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)

Magnify

southcumberlandhike008I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!
Psalm 34:1-3

Sometimes we trudge through our little worlds in weary tedium, forgetting that we are a part of something so much larger and more magnificent that even our dreams do not brush against the truth of it.

But there are other times when for some obscure reason of particular attentiveness on our part or perhaps out of sheer compassion, God lets us glimpse the tiniest fragment of His work. At such times, an almost dreadful sense of the enormity of His scope crashes into our bland little realities, leaving us breathless and reeling in the wake of His unfathomable love for each one of His creatures.

I suppose it is times like this that reality of what Jesus did on the cross seems truly personal. Perhaps it is just me, but I find that I can often be utterly convinced of God’s love for His people and yet somehow my mind almost makes His love a thing vast and vague rather than concrete and specific.

But it is not vague. Not at all. His love is intensely real, vibrant, alive, and intimate, as I have been recently reminded.  I know that, of course. I have known it for as long as I have known Him, and yet it is always wild and wonderful to be allowed to see it in action. It still thrills me, and I pray it never ceases to do so.

Let me share with you an experience that is small but not at all meaningless to the principal players.

In order to begin, I need to take a glimpse back into the dark and aimless days before I met Jesus. There was a time when I built a little sham house up around me; a little fun-loving persona that I constructed and adopted in an effort to escape the dreary prison my own mind had become.  Yet this counterfeit version of me had little to do with who I was, and indeed was itself a deceit that only increased the strength of my prison. I was a total slave to sin and believed that I always would be.

Then something happened — a death quickly followed by new life — and my delicate house-of-cards world imploded, laying bare the bars that hemmed me in. It was the first time I had an honest glimpse of the ‘me’ I had attempted to create, and she was not a pretty sight.

Sometime after that, I met Jesus and He began the slow process of healing years of willful blindness, unlocking my prison, and drawing me (albeit reluctantly at first) out into the freedom of reality. He showed me the ‘me’ He always intended and began the sometimes painful process of remodeling.

Somewhere in all that mess, I lost the baby book my sweet mama had made; her treasured memories of her firstborn and photos that were the only one of their kind. For some mad reason, she entrusted this to me at a time in my life when my very life should not have been entrusted to me — call it the blind love of motherhood. Anyway, I lost it.

Soon after meeting Jesus, I prayed and begged God to find this thing. My poor mama had already endured much hurt in her life, and it killed me that I had added to it. I asked God for some time to move the heart of anyone who would find it to contact me or to lead me to it if that were more plausible.

And the years went by… and I gave the thing up for lost and asked for forgiveness instead.

Out of the blue just about two weeks ago, a girl I had known in the middle of my most self-destructive time actually found me — in a very roundabout way. She recalled my baby sister’s somewhat unusual name and through that channel reached out to my sister’s friend who I just so happen to be friends with on Facebook.  M__ forwarded the message to me, and I could not believe it. This lady had found my baby book in a recent move and had been trying to find me.

M__ had not even gotten the message until months later (it was sent in March), but I immediately texted the phone number I was given and believe it or not, she had continued to hang onto the thing.  I was in awe.

Since I now live in a different city, I reached out to family members and another sister was able to meet her and retrieve the book. My plan is to surprise my mama for Christmas. I have wept tears of joy over this — I am so thankful that this one, seemingly insignificant desire of both my heart and my mother’s has been granted.

Sometimes God may take years longer than our impatient selves think necessary, but I know in my heart that He has His reasons. Either way, we will see if I can actually wait for Christmas or not…

There is more. So much more I could share, but some experiences are not my own but someone else’s story in which I was able to play some very small part. Often, there are people I begin to pray for without understanding why they are on my mind until the Lord reveals the amazing work He is doing.

In just such a way, I was able to see a step of victory for a sweet sister in Christ just yesterday — and the celebration within my heart overflows into many words of praise. Our God is truly marvelous and amazing. Oh magnify His name with me today!

 

But the Lord is Faithful

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.  Psalm 20:7

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
Mark 9:24

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

I sincerely considered saying nothing about the recent election. For an entire day, I said little; I watched what other people were posting and I waited prayerfully to see if the furor over the campaign would die down.  And I will be honest: I was waiting to see how my fellow believers would handle this thing.

For those of you who are not in Christ, I can understand  your reactions. I’ve been where you are.

But my fellow Christians — seriously?!?!

I am not talking to all believers, obviously. Several of you in my circles have sought to remind others to trust in God, and I am thankful for you letting His light shine through!

However, the responses of others have run the gamut from gloating and crows of triumph to despair, rage, and fear.

Oh I admit it was a disaster, but not because of who won.This election was a disaster long before that, and I do not say that because my candidate of choice won. He did not.

Please excuse my brief political tirade here:

As far as temporal freedom goes, I firmly believe we Americans handed that over long ago when we allowed this nation to slide into something less than a true democratic republic.

Once we allowed it to become a two-party-controlled state and simultaneously shrugged our shoulders and allowed corruption to become more and more rampant, and even expected, within the controlling parties — well, I’m afraid that was the beginning of the end. (And as a side note, I must say that a two-party-controlled state lacks only a unifying factor to become a one-party-controlled state. But again, that is an aside…)

The truth is, as a nation, if this is truly a government “by the people and for the people”and it has become corrupt, it is because we have allowed it to become so.

OK, enough of that. [Deep breath. Exhale]

The greater truth, at least for those of us who are in Christ, is that our hope is not in any man-made system; not in Democrats or Republicans; not in chariots nor horses; not in democracy or elections or the strength or weakness of any party, government, or military. Our hope is in Christ and Christ alone. Period.

Come on, Christians! No matter who you supported (and with hesitation, I will tell you I supported neither Trump nor Hillary), not a single one of them will fix our problems. Our problems are not political, America. Our problem is sin, and for that there is only one solution.

All I am saying is this: if we are a people of faith, let us behave like a people of faith. Let’s redeem the time now, walking as wise ones and not as unwise. Let us never, ever forget that our God is at work and that He will bring about His purposes. Our response should be, as Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica, to rejoice always, to pray without ceasing, and to give thanks in ALL circumstances, realizing that “all” does not mean only the ones we prefer.

May I let you in on something that really is no secret? Things are going to get worse. Besides being clearly stated multiple times in the Word of God, it is evident in the Newtonian laws we have observed for centuries; particularly the law of entropy. Things always get worse.

Now is the time for us to stand firm. This is not the time for either gloating or fear, for neither represent the love we are called to be filled with and exhibit. Neither response honors our God.

It is written in 1 John 4:18 that “… there is no fear in love for perfect love casts out fear.” May I suggest today that implicit in the idea of perfect love is perfect trust, so if we are plagued by fear, it may be because we have an imperfect love of our Lord and Savior. Lord, please, help us overcome our unbelief!!

Brothers! Sisters! This is not the time to turn against one another. Please let us not neglect to ask our God, as David did, to set a guard over our mouths and keep watch over the door to our lips. In humility, let us recognize that our knee-jerk responses are most likely not the correct ones. Remember that our words are supposed to be edifying and give grace to those who hear.

My fellow Christians, let us not forget — let us NEVER forget — that we are called to take up our crosses daily and follow Him.  In America, this race has not even begun to be grueling.  Just ask the families of the twelve Christians recently crucified by ISIS for their faith after torturing and killing a 12-year-old boy right in front of his father.

In fact, ask the many who have been sawn in half, burned at the stake, shot, imprisoned, drowned, beheaded, beaten, flogged, and so on. Many of these had joy anyway. Many of these prayed, as Jesus did, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Many of them believed that God’s grace was sufficient for them, because it is.  Even though things will only go from bad to worse.

Above all else, let us examine our faith as it is revealed in the pure and uncompromising Light of the World. If we have little faith, we ought to pray for more. If are not unified in Christ, we ought to pray that He will make us so — and be willing to let go of anything that stands in the way of it, even our preferences. We are not black or white, we are not slave or free, we are not Democrat or Republican or third party, but as Galatians 3:28 says, we are all one in Christ. Let us act like it.

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction,
2 Thessalonians 2:1-3

Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.
2 Thessalonians 3:1-3

 

 

Not Without a Fight

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…
Hebrews 12:1-2b

I am so ready for autumn.

Despite the fact that we are past the half-way mark of October here in Tennessee, summer still clutches the land in hot, greedy fingers, baking the earth and dulling the splendor of many leaves. Oh, am I ever ready for him to go!

I, too, am in a different season of life with some remnants of the previous period still clinging, hesitant to depart. Still, I can sense the slow decay of years creeping into my body and the exuberant arrogance of adolescence creeping into my children.

As the reality of age sinks in, I am beginning to truly see the overwhelming need for endurance in my walk with the Christ — and in everything else. For well over a decade now, I have run this race and now I find myself on a long stretch of the narrow path far beyond the starting point and yet equally far (it is likely) from the finish.

There is no going back, not that I would want to. My life before Jesus holds nothing of interest now. There is literally nothing to do but press on, pushing through the teenage angst, through the crazy of our schedules, through the wild fluctuations in hormones and need and nearly everything except for my Jesus. This is where it gets real; where tenacity is the only thing that gets my tired old bones out of bed to spend time with Him each morning. This stretch of road requires endurance.

It’s no small wonder that I think of running this race in somewhat literal terms. Being physically fit has always been fairly important to me, and when youth was my season,  it was also easy. Before I knew Christ, it was to the gym I turned when I found myself dealing with deep-seated anger issues — working my body until I literally did not have the energy to sustain fury any longer.

Then I had two babies, then meningitis followed by another baby. Enter migraine and the beginning of the slow decline.  I had to learn to lessen the intensity and so I took up walking, often with my dogs.

After several years of wonderful, sunrise walks and talks with my Father, I began to have pain in my left foot. Typical of me, I ignored it for months until the swelling became ridiculous and the pain developed both depth and intensity.

Finally fully annoyed, I had it checked out.  Diagnosis: arthritis in the joint of my big toe. The podiatrist told me that running is actually easier on this joint than walking. So guess what? I started running.

Running worked splendidly for some time until I was hit with sacroiliitis. Oh well, I can still do pushups and burpees so long as I keep that big toe joint from bending, right? Wrong — tennis elbow saw to that.

So I started swimming.

At my age, fitness is not a game; it’s a requirement. Should the Lord decide to prolong my homecoming, I would very much like to be able to pick up my grandchildren and play with them on the floor.  And so I will not go down without a fight.

Just so, the season is changing in our culture. While some vestiges of respect for Christianity remain in America, more and more often Christians are viewed with open scorn or worse. The whole idea of God and Jesus no longer carries the weight of reverence it once did.

Thanks to social programming, most people know little of God except what they read in internet memes or hear in passing. Even among professing Christians, few have read the entire Word of God; fewer still in its original, ancient languages. On top of that, there are any number of distractions to pull at our attention and prevent us from maintaining that absolutely vital connection with the Lord.

But my friends, this is where it gets real. Now, while we can see the bald truth behind Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesian church to “make the best use of the time because the days are evil.”

This is the stretch of the narrow road that requires endurance.

Newt Gingrich is credited with saying, “Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of the hard work you already did.”

As a disclaimer, I know nothing of the man, but whether he is a lunatic or a staunch and steady guy, the quote is no less true. Brothers! Sisters! We are called to endurance!  Sacrifice is a part of who we are if we are truly in Christ. To live as He did would be to endure anything, everything, even undeserved mockery and bodily harm for the sake of God’s good name.

The fact is that following Christ will cost us — and will likely cost us in increasing measures. Are we willing to pay? Are we willing to ask God to open our eyes and see at our own sin, no matter how painful, and to repent? Are we willing to lay aside our comforts in order to fast and pray? Are we willing to skip that TV show or the extra 30 or so minutes of sleep so we can read His word with a prayer on our lips, seeking His wisdom and guidance within its pages?

This is when it counts; here. Now. When it is not easy. That’s what endurance is all about.

So let’s do it! Remember, spiritual fitness is no game, either. Let’s run together, challenging one another, motivating and pushing each other to greater and even greater heights of faith. Together, let’s praise God for the trials we meet, knowing that each one is producing His character in us. And whatever we do, let’s cling to our God and resolve not to go down without a fight.