Counting the Cost

For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’
(Luke 14:28-30)

Anyone who walks through this life with any kind of invisible illness or chronic pain knows what it means to count the cost. In my personal experience with chronic migraine, the ability to assess the risks of known triggers and weigh them against the cost – in my case, a migraine – is critical, especially if you are resolved to actually live and not merely exist until the end should come.

As a relatively handy illustration, I’ll relate a little experience I had on Holy Week this year. I have mentioned before that our small group was able to celebrate the Lord’s Passover under the guidance of a Jewish man and his wife during Holy Week. What I did not mention were the many migraine triggers that accompanied the event.

For one, any kind of stress – even what I call “good stress,” which includes enthusiastic anticipation – is a major trigger for me. Considering that I have longed to be a part of a Passover Seder almost since I read in the Bible that Jesus was a Jew, we can safely say that Trigger #1 was a go.

Then, of course, our small group meets in our home and since we would be having first-time visitors, I took the time to do some extra cleaning (which, in my world, lands the house extremely far from “Better Homes and Gardens” but at least puts us somewhere above “clearly, a natural disaster happened here.”) Getting overheated, particularly with moderate physical activity is a trigger for me. Because it was a fairly hot day and I did not bother to turn down the AC, we definitely had Trigger #2.

For some unexplained reason, I frequently get muscle cramps in my neck and upper back which can cause pain and, naturally enough, sometimes trigger migraines. Well, it must have been my lucky day because Trigger #3 was present as well.

I have at least two known food triggers – wheat, the consumption of which is an absolute guarantee for migraine fun, and alcohol which is only a trigger when there are other factors kind of pushing me towards the edge.

Matzo, of course, is made of wheat yet I did not want to be fussy, so I broke off the smallest pieces I could in order to participate. Knowing that there were plenty of triggers already lining up against me, I had intended to forgo the wine, but since a very helpful young man had already poured about an ounce in each adult glass, I once again chose not to speak up (although I did compromise by only having a sip at each point where a cup is supposed to be consumed during the meal). Ergot – Triggers # 4 and with all the others, #5 joined the party as well.

And yes, the following morning I woke up at around 3:00 a.m. with a doozy of a migraine; the kind that had me attempting a freaky, creeping sort of walk without fully raising my head and choking down the medicine while (very literally) praying that it would stay down long enough to work.

But it was worth it.

Sure, I lost a couple of days, but the heightened sense of communion with the Lord by participating in this very ancient tradition and the deeper understanding of how intentional His every act really is… well, there just aren’t words. For me, it was about knowing my God a little bit better. I had weighed the probable cost and decided to ante up.

Just so, when the Lord began the discussion that we jumped in on the middle of at the beginning of this post, He was trying to make everyone who was listening think for a minute. Understanding that the cost of following Jesus is… well, everything… we can see that it would be somewhat prudent to count the cost.

Following Him means He comes first; it is absolute surrender, and as my pastor said a couple of weeks back, when an army or nation surrenders to a conquering king, they do not set the terms. They accept them.

It is the same with Him, but I assure you that His terms are good. He asks that we give Him all that we are – absolute trust, absolute obedience, absolute surrender. Following Him means understanding that He sometimes withholds things that we are positive we need because He knows what is truly best for us. It means a commitment that extends for eternity and a willingness to be teachable and humble; to have our eyes opened to ugly and uncomfortable truths about ourselves and to feel the sorrow that our sin brings.

It means turning away from all of it – even the ‘pet’ sins that don’t seem that bad to us because He says that they are – and walking with Him no matter how hard things get.

In return, He offers us a life beyond the few brief decades of toil we have on earth; a life that will be free from sickness or sorrow or fear; a life in the glorious presence of God – an eternity to spend time getting to know the Eternal One.

I don’t know about you, but to me, that is definitely worth it!

 

 

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…

Passover

Passover001

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Easter! He is risen!!

In His Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then today…

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Drink Up

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

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

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

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

Of course, we know what the answer was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I do. I love Him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottoms up!cup021

 

Not My Job

So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'”
(Luke 17:10)

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To the right, you will find a section of my kitchen floor that I have come to think of as No-Man’s Land. Although my children have been required to help clean up the kitchen after dinner in some capacity since they were old enough to bring their plates to the sink, their responsibilities have grown with their bodies. Currently, they divvy up the duties among themselves and typically I will wash the dishes while they do the rest.

Or at least in theory.

It has come to my attention that there are two “sides” to my kitchen: the kitchen proper and the eat-in portion with the table. Apparently, if a young person sweeps one side, he or she is exempt from sweeping the other side. However, this section of floor between the island and the kitchen table does not belong to either side.

In fact, as far as I can tell, this particular stretch of floor is kept free of debris primarily by a combination of magic, fairy wings, and wishful thinking or failing that, Mom.

Yesterday, as I stepped barefoot onto some crumbs in No-Man’s Land and resignedly turned to get the broom, it occurred to me that perhaps some portion of the moral decay we see in our society today cannot be fully attributed to seething masses of pagan hordes gleefully spreading debauchery and gloating in evil. Maybe, just maybe, some of it has to do with the attitude that certain behaviors “aren’t my job.”

The things I’m talking about are small things, like cleaning the bathrooms at our churches or being the one who does not complain when our spouse does that crazy irritating thing he/she does.

There are medium jobs, too. Things like visiting a cantankerous widow, treating an outcast in your circle with love and respect even if they are hateful in return, or continuing to uncomplainingly serve someone who seems to take your kindness for granted as if it were their right.

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
(Hebrews 12:14)

Then there are the bigger acts – the places where we speak with our dollars and our actions. When the entertainment industry insists on placing inappropriate content in films, when stores embrace policies that are dangerous or exploitative to others, when advertisements marginalize or objectify women, we, the Church, need to be the ones who refuse to finance such choices.

That might mean inconvenience, taking a hard stand, being willing to do without certain things, spending our dollars wisely in order to send a message that we stand for the poor, the women who do not know better than to be objects, the children who are exposed to topics they are not yet ready to deal with. It is our job to be a “pillar and buttress of the truth,” and implicit in that is standing against immoral, corrupt, and deceitful practice even if it costs us.

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
(Hebrews 12:3-4)

As the Church, our job is to go and make disciples. The Greek word translated there means, “learner or pupil,” and since most of us learn by example, setting an example is certainly the job of the Church.

And let me be extremely clear about this point: if we claim to be disciples of Jesus, we are the Church. We are the example. Where we spend our money, how we spend our leisure time, what we accept or embrace in our entertainments, how we act towards our families in private – all of it matters.

It might mean doing a job that no one else wants to do. It may mean dealing with humiliation. It may mean inconvenience, being out of the loop in our entertainment choices, or sacrificing a show we really did want to see. It may mean being called prudish or seeming to be an oddball in our culture. In all honesty, it may even mean our death in certain situations such as those our brothers and sisters face worldwide.

But if we are to make disciples, we need to first copy our Master, and while He was kind and loving, He was also uncompromising when it came to holiness and the honor of our God.

And He did many jobs that were not His to do.

If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
(John 13:14-17)

 

 

 

A Prayer for Those in Pain

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!
(Psalms 4:1)

Giver of all good gifts, today we praise You for Your mercy and for the unbelievably precious gift of our salvation in Christ. Thank You for loving us even when we were in rebellion towards You and for saving us despite ourselves. You are truly a God of mercy, compassionate and faithful to the uttermost!

As we come before the throne of grace today, we come as those who are in desperate need. We need Your grace, Lord. There are many among us who are hurting either physically or emotionally; many who walk in darkness and struggle with burdens too heavy for us to carry. Yet You are the Light of the world who dispels the darkness, and upon Your able shoulders we are told to cast our cares and our worries.

Today, I ask that You will help those who are in need to do just that: cast their cares on You. Pierce the darkness with the light of Your truth and goodness, and lift the burden of those who are heavily laden. Refresh the weak and weary in spirit and revive the heart of the despondent. I humbly ask that You will lift the eyes of the downcast and cause them to be fixed steadfastly on You.
Be the Healer, the Provider, and the Joy of Your people, Lord! Make our hearts feel the rightness of Your presence and cause our spirits to soar on wings like eagles’. May it be that Your people are  so filled with the joy of the Lord that we naturally proclaim Your goodness and grace by our every action and word. Revive the hearts of Your people for Your own glory, Lord, and let it be that we display Your power as we walk in victory over sin and despair. For the glory of the risen King and in His name we ask this benefit, amen.