The Strength to Believe


This weekend our pastor preached about our tendency to not believe when God brings things into our life that we would prefer He leave out.

He challenged us to view everything God brings our way as an expression of His sovereignty and of His design for our lives, as He makes them to be lives that bring glory to Him and purpose (and ultimate happiness) to us.

My husband and I had been at a memorial service the previous day that exemplified what Pastor was saying. 

A man had died of a massive heart attack at 56—his wife and two college age children were eulogizing him.  His wife said that she saw thirty-something years of sheer joy with her beloved mate, and she could have no regrets.  She shared about his integrity with everyone and his special love for her and their children.  She summed up her husband’s life of service very well, along with the joy it brought to many people, not just the four of them.

What we could all see radiating from her were peace and joy, without a drop of self-pity, without a tendency to question God over why her husband died so young.

She was and is a walking miracle and a reminder to all of us that God’s grace is big enough to get us through even tragedies such as this. 

I thank God for teaching us through each other in His family.

March Madness and Shame . . .


Philippians 3:19, “Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.”

As I write this blog post in advance of April, March Madness is still ongoing, down to the last two teams.  By the time you read it, you will know whether North Carolina or Gonzaga prevailed in the final!

I was recently pondering the nature of shame, particularly as I was reading Ed Welch’s “Shame Interrupted.” (I will put the usual statement here that his book does not agree with everything I—and my church—hold to theologically, but it is pretty awesome in its discussion of shame, which I was trying to understand.)  Using some thoughts in the book as a starting point, let me ask a couple of questions.

Would you say that all fifteen of the Sweet Sixteen teams who did *not win the championship should be ashamed?  Would you say they sinned because they did not emerge as the top team?

I hope you just answered “no.”

Yet that is one category of “shame” that is very common among people, even believers in Jesus.  We feel ashamed when we are not the best in our bracket.  We feel ashamed when we stumble and make mistakes and do not capture the championship in life.

In short, we feel ashamed because we are human and have human frailties.

That definition of shame tends to overshadow the real definition of shame.  Like the verse above shows, shame is a good gift God gives us to help bring us to repentance for our sins, for the wrong things we actually choose to do against God’s commandments and His will in our lives.

This comes more easily for me than for many other people—I see my sin so clearly, and I rejoice that God gives me the gift of shame so I will repent early rather than late.  Shame goes away after we repent because shame has then done its job.

But I have so many friends for whom shame is a constant companion.  They are the ones for whom shame has stopped being attached to their own personal sin and has started to constantly overshadow their lives.  Their shame has been replaced in its God-given role with other fake versions of shame which make fake claims of why they should be ashamed.

Some are ashamed for circumstances in their childhood that made them feel inferior to the other children around them.

Some are ashamed because they never felt love from those God intended to cherish and protect them.

Some are ashamed for sins that others did to them.

Some are ashamed, like the March Madness teams could be, merely because they are human and show weakness or don’t always win.

I urge you, my friends, if you find yourself stuck in any of the above states of fake shame for things that are not actually your personal sins, to seek God’s Word and good counsel about what shame actually is in your life and what it should do.

It is actually very freeing to get to the place where shame, when it occasionally arises, actually bids us into the presence of the Lord, to examine ourselves and see what we have done that needs repentance.

God is good to give us the good gift of appropriate shame.

 

Falling Uphill


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Isaiah 41:10, Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.

I have never been particularly clumsy—it is just that I can be walking along in a flowing, easy way, then suddenly experience an adverse reaction to gravity, ha!  At such a time, usually about once I year, I just take a tumble because I didn’t see something that appeared under my feet in time to avoid it!

What has been disconcerting is the fact that, since my chemotherapy for breast cancer eight years ago, I have a tendency to do that falling thing slightly more often, maybe three times a year now.  I have checked and found that, although doctors don’t want to correlate a lack of sensation on the bottom of my right foot with chemotherapy, there are quite a few women who have had exactly that same phenomenon after chemo.  It is not a big deal, just scary when something unexpected happens, usually because I didn’t pick my foot up high enough and caught it on something uneven on the floor or walkway.

My husband and I were out walking around our local lake on Thanksgiving weekend when I did exactly that while stepping over a crack in the asphalt.  I tripped, tried to grab my husband, missed, and ended up faceplanting and breaking my nose.  The discoloration spread for two days until I not only had a red nose, but two blackened eyes and various red splotches on my cheeks.  Quite memorable in a not-so-good way, although it taught me once again that my husband is my hero when he helped me stop the bleeding with his socks, then slowly walked me every step of the way home. (I fell at the halfway point, 1.5 miles from home.) 

And I took a very slight tumble on the sidewalk of Cracker Barrel the other day as I was so excited that I followed my best friend into the parking lot that I did not look down in time to see  the curb while exiting my vehicle.  We were coming from two ends of the state, and I could not believe it when I arrived at the stoplight right behind her.  Thankfully, when I dropped my iPad to the ground, the case protected it.  And I was away from the Cracker Barrel windows, so hopefully no one saw.  Vanity, thy name is woman.

All this to say that God has indeed promised to uphold me with the right hand of His righteousness.  Life is messy, and we are flawed creatures, with bodies that break or respond to things like chemotherapy in weird ways.  But God is faithful and will superintend His plan in our lives all life long.

We can and do face setbacks like my broken nose.  But we can trace the path of His grace even in those moments.  He will always be with us, just as He was with me and ensured my husband was there on that walk when I fell.   

The Lord He is God


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Psalm 100:  A Psalm of praise.  Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands.

Serve the Lord with gladness:  come before his presence with singing.

Know ye that the LORD he is God:  it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise:  be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.

 

I recently wrote of a period of holy darkness that the LORD allowed into my life.  I did not understand why some heartbreaking things happened and perhaps I never will.

At the time those things happened, a couple of God’s dearest servants reassured me of God’s control of the situation and of me.  They were so very right.

Like everyone, I have had such periods of holy darkness in the past.  I am used to them remaining open-ended and unresolved for years, sometimes into eternity (if someone dies before anything is ever made clear). 

This time, God did not choose to do that.  He let me know, within a matter of weeks, exactly what His plan for me was.  It was such an exciting plan that I was glad to leave the unresolved situation behind and move forward.  I left the unresolved situation in the form of sweet memories and followed our Father as He led me.   

I love that about God.  He is absolutely sovereign.  He understands the things I do not.  And I am confident in Him that, as the best Father ever, He lets me know what I need to know and hides me from what I do not. 

 

Holy, Holy, Holy


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Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God:  I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Has God ever called you into a period of “holy darkness” in which you clearly knew that He was in control of a situation in which you, personally, had no answers?

He did that recently with me.  The stillness, the darkness, the lack of clarity, the absence of answers–these did not stir me up, but rather calmed me down.  Due to my Saviour’s guiding hand alone (because my heart can be very naturally stirred up by events around me), I was able to rest, knowing with all my heart that He knew the answers I wished to know and that if/when He wanted me to know, I would be told these answers.  If not, He is my answer, all life long.

The older I get, the more I understand that His holiness is often most present in those still moments in the darkness.  If I seek to know His holiness, it is there I will find it.  If I spend my life seeking to know answers about how one thing (or person) relates to another, that will be my focus, and I will be more focused on this world that will pass away than on the world that is coming (and the One who inhabits it).

We are to point others to His holiness but . . . do we know it ourselves?  His holiness is not just a lack of sin—oh, yes, the Lord is sinless—but rather it is a living, breathing attribute pointing to the greatness of the Lord we serve. 

Holy, holy, holy.  He is thrice holy.  Let all the earth worship Him.  Let us worship Him!!!

 

 

 

God’s Faithfulness


 

https://vimeo.com/172042139

The above video shows one of the most joyful days of my life.  Our son, our only child, has autism.  Raising him has been quite an adventure with times I was not sure there would be any of me left when the adventure was done!

Times of blackness, times of joy, times of sheer panic for what would become of this child we love more than life itself. 

If you are only able to watch the first ten minutes of the video, at least see the flag ceremony and the processional of this graduation.  They are full of more joy than any graduation I have ever attended!  Let me explain how we got to this day.

Three years ago we left our son in Wisconsin to embark on an adventure away from us—Shepherds College for people with intellectual disabilities.  Every August we drove him to Union Grove; every June we picked him up for the summer.  Then this June he became a graduate of the three year program possessing a certificate in horticulture.

I can only begin to detail the faithfulness God has shown to us in these three years. 

We did not even know that Shepherds Ministries (which my childhood church in Michigan supported all those years ago) had started a college in 2008 until a church friend told us she had gone on ministry trips there.

Then we had forms to fill out, first to enroll Joey, then to secure funding for him to attend the college and to get started in life.

I had forms to fill out to get him SSI (disability), which was denied by the federal authorities the first time we filed because “you have not proven to us you are disabled enough to need assistance . . .”  I had forms to fill out to keep him on my Tricare (military health insurance) as an adult.  I had scholarship forms to fill out with Joey.

Then, as graduation approached, we had forms to fill out to get aid from the state of Wisconsin for Joey to stay in Union Grove and get an off-campus job and apartment with help from the job placement officer at his college and a caseworker at another Shepherds ministry that oversees the transition to independence there in this delightful small town.

In all, I estimate I filled out a pile of papers eighteen inches thick over the last three years, and God blessed and multiplied my efforts greatly. 

I love how the Shepherds motto is “created on purpose, for a purpose.”  This place of so much gentle wisdom has taught me much about God’s grace extended to helpless people.  For all of us were helplessly enmeshed in sin and headed for hell until God intervened.  Some of us have disabilities that readily show; others of us hide them better.  But all of us in the human race are crushed and utterly in need of God’s love, power, and faithfulness.  Praise Him that He extends them to us!!!        

Beautiful in His Time


sunriseEcclesiastes 3:11, “He hath made everything beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.”

Last Wednesday, I literally hit “pause” for a few minutes of my life in order to enjoy the morning’s arrival at the Coast Guard Base in Yorktown where I work.

The sun was rising over the York River. The air was clear and warm. The protected deer that wander in from the Yorktown National Battlefield next door were busily munching grass, as they eat at sunrise and sundown. (I have learned that that means they are “crepuscular”).

The birds, oh my goodness, the birds. Seemingly silent all winter, they had set up a cacophony of sound all together as the new morning arrived. Every tree seemed to have a bird with a different cry. Lovely. I am sure there will be dozens of new nests on base by this time next week!

I wandered slowly and indirectly over to the gym for a swim before the “A” school class I help teach came in to play water polo before their morning classes.

Fact is, we have had four days of beauty in a row, every one better than the last. The week started out at 30 degrees when we ran in the National Battlefield on Monday morning. It got a lot nicer out by noon!

Now whether you believe that this fallen old world will eventually go away when King Jesus returns or whether you believe He will restore it to be even better than it was at Eden, then live forever with us here, we all have to admit that there is still immense beauty in God’s creation even thousands of years after the Fall.

I can’t even be ironic or snarky or silly when contemplating creation, the way I can be with some of the people who were created (usually because I know they appreciate that kind of humor!).

I stood there in flat out humiliation that a God as wonderful as He is has not only condescended to create me and redeem me, but He has also placed me in a world so filled with wonder that I can never comprehend it all.

I coo back at the birds; I talk to the deer and tell them how beautiful they are. I make a total and utter fool of myself enjoying the world God has placed here for us.

And, in the end, maybe that is one of the ways He uses to reach out to others through us. When we are dumbfounded at how wonderful He is and at how much He has done for us in creating this world, maybe the cynical, broken people around us can dare to believe He is real, too.

I pray so!

 

Except When it is Murder . . .


quiet-winter-night-winter-wallpapersPsalm 23:4-6, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

I recently had to confront my own faithless heart when reading the above verses right after finding out that a lifelong friend and her daughter were murdered in their beds by her husband, who then turned the gun on himself.

These situations don’t resolve neatly into any theological system known to man, as there are too many unknowns for us to pass judgment. And . . . even if we could do that, the husband was also a lifelong friend who made us laugh every time we were with him. And he was truly the love of my friend’s life for around 30 years.

So, wanting to make this about her, a devout woman whom I utterly believe was saved by grace through faith, I put myself into the 23rd Psalm and immediately rebelled against the text.

Surely God didn’t mean that. Surely He wouldn’t require someone who was murdered to attest positively to the fact that, walking through the valley of the shadow of death, she feared no evil because the Lord was with her.

Would He truly want her to say that goodness and mercy followed her all the days of her life? Really? Even when she was murdered? Even when she was murdered by the one she loved best?

Here, however, is where our beliefs about God either undergird our entire life or they are forever shaky like the frame of a house built on the sand. Here is where real life and faith either work together consistently or they collide.

I had to tearfully confirm the truth that, yes, God is still sovereign over a believer’s life, even if she gets murdered, even if she gets murdered by her own beloved.

Either He is God of all or He is God of nothing. If our beliefs about God, if our theology about the Holy One are not robust enough to hold up in those times when we don’t have any answers, then they are only based on us and our own logical systems as humans.

May it not be so, Lord! May I trust You fully even in the dark times, the painful times, the times that consist of all questions and no answers.

You are worthy of that kind of trust.

Your Brights Don’t Work Against Impenetrable Fog


imagesTonight is Christmas Eve.  I awoke today having a pity party because I have to work and … my office is an hour from our home.  On top of that, the weather prediction for today is a 100% chance of heavy rain.  I have commuted back and forth to this job in heavy rain.  It is never anything less than a white-knuckle drive, as I travel almost 40 miles, about 30 of them via an Interstate that includes a tunnel accessed by two bridges on one side and one bridge on the other.  Traffic is usually heavy, populated randomly by examples of people who don’t know how to drive in that.

Checking the weather on my way out of the house and praying, I noted that though it had rained most of the night, the rain was not falling at that hour and probably would not recommence during my commute.  Hallelujah!

However . . . most of my route was covered by impenetrable fog.  I am already a bit OCD about the onramp by our house, as it is uphill, with a short opportunity at the end to either enter traffic or stop (and traffic is usually bumper to bumper there at 5:30 AM).  Due to it being Christmas Eve, traffic volume was negligible, and I got on without experiencing anything fearful.  Thank You, Lord!

I quickly realized that this was going to be a morning when everyone kept precisely to the speed limit though they push it upwards almost 10mph most other days.

I found a truck cruising in the center lane and fell in behind him for about the next 20 miles.  I could make out his outline and follow him as the lanes twisted and turned on the approach to the tunnel and beyond.  Thank You, Lord!

Sometimes life is like that.  Sometimes someone else gives us a good example to follow.  We can move ahead in the light surrounding them as well as the light surrounding us.

However, as I got off onto the state road in Newport News, things became spookier.  That road is lined with businesses, but they were not yet open, and I could not see them this morning.  There was no light except from the occasional streetlight.  The fog swirled around me.  I was on my own.

It was then that I remembered the old adage, “Don’t overdrive your headlights in the fog.  And don’t even think of using your brights.  They don’t work against impenetrable fog.”

I slowed down and kept to a speed where I could see what lay ahead.  At one point, I was the only light on the road in both directions.

Sometimes life is like that.  Sometimes there is no one there to be the example.  No one but the Lord, and you can’t see Him.  Sometimes you have to slow down and wait to make a move till you see the direction that move will take.

Finally, I pulled off the state road onto the road that leads through woods into federal land.  Our base is about five miles off the beaten path.  This road was lovely today leading as it does through the Yorktown National Battlefield.  The fog swirled and lent a sense of history to this venerable old site, but it was also treacherous and creepy there.  I thought I had memorized where the twists and turns are.  I was wrong.

I ended up advancing very slowly indeed, constantly waiting for my low beam headlights to illuminate the next few feet in front of me.  At one point, the first deer that ever ran in front of my car on this land did so, and I was able to brake with lots of distance to spare due to my slow progress.  Thank You, Lord.

Life is sometimes like that, too.  Sometimes we grope our way along the path.  Yet the Lord is still with us, and all is well.  He is the ultimate source of all light.  Praise His Name.

John 8:12, “Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.

 

Written 12.14.

 

We are Called to Walk with Him . . .


imagesIt happened again today. Another shooting during a road rage incident.  But this one, in New Mexico, resulted in the loss of a little four year old girl’s life.  Little Illiana “Lilly” Garcia was a beautiful soul, according to all who knew her.  She died in her car seat in the presence of her dad and her brother.

So how do we live in a Judges 21:25 world where “every man did that which was right in his own eyes”? How do we live in that world while our hearts are in a Revelation 22:20 world, saying, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus”?

Let’s take a little quiz. Let’s say we are with Mr. Garcia, Lilly’s father, right now.  What do we say to him?:

  1. “You were doing great, man, avoiding an event totally caused by the other party, until you flipped him off and mouthed some choice words to him through your window.”
  2. “He destroyed your daughter, man. If he doesn’t get the death penalty, I will help you get him.”
  3. “I cannot fathom the grief you are feeling right now . . .” (conversation fades away as we weep with those who weep).

If we answered “A”, we have joined the latest wave of 21st century Pharisees.  We are of that persuasion that says we must comb through the facts of any tragedy that happens to someone in order to find any place, however small, where they contributed to the outcome.  And we must mention all that to them, even in their grief.

There is a time and place for all that (like at a legal inquest—believe me, this parent will spend the rest of his life wishing he had never flipped off that murderous driver). When someone has just suffered such an immense loss, you cannot speak to them about how they may have partially contributed to it.  See John 9, if you are still unsure.

If we answered “B,” we have joined the latest wave of rebels. Rebels have always been, in every time and place, since the world began.  They want to fix things because they don’t think God either can or will.  They are determined to right the score, even if it means rushing ahead of God and the judgment He will bring someday, and sometimes even if it means imposing capital punishment on someone who legally would have gotten clemency.

The only answer the reflects the fact that we follow Christ is “C.” He wept.  We weep with those who weep, even mourning the loss of a beautiful four year old whom we have never met.

The reason all of this matters and is worth a blog post is because a lot of us live our lives as Christians acting more like Pharisees or rebels than like followers of Christ. I fear the amount of hatred and verbal venom we spread sometimes when I John makes it clear that our love (particularly for each other) and  kindness will characterize us as believers.

God is very able to show people where things have resulted from their own sins and mistakes. He is also able to right every wrong done to them by others.  Our job is to love them and love them well.  God may occasionally have us speak a hard word into the life of another person, but that will not normally be our daily fare (unless we happen to be the pastor of a very hard-hearted church, LOL!).

Let us love, brothers and sisters. The world needs to see that Christ is real.  I John teaches that they will see that in our love.