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.

My Guest Post

Well, here I am freshly unpacked after a weekend camping trip with my family, and I realized that I left without sharing something with you! I was recently invited to write a guest post for the Song of Virginity blog by Lene, my sister in Christ who writes from a heart of faith halfway across the globe from me in Japan.

Song of Virginity is an offshoot from her main blog, Wrestling With Faith–Dancing With Jesus, and its whole purpose is to encourage young people to save themselves for marriage. This is something I am fairly passionate about, so naturally I was very excited to write for this cause.

There are some excellent male viewpoints represented alongside mine and Lene’s, so whatever your thoughts on purity and marriage, jump on over to Song of Virginity and see what some of us have to say!

Throwback Thursday: Godly Grief, 2013

Just for kicks, I thought I’d repost something from about three years ago. Today, I am thankful for painful moments of discipline like this that later on truly do bring a harvest of peace for those who have been trained by it.

As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
2 Corinthians  7:9-10

Oh, how much time I have wasted in my past with worldly grief! At one point in my life before Christ, I was consumed by it. I felt an enormous weight of guilt and shame for things I had done, but rather than driving me away from the deeds that perpetuated such feelings, I felt too powerless and too stained to escape from them. I had grief, but it was a hideously twisted thing that merely poisoned my days and stunted my reason.

There is another aspect of the worldly grief that I have seen (and probably exhibited at times)–the false grief that says, “I’m sorry,” and yet does not cease the action that prompted the somewhat automatic, empty response. This is not true grief, not brokenness, but just an expected reaction meant to soothe the one wronged without any genuine concern or desire for reconciliation. This worldly grief is a smokescreen; a facade to hide something mean and ignoble behind.

Then there is the Godly grief–the grief I experienced when I first truly began to understand the weight of what Jesus did. This is the grief that was heavier even than my crushing burden of shame and guilt–weightier because I finally understood that my worldly shame was self-directed (shame because I had shamed myself) whereas my new, Godly grief was due to the fact that I would treat so heinously the One who forgave the unforgivable in me.

The full realization of this is tremendous, for it is paradoxically as simple as “Jesus died in my stead,” and yet infinitely more grave and far-reaching. It embodies an understanding of His holiness; the power and glory He willingly laid aside; the fact that it was not our recalcitrance that prompted His great act of rescue, but rather our stubborn, self-willed refusal to obey–the fact that we were hopelessly doomed to die without intervention, so steeped were we in sin.

How many of us will not only forgive someone who has hurt us willingly, but will go out of our way to recompense the damages made to ourselves on their behalf–paying for their crime and exonerating them of all guilt even as they continue to cause us injury? It is incredibly humbling for me to realize that is precisely what Jesus did for me. But not just for me; it is what He calls me to do for others.

Through meditation and reflection on His goodness, holiness, and reality, He has produced within me a Godly grief–a genuine sorrow that I once chose to sin against One who epitomizes grace, forgiveness, and selfless sacrifice  — as well as constantly exposing deeper and more subtle areas where I am not completely surrendered to Him.

     Today, I find myself sorrowful over the many times I have stopped serving someone because I felt that I was taken advantage of by them. Even if I have been taken advantage of and my sense of being used is legitimate, so what? Have I not taken abundant advantage of the totally undeserved grace and mercy that God extended to me through Christ? Why, then, do I think myself so important that I should not be taken advantage of?

     This revelation does produce a sorrow in me–not a dragging burden of guilt nor a lip-service expression of apology but a keen and true grief; grief not that I have slighted another but that I have been as guilty as the indebted servant in Matthew 18:22-35. I have gratefully accepted the mercy of my Master, yet I have been stingy in extending such mercy to others. I am grieved that I would treat the gifts of such an honorable and compassionate King in such a detestable way. The grief is truly Godly grief, for it is grief that I would dare to esteem so lightly the inconceivable affections of the Ever-Existent One.

This is merely one area in which God is working on me–one of many, I assure you, for Godly grief has began to permeate my life. I have experienced those things which Paul wrote about: the indignation, zeal, eagerness to clear myself, and I have felt the sting of punishment from which I have, in actuality, been spared–the sting that comes of knowing that One undeserving  has borne the lash in my stead.

It is a spur that will not allow me to rest in sin once I am aware of it; a goad to prompt me to continue to press forward, for allowing Him to change me is the least I can do in return for His astonishing sacrifice. I can never earn it, but I can feel forever the depth of my debt and a passionate depth of gratitude that prompts me to an ever-increasing desire to do His will. I can never repay, but I can certainly live my life in such a way to honor His gift.

This repentance-producing grief  is a grief, piercing and poignant, yet it is not the type of sorrow that weighs down and destroys. It is the pain of necessary surgery that ushers in a more complete healing, the ache of strenuous exercise which leads to greater fitness, the pangs of labor which leads to the exhilaration of birth. It is not a sorrow leading to death, but to an overflow of life and gladness. It is the bitter night before the the joyous dawn.

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:10-11

Sacrifice

Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son…” Genesis 22:8a

Sacrifice.

If there’s a word that entirely fails to evoke sentiments of serenity or images of lazy spring picnics beside a murmuring stream, “sacrifice” may well be it.  It’s a rare Christian, indeed, who falls asleep at night dreaming of what else he may sacrifice or who wakes in eager expectation of the day’s abnegation.

We are such funny creatures…

Fifteen years ago, my husband and I chose to waive the relative ease of a dual income in order that one of us might invest more heavily in our children. As the kids grew, we opted to forego the “free” public school in favor of home education; another sacrifice of time, money, and effort. Now, in this newest season of our lives, the oldest two attend a private school, which brings with it a new kind of fiscal load.  Financially, at least, we have felt called to sacrifice.

And here is why I say we are funny creatures. I need you to understand that I have not delineated areas of my own personal sacrifice in order to seek accolades, but rather in order to highlight my own laughable silliness.

You see, none of the things I have “sacrificed” were truthfully and wholly my own.  Each penny my husband or I have earned was earned through talent or ability first supplied us by God. Even my body — the heart that beats, the lungs that draw breath; even the air I breathe — all are only mine in the sense that all gifts belong to the beloved.

Yet do not miss the fact that they are gifts; I neither created nor produced a single element of any of them. God, Himself, has always provided the sacrifice beginning with the very first one written of in Genesis 3:21 and continuing to this day in the lives of believers.

Thus my earlier comment that we are funny creatures. It strikes me as humorous that we would take every gift our Creator equips us with and cling to it as solemnly as if we had given it form and substance ourselves.

When I think about it, it’s more than a little amusing that I might think myself righteous when God hands me $100 and I offer Him $10 back… and in too many areas, I do not even give Him that much recognition!

With that thought it mind, let’s view a reminder from the apostle Paul:

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20

There is nothing we possess, not even our persons, which was not at first a Divine allowance.

However, there is One whose life truly was His own. Jesus called the Christ alone among men could claim complete possession of His life, for He did fashion the body He inhabited. He, Himself, as the agent of creation actually did call into being the air He breathed, the dust He walked in, even the tree He was slain upon.

His life was truly His own, and so His sacrifice could arguably be called the only authentic sacrifice ever offered in the entire history of  mankind.

This fact is one among many reasons why His death on that cross was enough to atone for my sin — because it was complete: the sacrifice truly was His to make.

Of His own accord, He laid down a life that was thoroughly and unreservedly His. He was no mere steward but the Master, and He chose to give it all away out of sheer love for His creation. 

That is why I worship Him, my friends, because when I think of the unimaginable humility of my Lord in paying my ransom, I know that He is absolutely worthy of my adoration. His very act of abasement places His gift of salvation so far above my own most noble and heroic efforts as to reveal mine for what they are–filthy rags.

When I stop to think of all He has provided, the proportionally minuscule amount He requires me to give back no longer looks much like a sacrifice. Instead, I feel more like a child hoping to make my Father smile with a gift, absurdly unconscious of the fact that my gift is one He bought and paid for Himself.

O my God, thank You for your mercy and grace and for Your true sacrifice on behalf of one so unworthy as me!

And I myself have given it to you all so that atonement may be made for your souls on the altar, since the blood itself makes atonement through the life that is in it.
Leviticus 17:11b, ISV

The Battle Within

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.
Psalm 43:5

Oh, how I wish each step of this race could be joyful; filled with moments of awe and splendor and wonder. How I wish that I could run my race without the weight of the sin curse dragging at my heart and snatching the breath from my lungs. But this is real life, and David’s Psalm aptly expresses my real state of mind today.

One of my oldest enemies, the fiendish Despair, still dogs my heels from time to time as I labor on my course. Oh,though he is sly, I know him; I know his true name — it is Pride, dressed though he may be in a darker suit of self-focus. From time to time on deserted stretches of the track, my sinister stalker will fling the well-paired bolas of fatigue and pain, entangling my legs and causing me to sprawl ingloriously onto my face.

One would think I would learn to keep an eye out for him when the way is desolate… one would think.

Always, always it is the same setup: a few weeks of relentless pain, a sense of uselessness and failure, a realization that much of the past efforts I have given in ministry was  either  unheeded or unneeded. Too little sleep. Too much to do. A certainty of ineptitude made more concrete by the actions of others. The reality of being forgotten. The conviction that not only do I not belong, I have passed that quirk of not belonging on to my children. The very painful understanding that sometimes to be a sojourner on this earth means that I will sojourn alone.

Well, not entirely alone.

There is One who has promised never to leave me nor forsake me… not even when I allow my thoughts to fall into the familiar old iniquity of despondency.

There is my Shepherd who will be with me even in the valley of deepest darkness.

There is the Light for my path, even if it is just glimmer enough to see an inch or two of the way before me.

There is my great High Priest who can sympathize with my weakness, for He has been tempted in all ways that I have yet without my sin.  For in Gethsemane, I am certain that even He was tempted to give in to Despair… yet He fought on. And won.

So at times like this, I remember that my body is weak and prone to falter, but that my Savior is neither of these. Though I may feel cast down, discouraged, defeated, and useless; though I may not have the strength to fight, in Christ I can find the strength to stand. And I remember that the battle is not mine but the Lord’s.

When the horrible ache of being a person on the fringes threatens to swallow me in sorrow, I recall that I do belong — to the King of kings. That, too, I can pass to my children and together we can view this vast and often hostile territory with fresh eyes, cherishing its beauty and even loving those who unwittingly inflict pain because we remember that we are just passing through until the great Day of our final Homecoming.

So why are you cast down, O my soul? Rather, hope in God for I will again praise Him, for He is my King and His grace is sufficient for me.

 

 

 

 

What the Locust Devoured

“I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. ”
(Joe 2:25)

Ironically, as I sit to type some thoughts on this passage, my kitchen table is being inundated with small, winged insects of some sort. How they got into my house, I do not know; however, I must assume that this sudden abundance of wildlife is one of the perks of living in a house that is nearly twenty years old. At least they are better companions than the skunk who rather memorably visited our duct work one February in the predawn hours…

At any rate, I find great comfort in the somewhat unusual promise of Joel 2:25. Granted, I am not a farmer and my entire livelihood or survival does not rest on whether or not my granaries are full for the winter. However, in a metaphorical sense, I have had a very valuable resource consumed by things no less devastating and greedy than locusts. What I lost was not food but time.

I am no longer a young woman. In fact, the bulk of my youthful years are those that I now lament, the ones devoured by ridiculous and wanton waste. I am reminded of the gloriously long stretches of absolutely free time that I squandered back in those days, and I am particularly reminded of them when I try to squeeze in an article or work on a seemingly endless novel in the brief, often stolen spaces of time when my family is all occupied with other things and the housework can wait a bit.

But the worst of it is when I think of all the time I used to have in which I could have been studying my Bible, learning more and more of my Lord and His ways. Had I been properly aligned, I might have already achieved mastery in Hebrew and possibly even Greek and been able to read my Lord’s words in the languages in which they were originally penned. As it is now, the study of Hebrew is one step forward and forty-two back while Greek still remains… well, it’s all Greek to me.

But I persevere because I know that when my desires are to know more of my King, He will fulfill them. The locusts may have consumed my best years, but He will restore them in some fashion or another. Indeed, He has already begun.

But the awakening of knowledge of the Lord did not start with mere wanting on my part. It began, just as the promise in verse 25 begins, with repentance. Let’s look back a few lines in chapter 2 of Joel:

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments. “Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. . .” Joel 2:12-13

I would never  expect my God to restore anything  which I still look upon fondly. If I were to look at the sins of my youth with an amused shrug, I do not believe He would have so quickly filled what was lacking in my understanding of Him and of His Kingdom.  It was my crushing sorrow, my mourning for the waste of my youth, and my turning away from those things in horror and loathing and turning fully to Him that began the restoration.

I am grateful that He abounds in steadfast love, that He is gracious and merciful. And with each passing year, I am thankful that He continues to increase my desire for Him and to open my eyes and humble my heart with the light of His Word. For my greatest longing is to accurately portray Him and fully experience Him, to live as a fully surrendered servant of Christ; in short, to die to myself and live for Christ.

Not that I have obtained it, but I press on to make it my own. And in my spiritual hunger, I am sincerely thankful that the King of kings continues to restore the years the locust has eaten.

Words of Life

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…
John 6:66-68

Sometimes, it is easy to identify as a follower of Christ. Sometimes your church home seems like a place where you belong; where it is a delight to serve and meet the needs of others. Sometimes you are so wrapped up in the life of the church and the fellowship of other believers that it seems to be a glimpse of heaven on earth.

Then there are those other times… times when you feel isolated, disconnected, or even hurt by some perceived slight, whether it be real or imagined. Times when worship seems hollow and the fellowship of other believers is just another thing to do. At such times, it may be that time spent privately with the Lord seems one-sided and prayers– even pleading prayers for greater faith or for help with some weakness–seem to go unheeded by the Almighty.

These are the times of assaying; of testing the quality of the believer’s faith. Unfortunately, it is these seemingly dry and desolate seasons during which many turn back from following the Lord because He is no longer performing to their standard. In honesty, it is sorely tempting to give in at such times, to join the crowd in retreat rather than press on, parched and faint, and trusting in God to provide what is needed even if you cannot see it. 

Sometimes, Believer, you will walk this wearisome and strenuous path alone. God is there, of course, but you will not see Him through these times. He is proving the mettle of your faith; stripping away all the good feelings and the thrill, often even exposing the underlying self-centered nature at the center of the Believer’s service to others. He is removing all that is uplifting and encouraging, cutting down to the bare bones of faith.

It is here, on these lonely and forsaken paths, that He asks us, “Do you want to go away as well?”

It is here, clinging to God alone when there is absolutely nothing left to hang on to, where we must answer Him, “Lord, to whom else would we go? You have the words of life!”

Beloved brother or sister in Christ, if you are in a season such as this; if your journey with God takes you through an apparently endless desert wasteland, press on! Keep running the race, and when you can no longer run, walk, then crawl. Always press on, more deeply into the service of our God.

If the Scriptures seem closed to you, read them even more. Meditate on the more intentionally. Memorize them, even.

If our King seems not to hear your cries and pleas, replace your supplication with words of praise. Read the words of others if none will come to you. Entreat His favor endlessly, praying more for a humble and contrite heart than for physical mercies. Pray without ceasing, and believe that He will, in His time, grant those requests which are best for you and which prepare you for eternity at His side.

Whatever else you may do, do not turn away from Him, but resolve to follow Him anyway, even if it costs you everything. Follow Him, not for the material blessings now nor for spiritual blessings in the future, but because He is worthy of following. And know that once your faith has been tested and proven, it will be stronger yet. And never stop praying for greater faith.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. 

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24