Christmas Present

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake…

Philippians 1:29

It’s that time of the year when peppermint and pine have staged a coup and sent all things pumpkin spice into an ignoble retreat to the clearance shelves.

The North Pole has launched its annual penetration into American homes as well. All over social media, parents are documenting their complicity with the greatest stalker of our age, the Great Elf Himself (you know who I mean – the man in the red suit), by positioning his elvish spy network in various locations throughout their homes. Evidently this is how he sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake…

But of course, all of this martial festivity is a feint to disguise the main offensive which targets our contentment and will lay siege to bank accounts and credit lines for the month of December: the tantalizing lure of the perfect gift.

Ah, Christmas!

Is it just me who sees the irony in all the smiling faces and twinkling lights when the first Christmas was celebrated in the murky stink of a stable? When the first Gift was born to be raised up as the Lamb of God who would be slaughtered to take away the sins of the world?

Perhaps this is why Paul told the Philippian church it had been granted to them to suffer for Christ.

Being a nerd, I had to peek into the original Greek and research the word translated granted. That word, transliterated echaristhe, carries the connotation of doing a favor, graciously bestowing, or giving freely.

Think about this: the Philippian church had been favored with suffering for Christ’s sake.

If you’ve read this blog for long, you’ll know that I have written about the unusual blessing of chronic migraine and what my God has done in me through pain. But I can hardly say I’ve suffered for His sake; I’ve just learned – or rather, am learning – to suffer well for His glory.

But meditating on this verse lately has changed the way I pray for my kids.

Like most parents, I’ve wanted to give my kids good gifts. I’ve longed for them to learn from my mistakes and spare themselves the hardship of self-imposed suffering. I’ve sincerely desired for them to have a better life than mine; to make better choices and live with less difficulty.

But by praying for them to be spared hardship, struggle, and suffering, am I praying to deny them a wonderful, God-given favor?

As I look back over my life, I see suffering that I had no control over, but I see more well-deserved suffering brought on by stubborn attempts to live for myself.

I’ve no right to complain about any suffering, really, when I consider that my Creator chose to join in human suffering despite never engaging in human sin. But I have zero reason to complain when I brought pain down on my own head simply because I refused to obey God – or at one point, refused to acknowledge Him at all.

Yet in His astonishing grace, even the harrowing consequences of my crimes are redeemed. Once I surrendered myself utterly to the Lord, He even turned the most awful, negative consequences of my sin into a glorious gift.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

Romans 8:28-29

And He really does. In the economy of my Sovereign, truly nothing is wasted!

And so, I no longer pray that my young people will be spared suffering.

Instead, I have begun to pray that no matter how or why they suffer in this life – whether brought on by their choices or thrust upon them by others – God will give them the grace to suffer well.

By suffering, I pray they will be drawn closer and ever closer to the redemptive, compassionate heart of God. That they will choose to suffer for Him for a little while so they can rejoice together with Him for all eternity.

And when I think of suffering in the terms of eternity, what gracious favor is offered to us – embrace suffering for few paltry decades with the promise of everlasting joy to look forward to when it’s done.

What a gift, indeed!

Wisdom Seeker: Day 29

Proverbs 29

The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.

Proverbs 29:25

Today, I’m in a bit of awe over the mercy of my God. It’s difficult to explain, but suffice to say that the last 2 days saw me in the middle of a migraine. And joy. Crazy, inexplicable joy.

I could only feel thankful that my Lord suffered pain on purpose to pay the penalty for my sin. I, however, deserve worse than pain yet I have the end of pain to look forward to for all eternity. I think I could write a book about the joy and still not fully explain it.

To bring it to today: Verse 25 of this proverb is true – fear of man certainly lays a snare. I spent much of my adult life captive to it. Fear of man – fear of displeasing others which led me into either codependency or a weird sort of rebellion against that tendency that only led me to reject possibly decent people in favor of people I had no genuine concern for.

Even as a new believer, I felt more concerned with pleasing other Christians than I did pleasing God.

In truth, it took pain before I could listen. God provided me with a gift – pain that shackled me, limited what I could do. Then, finally, I learned to look to Him alone. I learned to ask, “No matter what anyone else thinks, Lord, what is it You want me to do?”

It’s been the most liberating change of my entire life except for the moment when I was liberated from my sin by putting my trust in the sacrifice of Yeshua Messiah – Jesus Christ.

Sometimes my obedience to God displeases other people. But as long as He is pleased, I no longer mind. I feel compassion for the others and I pray for them, knowing that God desires them, too, to feel the same freedom.

And even better, I find it’s harder for others to displease me. When they do, I remind myself that I’m not the one they need to fear, anyway. That, too, is freeing.

There’s a bit of it, but there’s such a gratitude in me that I really can’t express it all. I need to give a bit of time to my current writing project, then prepare to celebrate the youngest’s 15th birthday tomorrow.

Wishing you joy and peace in Christ today!

Wisdom Seeker: Day 28

Proverbs 28

Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.

Proverbs 28:13

Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper…

It doesn’t always seem like that, does it? There are times when it seems like people who hide their junk get away scot-free and go on to do just fine. Especially if they are already wealthy.

The thing is, though, it just isn’t true. Who knows the destruction a single secret sin can wage within the human heart? Even if outwardly they do seem to be all smiles and handshakes, what darkness eats at them inside like a cancer? What is it like to be all alone in the dark of night with nothing but self and sin?

Well, I’ve been there, and it wasn’t pretty in my case. It drove me to greater depths of escapism until I finally realized there is no escaping – only continuing to hide ineffectively or facing my sin head-on and confessing.

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.

Genesis 3:8

I chose confession, and as scary as it was at first, it was freeing. Truly, honestly freeing.

No secrets means no foothold for the accuser to hook his stupid little chains of guilt and shame to. No secrets leads to genuine repentance and to humility – to understanding that I am no better than the most vile sinner alive, possibly much worse.

And best of all, no secrets means no sin can keep its grip on me. It’s public, it’s exposed, and it’s days are numbered.

But what about those whose consciences are seared, who seem to feel no guilt or shame and hid their sin only because it’s not – yet- socially acceptable? Especially those who are rich beyond imagination and live seedy, secret lives behind closed doors. Aren’t they prospering?

Well, in a sense. But would you believe it if I told you that all the wealth of this world is illusory at best? It’s insubstantial. Transitory. It can be gone in a flash.

And some day, sooner or later, the grave will claim the wealthiest and most powerful members of humanity. At that point, their fame, fortune, and power will mean exactly squat. Not a single penny can pass from this life to what lies beyond the grave.

If that person has left their lives in the mastery of a secret sin rather than surrendered to the Lordship of Yeshua Messiah (Jesus Christ), I’m afraid they will not prosper. Over the unfathomable stretch of eternity, all thoughts earthly prosperity will fade from even the strongest memory.

So if some secret sin has possession over you, friend, confess it. Certainly confess it to God, if possible, confess it to a friend you can trust to help you and hold you accountable not to fall back into it. Then pick up a Bible, explore the Scriptures, see what true prosperity looks like.

It will blow your mind – that I promise. In Christ, we don’t find a comfortable and easy life on earth. We find something better!

Joy – real joy that no circumstance or suffering can steal away.

Hope – a hope for future prosperity that makes this world’s wealth look like cheap, tarnished gold paint.

Peace – the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding.

Love – the breathtaking and undeserved love of the Creator God, more fulfilling than any created thing, more intoxicating than any substance, more profound than the most powerful human emotion.

And God. Best of all, you will find God and discover that He truly is enough.
You’ll find genuine satisfaction and rest for your soul.

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.

Revelation 22:17

Wisdom Seeker: Day 16

Proverbs 16

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.

Proverbs 16:25

Almost didn’t make it today! A 6:30 am prayer meeting, busy day, and a migraine nearly kept me from writing, though not from reading. Still, here I am…

Before I go on (and I will be brief today for sure – the migraine is caged but pacing it’s cage angrily), tomorrow is my son’s college move-in day and Sundays I tend to go unplugged. I might check in tomorrow but it depends! You can bet I’ll be reading, though. I’m a Bible addict. For real.

Anyway, just a quick thought or two about today’s focus verse. I know this one from my experience as an atheist. There were plenty of ways that seemed right to me at the time – worldly wisdom and all.

You know, partying with friends, the “enlightened” modern form of morality (which really is immorality), late nights, hook-up culture. All kinds of fun.

But it wasn’t fun. Not really. When I was alone and sober, there was a sense of reeling. Of incompleteness and purposelessness. A terrible, yawning blackness of sorrow which I tried filling with shallow friendships, long hours at work, and alcohol.

It was a little death. I grew tired of having the same conversations over a couple of shots and a beer. I grew weary of chasing the handful of times I actually had fun with a million nights of drunken nothingness. Frustration. Emptiness. Yuck.

It was like dying slowly without the mercy of an end. Then again, my end would have been far from merciful if I’d been snuffed out in those days – alone and without God. I lived a little hell. Death would have ushered in the real thing.

That is why I am so sold on God’s way now. Ironic, isn’t it, that in my youth when I had my health and freedom, before migraine robbed my strength and my days, that I had no joy. None. There were moments of happiness, but no underlying joy. Just that horrible blackness waiting to suck me down in a single, undistracted instant.

But now, with frequent pain and so many things to do each day that I sacrifice sleep to spend time with my Lord and in prayer, I have so much joy.

Then, I had only myself to serve. It gave me nothing but sorrow.

Now, I have my husband, my three biological kids, my countless part-time, semi-adopted kids, friends, dogs, a cat, a job, and health issue. And I have joy.

Pure, undiluted, lovely joy that comes straight from knowing my Savior Yeshua, being loved by Father, and being guided by the Holy Spirit.

Wouldn’t trade this life for the old one for ten billion dollars. True story.

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Psalms 16:11

A New Year Invitation

Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls…

Jeremiah 6:16a

I rang in the New Year with a migraine.

But I rang it in after a leisurely morning in the Word of God. I also rang it in at midnight with my husband and all three kids present, including our almost-18-year-old who went out to see some friends and came back in time to toast in the New Year with our family tradition: sparkling grape juice for them and water for this old girl.

So I managed to be awake(ish) at midnight with a heart full of joy despite any pain. Maybe even joy in defiance of pain. But not only because of my family.

I’m still nursing the same migraine today, medicated enough to keep me out of bed but make my thoughts rather difficult to string together. Still, even today I am filled with joy.

This is an abiding joy which would have been with me even if I’d rung in the New Year alone with my migraine and cut off from medication, family, friends, or any friendly face. It’s a joy I’ve been granted, which I’ve found buried in the Scripture records of ancient paths and growing in me as I’ve followed in the footsteps of those who have traveled the Good Way before me.

For this reason, perhaps, as I read in Jeremiah this morning, verse 6:16 captured my attention. However, there is a bit more to the verse:

…But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’

Jeremiah 6:16b

My friends, I don’t know what you are facing on the first day of 2019. None of us know what we may be facing tomorrow. In fact, we are never guaranteed tomorrow.

But we have today. We have right now.

Today I invite you to a journey of joy. It isn’t a pain-free journey, nor it is a fool’s journey though you may be called a fool for embarking on it. I invite you nonetheless. Come, ask for the ancient paths where the good way is and find rest for your souls. Walk it, and do not refuse.

I know some of you are dealing with the slow decay of cancer. Others deal with the no less malignant cancer of anger, envy, unforgiveness, self-exaltation, or even the twisted egoism of self-loathing. Leave them by the wayside and find rest for your soul.

Others deal with pain rooted in an unhealed childhood wound. Many have addictions of one type or another, whether to food, entertainment, alcohol, drugs, sex, or something else. If you’ve lived long enough with any of these, you’ve experienced already the law of diminishing returns. The fun is gone, only the endless grind of need remains and grows like its own ruthless, devouring cancer. But you can lay those aside, too. Find the good Way, the One you were meant to be addicted to, and find rest for your soul.

Some have rejected the very idea of God so bitterly you think you can never turn to Him now. People would laugh. He would laugh and refuse to accept you now. He won’t.

You are not the first mocker to find that His way is the one you’ve been seeking after all. Peter, Jesus’s disciple, denied Him at His arrest. I once did, too. But the Lord had mercy on us both. So join me in searching the ancient paths like Peter’s and the paths of our lives today for signs of the God we once denied and like me, find rest for your soul.

The Peter who denied the Lord later received the gift of His Holy Spirit and spoke with enthusiasm to a crowd in Jerusalem. You can read about it in Acts 2. But what is remarkable to me is this: The joy I speak of, the rest for your soul that is promised along the good way, is part of what is called by Paul “fruit of the Spirit.”

…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…

Galatians 5:23-24a

This fruit grows along the ancient paths and nourishes those who choose the good way, even when the way is hard and the night seems long.

But even on the darkest night in the midst of the most horrendous pain, joy can still light your way and peace be your comfort because you will never walk the good way alone.

Reflections on the Heart of God

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
(3 John 1:4)

A couple of weeks ago, I shared some of my heartache as I cope with a child who appears to be walking away from the Lord. But the story doesn’t end there. With the Lord, it never will which is just one of the many perks associated with belonging to an infinite yet personal God.

There is a strange and wonderful beauty associated with being a parent. I am convinced few other experiences rival it in bringing a peculiar depth and breadth of understanding and insight into my Father’s breathtaking love.

For you see, I do not only have a single child. I have three – or rather, I have at least three if you count several non-biological but equally beloved children I treasure and adore.  But for today, I will stick with the three I birthed and raised as a full-time mom until a year ago.

Lest you think my brain is only occupied with gloomy “what-ifs,” I thought it prudent to share some of the more exciting goings-on at this season of my life. My son may concern me by seeming apathetic to God, but my girls are really just starting to bloom in their faith.

It is astonishing, really. The older of the sisters just got back from a month of volunteer work, home only for part of each weekend. She served kids in the kitchen and cleaned up after them for two of those weeks, and for the other two she was a day camp counselor and helped in kitchen during her time off.  What’s more, she LOVED the whole experience and thoroughly enjoyed spending time in the Word and prayer with other young ladies.

The youngest has also been growing in Truth.  She, too, has been enjoying her time in the Word. During the spring, she saw a notification in a church newsletter about a summer mission trip to New Orleans. Turning to me with eyes shining with a delight every parent loves to see, she said in an awed tone that she could afford to pay for it and had been praying for just such a chance.

And there you have it. Between the somewhat melancholy musings of one morning and the singular satisfaction behind today’s meditations lies the whole spectrum of parental sentiment.

As my emotions run from a knife-edge of longing through to a joy so keen the tears well up as if the two were one emotion, I begin to see my God with a whole new level of wonder. He, too, pines for the one errant sheep even as He rejoices over the 99 who have never been lost or have strayed from safety and returned.

And if my emotional spectrum is broad, His is infinitely wider and deeper.

There must be no end to His grief for those who reject Him, for then He must watch in agony as they march jauntily to eternal destruction. Indeed, He alone understands the totality of their doom and thus understands the deepest reaches of grief.

But His joy and rejoicing are endless for those who choose to trust Him; whose trust and worship are not diminished by persecution or hardship. For these will come through difficult seasons victorious, still proclaiming the good news of the Son of God who conquered death to set us free from captivity so sin.

These are the ones who are more than conquerors through Christ – conquering not armies but the seething evil of our own depravity. These are not left to walk the dark valley alone but have the Lord of Hosts to walk with them and so can find joy in the midst of suffering.

And these – like me – can find a shared grief for a straggling sheep and yet have peace that the Most High will bring His plans to success in the end.

…For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.

(2 Thessalonians 3:2b-5)

Oh what a wonder! Oh what a God we serve! I thank You, my King, that You have lit the fire of Your Spirit in the hearts of my girls and I pray my son, too, will be caught up in You until we are all consumed by zeal for Your Kingdom. Make my heart and the hearts of my family faithful to You, amen.  

Legacy

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.
(1 Thessalonians 4:13)

Just over a week ago, a lady I have immense admiration for passed from this world. She was an absolute beauty and the wealth she left behind is a fortune of dizzying proportions.

But neither her wealth nor her beauty were notable by the standards of this age and culture.

In fact, her body showed the wear and tear of her 96 years. Small of stature, I doubt she weighed 90 pounds fully dressed and soaking wet. The last few months saw her in much pain and often in a wheelchair, yet she was cheerful and had a smile and kind words for everyone.

Nonetheless, she was truly lovely. Hers was the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit – a beauty which has followed her and found its fulfillment in her permanent home with the Eternal God.

And her fortune… How can I describe it? It is one of the largest I have ever seen. A spiritual legacy spanning four generations. A wealth of faithful obedience to God and of love and compassion which staggers the mind. It is a fortune of far greater value and permanence than any dollar amount.

Her son and daughter-in-law, their children, and their grandchildren have all been heirs of this vast treasure. I see the same gentle and quiet spirit in them. There is joy and laughter and love all around.

Of course, there is pain and strife, too. But when error or rebellion rise up here or there in the family, mercy and grace abound. Within the family and for those who know them, there is not a soul who has reason to doubt that they are loved and important, not only by the family but also by the Lord.

But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.
Psalms 103:17-18

One of my close friends, a prayer and accountability partner, comes from this spiritual inheritance and so I, too, benefit from it. So do our daughters who are also close.

Of course there is mourning for the temporary loss of this precious woman of God. Yet I must say they grieve splendidly, for in the family’s grief, there is also a streak of joy – the joy of knowing she has arrived safely Home.

All of us, myself included, look forward to our own Homecoming. Some future day, we will see her again and once more worship the King of Glory together, but better than before. Then, we will no longer encumbered by sin, weariness, or pain.

And in the meantime, all of us have seen in her an example of eager expectation of the day the Lord calls us home and faithful, uncomplaining endurance if He leaves us here – even if leaving us here is the most difficult part.

So today, my prayers go out for these, my friends. But even more so, my prayers reach out for those friends and loved ones who do not have this hope. My prayer is for my Lord to draw all who are consumed by sorrow and despair to Himself that they may share in an inheritance beyond all imagining.

I was once one of these – hurting and hopeless – and I well know the futility of denying God and living for myself. But He called me out from this pit; called me to die to myself and live for Him.

For my recently departed friend,  for her loved ones, and for all of us who are in Christ, physical death is no longer the enemy to be avoided but the friend to be embraced. It will be the final conquering act over our flesh before our true lives begin.

My friends, my dears, if you have not found love in this dark world, know that it is there. He is there – the One who is Love. The Way, the Truth, the Life.

Find Him. Find hope.

And someday, I pray I can introduce you to Nan – one of my personal heroes.

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
1 Corinthians 15:55