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?

 

Finding Purpose in Pain

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.

(Isaiah 53:6-7)

It’s been a while since I’ve jotted out a migraine post. In fact, I realized my last one was in early September when I wrote about my latest dietary experiment.  In fact, today is  my 49th consecutive day on the ketogenic diet.

So how’s it going? Well… not bad. My first two weeks were like a dream. I had more energy and fewer headaches than normal, and what headaches I did have were extremely minor. In short, I felt well for several days all in a row – something that has not happened since… honestly, I don’t know. Ask my husband. He pays more attention than I do.  For me, it was enough to actually feel like doing things rather than merely muscling through the day until bedtime.

Unfortunately, subsequent weeks were not as remarkable. It is possible I had a touch of the virus that went around our house, but my usual crazy fatigue was an unwelcome visitor during the last weeks of September. October did not begin well, either, and last Saturday saw the blessed end of a 6-day-long, slowly building migraine that left me feeling perfectly wretched.

But that is all over, this week is looking promising, and I am feeling as wonderful as my first days on the diet. Hurrah! I have sworn to give it at least two more weeks before ‘cheating,’ and my cheat will be minor – a signature coffee beverage from a friend’s newly opened coffee shop.  (By the way, this is a shameless plug for the Fainting Goat aimed at my local readers…)

Now on the other side of the month-long energy drain and the resurgence of headache issues, I can honestly say that this whole experience – from the meningitis when my middle child was a few months old all the way through today – the ups and downs and all the in-betweens has been good.

I mean it. Despite the unpleasantness, it is really, truly good.

Not to sound like a nutcase, but I am thankful for the pain. Even today as I sit writing with a clear head and an inexplicably aching hip, I can rejoice in my suffering.  Admittedly, a large part of that rejoicing comes from the fact that some of it is past… but also because in the midst of it all, God reminds me to give thanks in ALL circumstances – including the less enjoyable ones (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

For one thing, as this morning’s reading in Isaiah 53 has reminded me, I do not deserve health, wealth, or prosperity. For countless past acts of rebellion against my Creator as well as for a continuing propensity to wander astray like some doltish sheep drifting mindlessly after what looks like a mouthful of greener grass far away from the Shepherd’s safe pasture, I deserve death.

But my gracious and incredible God gives me Life instead. And just so the spiritual ledger is not out of balance, He paid the penalty of my crimes with His own blood.

What’s more, He continually offers purpose in my pain. Though last week was discouraging and left me feeling physically spent and emotionally defeated, this week starts fresh, beginning with absolutely priceless time spent with a young lady, one of my part-time daughters, who also struggles with chronic migraine.

Because I can relate, she can speak freely and be understood – which I must say, is no small thing for those who struggle with an “invisible” disease. And because I love her, I am delighted to participate in the suffering so that I can encourage her as she fights through it and remind her that God is still good even when life looks bleak.

After all, if He did not spare His own sinless and perfect Son, the Radiance of His glory and the exact Imprint of His nature;  if the King of kings was not spared physical and emotional pain, why should I be? For I have sinned and fallen far short of God’s perfection, but by His grace I can share in my Lord’s sufferings – because even pain, when surrendered to Him, can be used for something glorious.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
(1 Peter 4:12-13)

 

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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.

Christmas

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
(John 1:14)

To me, this verse encapsulates both the wonder and the irony of Christmas. It is a beautiful mystery that God should choose to present His glory in a tangible form to mankind through the rather commonplace miracle (if there are such things) of the birth of a Baby.

In that manger so many years ago lay the Divine irony: that the glorious Creator of all things would stoop to take part in His creation, but not as one would expect a God to arrive; clothed in splendor and honor and wielding great power. Instead, He chose to come as a Man and with all man’s limitations, including beginning life as a an utterly dependent, helpless infant. The Almighty in diapers. Just imagine!

Furthering the paradox, the King of kings was not even born into human royalty. Instead, He came humbly, born into a family most likely socially tainted by the scandal of His mother’s implausible claim concerning her pregnancy, born not into silken sheets and sturdy housing, but in a pen for animals.

His earthly parents were even too poor even to afford a lamb to sacrifice for Mary’s purification  as the Law demanded (Leviticus 12:6-8, Luke 2:22-24).  Nor did He choose a life of popularity, wealth, and ease, but one of poverty, hard work, and difficulty.

This is perhaps the most perplexing facet of the Christmas story; that the Most High God decided not only to become a man,  but also to participate fully in the human experience, including both physical and emotional pain. And though He came to His own creatures, they knew Him not and many even scorned and mocked this, the most gracious act of love in history.

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
(Isaiah 53:3)

It is for this reason that He is a God like no other, for He understands humanity not just theoretically or as its Creator, but by becoming one of us; by living as a man.

But He is also a Man like no other, for Jesus understood what it meant to be human and to feel the weight of grief.  Yet He also understood something we cannot: He understood, too, what it meant to be Divine.

Do you see the absurdity of this gift? Crazily and against all logic, the Creator subjected Himself to human limitations in order to provide for rebellious humanity the briefest glimpse of Divine life here in the dust of the earth. By living as a man as man should have been — without sin –and then willingly giving Himself up for our ransom, He extends an invitation to all mankind to a future hope beyond grief.

Even crazier, this invitation remains open to those who despise Him still, for it is not His will that any of His beloved should die apart from Him.

Besides understanding a depth and breadth of grief that we never could, He also understood the full power of temptation in a way that none of us can for the simple fact that none of us have withstood temptation to the utmost and prevailed.

Without exception, we have all fallen; we have all given in to the allure of some personal weakness and sinned. However, our Lord never did. Alone among man, He has endured the full force of temptation and remained standing at the end. He, alone, knows the precise limits of temptation and the entire weight of resistance.

He became Man as man was meant to be — pure, sinless, in perfect fellowship with the Father. Perhaps, even, He became more human than any of us simply because the image of God given to humanity was marred and distorted at the Fall, but it was restored in the Person of Christ.

“He is the radiance of the Glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature…” (Hebrews 1:3a).

Oh, my thoughts are tangled and almost too complex for words. Still, I do hope you will hear my heart and the great awe I have for my Lord. May He be as real and as amazing to You!

There is more, so much more, but for now let it suffice to say that for me, Christmas is always a time of joyful solemnity, because when I look at the Babe in the manger, I always see the shadow of the cross falling over His infinitely precious features.

But I also to see beyond that ancient instrument of torture and death to the victory — the Light of the world walking out of the darkness of the grave, bringing hope to all who love Him and who struggle yet under the living death of this world.

May the hope of Christ restore your heart this Christmas. Merry Christmas, my friends!

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