Death of an Atheist

Note: If the beginning of this post sounds familiar, you are probably one of the lucky handful who caught me in the midst of a weird glitch wherein a draft by accident… 

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
(Romans 6:11)

Before I came to know and love the Lord, I was a self-proclaimed atheist… and a pretty angry one at that. If you had asked the late teen/early adulthood version of myself what I thought about Christianity or religion in general, I probably would have answered something to the effect that religion is just a crutch to prop up people who are too weak to face life without it.

Ironically, now that I have come to enjoy a relationship with the living God, I partially agree with my old self on this point. If I have learned nothing else in my forty-odd trips around the sun, I have at least come to realize that I am too weak by far to attempt to live life without God.

The only difference between the Heather who did not recognize this fact and the Heather who now does is that the old me was in denial of very obvious weaknesses (even though said weaknesses resulted in alternating bouts of sobbing, self-loathing, and self-medication with alcohol).

The old me held a firm belief that life was all about what you could get out of it. Yet each attempt I made to seize the proverbial day left me with nothing more than double fistfuls of wishful thinking and palms slashed with bloody furrows from clinging to the shards of shattered delusions.

Perhaps the realization that disturbed me most profoundly in my old life was that the more I lived for myself, filling myself with what I thought was good and fun, the emptier I seemed to become until the inner void was so great that I was certain I would implode.

I had become a person wandering on an endless search with no goal, traveling at great speed yet without direction or purpose. My life was a confusion of restless and increasingly frantic, but futile, activity. I was locked in what seemed to be a perpetual circle, forever following my own footsteps.

“What we all dread most,” said the priest in a low voice, “is a maze with no centre. That is why atheism is only a nightmare.” – G. K. Chesterton, from “The Head of Caesar,” a Father Brown mystery

Yet all the time, God was there waiting patiently for the day when I, footsore and disillusioned, would finally grasp the extremity of my need. But when I first realized that each broad and inviting path I took only led me back to a trackless wilderness, I became convinced that the answers lay beneath my feet, as if some clue to joy could be unearthed like buried treasure.

As I delved deeper and ever deeper, my subterranean quest did not diminish my need but merely increased my darkness. It was there, knee-deep in muck and covered in grime, that I finally saw my folly. Suffocated by despair, I collapsed.

The God I had once laughingly dismissed as a crutch found me where I had fallen, miserably entombed in the pit I had dug, lifeless and caked in mud. The sudden Light of his presence woke me and I cringed in anticipation of the wrath and contempt I deserved from Him. But He did the unexpected.

Rather than move on by, as I would have done, the One I had once scorned knelt beside me in the mire. Lifting my lifeless form, He carried me out of the grave and washed me clean. He removed my shabby tatters and covered my shame with His own spotless garment of righteousness. And He took my stone-cold heart and kneaded it until it became a living thing, responsive to His love.

Then He hefted the full burden of my degradation onto His own shoulders and bore it because I could not. In those moments of His tender care and mercy, I finally realized what He already knew. I had been broken, lame, and dead long before that moment of despair. I just needed to see it.

To me, God became so much more than just a crutch – He became my reason to breathe, my motivation to wake. My life.

Oh, I can do things apart from Him. I can fail. I can be hateful. I can be selfish and stingy and all sorts of nasty. But I cannot be good apart from Him, for only God is good. I cannot be righteous – I can only wear His righteousness. Every moment, every hour, for every action and word, I need Him.

Yes, He is the One I lean on so that I can stand, but He is so much more. He is my Savior and gives my life purpose and meaning; the color to my world; my Master, Guide, Comforter, and King. May my lips always praise Him and may I never again try to venture out on my own!

He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.

He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.

Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie!

(Psalms 40:2-4)

Bringing the Lion to Bay

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.
1 Corinthians 10:12-14

A few of days ago, I wrote down a few thoughts that had been, at least in part, provoked by a news story concerning a 50-year-old teacher who disappeared for over a month with a 15-year-old student. But there was another element to this story that provided food for thought besides the conundrum of how to raise children who are cautious but not callous, innocent but not ignorant, and prudent but not paranoid.

Close to Home

You see, the story hit very close to home, both literally and figuratively. The town they disappeared from is close enough that some of our friends and acquaintances have connections with one or more of the families involved. For that reason, I will not bring their names into this post.  I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to name call, finger point, or cast judgement on either party or on their family members. This situation has been confusing and painful enough for everyone involved, and I do not wish to add to their troubles.

Yet, the story still gives me pause, mainly because the teacher cannot be conveniently passed off as a warped, perverse monster who had a habit of preying on innocent children. From what I have heard, he was a family man. A husband, father, and grandfather; even thought of as a Godly man by those who knew him, as well as being a self-proclaimed “Jesus freak,” on his Instagram site.

In truth, this messy event is not an opportunity to look down on a fallen brother in scorn, but a solemn warning to mind my own walk and prayerfully search my heart daily. Because if I am brutally honest, I know I am not immune to falling – perhaps not in the same way, but sin is sin regardless of the ‘style.’

Behind Enemy Lines

It is important to remember that we who are in Christ are, as C. S. Lewis said, an invading force for our Homeland, currently encamped in enemy-occupied territory. What we need never forget even for one instant, is that there is a lion in the camp…

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your Lion001adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
(1 Peter 5:8)

As long as we draw breath in this world, we need not forget that we are immersed in a spiritual battle. Whether you know it or not, whether you believe it or not is irrelevant. In Christ or without Him, a battle is waged every hour of every day and the spoil is not counted in such fluctuating value as dollars, pounds, or Euros but rather measured for eternity in human souls.

Frankly, for those of us who have accepted the Lordship of the Most High, the intensity of the battles waged does not decrease. Rather, our enemy ramps up the attack, furious at having our ruination redeemed. Often, it is not at those already caught up in crime that Satan launches his most earnest and insidious attacks but at the vocal and high-profile believer.

 

You see, what the father of lies wants to do most is discredit the name of Yeshua and to call into question the character of the Almighty and of His followers.  If misery loves company as the old cliche claims, then the devil is the most miserable of beings and longs would love nothing more than to drag as many of the creatures who are made in God’s image down with him in the end.

The Word of God is full of warnings against falling away (see Hebrews 2:1, 3:12, 2 Peter 3:17, et al), but it is also full of hope. As members of the Body of Christ, we are not without hope, and what’s more, we are not alone.

What Can I Do?

Humbling ourselves, being honest and open with our struggles, and praying for one another – not just for material and physical needs, but most importantly for spiritual needs; for restoration of the fallen and victory over sin – these are some of the ways we can come together in Christ and stand against the devil’s schemes.

When one of us falls, we should pray fervently that he or she is restored and be willing to extend forgiveness. When we, ourselves, fall we should confess and repent, submitting ourselves to God’s discipline and purpose. Unified under the Lordship of Christ, we can bring that old lion to bay.

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

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
(James 4:7-8)

Passover

Passover001

And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.
Luke 22:14-15

Holy Week had a special significance to me this year. For one thing, as I have mentioned before, I am coming out of an embarrassingly long temper tantrum during which I rather sulkily questioned God’s timing. But even my sulks are not wasted.

Perhaps even because of them – and because of the humbling reminders I have received – I have spent much of this past week in reflection on the sacrifice of my Lord, particularly since my own sin has been so visible to me recently.

However, there are other reasons why Holy Week has been particularly poignant to me this year. On Wednesday night, my small group was able to do something together that I have wanted to do for many years. We celebrated a Passover feast under the guidance of a Jewish man who was very happy to educate us on Passover, the seder, and any other questions we had.

It was very touching to me. Sitting there with my family and friends, going through the Seder, listening to all that was said – it was amazing. To think that not only did Yeshua celebrate a Passover every year of His earthly life, but He was also the ultimate Passover Lamb.

Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
1 Corinthians 5:7

For what He did, for His spotless life and innocent death, my sin has been passed over. Even my recent bout of unbelief. Even my fear and worry at this, a crossroads point of my race at which I am not certain of the correct direction to take.

All my sin – all of it – has been passed over because of Him.

Lord, I am truly humbled before Your throne. Thank You for paying the ransom for my unworthy soul. Thank You for answering one of the desires of my heart in being able to celebrate Your Passover this week. Help me to delight in You and only You, and forgive my fear and unbelief. Today, I lay my worries in the tomb and I look forward to seeing new life come into my heart and into my family as we celebrate Your victory over death tomorrow. May all we do be done for Your glory, amen. 

Happy Easter! He is risen!!

In His Time

For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.
(Luke 11:10)

For years, a friend and I met weekly at 5:30 am and prayed. We prayed for revival, for for our families, for our churches, for our nation. To be honest, there wasn’t much we left out, and we prayed with open Bibles, starting our sessions off with Scripture and peppering it throughout as the Holy Spirit brought it to mind.

Of the many requests we lifted up, a specific one was on my mind today. But before I tell you that, let me back up a bit to the beginning of this school year.

If you’ve been patient enough to keep up with my ramblings for long, you’ll know that this year marked the first that I did not home school all three kids.  Because of the fact that I had to drive the older kids to their school 30 minutes away, I had to disband my little prayer group. The time just didn’t work out anymore. In fact, two hours on the road each day with squeezing in 7th grade academic and extra curricular activities… well, let’s just say that the time didn’t work out for much of anything.

SpecialNeeds022But for years, one of the many requests we continually brought to the Lord was for
provision for renovations to my friend’s house to accommodate their daughter who has spina bifida. But that kind of renovation is costly and was far out of their budget.

In a brief aside, let me tell you that this family has been through it. Besides the spina bifida and other special needs in one daughter, they also have 3 other children – and the youngest had cancer a few years ago when she was  only two. It’s been an unbelievably long and difficult road for them.

But back to the end of our prayer meetings. . .

This school year was rough on me. Not only was I in a bit of mourning over certain home school plans I had, I was also dealing with an unexpected exacerbation of migraines, thyroid issues, unbelievable fatigue, typical teenager-y stuff, and a seventh grade daughter still home schooling (and after managing my third seventh grader in home school, I will say it is not my favorite age or stage of life).

Oh, and my own stage of life issues. As if the migraine-fatigue isn’t enough…

Basically, by the time the school year was nearing the half-way point, I was over it. All of it. I was frustrated with God and I let Him know. I complained to God that He was not answering my prayers (which, by the way, were more along the lines of please help me with migraines so I can function or help my kids to love God and each other prayers, not I would really like a manicure prayers). I reminded God of the promise I began this post with among others. In short, I had a temper tantrum and pouted.

Then today…

Things are getting better. I’ve had my sulk and moved on, and my Father is so patient with me. He has been reminding me of, well of many things. Some of them I share here as time allows. Others will probably find their way here or into an article somewhere eventually.  But those are stories for another time.

Today at my friend’s house, there were plumbers and HVAC guys doing some work, and another man came to measure the special need child’s reach from her wheelchair in order to begin installing a shower with a movable head and a shower chair. Once done, she can begin to become more independent in her hygiene, which is a pretty important detail for a middle school aged girl.

The renovations are underway. God is providing, just as we had asked Him to do so many times, and He is providing through a ministry known as Tucker’s House. I was so excited for her, but I was humbled by my impatience as well.

Just talking about it reminded me that God does hear our prayers. He does give us what we need. He does provide. He just doesn’t always do it according to our timeline. 

Oh, and guess what? Now that my son has his license and we were able to acquire a vehicle, Lord willing, we will be able to start our prayer meetings again.

Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.
Psalms 116:7

 

Drink Up

So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
John 18:11

God always answers prayer. However, His answer is not always something my flesh wants to hear, because sometimes His answer is “no.”

To me, it is a telling thing that the very Son of God Himself presented at least one request to the Father which was answered in the negative. Earlier on the night of His betrayal and subsequent trial and execution, Yeshua prayed in a place called Gethsemane. Perhaps the feast of Passover was fresh in His mind as He asked the Father whether He, too, might not be passed over:

And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
(Mark 14:35-36)

Of course, we know what the answer was.

And at some point later that evening – a point after Judas’s betrayal and Peter’s somewhat bizarre attempt to protect the honor of his Master by slicing off the ear of the high priest’s servant – Jesus spoke the words first highlighted above: “Shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

It was Tuesday morning when I read John 18; the middle point of three days of outrageous and inexplicable fatigue coupled with a slightly elevated temperature and (of course) a good, old-fashioned migraine.

“Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

I don’t know about you, but I have spent a good deal of time asking God to remove painful circumstances. Whether it is physical pain from migraines, arthritis, or the like or the emotional pain of dealing with the mild psychosis that seems to afflict most children between the ages of 12 and 18, I have presented many requests on my own behalf and on behalf of my loved ones that we might be spared from suffering.

But sometimes the pain is God’s will for us.

Sometimes, it is through the pain that He is most glorified and that the most good is done.

Now of course, the Son of God’s case is very different. Although He desired not to endure the horrifying agony of crucifixion along with what was likely a much more excruciating separation from the Father when He bore the sins of the world, He was willing to drink the brimful cup of God’s wrath to the very dregs in order to glorify the Name above all names and to redeem the rebellious creatures He made in His own image and loves even in their rebellion.

My Lord and Savior knew that the pain had a purpose, and even though He asked if there was any other way, once He was certain of the answer He was ready to accept God’s will even though it was more than a little unpleasant.

“Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

Naturally, no one will be redeemed through my own suffering. I am certainly not a spotless Lamb capable of paying for the sins of the world (although He has offered the cloak of His righteousness to me that I may cover my shame before God in His own garment – praise Him!).

Although I cannot see what benefit my own pain or the pain of my children and loved ones may bring to others, I can trust my Father to know what is best.  Certainly, God has already used some of my past suffering to encourage others, and so I can walk in confidence, knowing that He will work all things to the good of those who love Him.

And I do. I love Him.

While I would love to spare my three youngsters even a single step on the path of suffering, I also know that I have learned many lessons through pain that would have never struck home had I been spared difficulty.

So today, while I may ask that myself, my young friends, and my adult friends might be spared from migraine, emotional anguish, cancer, the consequences of sin, and other forms of suffering, I ask with a willingness to accept what the Lord sees fit to allow.

Shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me? If it be for His glory and for the spiritual growth and health of those He loves, of course I shall.

After all, if He did not spare His only beloved Son from following a path of torment and suffering, why should He spare me? For I have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Yeshua did not and suffered anyway. For you. For me.

May all my pride be humbled before this understanding of the Servant King, and may His honor be forever displayed in every facet of my life.

Bottoms up!cup021

 

Wasting Away

On my birthday this year, my optometrist let me know that it was time to transition to bifocals.

Of course, this was not news to me considering I have spent the better part of the last few months trying to read grocery labels at arm’s length – and in the middle of the aisle for the best light. But of course, even a cursory glance in the mirror tells me the same tale: I am not young anymore.

How do I feel about this? To be honest, I don’t really know. While I do not mind the grays that are appearing here and there in my hair, I must say I am not a big fan of the loss of elasticity in my skin.

Yet in a candid moment, I might tell you that dealing with chronic pain and the associated fatigue has made me feel old before my time, so in some ways it merely seems that the clock is catching up.

In fact, I might even venture to say that the years spent fighting through the migraine fog and feeling so tired that I can actually fall asleep on a staircase have left me rather well prepared for the reality of aging.

Perhaps even because of these things, I do not mind getting old so much as I thought I might. I admit that I do sometimes skip looking in the mirror nowadays, but really there is something freeing in the realization that no matter what makeup tips or clothing tricks I might learn, I still will not look like the 25-year-old me.

What I do know is that, no matter what is going on on the outside, the changes that are happening within are much more desirable. Emotionally, I was pretty tumultuous as a young woman and most of my young adulthood was marked by either darkness or by an attempt to run from it.

I cannot claim to have it all figured out now, but by the grace of God, my mental state is largely better. There are bumps in the road and I do stray into the deep, dark valleys from time to time, but I have something now that I did not have as the 25-year-old me: Hope.

Today, my hope is not in youth or even in feeling good but in Christ alone. Anymore, I put little faith in my body and mind, knowing how both have betrayed me in the past, but I can put every ounce of my tiny faith in God, knowing that He will take my little and make much of it.

No longer do I trust in what I can or cannot do but rather in what He has already done on my behalf. For between migraine issues and age, my flesh and heart can and do fail me, but my God is my strength and what’s more, He is my portion. Forever.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,
(2 Corinthians 4:16-17)

 

A Child’s Sacrifice

Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.
(1 Chronicles 29:12-14)

We are a funny people, aren’t we?

Just the other day, my 12-year-old was telling me that she remembers giving me a dollar for my birthday one year when she was very small. In her young mind, she was giving me a tremendous gift; one that she was very excited to bestow. Of course, the dollar had likely been a gift from my husband and I in the first place, but the heart behind it was precious.

When it comes to giving to our God, I know He wishes our hearts were just as eager.

Sacrificial giving is nothing new. In the Old Covenant days of Levitical worship at the temple, the people of Israel were instructed to make several types of sacrifices from their flocks, first fruits, and so forth.  Some of these were offered as peace offerings, others for sin offerings, and still others were offerings for cleansing or purification, to name just a few.

Now, under the New Covenant, animal sacrifices are no longer practiced – which is something of a relief, because the currency of today is no longer measured in multiples of four feet or by the bushel. Tithes and offerings are the non-agrarian equivalent, I suppose.

In my own case, although I manage the bill paying and writing of checks for our family, I do not currently earn an income. Let’s just say that you are unlikely to find “homeschooling” on a list of get-rich-quick schemes, so I cannot really speak to turning over ten percent of my own hard-earned cash.

However, the thing I find I am often required to sacrifice is time:  time spent visiting or praying with someone who needs encouragement, time spent preparing to facilitate and host our small group, time spent for the sake of my kids… most of my own “sacrifices” fall into this category.

And this is why we are a funny people…

Thinking about tithing and sacrifice recently, I realized that in every single case – from the days of the Old Covenant to my own days of forfeiting a career in order to homeschool- not a single hoof, second, or nickel has ever been offered to God that was not first His gift to us!

To put it another way, when our family tithes, we are not really giving up ten percent of our income: we are giving God back ten percent of what He gave us.

I guess it kind of makes me laugh at myself. I have nothing to offer God. Nothing whatsoever. Time, money, talent, ability – all of it come from Him in the first place, so it is not possible to truly sacrifice, because there is nothing that truly belongs to me. All I can do is offer a portion of His own gifts back to Him.

When I think of it that way, it is much easier to be a cheerful giver!

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
(2 Corinthians 9:6-7)