In Need

If you have ever been moderately involved in Christian circles, I am pretty sure you have already heard Philippians 4:13:

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
(Philippians 4:13)

In my walk,  I have heard this verse quoted for encouragement or inspiration in countless situations, and it really is inspiring. It’s great to think that all things can be done through Christ, even wonderful to recognize that He is the sole source of our ability.

However, what I find a little bit funny is how I have not heard the verse used: I have never heard it used as Paul originally penned it.  As our pastor pointed out recently, the original context was about being content whether his means were meager or abundant.  Look back a couple of verses to see what I mean:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
(Philippians 4:11-13)

While I am not saying that the only thing one can accomplish through Christ is Plenty010contentment, I do think it worthy of note that contentment ought to be clearly present in the Christian life. Whether the abundance or the need in our lives is financial, situational, or something else, we who bear the Lord’s name ought to find our satisfaction in Him alone.

By our contentment, we honor Him, showing our trust for Him in all circumstances because ultimately He is what we need. As Psalm 16:11 states, it is in His presence that we find the fullness of joy, therefore we can be content.

Another passage that has been similarly stretched until it is nearly unrecognizable from its original meaning is a portion of Matthew 19:26:

… with God all things are possible.”

Also true. All things are possible with God. However I think the context of this little snippet is of utmost importance:

And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?”

But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  (Matthew 19:23-26)

These days, it is not popular to talk about sin. In America in particular, rather than dealing in honest confessions of sin, many of us have soothed our consciences by talking about lifestyles or choices, by  blame-shifting or renaming (ie -calling gossip a “prayer request” complete with juicy and unnecessary details).

Rarely do we hear tearful confessions of sinful thoughts or contrition for smug self-righteousness. Even more rarely do we recognize it in ourselves.

Ironically enough, by this sort of blindness we nicely illustrate the words of Yeshua: “With man this is impossible,” because we seem to find it impossible even to notice our crimes.

My country is among the wealthiest, and so in many ways this verse applies very specifically (and uncomfortably) to us. So great is our wealth and privilege that we often fail to see our need for God in the little things, like daily meals or the grace we need to respond to others with kindness and humility. Too often, we trust in our salaries or the supermarket; too often we revel in our entertainments when we ought to be humbly finding delight the presence of the Most High.

I am no different. But for the very reason that I do see my tendency to sin and how prone I am to selfishness,, I am thankful that it with God it is possible for me to be saved. Because of His great love, offered while I was still in my sin, my strong desire is to humble myself enough to recognize and forsake sin so that I may honor the One who forsook His honor for me.

Despite our riches – and really because of them – we all need the Christ desperately. We can never enter the Kingdom of God apart from Him, for He is the Way. Certainly, we can never buy our way in. There are no first-class arrangements for the narrow path that leads to life; neither movies to pass the time nor comfortable seats. There is hardship, difficulty, sacrifice, and persecution.

But you know what? It will be worth it. And with Him, it is possible for us to let go of our riches and trust ourselves to the grace and care of the King of kings instead.

Blogger Brandon Adams also shares some insight into three other Scriptures – including my number one “Christian-ese” pet peeve. Follow this link to his article. 

Morning Meanderings

But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”
Job 2:10a

Today as I walked with my Father in the cool of the morning, my heart was filled with adoration for Him and gratitude for all He has done and continues to do all around me. Tennessee is so beautiful in spring, and I was acutely aware that living in such a gorgeous place is a blessing – one for which I am very thankful.

Walking through the neighborhood, exulting in God and in the beauty of His creation, my thoughts roamed to the various stages and seasons of life. No wonder, for even as I type these words, a friend and neighbor is in the hospital in labor with twins. Though her labor will truly be just that – hard work and travail – and though the future remains unclear, still we all look forward to the joy of two new lives.

On the same street, another friend battles physical and emotional pain from a diagnosis of cancer and from complications from surgery. For this family, the road ahead is not so sunny, for his battle will be a battle against death and despair. Yet even here, there is the possibility of new life, for it is sometimes in anguish and suffering that we find a keener, sweeter appreciation for what our Lord suffered on our behalf.

Nearby, another precious friend recovers from a recent heart attack and stroke and still greets each new day with a smile. Though her nine and a half decades have left her body frail, her spirit has grown strong under the loving care of her heavenly Father, and she shares the joy He brings with all who are around her. For her, the road is nearing its end and she rejoices in her brief stay on earth and in the promise of eternity with her mighty King.

Another house in the neighborhood stands quieter than in previous years. In it, yet another friend has already finished her race, leaving behind both sorrow for her loss and a lifetime of delightful memories for her husband, children, and grandchildren.

As I walked and prayed, traces of what (I hope) is a waning migraine flared and receded. Spikes of pain shot through the ball of my foot, reminding me that with arthritis, every walk has its price.

The cool air wafted around my bare arms, and the birds lilted and trilled their various songs from the trees above as they darted about preparing nests or feeding their young. The fragrance of honeysuckle was swallowed by the pungent odor of a dead skunk. There, too, one death serves as a continuance of life for a pair of black vultures.

Over by the laNestingGoose008ke, a family of geese honked a warning and a great blue heron winged his way toward some other destination.

All around me is life and death; all around are reminders of the beginning of the race and the finish plus all the long miles in between. Life mingling both the bitter and the sweet, the poignant and the mundane; and death bringing a finality to all.

And yet…

For those who are in Christ, even death is a victory. Even suffering can be sweet. There is nothing wasted; nothing broken that cannot be restored; no error or tragedy that cannot be redeemed. Through the work of the Messiah, even the most heinous sin can be forgiven, and in Him, there is a gleam of light even in the darkest and most terrible regions of the path.

Today, I am thankful for my life in its entirety; for migraines and for seasons of respite from them, for suffering and blessing, for triumph and tragedy, for times of repose and seasons of toil, for all that is bright and beautiful and for the times of darkness that bring a greater hunger for and appreciation of the Light.

Today, I am thankful for the entire journey.

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”  … But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:55, 57-58

 

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)

Innocent as Doves

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. ”
(Matthew 10:16, NASB)

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking with a couple of friends when these words, spoken by Yeshua to His disciples, suddenly resonated with me.

…wise as serpents and innocent as doves…  Other008

Almost six weeks ago in a neighboring community, a 50-year-old teacher – a married man, a father, and a grandfather – disappeared along with a 15-year-old female student. While stories like this happen, this one really grabbed my attention for several reasons.

Besides the fact that I have a story of my own from when I was an emotionally crippled 19-year-old, I also have a daughter who will soon be 14 – a mere year younger than the girl who went missing (and who has, as of yesterday, been found, thank the Lord).

Thus it was that my friends and I were discussing the fact that now that our kids are mostly teens or tweens, we almost fear for their safety from sexual predators now more than when they were small.  For one thing, kids at this age feel grown up, and so a little attention applied in the right way only enhances that sense; a fact which can be easily exploited (and please note that I am not saying this teacher manipulated his student – I do not know the full story; simply that it reminded me of mine and of others).

Yet despite adult-sized bodies and interests, the adolescent of today’s world is in a weird limbo between childhood and adulthood. Their decision-making rational is not often as complete as that of an older adult, and many older teens and young adults are partially drunk with newfound freedoms while lacking the experience (and possibly the neural network) that lends caution and prudence in later years. This makes our young people especially susceptible to suggestion or coercion from those with more practical knowledge of the ways of the world.

But what I realized most profoundly in that moment as my friends and I discussed the falls and close-calls of our own youth and how we can best educate our kids without instilling agoraphobia or anthropophobia, was that what we really want to do is teach our kids to be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves.

According to Thayer’s Greek Definitions, the Greek word translated, “shrewd” can also be translated as “wise” or “prudent, i.e. mindful of one’s interests.”

Apparently at the time, the serpent was seen as a symbol of cunning and craftiness- perhaps somewhat like our modern-day sly fox. Certainly in the picture of the serpent who tempted Eve in the Garden, we see a creature who was sly and mindful of his own interests – which in that case, unfortunately, happened to be the corruption of God’s creative capstone: Man who was made in His own image.

However, not all snakes are in league with the enemy of our souls, of course. Even in today’s vernacular, we can see that snakes are cautious to preserve their own lives, some employing poison and others mimicking rattlesnakes, feigning death, or simply beating a rapid retreat into a nearby crevice.

Our Lord certainly was not advocating deceit or malicious intent, but He was indicating that we should be thoughtful and vigilant – mindful of our interests. In our case, our interests ought to be seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and so when faced with dangerous situations, we must be carefully intent on the Lord’s leading in order to make the wisest choice.

For our children, this might include an awareness of their surroundings, a knowledge of the potential for wickedness in all mankind (themselves included), and an understanding of cause and effect.

On the other hand, a dove is the portrait of innocence and gentleness even to this day. There is little on earth less threatening than a dove, save perhaps for baby bunnies or newly-hatched ducklings. I have never seen an image portraying a vengeful or angry dove.

This, too, is a characteristic I would like to pass on to the young gentlemen and ladies under my care. Somehow, contemplating the case of this teacher and student, I had a burst of insight as to what the Lord meant when He spoke those words.

Just as I would like my own children to walk wisely in this world; to be both discerning and prudent yet to remain harmless and innocent when confronted with the presence of evil or persecution.

I would like them to understand the ramifications of wickedness without becoming jaded and to comprehend the dangers that stalk the world without becoming paralyzed by fear.

In short, I would like them to be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves. Unsurprisingly, this is just what my Father wants from me, too.

But there are other lessons to this story…

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

 

Changeless

I am not sure how the rest of the country has fared this year, but the seasons in Tennessee have been rather confused. We had summer until Thanksgiving, and autumn lasted until mid-March except for a single weekend interlude of winter.

But just when we thought that winter might just give us a pass entirely; once all the trees were in bloom and many of the daffodils had already bloomed and faded, winter stuck once more. Weather-wise, it has been a very unpredictable year.

In my home, too, the season has been relatively unstable. With two teens and one nearly-teen, you really never know what each new day will bring. And apparently 16+ years of sleep deprivation have caught up with this old girl, because suddenly I find I am struggling with fatigue the likes of which I have not felt since early pregnancy.

Some days, I feel like Forrest Gump is standing nearby chanting, “Life is like a box of chocolates,” in that oddly-cadenced voice…

Despite the general craziness and emotional chaos of our lives right now, there is one thing that never changes. The steadfast love of my Lord never ceases, and the mercy of the Eternal One never comes to an end; they are new every morning.

Today, I am inexpressibly grateful that in an ever-changing world, I have the privilege of knowing and serving an eternal and unchanging God!

Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
Psalms 90:2

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!
Psalms 107:1

 

A Foothold

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.
(Colossians 4:2)

Some weeks are just… funky. Take this week, for instance. Coming off of a several-week stretch of absolutely ridiculous fatigue, I finally woke up on Monday and felt, if not exactly rested, at least functional.

And it was a pretty productive day. In fact, between Monday and Tuesday, I managed to get through the usual homeschooling, parenting, and home management details plus finish correcting formatting errors on my manuscript, do some preliminary research on what I need to do in terms of putting together a book proposal, and started revising my chapter summary in hopes of gaining some publisher or agent’s attention.

On top of that, I was able to finish a project I’ve been working on as a gift (which I can say nothing more about on the off chance that the intended recipient stops by). I even had some excellent walks and talks with my Heavenly Father – something I have badly missed this school year but am now able to do again thanks to my son’s new status as a driver.

Yet, I could think of nothing useful to write about.

I suppose that keeping any sort of record of my faith journey is bound to have spells like this. Sometimes, I simply feel like there is nothing new to say. At other times, the things God is showing me through my time in His word or prayer just takes time and meditation before it can be distilled into words.

Still other times, I have one of those extremely mild but extremely annoying little “migraine-ish” headaches that does little more than scatter my thoughts and crumble my motivation. At times like that, writing becomes something very like trying to leash train a cat.

wp-1488938623919.jpg
The Miscreant enjoying his walk

At times like this, I suppose the thing to do is to persist. Write something down anyway. Drag the dead weight if I must.

Actually, it’s a lot like prayer…

In his letter to the Colossian church, Paul admonishes them to “continue steadfastly in prayer.”

This is a reminder I recently needed. After all, sometimes God answers prayer in immediate, very specific, and exciting ways. At such times it is a thrill to be a part of His work, and the natural overflow is one of thanksgiving and praise.

But other times…

Well, other times remind me of Abraham. When he first met God, his name was Abram, and he was told to take his household and move to “the land that I [God] will show you.”  (See Genesis 12:1)

Not long afterwards, the Lord told Abram that He would give all the land his eyes could see to Abram and his children (Genesis 13:14-18). At this point, the man was childless, yet he did as the Lord said. Eventually, when Abram was 99, the Lord revealed Himself to Abram as El Shaddai – the Almighty God – and changed his name from Abram (exalted father) to Abraham (father of a multitude). You can read about that in Genesis 17, and there is a lot more to say about the story than time allows (especially since I am now trying to squeeze this post in when there are a half-dozen other tasks awaiting me).

For now, suffice to say that Abraham died before God’s promise was fulfilled, owning only the cave that he and his wife were buried in (see Genesis 23:19-20 and 25:9).  And yet, we are told that, “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3 et al).

The promise may not have been completely fulfilled in Abraham’s lifespan, but he did die with a sort of foothold on the Promised Land. And eventually, of course, his offspring did possess the land.

I tend to think Abraham may have been a teensy bit more self-focused than me. You see, he believed God and persisted in his relationship to the Lord no matter what. I have to admit that I have been known to throw a bit of a temper tantrum to my Father, along the lines of, “You promised that if I asked certain things that I know to be within Your will, they would happen. Where are they?”

Yeah, it’s a little embarrassing on my part.

The truth is, God does fulfill His promises; but not in my time and my way. Maybe Abraham knew this, which is why he was so willing to march up Moriah with his son, a knife, and a bundle of firewood. He knew God would deliver on the promise, even  if it was in some convoluted way that Abraham could not see. Maybe, to Abraham, a foothold was assurance enough.

So, whatever it is you are praying for, if you are certain it is within the will of God (and I am speaking more of the salvation of another person or that your children will love God with all their hearts, not a new car or a better house), continue steadfastly!

But – and here is the part that I am slow to learn – continue steadfastly with thanksgiving. If we really, really believe God will do what He says He will do, why wait to thank Him when the deal is done?  I think, maybe, what I need to do more of when I persevere in prayer is to do so with gratitude already on my lips, fully confident that my God will bring it to pass.

After all, when I look at my own salvation, I see that He has already given me a foothold.

He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
(1 Thessalonians 5:24)