Tuesday Prayer: Even If

If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” 

Daniel 3:17-18, NASB

YHWH Adonai, You are the great and mighty God; the God who saves us and in whom is found compassion, mercy, justice, and forgiveness. Whether our lives are filled with difficulty or ease, You are good, for You are unchanging even in the midst of a world in constant flux. Our opinion of You has no effect on the reality of You, our God, nor do our feelings towards you make any difference in who You are. Thank You for Your solidity in an unstable world. 

He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.

Psalm 62:2

Today, we thank You for the many times You have rescued us from some disaster or kept us safe from some evil scheme. However, Lord, we also recognize that You do not always protect us in this world. Sometimes, terrible things happen. Sometimes there is sickness, terror, pain, sorrow, torment, and death.

Faith in You does not guarantee us a pain-free life. If anything, faith in You prepares us to take up our crosses, daily choosing to die to ourselves and follow You. Choosing faith in Christ means choosing to participate in His suffering, but also to participate in His ultimate exaltation. Choosing to follow Jesus also means declaring open war on the enemy of our souls, opening us up to a greater scale of attack from his forces as he seeks to destroy and discourage us. 

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.

Mark 8:34-35

Knowing this, we choose You anyway, Lord. You are able to rescue us from any danger, yet even if You do not, we will serve You. Our choice to give our lives to You is not based on what You do for us but on the fact that You are who You are. The King of kings; the Prince of peace; the Mighty God; the Beginning and the End; the Holy One. We serve You because You are our God and because we love You, and no scheme of hell nor pain of life can ever tear that away. 

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39

And so it is that we praise You for saving us from ultimate and eternal disaster through the sacrifice of Jesus. Thank You that You chose to draw us to Him, to enable our hearts to trust in Him. Without Jesus, we would be doomed to the futility of our own poor choices now and eternal suffering, but in Christ, we are renewed and redeemed to be useful to You once more and promised eternal life in Your presence.  

Use us, Lord, as You see fit. Give us an eternal hunger for You and for Your word, and pierce our hearts with sorrow for those who suffer in this world without the eternal hope we have in You. May this tenderness compel us to share Your truth boldly with others, pleading on our knees in intercession on their behalf that You might see fit to draw them to saving faith as well, amen. 

Tuesday Prayer: Seasons

The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein,
(Psalms 24:1)

Awesome Creator, the earth is Yours and all it contains. From the vast expanse of the heavens which declare Your glory all the way to the tiniest details like the number of hairs on our heads, You are intimately acquainted with every bit. You have also made the world and its cycles, and You have provided the sun, moon, and stars to document the signs and seasons and days and years. All of it ultimately points to You, Lord, declaring Your glory and teaching us of Your ways.

Our lives, too, are governed by seasons. There are times of frantic activity and times of rest; seasons marked by trial and turmoil and seasons of utter peace and pure joy. As we grow in Christ and deepen our walk with You, the trials and the joys begin to overlap and become one because we begin to see how You use all of it – the good and the bad – to work together for the good of we who love You. Because of this, we can honestly rejoice in our suffering.

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,
(Romans 5:3)

Not only because of our trust in You to take what our enemy intends for evil and use it for good, but we can also rejoice because we do not serve a distant and impartial God. Instead, we serve a God who became a man and endured suffering as a man. You have suffered, and so we know that every moment of pain or trial is a glimpse into what You have already done for us.

So often, Lord, we turn things upside down, wondering why our amazing God would allow suffering in the world. A better understanding of You have us marvel at the wonder of a God who loves His creation so completely that He was willing to become a part of it, to suffer and die for it, so that by His priceless blood, all of creation might be redeemed.

When our life seasons bring times of darkness or hardship, remind us of Your love. Remind us that even the darkness is not dark to You, Lord, for nothing is hidden from Your light and nothing escapes Your notice. Nothing is wasted. No season is useless in the eternal economy of Your grace. Even our suffering and our blunders, even our scars and wounds are given purpose and meaning when surrendered to You.

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.
(Psalms 139:11-12)

Because You are good, we can trust You even in the dark and lonely places for if we belong to You, we are never actually alone. You have promised never to leave us nor forsake us. Teach our hearts a greater trust, a more complete devotion, and an endless sense of awe at the wonder of You, the King of Glory. May our lives be lived for Your service and our days be committed to loving obedience to Your purposes, amen.

Relationships in the Void

By the time this post goes live, I will be figuring out where to go and what to do for the conference I’m attending. The thing is in God’s hands. His will be done, and may He be glorified whether I come away with a contract or not. In keeping with the relationship theme of the week, I leave you today with an old post from my first blog:

We love because he first loved us.
(1 John 4:19)

It is quite impossible to live on this earth without having an impact on anyone else. In order to avoid having any effect on any other person – even a slight effect such as causing them to wonder briefly if you are in a bad mood – one would have to live in a relational void with absolutely no contact with another human being.

To put it very bluntly, this simply means that it is impossible to hurt oneself without hurting others. There are no crimes perpetrated against self only; they all have repercussions to others.

For example, a drunk or a drug user does not merely poison his or her body. Relationships are poisoned as well. If an addict drives under the influence, he or she risks – and sometimes robs – the lives of others.

If such a one is married, puts the bottle comes between spouses. If a father or mother, an element of embarrassment and confusion is added to the children’s view of the parent. That’s the best of situations. In the worst, the user brings fear and suffering into the parent/child relationship. Often, children raised this way are condemned to live and grow within the abuse cycle, either becoming abusers themselves or accepting abuse as normal.

No matter how self-contained this one may seem, if help is not sought and the habit kicked, self-destruction occurs and brings heartache to loved ones. A drunk or drug user does not merely harm him or herself, he or she is an indiscriminate inflictor of harm.

Another common viewpoint is that any sexual act happening between consenting adults is harmless. This is also bunk, unless the consenting adults in question happen to be permanently committed to one another in marriage. Otherwise, the promiscuous couple carry emotional baggage (and sometimes physical consequences) which they impose upon any future sexual partners without regard for the feelings of the other.

In this case, “the more the merrier” falls short of truth. The more baggage, the more emotional debris is strewn across the relational landscape.

If, by some flight of complete idiocy, one or both of the “consenting adults” is already married, they by their self-serving act bring an emotional wrecking ball into the marital relationship. If children are present, they are ruthlessly battered  in the process.

Sex, then, fails to be a personal and private act unless it is kept between permanently between two people. Otherwise, it is somewhat clownishly public.

I will confess the pre-Christ me was party to both of these points of view, and therefore I have no qualms in railing against them. In doing so, I rail against my own past and my own foolishness. I am the clown; I am the idiot of this story. Too many were wounded by the shrapnel of my former self-destruction.

However, I am delighted to say that this human quality of inter-connectedness works in more pleasant ways as well. Love, too, can trickle out from others and bring succor to war-ravaged emotional landscapes. Scars may be left behind, but healing can be complete beneath them.

I found this love in no other but the one the Jews call the Messiah. I was far too damaged at the time I met Him to even see it in others. It was the stunning realization of His love and humility that caused me to see past my own pain to the harm I caused others.

Once enough healing had taken place that I could limp along a bit on my own, He began to show me the messy, imperfect, and glorious love found in the community of true believers.

Now I find it is my duty to love others rather than to loathe myself. It is at this time my fervent prayer that love will be my whole motive, that selflessness will replace selfishness, and that those who were wounded by shrapnel in my battle with myself will find the same healing, the same peace… and the same shock of cold water waking them fully to the Absolute Truth.

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
(1 John 4:20-21)

 

Happy Easter From Us Fools

If you haven’t ‘met’ him already, allow me to introduce you to Bill Sweeney – a dear man who has lived for over 2 decades with ALS. Wherever you stand with Christ – belief, unbelief, indifference – I hope you will take the time today to read Bill’s words. Feel free to skip over my intro to the link!

Like me, the old Bill would have smirked that this year’s Easter Sunday coincides with April Fools Day. Also like me, the present Bill would have everyone know the same “foolish” hope we share – a hope beyond ALS, beyond pain, beyond the grave.

This year, will you contemplate Bill’s unshakable hope? I honestly pray you will join our merry troupe of fools. There are many of us scattered across the globe and bound together by the same unshakable hope.

He is risen!

https://unshakablehope.wordpress.com/2018/03/30/are-you-a-fool-like-me/

Rejoicing in Hope

I love the photo above. It was taken roughly a year ago in March of 2017 during one of the two weekends of winter we had last year in Middle Tennessee.

Despite having been taken at the end of the winter that really wasn’t, I still enjoy the hope portrayed by this image. In part, it reminds me of  winters of the soul I have endured.

Yet even in the gloomiest and most frigid seasons in my life – actually, even if my entire life was spent in the icy clutches of physical pain and emotional distress – there is something growing beneath the surface.

Hope.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
(Romans 12:12)

No matter how much other reading I have done the last couple of weeks, the Lord keeps bringing me back to Romans 5 and the idea of rejoicing in suffering.

So today, I did just that.

It’s a beautiful spring day and I took a walk with my Father and my two dogs. Normally at such times, I will offer up prayers of supplication. And for the first 5 or 6 minutes, I did. But the verse kept playing like a broken record in my mind (for you young ‘uns, that’s roughly the equivalent of an mp3 file which didn’t download correctly).

So I stopped my requests and simply rejoiced.

As the occasional pounding behind my left eye grew more regular, I rejoiced that migraines have slowed me down enough to pay attention to what is important in life.

With each step, an ache set up in my left foot and my shoe seemed to tighten as it swelled, so I rejoiced that I can still walk anyway.

In fact, I was able to praise my Father from the heart and mean it for all my little grievances.

Not only because each ache and pain reminds me of the intense joy I will feel once this old body has finally worn down and been traded in for something better. But also because my God is using the time right now for His glory.

…and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings…
(Romans 5:2b-3a)

Today, He had me back up a little and remember that my rejoicing is based in His glory.

His, not mine.

It is because of my physical issues that I am able to meet weekly with one of my part-time daughters, a teen who suffers from chronic migraine and has need of help in her home schooling.

Because of my suffering, I am available when another part-time daughter, also a teen, needs to talk due to family crisis. Or to help her mom when she’s trying to juggle her own reactions to the crisis, plus be a mom, plus keep her job, plus…

And you know what? I can rejoice because God does not need my efforts to provide financially for my family. He is fully capable of taking care of our needs, and He has never let us down.

So today, I took a couple of hours and laid down my guilt over the smallness of my financial contribution, the anxiety over rising tuition and a 20-year-old home in which everything is deciding to break, my frustration over the difficulties in parenting teens, and my weariness with pain.

I laid them all before the Throne of Grace and worshiped.

Because my God is good.

Because He has blessed me with these difficulties so I will never forget my need of Him.

Because my Lord Yeshua (Jesus) suffered pain on my behalf and overcame.

Because He can do amazing things and He doesn’t need me to do them.

And yet, He has given me the privilege of being a part of it all.

The man declares, I am weary, O God; I am weary, O God, and worn out…
…Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
(Proverbs 30:1, 5)

 

When Life Is Not a Box of Chocolates: A Migraine Story

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
(2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

Once again, it’s confession time here on RTR… It has been some time since I’ve written a migraine post – in part because I have been struggling through a period of loathing migraine.

In some seasons, I embrace this part of my life as a gift – a useful pruning, a thorn in my flesh to keep me from becoming arrogant. A tool in the hands of the Potter as He shapes me.

In other seasons… well, let’s just say I can be a vine who talks back, clutching the discarded branches in resentful hands and questioning the Vinedresser’s skillful trimming. Such is the heart prone to wander…

There were a few weeks in which the severity (if not the frequency) was somewhat reduced. Yet one of the most vexing things about dealing with a chronic “invisible” illness is the residual symptoms. Even on days where the headache is mild, there is an ever-present fatigue. Some days it, like the headache, is pretty ignorable. Other days, I can barely function.

Last night, a mild migraine-like headache decided to roar into full throttle around 2 am. Because I am limited in the types of medication I can take, I had hoped to sleep it off but ended up fumbling for one medication around 2:15 and searching for another an hour later.

The crummy thing about migraine is the confusion which hallmarks each attack. I do not always know when the line between “ignore” and “take medicine” has been crossed. And this bleeds over into all sorts of other areas – like my hip problem which I ignored for over a decade before it, too, kept me awake nights.

But I am not here to complain. I’m really not. Today, after a pretty rough night and cancellations of highly-anticipated activities, I have been able to recover. In the past two days, I’ve slept a ridiculous amount even with last night’s interruption. And now after a nap and on the hangover (or postdrome) side of my latest migraine adventure, I feel wrung out and limp.

It is easy to feel useless when dealing with any chronic disease. It is so simple to look at all the great and wonderful things others do with their lives – homeschool moms who balance educating their kids with a career, ladies my age who have opened a business of their own, published authors, successful women. Supermoms who can raise their kids with one hand and serve at church while working full-time with the other.

It can be easy to compare…and to despair.

Another temptation is to watch my man come home exhausted after another 80 or more hour work week and feel it is my fault. If I could only bring home an income. If I could write a book worth publishing or if I had just finished college, maybe he wouldn’t feel such pressure to provide for us. For me.

But even in the aftermath of a pretty nasty neurological storm, I am thankful for my God. I am reminded my value is not in any worldly success – not even in what I do for the Lord. My value is in Him. 

He is my reward and my impetus for continuing. He and He alone comforts me – but He does not comfort me so I can feel cherished and complacent in my war against a stupid and frustrating illness.

No, He comforts me so I can comfort others.

So today, child of God, if there is any reason you feel despondent, alone, useless, or afraid, know you are not alone. Even if you do not know God, even if you have rejected His Son, Yeshua, or even mocked the very idea of His existence, there is hope.

No matter what, you are still not alone, and your rejection of Him does not guarantee His rejection of you. In God’s bewildering grace, there is always a chance for repentance. There is always a chance to turn to Him.

And He longs for you to come to Him. If you will surrender to Him, He will comfort you. And He will bring purpose to your affliction and give you an eternal hope so you may endure this life even if it grows more unendurable by the day.

Even still, I do not worship Him today because of the comfort He gives nor the hope I have, but because He is worthy. Even when I have nothing of worth to offer Him.

 

 

Broken and Restored

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.
(Psalms 51:4)

Ah, the tale of David and Bathsheba. This story from 2 Samuel 11 and 12 is certainly not rated G…

But if you’re wondering why I bring it up after opening with a verse from Psalm 51, it’s because this unseemly saga is actually the back story of the psalm.

Here’s the nickel version:

At some point during David’s reign over Israel, his troops were off to war. For some reason, he was not with them but instead was walking on his rooftop (think of a structure more like a balcony, not peaked roofs or shingles). From this vantage point, he saw a beautiful woman bathing.

Though he knew she was the wife of one of his soldiers – a man who was out fighting for his king – David sent for her. And impregnated her.

Attempting to cover his indiscretion up, he brought her husband home from battle, got him drunk, and tried to entice him to go home and sleep with his wife. When the honorable man refused because his fellow warriors were still out in the field, David instead conspired to have him killed and make it look like he was merely a casualty of war.

Lovely story, isn’t it?

Eventually, David was confronted with his sin and he did repent. But there were consequences. Many people suffered for this one selfish act of lust – including King David himself.

And this is what I wanted to share from my reading of Psalm 51 today. Notice in verse 4, David cries out to God, “Against you and you only have I sinned…”

I don’t know about you, but at first glance, this claim seems a trifle insensitive. After all, adultery was committed (and possibly rape, though we aren’t told whether or not she went willingly), a man was murdered, a child died, and much later, a kingdom was torn apart by a prince’s rebellion.

The collateral damage from the king’s evil choices was enormous.

Nevertheless, he did write truth. His sin was primarily against his Creator.

Without fail, sin and its consequences wreak destruction, often bringing pain and devastation to our own lives and the lives of others. Despite this fact, the offence is first and foremost against the One who gave us life.

No matter who suffers for it, sin is ultimately between each one of us and our Creator.

When I began to first understand this concept, it was both the most freeing and the most frightening thing I had learned.

Freeing because it means that whoever may hurt me, no matter how close they are to me or how grievous the wound they inflict, it really has little to do with me at all. Each person’s sin is a matter which will be addressed by God – in His time and in His way. And since I know He is a just Judge, I do not have to worry about vengeance. I only have to manage my response – including making sure I do not repay sin with more sin.

Because of this – and because of the enormity of forgiveness I have received – this fact makes forgiveness much easier for me.

For the same reasons, it is also frightening because it means whatever sin I commit is between me and the Almighty Creator. And once again, because He is a just Judge, He will see justice done.

However…

The most amazing part is, God actually exacted the penalty for my sin – for all our sins – from His Son. Justice has been done, and in place of my well-earned destruction, I am instead offered forgiveness and eternal life. We all are.

No matter how horrendous our crimes have been, we can receive forgiveness. This fact, too, makes forgiving others much easier.

But first, there must be a true heart change which begins with a truly broken heart. It is called repentance. 

To be honest, if we truly see the gravity of what it is the Lord Yeshua (Jesus) did on our behalf; if we truly feel the loathsomeness of our rebellion against the One who created and loves us, our hearts will break. Like David, we will find out the truth behind these words:

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
(Psalms 51:17)

And once we feel honest sorrow and begin to despise our sin, longing to imitate our Father instead; once we understand the rift our crimes have created between us and the One who loves us so much, He offered Himself as ransom in order to purchase our freedom from sin –  well, David’s agonized plea pretty well sums up the appropriate result of this understanding:

Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
(Psalms 51:9-12)

Not a bad prayer to start our year with, eh?