follow Christ is a call to sacrifice.

Or as Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated it:

The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our  lives to death… When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.  (from The Cost of Discipleship)

Let me speak frankly here, my friends. The more I walk and talk with my King; the more I read His word and put it into practice, the more I surrender to Him and learn to trust Him, the more I see the beauty in sacrifice. In death.

Last week, I wrote to you about a confession of my own sin and of the good which came of being hurt by church. Today I can tell you I still feel free from the taint of bitterness. But it was not a process either quick nor comfortable. It was long and terrible, for the root of bitterness was wound tightly around not only my heart, but around everything else as well. And it did not begin with confession – it ended there.

In some ways, it was nothing short of spiritual open-heart surgery. Or, if you will, circumcision of the heart. It was painful. It was bloody. And it was completely worth it.

And there’s the thing – no matter what the King of kings calls us to give up in this life – even if it’s hurt feelings or pride or selfish ambition – it is worth it. Not only will it be worth it for the next bazillion years, it will be worth it here and now.

An image comes to mind here from one of my pastor’s sermons. He spoke of putting to the sword any temptations, selfishness, envy, pride – literally anything which distracts you from the Lord.

Guys, let’s be real here. These are not vague words encompassing ideas of “bad stuff” to avoid. These can even be good things. Praise music. Family visits. Fun times. Entertainment. Anything which has become an idol for us and merits more attention than the God who gave them to us must go. Anything. 

(…and a quick aside for the record, I am not advocating putting your family or your movie collection to the sword! Just the idolatrous misplacement of our own affections…)

Whatever it is which entices us away from the Lord’s best, from growth and humility and Truth, we need to put it to the sword – the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.

Let’s think about the use of a sword for a moment. To put anything to death by the sword, there’s a necessary intimacy. A gun is cold and impersonal; the slight pressure of a single finger and the deed is done. I can shoot from the relative anonymity of a passing car or a window. I can put a neat bullet hole right into a skull without ever seeing the face of the one I robbed of life.

Not so with the sword. To put a person to death with a sword takes proximity. There’s some degree of effort involved, as even a sharp blade will not penetrate far into muscle, bone, and tendon by accident. There will be pain. There will be blood. There will be screams of agony and it is likely I will see the eyes of the one I destroy – the windows to her soul.

Look in the mirror, Soldier. There’s your target. It’s time for the assassination of the old self. But it has to be personal. You have to mean it.

Even when it hurts. Even when it’s embarrassing. That’s just the death throes of our pride, friends. Bloody, messy, agonizing, horrible to endure, but so, so worth it in the long run.

Lord, may we all be willing to let You show us what must die, then give us the strength and trust to put it to death. Forgive us for clinging to what we believe are good things when You truly do know best. No matter how painful or shaming, expose them in us. We yield them to You to rip out, and we take up the sword in cooperation and obedience to You, our King. 

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.
(Romans 6:6-7)

 

Hurt by Church? Me too. Let’s Chat.

My turn first.

It’s true. I have been hurt by church – even hurt by a church whose stated purpose is to provide a safe place to connect to God for those who have been hurt by church. A trifle ironic, you might say, and you’d be right.

However, I’m not here to drag the leadership of this church through the mud. There will be no character assassination attempts, no ranting or railing against the injustice of it all. In fact, there will be a shocking deficit of details about my experience.

What I want most to express is this: I am glad it happened.

No, you didn’t misread. I have a genuine, heartfelt, sincere sense of glee and relish because I have been  hurt by church. Sorry if that isn’t what you expected to hear. Yet bear with me and hear me out…

I admit I wasn’t always glad about it. To the contrary, there were years in which I was downright bitter about the thing. I was in pain. I was angry. I licked my wounds and sulked. I threw a huge pity party and invited me, myself, and I, and we sat around and placated one another’s tender little ol’ feelings.

Basically, I hopped on the crazy train without even looking at the itinerary first. And I have to say I didn’t really like where it left me when the time came to disembark.

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Hebrews 12:11

Yeah, there I was, alone and lacking the proper attire in a wasteland echoing with the sounds of my  sniveling self-pity with naught to eat but the acrid fruit of my own sharp tongue.

“Today also my complaint is bitter; my hand is heavy on account of my groaning.
Job 23:2

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
Proverbs 18:21

Not fun. Still, I am truthfully glad it happened. Not because it hurt, but because God uses all things – pain and pleasure alike – to shape His people for eternity. Maybe especially pain.

The thing is, God did not leave me to whine forever in that wasteland. Oh He let me endure it for a bit. Gave me my head, saw how far I would run astray from the Master I love. He allowed me the natural consequences of my sullen response to pain.

But He didn’t leave me because the wasteland was nothing more than a pit stop down the broad path which leads to destruction. And destruction was something I was embracing while I nursed my hurts as if they were dear, beloved friends.

Meanwhile, I was allowing something foolish like hurt feelings to build walls between me and my actual dear, beloved friends.

The stupid part is, I knew better.

In the logical part of my brain, I knew the decision which wounded me was made at a time when we were all worn thin, church leadership and laymen alike.

It was a difficult season in our church’s history, and each one of us was exerting an enormous amount of energy just to keep our heads above water and make each Sunday happen. And I also knew the decision had not been made as a personal slight.

I knew that. Yet for some reason, my pride still felt a sting and I allowed it grow. And fester.

But my Father is good. He knows when I have had enough of my own way, and He is faithful to bring me back to the narrow path by His side. And to be honest, that part hurt, too.

… He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Hebrews 12:10-11

My God disciplined me for my own good, so I can share in something better than approval from man, or praise, or whatever it was I felt robbed of at the time. I can share in His holiness. 

Wow. Seriously, wow.

But I have to tell you, the discipline part hurt. Maybe even more than the original wound.

Because of my bitterness, I was forced to take an honest look at myself. I was compelled to assess the situation, what I knew to be true about it, and continue in God’s word.

Then once I had reconciled reality with my faulty perception, it was time to slay the monster. But it wouldn’t die.

Each time I believed it dead and moved on, the vile thing would pop its ugly head back up in a new location. Despite my best efforts at extraction, a root of bitterness coiled around my heart and continued to send new shoots piercing through my words at most inconvenient times.

It was humbling. It was horrible. And frankly, as a woman who spends so much time with her Father in His Word and in conversation throughout the days, it was embarrassing.

But it was also good.

You see, God used that one event, that one perceived slight to show me something I had overlooked. He used it to expose my selfish tendencies, my desire for approval, my propensity to “accidentally” allow my left hand a peek or two at what my right hand was doing.

He used it to expose my pride. My tendency to harbor bitterness. My inflated self-importance. And more.

But in exposing these things, He also began a long and painful work of removing them. And He prompted me to do something I can hope will be the proverbial stake through the monster’s heart.

He prompted me to confess my bitterness to two friends who in some ways represent the church I write of because they are the pastor and his wife. But as I said before, they are also my friends. And I confessed to them the bitterness I wanted gone from my life,  knowing they would accept my confession and pray for me.

It was humbling, sure, but it was also liberating. By confessing, the ugly monster no longer lurked in the depths of my heart but was brought out into the sunshine where it can wither and die. May this be the final nail in its coffin.

And so, in being hurt by church, I was able to discover and address my own junk.

There is no church on earth where people will not, from time to time, hurt one another. We are all selfish at heart. We can all be thoughtless. We respond to one another out of fatigue or pain or a myriad of other problems. And not a single one of us can read the minds and hearts of others, and so we never know if what we say or do might inflict some unintentional wound.

But my friends, that’s the inherent beauty in the church. It’s called sanctification, and it means dealing both with our own hideous monsters and with the hideous monsters of others. It’s how we learn to confess, to forgive, to grow in Christ. To become more like Him in His holiness and humility.

I am thankful for friends I can confess my sin to who will listen and hear my heart then pray for me. And I pray the stupid rift caused by bitterness will truly be healed.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.
James 5:16a

And I’m even more thankful for a God who loves me enough to show me the nasty bits breeding beneath the surface of my soul, then rip them out before they squeeze the life from my heart and relationships.

So what has God wrought in you through times of being hurt, by church or otherwise?

Happy Easter From Us Fools

If you haven’t ‘met’ him already, allow me to introduce you to Bill Sweeney – a dear man who has lived for over 2 decades with ALS. Wherever you stand with Christ – belief, unbelief, indifference – I hope you will take the time today to read Bill’s words. Feel free to skip over my intro to the link!

Like me, the old Bill would have smirked that this year’s Easter Sunday coincides with April Fools Day. Also like me, the present Bill would have everyone know the same “foolish” hope we share – a hope beyond ALS, beyond pain, beyond the grave.

This year, will you contemplate Bill’s unshakable hope? I honestly pray you will join our merry troupe of fools. There are many of us scattered across the globe and bound together by the same unshakable hope.

He is risen!

https://unshakablehope.wordpress.com/2018/03/30/are-you-a-fool-like-me/

Good Friday Reflections: Doing My Duty

To my dear blog friends, I have been overwhelmed lately with working on a book, tutoring, counseling, parenting teens, home repairs, and other bits of life. I’ve managed to read a scattered few of your posts and I continue to keep them for some fantastical future day where I will magically have time to read 84,302 posts by my fellow bloggers. 

But until that day comes, here is a repost of an old blog of mine which is appropriate for me on this Good Friday. In the near future, I hope to make a public confession and share what God has done through the situation I wrote about years ago. For now, a flashback:

“So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”
Luke 17:10

I don’t know about you, but I find it far too easy to fall into what I can only call the “appreciation trap.”

In my head I long to serve God with pure motives and an undivided heart, cheerfully and humbly industrious, motivated by love of my King and totally free from any selfish ulterior motives.

That describes what I want. What happens in actual, real life is sometimes quite different.

Often I begin this way. I will set my hand to a task, working from an abundance of love and energy. Then the days grind on, my fervor lags, the joy in my ministry is replaced by a sense of drudgery, and suddenly I find myself wondering why I am not acknowledged for what I do or why I feel so invisible.

Without knowing quite how it happened, I find I am no longer working out of sheer love for God but have instead developed a desire for recognition and appreciation.

I suppose I could say that it’s just the sin nature and shrug it off. I could continue on, pretending that my motives are truly pure. I could quit.

However, if I am serious about my spiritual growth and truly “working out my own salvation with fear and trembling,” as Paul put it,  cannot shrug it off. Truth be told, regarding my sin with casual indifference, pretending it does not exist, or giving up are not viable options if I am to grow in Christ.

What I need at such times is an attitude adjustment; a reminding of who I am in Christ… and also of who I would be without Him.

In Christ, I am acceptable to God, forgiven and beloved, no longer a condemned and forsaken criminal under the death penalty. Not only pardoned, but wonder of wonders! I am adopted as His child! By grace, I am in the process of being lovingly reformed.

There was a price on my head, and Christ paid it with His life. Because of this undeserved gift, I can now approach the Throne of Grace wearing His righteousness to cover my shame.

That is no small thing, people. Not at all.

Without Him… well, I shudder to think of getting what I really deserve. Do I honestly want the recognition owed to me?  I think not, for I may be recognized not only for the trivial and paltry good that I have done but also for the appalling atrocities I have committed.

Suddenly, when I consider the matter of my meager service in light of my unmerited favor with God, I have to admit that my desire for acknowledgement is more than a touch ludicrous.

Is it not reasonable for the God who granted me reprieve, indeed who paid the cost of my crimes with His own blood to expect a grateful compliance to His wishes?

What’s more, even if He did not redeem me, am I not created by Him and for His purposes in the first place? Do I praise my cup for holding water? Ought I not to perform the functions He created me to do and that without complaint or need for acknowledgement from others?  Then I ought to do so doubly for sheer joy that not only did He shape me, but He saved me from my own poor choices as well!

Oh, Father! Today I thank You for humbling me when my pride swells. Forgive me for my sense of entitlement. Keep my heart humble and teachable, and never let me forget that my standing before You is undeserved. May I bring You glory and be willing to relinquish every shred of ambition and pride.  You must increase and I must decrease.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed … work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning,
Philippians 2:12-14