And Behind Door Number One…

Confession: Sometimes I doubt my calling.

Am I alone here? Probably not, yet even so I easily slip into feeling alone; into doubt and discouragement instead of faithful perseverance. I am particularly prone to such mental agonies when I have been praying for a door to open yet find myself standing in a hallway filled with doors which are all securely barred.

Or worse, when my efforts are called to mind with the crystal-clarity of hindsight and I recall all the ways that I failed to demonstrate love, joy, peace, patience, and the rest during my stint as a homeschool mom. My blunders stretch as far as the eye can see; great heaps of error which threaten to topple and bury me in inadequacy.

And yet… my King reminds me that not all obstacles are blockades.

In fact, my current situation kind of reminds me of Moses. In Exodus 3, we can read about God’s dynamic calling on Moses’s life – the burning bush and the undeniable command to speak to Pharaoh and ask him to free the enslaved descendants of Israel:

Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”
(Exodus 3:10)

Personally, if I had heard the very voice of God speaking from the depths of a flame that did not consume the vegetation it engulfed, I like to think I would move forward in my calling rather eagerly and certainly anticipating a high degree of success.

With all the ways the Lord equipped Moses – a staff that became a snake, an apparent miraculous manifestation and subsequent healing of leprosy – I imagine myself in his place approaching the great Pharoah with a slightly cocky swagger and a confident demand for the freedom of the Jews. Most likely while I stepped jauntily up to the throne, my mind would be filled with a pleasant fancy of the grateful masses hoisting me upon their shoulders and roaring, “Three cheers for Moses!”

But Moses did not exactly sprint from the burning bush to the throne room:Shh006

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”  (Exodus 3:11)

Not only did Moses begin his conversation with the Almighty with this apparently self-deprecating question, he continued to hem and haw and generally drag his toe through the dust like an unwilling child through a rather lengthy dialog, eventually submitting his final request:

But he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.”  (Exodus 4:13)

If I am brutally honest, that sounds more like the actual me. When I look at the strewn remains of my failed attempts, I hear my own voice echo very similar words: “Do I have to, Lord? I don’t seem to be very capable. Can’t You find someone else?”
Eventually, Moses did go, albeit reluctantly and only after God agreed to send his brother, Aaron, along as the key spokesman. Of course we do not know whether Moses entertained grand fantasies of being hailed as the rescuer of the people or not, but naturally one would expect a seamless success from such an unmistakably clear calling, especially when bolstered by the confidence of the people:

Aaron spoke all the words that the LORD had spoken to Moses and did the signs in the sight of the people. And the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.  (Exodus 4:30-31)

Things were bound to go well from here, right?

Wrong.

The first interview with Pharaoh did not precisely result in an open door to freedom. Instead, the door slammed firmly in Moses’ face:

The same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their foremen, “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as in the past; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But the number of bricks that they made in the past you shall impose on them, you shall by no means reduce it, for they are idle. Therefore they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’   (Exodus 5:6-8)

And rather than receiving honors and accolades, the formerly worshipful group of slaves now criticized their mighty deliverer:

“The LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”  (Exodus 5:21)

This was not going well at all.

Of course, most of us know that after many such interviews, several broken promises, and no small amount of signs and wonders which Pharaoh’s stubbornness escalated to dire proportions, the people were finally allowed to go free. The Egyptians even gave them much in possessions, very possibly in the hopes of being well rid of the calamity.

Persistence and faith won out in the end, and at some point Moses even gained enough confidence to take over the office of spokesman from his brother. Yet the fact remains that Israel’s circumstances became much worse before they improved.

Today, I am reminded that not everything that looks like failure is.

Just because my calling has not brought the success I imagined does not mean I have misunderstood it (although that possibility remains!). Sometimes, obstacles in the path make the journey more rewarding in the end.

But at other times, the obstacle is the point. Real-life success often appears in different clothing than fantasy success, and not all locked and barred doors are impassable.

Sometimes, learning to trust God in the face of repeated failure is what we were called to do all along…

 

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Speaking of Pain…

Jesus wept.
John 11:35

Although I have read the story of the resurrection of Lazarus in John 11 countless times, after my most recent reading, two words have stayed with me: Jesus wept.

I’m not sure why this tiny sentence has remained in my thoughts. Perhaps it is the paradox that such a simple subject and verb construction would express so profound a concept as the sorrow of the Almighty. Or maybe at a time when certain family situations have touched a great well of sorrow and heartache within me, I find it comforting to know that He, too experienced emotional pain.

Why did He weep? Many have conjectured that possibly He wept because of the suffering of His friends, or maybe He wept that such a thing as death had entered into His creation at all, or because He knew that, in calling Lazarus back from death, He was calling his friend away from paradise and back into the drudgery and pain of life in a sin-scarred world.

I imagine that if our own reasons for weeping are complex, the tears of the Creator are shed for reasons that would confound our finite intellect. Still, it is safe to say that one reason Jesus wept is certain: He wept because He was in pain.

So it was that this smallest of Bible verses still lingered in my mind when I happened onto Facebook and saw a post by an old friend. He had posted a question that struck me as both ironic in light of this Scripture and terribly sad: “Why does God hate me?”

Ah, the incongruity! This God, the Creator of all who endowed His creation with the ability to either choose or reject Him; the King of kings and Lord of lords who willingly shelved His glory and donned the feebleness of mankind, Who chose to endure physical and emotional torment on our behalf; Who chose, even, to endure spiritual torment that one day on the cross… these actions do not describe hatred or even indifference.

If anything God can sympathize with us because He knows what it is like to feel distress and suffering. He knows what it is like to weep. He has embraced pain.

Can you imagine the depth and breadth of anguish experienced by the Infinite God? The cost of those tears is measured in currency far too precious to express. Allow me to share with you (and dare I hope that my old friend will read these words?) the poignant passage by G. K. Chesterton:

But in the terrific tale of the Passion there is a distinct emotional suggestion that the author of all things (in some unthinkable way) went not only through agony, but through doubt… He passed in some superhuman manner through our human horror of pessimism. When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was not at the crucifixion, but at the cry from the cross: the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of God. And now let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay (the matter grows too difficult for human speech), but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.”

Because He wept, we can know that He understood emotional pain. We can only imagine how his anguish is amplified beyond reckoning by His own infinite capacity to suffer. Because He chose to endure not only physical torture but the pain of rejection, of loss, of betrayal – in short, the pain of humanity – we know that in Him we can boldly approach the Throne of Grace to find mercy and grace to help in time of need.

And it is there, when we finally fall at the feet of the Most High in a posture of abject humility, confessing our need of Him in ultimate surrender and in trembling reverence, lifting our own tear-filled eyes to behold the King of glory, we will find something shocking. Rather than a countenance filled with the fury we know we deserve, we see instead His grief: a Father weeping both for the hurt that His child has endured and for the pain of rejection, but also a Father weeping for joy at the prodigal child returned.

Oh, how I hope and pray that so many hurting souls will come to the God who wept and find forgiveness, compassion, and a joy that never ends!

Satiety

I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure…

…You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Psalms 16:8-9, 11

Not many days ago, I was talking with someone about a Bible study group, and in the course of conversation, it was lightheartedly suggested that one member would probably be happier with a beer and a movie. Immediately, I was struck by two thoughts.

First, I have been guilty of the same in my past and only by the grace of God as He has walked with me through many dark valleys of pain have I come to enjoy His presence more and more.

And secondly, how tragic. Sincerely tragic.

On one hand, we have a fermented beverage and a couple of hours’ worth of watching adults play-pretend in front of a camera. On the other hand, we are offered the very Word and Presence of the Most High God, Creator of all things including fermented beverages, adults, and the ability to make cameras. The path of life. Fullness of joy. Pleasures forevermore.

Perhaps because I have been reading in John’s gospel, I was reminded of the sixth chapter in which the Lord miraculously multiplies a few loaves and a couple of fish to feed a horde of people. The very next day, they chase Him down only to ask Him, “What sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform?” (John 6:30).

On that long-ago day, a multitude of people were offered the Bread of Life and preferred to see a miraculous sign that possibly included breakfast (or so they seem to imply). Discouraged when the Lord did not perform according to their expectations, many turned away (John 6:66).

Too often, we also prefer the gifts to the Giver of all good gifts. Too often, we choose the cheap trinkets and baubles of this world to the spiritual wealth and the immense and uncountable riches of grace found in the presence of God.

Oh, Church! How desperately we need to realign our desires! For as long as we would be more content with mere entertainments instead of indulging ourselves in God and in His law, the world will never see the power of the Gospel at work in us. If our lives and choices do not reflect that our God is, in Himself, truly delightful, how can we expect anyone else to believe it?

…for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love. I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.
Psalms 119:47-48

Adonai who sanctifies us, we borrow from David’s own prayers today as we ask that You will turn open our eyes so that we may behold wondrous things out of Your Law and turn our eyes from worthless things. Incline our hearts to Your testimonies and not to selfish pursuits. Forgive us, and deliver us from our own propensity to selfishness! Search us and know our hearts; try us and know our thoughts. If there is any offensive way in us, help us to let it go and lead us in the way everlasting! 

 

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 was posted 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