Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The God Who Weeps

Surely one of the most familiar stories we learn as children and probably one of the first memory verses we practice in Sunday School as youngsters is the story of the resurrection of Lazarus and the famous, shortest verse of the English bible: 'Jesus wept'.

Such a powerful story, layered in so much richness of who Jesus is and the nature of the God we serve...I'm afraid that sometimes with its familiarity we become too comfortable with the events the story recounts. Jesus raises a man from the dead. Not just a few moments following death...but several days following death. The smell would have confirmed the harsh reality of '...from dust we are and to dust we shall return'.

Yet in his divine nature we see how he was also fully human. He wept. I believe this is just as astounding as the fact he raised a rotting corpse to life again. God wept. The question is 'why?' He knew Lazarus was about to walk out of the tomb and celebration would ensue. Of course he knew the end to the story.

Yet he wept. When he saw the emotional suffering and weeping of those around him, he was overcome by emotion. He was genuinely in pain for the grief he was seeing in those he loved. The effects of sin and a fallen creation.

Knowing joy was just around the corner was not enough to not weep. He saw value in that moment of hurting with those who hurt...weeping with those who weep...meeting them in their grief and anguish.

Is Jesus any different today? In our darkest our deepest our pits of sorrow...not only is he there...he weeps with us. Of course, he knows the end of the story. He sees the ultimate victory. He still chooses to hurt with his children who hurt. To meet us in our weeping, with shared tears.

Children with cancer. The widow and mother of three. The young couple who dies in a fatal crash. The marriage that is over. The diagnosis that will mean life will be forever different. The lost job.  The estranged parent, brother, sister, former friend. The financial collapse with such overwhelming debt it will never be paid. The sleepless nights when peace seems to be a universe away. Our own sins that overwhelm us and keep hurting those we love the most.... Jesus weeps with us.

We do not serve a distant God. The deist should be more miserable than the least the atheist has no hope of a God at all, much less one who cares...but for the one who believes there is a God but that he is either not in control, or just doesn't care about our suffering enough to do anything fosters a unique misery.

Read an article just a couple days ago that said purposeless things happen. Randomness just is. But God is sovereign and nothing happens outside his knowledge, will, or control...or we have a puny, impotent God. That is not Jehovah God. There is not an atom in the universe he does not sustain by his will.

What was the purpose of raising Lazarus from the dead? Jesus could have healed him and prevented the very pain and suffering he later weeps over. So why allow his friend to die? For the glory of God. So the people who saw such an event would have forever burned into their memories new life, hope, resurrection...from the very stench of death. To graphically mirror what happens to us.

Before salvation appears in our life, we are Lazarus. We are spiritually dead and rotting. No hope. No life. No union with our creator.

"As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient."

Yet He made us alive through faith in the death he died for us and through the grace he freely provides.

"But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast."

Tears turned to shouts of joy unspeakable. The God who shares our weeping, then brings us shouts of joy.

It is there in the symbolism of baptism: we are dead, buried with Christ, and by his power he raises us to new life in him...from the dead.

We are Lazarus. His story is ours. Jesus weeps with us...for our suffering...for the effects of sin we cannot even fathom...only seeing its evidence in the pain of our lives...

Yet the God who weeps with us raises us up...calls us from our rotting death, breathes in us new life...and turns our weeping to joy.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

In Spirit and in Truth

Our Lord Jesus. The God-man. Tired and sitting by a well.

In the story of the Samaritan Woman and Jesus, the story begins with the Son of God being on a journey, stopping for a break while his disciples went into town to buy detailed is this beautiful account that we even know the time of day. It's noon. Simple scene. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Enter the scene: a woman....a Samaritan woman. Also quite ordinary...this was, after all, in Samaria.

This is where the ordinary comes to an end.  Jesus does something socially unacceptable in that day. He asks this Samaritan woman for a drink. As the text even clearly indicts...Samaritans and Jews do not associate. For us today perhaps it would be like a Jew and a Muslim meeting unlikely positive exchange, in other words. There would have been at least social tension and suspicion. Not so with Jesus. He knew this woman though they had never met...He knew her in a way no one else ever had or ever would.

She points out the absurdity of speaking with her.  He turns the conversation to Himself.

He speaks of a Gift.  He speaks of what her ears perceived as mysterious, perhaps even magical claim of 'living water' that if she could just drink she would never thirst again. She seems mildly intrigued but very suspicious. I don't blame her. I would have been, too. These are strange, even outrageous claims! How could this guy be speaking truth when there was nothing for him to even draw any water with (he was asking HER to draw the water, remember?). She goes on to boldly ask, "Who do you think you are? Jacob himself never did that and this was his think you are greater than him? I mean, come on!" (Well, that is the modern wording of her reply to his claims of 'living water') (smile).

Not sure if she is genuinely interested or just being smug when she challenges him to go ahead and draw this living water so she will no longer have to draw everyday. The humor is not lost on me.  Pretty sure she was saying to the effect "So if you really can, go ahead, I'd love some of that water so I'd never be thirsty and have to haul this water everyday...go ahead. I'm in."(another smile).

 "Go, call your husband and come back". These words present a fork in the road of this conversation.  "I have no husband." was her honest reply.

 Then in a stunning couple of sentences he rocks her world. " have had 5 husbands and the man you now have is not your husband. What you say in true."

 Everything changed in this exchange. It's as if the curtain of earthly reality split apart and the light of Heaven shone through. This was no ordinary Jewish man. Her conclusion was obvious..."You must be a prophet".

When she realizes he is no ordinary man, she still reacts in such a human, superficial way, ( we would have done the same, I'm sure)...she wanted an argument settled about a PLACE to worship. Tell me prophet, on this mountain like our ancestors or Jerusalem? She wanted the answer to WHERE. Just like she saw 'convenience value' to 'living water' but was missing the real she does here as well about the nature of worship.

Jesus takes her question to the ultimate deep level. Neither here nor is irrelevant...but rather it's the HOW. In Spirit and in Truth.

In a day in age where worship was so systematic and ritualistic...centering around types and shadows...he pointed to the nature of worship spirit..real, authentic pure worship. Our spirits connected to the Spirit he ultimately would send when he left the our forever Helper and Comforter.  The Spirit that energized the early Church, who energizes our hearts today. When we just 'aren't feelin' it'...he's there...ready to stir the emotions of adoration no matter what circumstance this life throws at us. The glory of a surrendered heart in true worship. Our spirit connected to his Spirit. 'Spiritual worship'. Not a certain place. Not a set of rituals...a spiritual experience of the heart connecting the glory that is our God to these hearts of ours in a surreal and glorious union only the true worshipper can describe.

In Truth. The truth of which he speaks was the very Truth the entire conversation was revolving around: Him. Echoing his outrageous claim "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life". He is the truth of which he speaks. His divine identity. His divine mission.

How many times in the NT does Jesus point blank tell someone that he is the Messiah? Not many. Not many at all. Rare in fact. This is one of the times. To a woman. To a Samaritan woman. To a sinful Samaritan woman. Outrageous! Just like Jesus! Love it!

What is his next sentence after the woman says someday Messiah will explain all this?

"I, the one speaking to you---I am he".

She leaves the scene marveling all the way back to her village as she declares to all who will listen what she just experienced. His identity was the truth that changed everything. The truth that still changes everything.

The Truth that would make Paul later declare: "To live *is* Christ, to die is gain". He is the truth ALL revolves around.

Worship is no longer centered around place or earthly temple or purifying rituals. None of that the focus any longer, but rather what it all had been pointing to in the first the Substance behind the God's only Begotten Son. He himself having came down from Heaven's Glory to purify a people for secure our salvation. All the types. All the shadows. All the rituals, feasts, festivals, Sabbaths...fulfilled in the God-man.

God is Spirit and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and in Truth.

But part of me still replies exactly as this dear lady did: "Show me a system...a place...a way, Lord...please... Show me something tangible...a checklist would be nice, I want to do worship right...."

Then he proves in our lives who he is as he did to the woman when he said "Go and get your husband". He opens our eyes to his identity.

Then our question becomes the same as hers, echoing back through the ages...the question of all questions:

"Could you be the Messiah?" .

"I, the one speaking to you---I am he."

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Maybe Her Name was Grace

The car accident was not really a bad one. More of a fender bender chain reaction. I was on my way home from Tyler Junior College and it was lightly raining. Roads were slick. I was stopped on a hill at a red light. Suddenly the car behind me lurched, hitting me, and rolled my car into the car in front of me. What I didn't see was another car had not realized until the last second that a red light was there so he had caused the whole 4 car fender bender by ramming the car behind me. It was like vehicle dominos. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured.

So I got out of my car to check on the gal behind me who had endured the hardest hit of all of us. The guilty man behind her stayed off to himself, evidently afraid to speak to us. ;-)  The gal in front of me was barely tapped so she pulled over and stayed in her car waiting for the police.

The woman behind me seemed tense at first...I mean, we had just had a car accident. I wasn't sure what to say besides asking her how she was and somehow we began talking about how strange it was to be in a wreck while sitting at a red light. I remember being strangely lighthearted with her and then she smiled at me and said "Oh, I know who you remind me of!" I guess I should pause and tell you, my bright red hair was in braids that day. "Anne of Green Gables!". "Oh, my goodness, you *are* Anne!". I began to laugh and we then spent the next 30 minutes sharing our mutual faith with one another. I can't even tell you how the conversation went from Anne to Jesus. It just did. Somehow when two people who love Jesus collide on the road and have to wait for the police, this is what happens. A new, sweet friendship.

Thing was, she was not my favored 'brand' of Christian. She was farther down the charismatic spectrum than I was. She used words like 'anointed' and 'spirit led'. Made me uncomfortable. We would meet up a couple more times because I invited her to my know...the right church...the right brand. Figured I'd get her straightened out. In my church tribe we loved to call people like her an "Apollos". You know...ones that believe but ones we must teach the way more perfectly so they could be as sound as us. ;-)

Looking back on the couple times we met up after the accident...I have so many deep regrets. She wanted so share such beautiful things about her journey. I was around 21 and she at least 8-10 yrs older. Still single and testifying to how God was using her season of singlehood to grow her faith and service and teach her such things. All I could see however, was she was not in my tribe.

So during our few conversations I was only half listening. Not really listening to her at all. I was too concerned with teaching her the 'right way'. I questioned her about her baptism. She verified she was indeed baptized by immersion as an adult but that was not enough for me. You see, in my tribe we were very very picky about baptism and if someone thought they were saved at the point of faith instead of when they were immersed...well, the baptism didn't count. That person could be lost on a technicality. For eternity. It disturbed us deeply. We lost more sleep over these 'lost believers' than over the 'world's lost'. Somehow, we grieved more because if they could just see things our way, then they could be spared Hell on a technicality. So I kept harping on baptism.

I remember the look of total confusion on her face. She had been sharing deep truths of God's working in her life. Suddenly she realized I didn't think she was saved. She seemed genuinely confused and bewildered. She kept telling me she was baptized so let's move on. Okay, so now I wanted to talk to her about this whole spiritual gifts issue that she obviously didn't understand as well as me, since you know...she was using words like 'anointed/anointing'.  That angle of the conversation didn't go very well either. She wanted a spiritual friendship...I wanted to interrogate the poor sister.

She even went to church with me once since, you know, I told her it was the one true New Testament church. She somehow didn't see it, even though I thought it was so obvious how good and true and right we were. ;-)

Looking back on our few conversations...I talked right past her. I didn't listen to her. I didn't see her. I didn't get to know her. All I saw was an opportunity to share my 'rightness'. I could have had fellowship and a new and lasting friendship. Instead, I confused the Gospel with peripheral issues and destroyed a friendship in the process.

It was crazy. I kept running into her in town. At Hobby Lobby. At the Scroll Christian Bookstore. At the grocery store. God kept calling us together. I thought it was so I could teach her. In fact it was just the opposite. God was teaching ME. He was showing me the boundaries I had always so clearly defined...were not mine to define.

The last time I ran into her, I saw her from a distance at the Scroll Bookstore. I should have ran up and hugged her and invited her out to lunch. Instead I walked away. She just doesn't get it, I told myself.

It was I who didn't get it. Biggest tragedy of all: I don't even remember her name.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Holy Spirit at Denny's

 Life usually goes pretty uneventfully, predictably, and 'normally' for the most part. Even so, there are these moments...these rare and beautiful moments that punctuate our lives with the clear message that God is not only in the 'big events' but He's also at work in the smallest of circumstances.

  We were going to meet Tye's parents at Denny's for dinner before Eowyn's recital last nite. Only a couple restaurants meet the criteria for food the children will actually eat, and Josiah's food allergy restrictions. Denny's it was. This was my first time to go to Denny's since moving up here.

  So we sat down, grabbed the menus, enjoyed light conversation and the normal family dinner banter. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed an older gal staring at us. I dismissed it at first, but my gaze kept drifting to her. She had stopped eating...she had a full plate in front of her of turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce and broccoli...and was just picking at it with her fork...staring at us with this longing look in her eyes. She looked so sad. She sat alone. "Dear God," I thought, "this is the saddest thing I've ever seen." I felt in my heart I should go talk to her and invite her to sit with us but then pushed back the thought. Folks would think I'm weird. I told myself she probably wouldn't want to sit with a table of loud children and strangers anyway...but my heart ached.

  I'm so glad that Tye's parents are not chicken like I am. I should have known my ever observant, kind-hearted, generous, Mother-in-law would notice her, too. She whispered to my Father-in-law and bless them, he took action. He called the waitress over and told her to put her dinner on his tab and tell her it is from the children.

  I was already near tears, but from where I was sitting I could see her very clearly...and when the waitress went to talk to her she broke down in tears. Then the dam broke in my eyes. Couldn't help it. She walked over, with tears and hugged the kids and thanked them. I grabbed her, hugged her and told her to please come sit with us. She did not argue one bit.

 We would learn her husband had died 3 years before and she was just very lonely. This time of year is not easy on many people who share such loss. She said she could 'feel the love from the table'. She told us how she had survived a terminal cancer (non-Hogkins Lymphoma) in 1990 and credited all to the Lord. She exuded faith in God. She testified to his love, his healing, and his provision in her life. We ask her about church, wanting to make sure she had a local church family. She went on to tell how happy she was at one of the local community churches but that she never felt the need to belong to a religious denomination. "I'm His". She said. "That is what matters". Amen. 

 We sat there during dinner...she still was only picking at her food. Her hunger was not for food but rather to simply talk and share her stories, and enjoy human contact. She told us of her childhood and how neither parent went to church but God put the desire in her heart and she sought after him from her teen years. Beautiful stories. We just listened. She kept saying how much the evening was blessing her life, through tears.

She reminded me so much of my mother. If you know my Mom, you know how she exudes her faith, cannot help but talk about all the Lord has done and is doing for her...and she eats most dinners alone, too. We ask her her name. "Donna" she said. More tears. That's my mother's name.

Do I think it was sheer coincidence that we happened to choose Denny's that night? That we happened to be seated right by Donna? That we would notice her and that Tye' folks would feel compelled and have the courage to act? Do I think it was sheer luck that a believer needing encouragement would be strategically placed next to other believers who would understand her faith and welcome her talking about the Lord and his work in her life? I don't have the kind of faith it would require to believe all these things happened one-by-one, by mere chance. Chance would have to look identical to design.

What I believe is that God has a special place in his heart for children and widows. In scripture, in days of old, and here and now. He not only meets the basic needs of our lives...but he ministers to our broken hearts' needs. The widow who just needed some human touch, hugs, and to share family conversation over dinner. He's the God of his grand design and plan...a plan that includes the seemingly small, insignificant events...that in the scheme of eternity, perhaps count even more than the huge and obvious events of life.

Yes, the Spirit was at work at Denny's. Why would that surprise us? Our God is Sovereign and yet he is humble...and a servant. It is exactly in God's character to make dinner arrangements for his lonely child using other children of his own to bless her. He's the God of the Universe...that includes Denny's.

I hope she finished her dinner. We had to leave after an hour to get to the recital...but I and my mother-in-law gave her a long hug and I whispered this in her ear. "Moments like this are precious. They foreshadow wonderful things to come for us who believe".  She smiled with happy tears in her eyes.

At Heaven's banquet table some day, I will not be surprised at all if I look across the table and see in God's seating arrangement, Donna, sitting right there across the table from us...

Thank you Lord, for not being distant from us. Thank you for looking out for the lonely widow. Thank you for meeting us at Denny's last nite.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

When Church Hurts

I remember a friend in college sighing and expressing this sentiment in referring to her experiences in Christian Community: "It's been the source of my greatest highs and lowest lows".

 So many of us can relate to suffering within the body of Christ...probably all of us to some degree or other. We ask ourselves why. Why is this such a common and even normal experience for believers to have? If each one of us were to chart our own unique experiences we would most likely each see one another's graph as a series of ups, downs, plateaus, and more ups, downs and plateaus. The one unlikely graph is the one that just gently, consistently treads upward with nary a bump or dip in the graph's line.

 Answering the why begins with the bad news. I always knew the Gospel began with bad news but honestly, I never realized how bad the news actually was. It's the darkest, worst news  a person can receive. It's worse than cancer. It's worse than loss. It IS death.

The news is we are all children of Adam. Is there a soul among us that believes he or she would have beaten the serpent in the garden and spared humanity the fall? We are Adam. In the sense that he represents what each one of us would have done in his place. We too, would have chosen our own way instead of our Father's way. With Adam, all our nature is now tainted by sin. As scripture describes it, we are "...dead in sins" and "...children of wrath by *nature*". We do not have to be taught how to be selfish. We naturally gravitate to selfishness.

Even those without faith quote the truth of:  "No one is perfect, after all, we are only human". Exactly. Our flesh has the default mode of choosing our way rather than our Father's way. Sin incapacitates us to do any differently. We are children of Adam by nature. We need not pretend the outcome in the garden would have been any different if it had been you or I in the place of Adam or Eve.

To fully appreciate the depth, scope and grasp that sin has on us, is the first step in understanding why people have 'people problems'. This is why our lives are filled with issues, chaos and challenges. Why our families have conflict. Why our churches all too often, tear each other apart.

But wait. Our families and churches are believers. We have the Spirit. We've been saved. So why do we still struggle with sin that snares and entangles us?

We know the truth. Jesus saves. He gives us a new heart. He seals us with the Spirit. His power works in us personally...transforming us into the people he wants us to be...redeemed and sanctified...holy. So why do we still struggle?

It's the struggle even Paul laments in scripture. The war of the Spirit over the sarx (fallen flesh). Even though the Spirit is at work within us, until we are one day glorified, we still have this fallen flesh as our tent to deal with. Sin is a battle. A daily battle. One each of us engages in. Of course it affects everyone around us. Especially those we are closest to...especially the ones we love the most.

I've had to face a very uncomfortable truth: Over the years, I've inflicted pain as well as received pain. What are we to do with this? None of us want this kind of interpersonal conflict so what can we do?

 Facing our own sin.

When we realize to the depths of our soul our own sins, inadequacies, weaknesses, and outright depravity...when we confess it, face it, and own is far easier to be longsuffering, patient, kind and loving to those in the same situation of depravity as we are. Our own sin levels the ground before the Cross. It silences harsh judgment. It humbles us before the Father and in turn...humbles us one toward another.

Securely anchored hope.

 Placing all hope...all confidence....all boasting...all security in Christ alone. Identity in Him alone. If our hope and unity are in anything else...say, our doctrine, our practices, our history, our big name preachers, our heritage, our people, our individual selves and ability to 'do it the right way' any is misplaced and opens the door for pride, arrogance and sin one toward another leading to the 'biting and devouring of one another' scripture speaks of. This happens because we begin to position ourselves above others and in so doing forgetting who we are before the Lord and why it is we can even come into his presence at all.

Letting Grace and Mercy Reign

No matter what healthy times churches may experience (as I am personally blessed with at this time), challenging times are ahead...because we are people. When those challenging times come what are we to do? There is this conflict in our hearts. We feel we must stand for truth, and we often define that as 'cut off anything that disagrees with truth as I understand it, to preserve purity'...then we grow fearful. As fear enters our hearts, we begin to erect boundaries, walls, rules, new fences to guard out the 'bad' we's spiritual self-preservation. We begin to isolate ourselves from the very people who need us the afraid that whatever is 'wrong' with them might also infect us. Often our own fall from 'friendly fire' instead of 'enemy fire'. Attacking the 'bad' is the easy path in preserving ourselves and 'truth'. Jesus calls us to the more difficult path: engaging in actions of grace and mercy.

Facing the challenge head-on within the community relationship...loving discipline/accountability...walking beside the injured...ministering to the wounds rather than reacting in fear with a  knee jerk self-preservation response is really what Christian Community is all about. We cannot, must not, fear the 'messy'. Christian Community is supposed to be messy. Often in the 'truth-self-preservation mindset' we miss the biggest truth: We are supposed to be serving one another and loving one another as Christ served and loved us. "Freely you've been given, freely give"...Is anyone more of a sinner than ourselves? The self-preservation mindset ironically entraps us in the sin of self-focus, and spiritual isolation thus robbing us the opportunity to serve as Christ served. It is a tool of the enemy.

     I've seen this mindset lead to extreme forms of spiritual isolation. I knew people, who years ago,  decided to worship by themselves outside a Christian community because they could not agree enough with any local church body. When asked one time what it was like to only have themselves and a few friends worship together, the response was "Well, there's not many problems anymore", followed by laughter.

Indeed. We get rid of the problems, yet we also get rid of people. The people Christ died for. The sinners Christ died for. The ones just like you and me.

Yes, sometimes Church hurts. I'm pretty sure, it's supposed to.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Like Being Born Again...Again

The Thursday before Josiah's birthday, 2 years ago today, started off like any ordinary day. I was working in the kitchen and my cell phone rang. Tye's voice, breaking up, strange in it's ominous tone simply said this: "Get the kids and take them to Jennifer and Jarad's house right now, I'll be home soon. Don't worry, everything is going to be okay, just do it".

I started to shake all over...a huge pit in my stomach making me literally gag uncontrollably...a cold, sinking feeling in my chest...was all I could feel. My thoughts and pulse were racing...reeling...what was happening?

I gathered the kids up as quickly as I could, trying to not cry...trying to hide my shaking hands...I remember trembling all over...tried to hide it the best I could... I didn't want to scare the kids. Off to our friends' house we raced. Jennifer met us at the door with her usual sweet smile...I tried to hide my expression knowing it would betray the cheerful demeanor I was trying so hard to maintain. Jennifer only knew that Tye needed to talk to me, nothing more. I raced home and on the way called Tye and begged him to tell me on the phone because the suspense was more than I could handle...I was even having chest pains from the felt like someone literally was squeezing my heart..and I couldn't take in enough air. So he told me.... "Julie, I've been fired."

So I got home and Tye soon arrived. We sat on the sofa and my first words were shocking to me. I didn't cry yet, that would come later. I simply said "This earth is not our home. We must keep our eyes on what lies beyond". I knew I had to be strong. Tye knew he had to be strong. He shared w/me how it all went down and how afterwards he paced in the church foyer, all alone, crying out to God in words like "My God, what are we going to do?" Tye also shared with me that he had a confidence and assurance of one thing: God was with us. He would see us through this. He would take care of us. He didn't know how, but by faith we knew God would come through.

We literally didn't sleep that night. Judah lay sleeping peacefully between Tye and myself, blissfully ignorant that this was one of the hardest nights of our lives. I was wide awake just praying...I knew Tye was, too. Words were not needed. Just to be still and know that God was there for us. I remember staring at the shadows playing on the walls...and watching them lighten as the sun rose. All.night.long. Silence and prayer.

It was a strange mode that Tye and I went into, immediately. I went into survival mode...within minutes of talking on the sofa the first day, I said "You know what this means, right? We need to sale the house. God is bringing us to Washington." Tye knew it as well. It was so clear.

The mode Tye went into can best be described as 'Spirit lead'. He could have been angry, bitter, reactionary. He, not even once, was any of those things. You know what he did that really amazed me?? He pulled his Bible out, put it on my lap and told me to turn and read out loud I Peter 2:2:

  "When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly."

Tye's attitude was that if Jesus could have this attitude in the midst of a billion times the unjust suffering, how much more was God calling him to have this same attitude in this comparatively tiny suffering. 

Within 2 weeks we had packed our things...taken them to my Dad's...painted exterior and interior of house, put in landscaping, fixed a dozen things in the house...replaced some plumbing fixtures...taking savings to do it...and the house was on the market.

How had life changed so quickly?? One morning our plans were to grow old in the house we designed and built... and in a job Tye loved with all his heart...and by noon...everything had crumbled into a heap. How does that happen?

It happens because that is how our Sovereign Lord works. It's not enough to talk about faith and trust. Big deal. Talk is cheap. When faith and trust become meaningful and real, is when they are all you have to carry you...all that is keeping you from total despair.

We came to a fork in the road: Trust or Despair. Take a leap of faith into the arms of the Almighty, not knowing how this story will end but knowing He will provide...or keep a facade of control and go down the road leading to total despair.

God gave us the strength to take the right road...a leap straight into his outstretched arms and no, we didn't know how the story would end, but the overwhelming fact in our mind was that God is here. He is good. He is almighty. He will come through for us. We will just follow wherever He takes us.  "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in Him" had a whole new meaning to us.

Severe mercy. That was what that summer and the entire transition year turned out to be. God removing vestiges of self-centered religiosity so that He might make room for Himself.

The mode we went into that I alluded to earlier was so strange. We literally could not think beyond the day's tasks before us. When it happened, it was already nearly July so most teaching jobs were filled...he didn't have even a resume. In a whirlwind of so much to do in sifting through the wreckage of our lives and trying to figure out how to survive it all...there was a strange calm. God was literally telling us to trust and take only 1 moment at a time. No more than literally 1 day at a time. That is how we lived out the summer. We had to constantly take thoughts captive and live by the mantra of: Trust, God is here, He will provide.

He landed a few interviews that didn't work out. The church did give our family a week by week severance to 8 weeks...and dependent on us keeping our mouths shut. Yes, we were not allowed to discuss anything with anyone or lose what little financial life support we had left. Paid week by week, for 8 weeks, contingent on saying nothing whatsoever. We sat in the same pew, put on the smiles, and pretended we were not dying inside. Just keep breathing...just put one foot in front of the other. Every Sunday and Wednesday I would come home literally sick and crying. My heart felt like every time I came through the doors, it shattered again. I was even literally nauseated, losing 15 pounds in about 3 weeks. So hard to keep the tears in check until I got the good former preacher's wife...just wear the fake smile. Obey. Keep quiet. Move on. Act. Put on the show they demand so your family can buy groceries a few more weeks...just survive. So we never were able to have any defense, never have our voices speak at all. To this day, we have kept that silence...close relatives know quite a one knows it all...and the need to make our defense has long the reality of what happened is somewhere in the ether. Folks who we loved for a decade only know what they were allowed to know. So moving on....

We had our annual trip to Washington already paid for and planned and so we spent a week in Lake Chelan...still no job. Tye and I spent so much time on that trip in prayer and talking...searching for God's direction...trying to process what was happening. Reading of scripture soothed our souls...the teaching of grace began to grow richer, deeper, more real than *ever* before. We went to a little spot on the Columbia River and we held hands and just prayed our hearts out. Every year when we go back to Lake we did last week...we find the same spot and pray a prayer of thanksgiving and praise.

On that same trip, we were out in the pool when Tye got a call from a school he had interviewed with back in Texas...and he was hired. Oh, how we praised the Lord! It was literally the last bilingual job in the area...still an hour's drive away...but it was a job! We were so grateful! We prayed a prayer of thanksgiving.

The first people to look at our house ended up buying all we needed to do was get through the year in my Dad's house and look to the future...and keep trusting the Lord for whatever his plan might be.

The Lord worked on us powerfully and continually that year. He broke us so that he might have material he could work with. We had been comfortable for too long. For too long faith and trust were simply teachings. He pulled the rug out from under us so that in the wreckage we might look upon HIM for the first time. Not to the church to deliver us, not to ourselves to fix a wreck that was beyond fixing...but to look at Him and really *see him* for the first time in our lives. To depend on him in a way that before that time, had only been theoretical sermon material.

Tye and I have discussed that transition year often and how much he taught us. We actually miss the mindset we were in. The mindset of blind dependance. "Living on a prayer" was actually our daily reality. We wondered what life would look like, be like, in Washington. What would church be like in a place that had no vibrant, healthy Church of Christ? Little did we know that God was about to blow our minds with our whole mindset of 'church' and what it is...but that is another story for another day...

Oh, what delightfully unpredictable plans the Lord had that we never ever could have imagined or planned for. I sit here in a beautiful home the Lord provided, in a setting that just might be the most beautiful on earth...part of a vibrant church body we thank God for leading us to...surrounded by a network of friends and family who truly love us and have been balm to our souls. Oh, how grateful and joyful we are in the bounty he has provided for us in this new life!

I've tried to describe to Tye how I felt the day the news was given, during that summer and into that transition year. The best way I can put it into words is that it was like being Born Again...again. I don't mean in the ultimate sense, that happened long ago...but the process of something dying...then God breathing life into it...not only renewed but more rich, deep...more glorious than ever before. That is what He has done for us. Without that painful process of breaking down, we would never have truly experienced grace as Paul describes it in scripture. It would still remain merely a teaching, not a reality to be walked. Not a reality that breaks you to the core, so that He might remake you into a vessel he can use more powerfully than ever before.

Yes, that about sums it's like being Born Again...again.  So much more I could many details of exactly how God worked out things during that much he taught us...but those will be stories for another day. The overarching theme of this story: God is Sovereign. God is good. God is both just and merciful. He does not work in ways that are predictable or even what we would ever volunteer for...but we can trust Him. Always.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

God's Own Possession

For the Lord has chosen Jacob to be his own, Israel to be his treasured possession. Psalm 135:3-5

Do you ever struggle feeling like you belong? What about struggling with feelings of being loved or good enough to even be considered worthy of love? If you ever battle the forces of insecurity, feelings of never measuring up, or wonder how or if God could actually love are not alone. So often the enemy works to discourage take away God's glory by attacking our relationship with him...whispering doubts into our hearts and trying so very shake our security and confidence in the Lord. We don't have to let him.

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will,  in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.  And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,  who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. Ephes. 1:11-14

Before the foundation of the world, before we were even in existence, God had in mind a people for himself, his own possession. We should take this personally: we belong to him. The purpose of this taking us for his own? For his own glory. For his own purposes. We are his. Let the voices of doubt, negativity, and insecurity be silenced. He has claimed us. The creator of the universe claims us as his own, his beloved, his children, his precious possession...let that sink into our hearts.

Now from Peter: But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. I Peter 2:9

How does this relate to our daily routines? The ups, downs, the mundane? Peter says we are created to be his possession so that we may declare his praise for drawing us out of darkness and into his light...we are created to praise the father.

If this seems simplistic, consider this encouraging fact: heaven will be filled with praise for the Father forevermore. The throne room of heaven is depicted as a bright, loud, extraordinary place of praise and glory...we get to have a tiny taste of such spiritual delight while here on earth. A "foretaste of glory divine" as the old hymn declares.

It may look more ordinary. Our praise is most effective when it arises from the normal events of life. We help our neighbor because the Lord helps us. We feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty as the Lord has so graciously given us the bread and water of life of himself. We tell the truth because he is truth. We have pure speech because he is pure. We forgive because we've been forgiven. We extend mercy and grace that has been gifted to us. We praise the Lord as we wash dishes for our family, as we change the diapers, as we refuse to give the bird to that driver who cut us off and nearly caused an accident. We share our time, our talent, and treasure because we know they are not ours to begin with.

We are his possession. We do not deserve it. We do not earn it by a certain measure of obedience nor maintain it by another standard of obedience that if we fail to measure up we are thrown out. Rather because we are his possession, because we are his own and have been sealed and gifted with his Holy Spirit we are now able and equipped to his glory, not to our own.  On days we feel like it, on days we don't, on days we make pretty good choices, and on days we fail miserably. We are his.

Let the voices of discouragement be forever silenced in the din of the praises of Heaven to the glory of the father.