Wisdom Seeker: Day 31

Proverbs 31

Well, we’ve reached the end of Proverbs and the final day of my semi-sensical ramblings. I’ve enjoyed this exercise and it’s definitely helped me think through the wisdom found in Proverbs as well as practice writing whether I love what I have to say or not… So thank you for putting up with me!

Now, on to today’s thought:

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

Proverbs 31:30

The final proverb has good advice for young men and for young women both. Definitely read it all. What I want to focus on today, however, is the second to last verse.

I am 45 years old. As I write these words (a day early due to an extremely early cross country race on Saturday), my youngest – my baby – is 15 years old.

Fifteen years ago, I gave birth via C-section to my last child, a young lady who attempted to come into the world feet first and so defied my plans of natural child birth. She’s been her own person ever since, and I love her tons. She is a rare and unique delight – as are all three of my children.

Thinking back, fifteen years ago, I was still young. My body looked completely different. My face bore less wrinkles, my head boasted more hair (and none of it gray), and my energy still kept up with the the daylight hours.

Now, youth is fading – fast! I don’t struggle with weight like some women my age do, but I still struggle with the arrangement of the weight I have being entirely different from 20 years ago. The scale reads the same but the clothing from then does not fit the same.

TMI for you fellas here, but I seem to be nearing the finish line as far as the capacity for childbearing goes. I am not young anymore.

But I am more joyful than ever before in my life. Finally, I have a stronger grasp of the extent of God’s grace. Finally, I feel the burden of having to be and do to be lifted. All I have to do is follow Him. That’s it.

It’s not that I feel I’m above the laws and commandments – far from it! The longer I’ve walked with Yeshua, the more I’ve loved Him. The more pain I’ve suffered, the more I’ve appreciate the pain He chose to suffer for me – on purpose.

And the more I love and appreciate Him, the more I find that to obey Him IS joy.

Charm? Not sure I ever had much of that. Beauty? If I had it, it’s definitely fleeting – and I see it fleeing faster and faster these days!

I do fear the Lord, though I prefer all the praises to go to Him. He is worthy!!

Tuesday Prayer: Love of God

Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised!

Psalms 96:2-4a

Oh Lord our God, how blessed is Your name in all the earth! You are the Most High; the Creator of all that is; the One who is and was and is to come. Today we begin by praising Your name and exulting in Your faithfulness and righteousness. Thank You for giving us Your written word that by it, we may know You.

If You were not a compassionate God, we would have long ago been brought to nothing. Yet in Your mercy, You looked upon us in our rebellious state and had pity. You showed us grace when we deserved destruction and love when we deserved to be despised. Oh Lord, how can we know this and not love You back?

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

Mark 12:30

Please, Lord, forgive us any lack of love. Forgive us for ever allowing the worries of this world to cause us to doubt Your goodness. If we have allowed the pleasures of the world to take up a larger place in our hearts than You, we repent of that and ask forgiveness for it as well. Show us where these or any other acts of idolatry have replaced You in our hearts and lives, and prick our hearts to genuine and life-altering repentance.

Take our little love and grow it, Lord. Magnify it until all that we are is given over to You, bound by a love for You that is unbreakable, sturdy, and invincible. Where our love is small and weak, fill us with Your love so that we can return to You in kind the astonishing love You’ve already shown to us.

May we have a deep and abiding hunger for Your presence, Your word, Your Spirit, and Your Kingdom that never ends. We ask for this increase in our love for You in the worthy name of Jesus, amen. 

Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

John 14:21

Tuesday Prayer: Joy

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

Our God and King, You are our salvation and our very great reward. What a gift You’ve given us in Jesus! Of all the legends of other gods spoken of by man, only You cared enough to step down from Your throne, laying aside Your glory to confine Yourself to the limitations of Your own creation.

You alone, Lord, not only gave us commandments but kept them, living as man was designed to live – in perfect accord with and obedience to his Creator. Only You not only call for humility, You’ve shown us what true humility looks like.

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.

John 13:14-15

Among all false gods who require a price from mankind, only You deserve one. And only You paid the price Yourself. 

Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.

Romans 5:9

Forgive us, Lord, for taking lightly the awesome and unbelievable acts that You have done for us. Forgive us for forgetting whose presence we stand in when we enter the holy place to bring our prayers and supplications before the Throne of Grace. Where we have been careless, give us reverence; where we have been anxious, remind us of Your power and might. 

You are the Almighty God, the Most High who deigns to look upon us and listen to our childish babble because You love us as Your children. Let us never lose sight of the wonder of that fact.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.

1 John 3:1a

Because of the sacrifice of Your Son, we may approach You with confidence in Him. If we approach in arrogance, teach us to approach You with respect and humility,  in trust and not in worry, knowing that Your promises stand forever.

As we draw nearer to You, teach us to love Your word as the very greatest gift alongside our salvation – the actual words and guidance of the Creator of the universe and the Author of our faith. Plant a deep and insatiable hunger for Your word within us and our families, and let us long to search its pages for the answers we seek.

If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.

Psalms 119:92, 97

And as we grow in faith and trust, praying and thoughtfully reading Your word, let it be that we honestly find joy in Your presence and pleasures forevermore at Your right hand. Expose the temporary nature of worldly pleasures and fill us so with Your Spirit that our joy is nothing more than Your joy filling us and spilling out.

May it be that joy will spill out on others who need it today, bringing light and laughter into lives filled with darkness and weeping, amen. 

To My Atheist Friends This Christmas

I beg the indulgence of a few minutes for any of my friends (or really anyone at all) who scoffs at the notion of the Babe in the manger, the joy of Christmas, and everything else associated with “Immanuel, which means, ‘God with us.'” (Matthew 1:23b).

In our few minutes together, allow me to ask a favor. Forget anything you think you know about Jesus Christ and anything you’ve seen perpetrated in His name on social media. This Christmas, I humbly ask you to consider the singular Person, Jesus Christ, though perhaps not for the reasons you may think.

My reason is an honest, heartfelt desire to share with you the One in whom you may find peace, even in a turbulent and troubled world, because He has overcome the world. He’s even lived in it and knows what it is to suffer as a man.

Once an atheist myself, I have found in Christ an unshakeable peace, an overflowing hope, and even a purpose for pain. I’ve found so much more, but in the interest of keeping this brief(ish), allow me to share an excerpt from Orthodoxy, a book written by another former atheist, G. K. Chesterton:

“That a good man may have his back to the wall is no more than we knew already, but that God could have His back to the wall is a boast for all insurgents forever …

… Alone of all creeds, Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator. For the only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point — and does not break. In this indeed I approach a matter more dark and awful than it is easy to discuss; and I apologize in advance if any of my phrases fall wrong or seem irreverent touching a matter which the greatest saints and thinkers have justly feared to approach. But in the terrific tale of the Passion there is a distinct emotional suggestion that the author of all things (in some unthinkable way) went not only through agony, but through doubt…

…When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was not at the crucifixion, but at the cry from the cross: the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of God. And now let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay (the matter grows too difficult for human speech), but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.” (emphasis mine)

The message of Christmas is not a message of good tidings so all people can have a good life. It is a message of good tidings because at the birth of the Christ child, a unique event took place in the history of everything. The Most High God, Creator of all that is seen and unseen, laid His glory aside and confined Himself to the frail substance of His own creation in order to do what mankind could not – save them from a hopeless eternity, from a propensity for evil, and from their own stubborn pride.

Or to put the thing into more bite-size portions: The Creator learned to crawl. The One who spoke the world into existence learned to speak his mother’s name. He endured puberty, He felt hunger, He felt sorrow and sickness, joy and zeal, betrayal and ridicule and everything else a human being can feel but without falling into wrongdoing. Ever.

The message of Christmas is almost too difficult to put into words because the first Christmas put an infinite God into a finite form. How do you phrase that adequately, really? Words fail.

Where we have weakened and given in to temptation, Jesus saw the thing through to the uttermost. In fact, He alone among humankind knows the fullest extent of temptation because He alone among men never caved in to temptation. He alone never fell.

He even knows what it is to desire something other than the Divine plan and yet submit to it anyway. Not only that, but He came to offer Himself as the blood price, not for good and holy men, but for all of us. For me. For you. And you and I know, in an honest moment, that we’ve done some pretty reprehensible stuff.

He knows you, friend. He knows what you struggle with, and he loves you anyway. He’s felt temptation, too, but He has also overcome it. That is the hope of Christmas. That is the hope we can share in Christ Jesus.

I so long for you to know my God – the Pauper King who lowered Himself in order to give us an opportunity to rise ridiculously far above our station. I want you to experience the greatest and most breathtaking love you will ever know on either side of the grave.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
(Hebrews 4:14-16)

I pray He will open your heart as He once opened mine so that some day, we can celebrate together how we both found grace and mercy in our time of need.

Impetus

“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
(Lamentations 3:24)

When our small church was unable to meet corporately last Sunday due to a scheduling conflict in the elementary school where we meet, some of our friends and family decided to move our worship outdoors. Because of the unusual opportunity and the beautiful weather, we met to hike a portion of the Fiery Gizzard Trail in South Cumberland State Park.

The plan was to take a 9-mile loop that included a stop at a scenic overlook about half-way. However, due to a, um… slight disagreement about the direction to take after our  stop, we wound up hiking down a steep gorge and back up again. Meanwhile, my intuition, which has been honed by playing, “Hey, guys, let’s see if we can get lost in the woods” with my cousins when we were children, dogged each step with a cerainty that we were headed the wrong way.

As we took the rough stone steps, I recall thinking that our navigator may be in some slight danger of mutiny if we had, in fact, taken a wrong turning. Not until we had climbed to the bottom of the  ravine and back up the other side did we all stop and look at one another with the absolute certainty that we were not on the 4.5 mile loop back to our cars, but on the 8-mile stretch that headed to the trail’s southern end in another town.

Frustrated with himself (and possibly nervous about the possibility of violent mutiny), our navigator took off back towards the way we had come, as, with a few scattered murmurs, the rest of us collected ourselves and followed him.

It was absolutely glorious.  

There is not much I love more than hiking, and this particular trail is on my personal top Mom01110 list. Each step of the way back, I brought up the rear with my mom (who turns 66 today – happy birthday, Mama!). She had tweaked her knee somewhere in all the elevation change and had to take it a little slower. This was fine by me since it afforded an opportunity to drink in all the splendor of my Father’s handiwork.

All told, we hiked approximately 14.25 miles and by doing so answered the question of about how long we would need to plan to hike the Fiery Gizzard end-to-end (13 miles). It’s easily doable in a day, even leaving time for my beloved Nikon if we start early.

And as is my habit, the whole trek got me thinking about my walk with the Lord.

Some of our number who are not as giddily in love with the forests and hills as I found the last leg of our trek to be sheer misery. A fair amount of complaints were vocalized, as were several wistful wishes for extra water or a nice, juicy steak.

But for me, even the accidental detour was delightful. Even through the discomfort of thirst and the annoyance of arthritic feet, I enjoyed the quiet beauty of the woods, the surprising red-orange of occasional mushrooms, the steady plashing of the streams. In my experience, I have found that focusing on trouble only makes it that much harder to bear.

The difference, however, was not only focus but motive. 

True, I chose to concentrate on the scenery rather than ponder hunger or the pain of sore feet. But the bigger reason for the disconnect in our various experiences is that I love hiking for hiking’s sake. A short jaunt into the woods, particularly after a long drive, leaves me feeling cheated, so an entire day spent reveling in the Master’s artistry was a rare and wonderful pleasure.

Likewise, my walk with the Lord – and for that matter, all my relationships – are affected by motive. If my motivation for following God’s trail is solely what I can get out of it, be it blessings, comfort, peace, provision, or anything else, then I stand to be disappointed when things take a wrong turning.

However, following my Messiah for His own sake – well, that, my friends is where joy in the journey is found; not merely joy because of circumstances but even joy despite them. There – in Him – is true and lasting peace.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.
(Isaiah 26:3-4)