Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Visiting Lazarus

John 11:11, 14-16, 39 NLT - (11) Then he said, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up." ... (14) So he told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead. (15) And for your sakes, I'm glad I wasn't there, for now you will really believe. Come, let's go see him." (16) Thomas, nicknamed the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, "Let's go, too--and die with Jesus." ... (39) "Roll the stone aside," Jesus told them. But Martha, the dead man's sister, protested, "Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible."

You don't have to know a lot about first century Jewish beliefs to capture the anxiety Jesus' followers feel in this moment: Lazarus is dead. It's been four days, he stinks, and the political climate means going into this situation might mean death for Jesus and those close to Him. Add in just a little background knowledge and you quickly learn how much superstition surrounded death in first century Israel. Throw into the mix that Jesus puts His finger on the root issue of unbelief in verse 15, and we have a recipe for running the other way.

Fear.
Anxiety.
Superstition.
Unbelief.

As He so often did, Jesus took a course of action far from what was expected of Him. He waited until Lazarus died though He could have prevented it. He waited until Lazarus was dead for four days, so there could be no doubt that he was really and truly dead (in their minds, the soul left the body after three days). And He didn't allow His disciples to stay in their fear. Quite the opposite. He called them to walk with Him into that fear.

Today, I had a hard task ahead of me. It's the latest in a dreaded series of tasks related to the season I'm in - one of those things you never thought you'd find yourself doing. Key to this story is that I didn't realize that the task was going to happen today. I just knew this series of things was hanging over my head.

This morning, I sat down for my quiet time and while I often save my gospel reading for evening, I felt that prompting that said I needed it this morning. Very quickly, these verses jumped off the page.

One of the things I love about the word of God is that it is living and active. While that is a theological truth, it's also a practical reality. What it means is that at any given time, God can take a word from the pages of Scripture and bring it to life in an intensely personal way. It doesn't happen every day, but if you stay in Scripture consistently, with faith, you will experience it sooner or later.

For me, God's word couldn't have been clearer: Follow Jesus into the place of my fear, my anxiety, my unbelief. I saw, probably for the first time ever, that Jesus was already determined to visit Lazarus. He just invited these scared, weak-faithed men to go along for the journey. When they got there, He would quickly get to the root of their fear and superstition - the unbelief that is at the heart of so much of our struggles. But they didn't know that. In fact, Thomas' words make it clear they thought they were going there to die. In a way he was right. Although it wouldn't happen immediately, they would soon die to their unbelief when confronted with an empty tomb.

I didn't want to do today's task. But Jesus was already planning to go, and I wanted to be where He was. In His grace, He sent someone with me to be His arms and heart. I'm still processing what areas of unbelief He wants to tear down. But what I learned today was that if He calls this weak-faithed woman to walk into my fear, anxiety, superstition, or unbelief, I can be assured that He is already planning to be there, waiting on me to join Him.







Saturday, March 10, 2018

Standing In the Fire

Today is my birthday and in many ways it was one of those near-perfect days. I got to spend it with family that I love dearly and heard from more family, and friends that have become family. It was a moment to cherish in my heart. Yet as so often in life, that beauty came in the midst of storm clouds - literal and symbolic. While we were driving home in a quite severe storm, I got a call that threw me instantly into a symbolic storm. I'm in a pretty stormy life season already, so this came at a point of already-heightened tension.

It's no accident that I had only yesterday read my words from 7 years ago, "Dancing in the Minefields." Last night when I read that, I thought again of the truth that usually the journey we go on with Jesus looks nothing like our expectations. Why should it? Those who walked the earth with Him, even those closest to Him, expected one thing and got something altogether different. Altogether better, but not necessarily what they thought they wanted.

As we were driving through this storm and I was getting storm clouds on the phone, I was also listening to music that nurtured my soul and built my faith. I can't say I'm not anxious. But I'm ending my birthday where it began ... focusing on the One I love above all. If anyone wonders why I love Him so much, there is one line that sums it up: "You stand in the fire beside me." On my darkest days, when I long for a different set of facts, I take solace in this truth: I'd rather be standing in the fire with Him than outside it alone.


JESUS - CHRIS TOMLIN
There is a truth older than the ages
There is a promise of things yet to come
There is one, born for our salvation
Jesus
There is a light that overwhelms the darkness
There is a kingdom that forever reigns
There is freedom from the chains that bind us
Jesus, Jesus
Who walks on the waters
Who speaks to the sea
Who stands in the fire beside me
He roars like a lion
He bled as the lamb
He carries my healing in his hands
Jesus
There is a name I call in times of trouble
There is a song that comforts in the night
There is a voice that calms the storm that rages
He is Jesus, Jesus
Who walks on the waters
Who speaks to the sea
Who stands in the fire beside me
He roars like a lion
He bled as the lamb
He carries my healing in his hands
Jesus
Messiah, my Savior
There is power in Your name
You're my rock and, my redeemer
There is power in Your name
In Your name
You walk on the waters
You speak to the sea
You stand in the fire beside me
You roar like a lion
You bled as the lamb
You carry my healing in Your hands
God, you walk on the waters
You speak to the sea
You stand in the fire beside me
You roar like a lion
You bled as the lamb
You carry my healing in Your hands
Jesus
There is no one like you
Jesus
There is no one like you
Songwriters: Chris Tomlin / Ed Cash
Jesus lyrics © Capitol Christian Music Group


Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Alchemist

Authenticity is really important to me. I don't ever want to be one of those "happy clappy" types who just share the good side of things. Jesus is Lord over my bad days as well as good ones, and authentic faith encompasses the hard questions. 
Our family is going through a deep trial right now. Some days are filled with joy. But there are really hard things and really bad days. Yesterday was one and it ended with me standing in the kitchen bawling the ugly cry while putting up dishes. It's not that I wasn't still joyful over the blessings from the day before. But the joy was mingled with grief, with pain.
This morning as I processed the contrast of Friday night and Saturday night, these words poured forth when I tried to pray. I'm sharing them, because they reflect a truth that we all have to grasp in one way or another. Roses have thorns, and life has trials, because we live in a fallen world. Yet there is One who has redeemed it all, who is working it to transform me and you for our good and His glory.
The Alchemist
I stood in the kitchen and wept last night
Tears of sorrow, not joy this time.
24 hours earlier I was on cloud nine.
Oh, this disease.
I'm promised so much -
The spiritual returns of what I give up for HIm -
Yet wrapped up in the promise, trials.
Oh, this life.
Joy mingles with sorrow in the cup.
This much pain, this much blessing, a dash of strength, a dollop of peace...
The alchemist hands me the cup.
Oh, this drink.
I didn't ask for it.
Not this drink, not this flavor.
Yet in faith I sip, the drink burning my throat, warming my soul.
Oh, the cost and paradox of discipleship.
I set the cup down.
Through tear-filled eyes I see in the remains - a cross. 
And on the handle, written in blood, the single word - 
                        HOPE.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Knowing

So Jesus said to the twelve, "You don't want to go away too, do you?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God!" (John 6:67-69)

I live in a part of the country that experiences almost every type of weather, including short-lived summer storms and the longer-lasting spring and fall variety. I've lived long enough to know that rarely do storms that last a long time leave quickly. Usually, the clouds gather for a while, they stick around, and then take their time moving out. There is a time, though, when you can tell the worst is over and the clearing has begun.

I'm just emerging from a couple of storm-tossed years. The sun has started peeking through increasingly, and I sense that the stormy transition is settling in to the daily reality of a new season. 

During the worst moments of this storm, I've lived a number of what I called "John 6:68 days". For far too long than I ever want to experience again, I lived through days where every single thing I did felt like a "should". I was depressed, but I had to keep going, so I kept doing all the "right things" with no heart in it. I prayed, but didn't feel God's presence. I read His Word, but didn't hear His voice. I served, but didn't readily notice His strength. I was going through the motions. 

On the worst of those days, I was tempted to want a different option. The cost of discipleship felt too great. His sovereignty was something I believed, but struggled with. I was being wrecked, and I hated it. I never doubted Him, but I couldn't feel Him. Hope wasn't a reality, just something I knew had to be out there somewhere.

But I kept coming back to the truth Peter proclaimed: There was nowhere else to turn. I knew, in my heart of hearts, that I preferred to be in the storm with Jesus, rather than out of the storm without Him. I was often mad about the storm, but I knew there was no better option out there. As I wrote at the time: 
But the words of eternal life? The heart of my faith, the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified, buried, and resurrected, saving me forever? That one keeps me coming back to the throne room day after day, sometimes crawling in tears, other times celebrating, still other days just gritting my teeth and doing it because it's on my list.
And what I am learning is that even on the days that the basics of the Gospel are all I can hold on to, when I just go to Jesus because it's either Him or nothing - that is still victory. Don't take my word for it. Listen to the Apostle John: "For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith." - 1 John 5:4 ESV
But oh, joy of joys, today I realized something precious. As I worshipped in church like I have almost every Sunday through this storm, I realized that the "where else could I turn" faith had shifted back to a "knowing" faith - a knowing that God is in control and working all things for good. A knowing that He is sovereign AND good, and that I can trust Him utterly. This "knowing" didn't happen in a moment, nor is it new. But being aware that it is there, and has been all along, was a beautiful gift today. 

My pastor went on to preach about the importance of having a foundation in the Word of God. As I listened I thought about my 20 years with Him up to this point and all the foundation we have laid together. Day after day in the Word. Worship song after worship song in the background. Church service after church service. Book after book. 

Today as we sang, "Never let go", the lines jumped out to me: "Even though I'm caught in the middle of the storms of this life//I won't turn back I know You are near". One of the most tender moments I've ever had with God was when He taught me how I'm literally carried by His grace and mercy. Today, as I thought through the past couple of years, I thought of this lesson in a new light. Acts 27:17 tells of Paul's journey to Rome and the scary storm onboard the ship that caused them to consider turning back.
(Acts 27:17) After they had hoisted it up, they used supporting cables [literally = helps] in undergirding the ship; and fearing that they might run aground on the shallows of Syrtis, they let down the sea anchor and in this way let themselves be driven along.
What I realized is that the ship had to have these supporting cables already in place. The ability to stay in the storm and not turn back was dependent on having the right equipment - the right foundation, if you will. 

God often gives new believers a precious gift, and I was no exception. He often provides a season of deliverance, joy, and victory. Much like the foundation we lay for our children in the preschool and early elementary years, this time provides a place to learn trust for the future when the lessons are more challenging. As seasoned believers, one of the best things we can do for new followers of Christ is to help them build that foundation for when they will need it most. If you are a new believer, or maybe one who hasn't spent the time on the foundation, I encourage you to start today! Find a church and be consistent (spoiler alert, it won't be perfect. Don't let that stop you.) Read the Bible daily. Attend a Bible study. Put on worship music every chance you get. The storms will come. Build the knowing in now, for the time when you might feel like giving up is coming. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Where Hope Can Be Found

I don't think it's important for Christians to feel hopeful all the time. In fact, I am increasingly convinced that the most hopeful believer in Scripture is actually - Job.

You might want to read that again, because the prevailing sentiment in Christian teaching is often some version of "Christians should be the most hopeful people ever." I'm lovingly challenging the way that comment is often presented.

Such a theology has some truth in it, of course. But when you hit a stormy season - when you face a Job-type situation - that comment can quickly become overwhelming. It can feel like one more thing to add to a long to-do list.

I'm not saying that hope isn't important for Christians. What I'm saying is that hope isn't something we have to pursue. It's something we have, because of Jesus.

In a season of being wrecked, this shift in thinking can be profoundly freeing. It can move "hope" from a legalistic verb to a refreshing noun. Instead of being something we try to feel, it becomes the ground under our feet, the air we breathe, the water that fills every cell of our being. "Hope" in the Bible isn't a feeling - it is a confident expectation based on truth. Hope isn't something we do - it's something produced in us through the crucible of suffering (Romans 5:1-5). We are purified as we learn to hope in Jesus (1 John 3:3).

Perhaps surprisingly, the book of Job uses this word more than any other book in Scripture except for Psalms. I think that is likely because Job knew one of the deepest truths about hope: God Himself is a God of Hope (Romans 15:13). We never find hope by looking to a certain outcome, or by stirring up a certain emotion. Job teaches me that we can be totally grieved over our circumstances and still find hope in the truth of who God is. Job spends a lot of time talking about his frustrations and pain. He is authentically working out his suffering in the context of relationship with his Creator. But underneath it all, he knows that his Creator is the God of hope. He doesn't see it (because hope by definition is not seen - Romans 8:24), but he knows where to find it.

That's why I've come to love this song by Lauren Daigle so much. It reminds me that the kind of hope that is an anchor for my soul comes when I know where that hope is found - more specifically, when I know the One in WHOM that hope is found. True hope is Jesus. He alone is my hope. As the old song says, "My Hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness." Not just the eternal hope of salvation, but the hope for today. The hope that gets me out of bed in the morning.

If you or someone you know is going through a tough season, avoid the legalism of "feeling hopeful". Embrace hope as the Bible presents it - the person of Jesus. When we are in His presence, we are in the environment where hope can be found - whether we feel particularly hopeful or not.


Saturday, September 02, 2017

When You're Being Wrecked

One day the members of the heavenly court came to present themselves before the LORD, and the Accuser, Satan, came with them. "Where have you come from?" the LORD asked Satan. Satan answered the LORD, "I have been patrolling the earth, watching everything that's going on." Then the LORD asked Satan, "Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless--a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil." Satan replied to the LORD, "Yes, but Job has good reason to fear God. You have always put a wall of protection around him and his home and his property. You have made him prosper in everything he does. Look how rich he is! But reach out and take away everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face!" "All right, you may test him," the LORD said to Satan. "Do whatever you want with everything he possesses, but don't harm him physically." So Satan left the LORD's presence. (Job 1:6-12 NLT)

In general I think we Christians overdo the Job analogies. We get a hangnail, sore elbow, and a cold in the same week and suddenly we are having a "Job week". No condemnation - I'm including myself here!

But.

There are seasons.

Seasons when we are being wrecked. Not in the "that song wrecked me" sense, but in the "I don't know how I'm going to look when I pick up the pieces after this season" sense.

Maybe we feel left out on a limb to figure out alone what to do.

Maybe we feel like we're losing everything that is left of ourselves. We've died to self over and over and wonder how much more there is to surrender.

Maybe we've never struggled with the goodness of God before but find ourselves in a season of fighting cynicism all the time.

Maybe it's all those things at once. We know we are trusting God, we know we are walking in faith and not fear. That we are leaning on Him. We're doing everything we know to do, everything that has worked in previous tough seasons, but suddenly, it's not working.

We don't know what else to do, and even if we did we don't have the energy to do it.

If you are in such a season, let me encourage you, as one fellow "wrecking season" traveler to another, with a simple truth that God is teaching me. Simple, but not at all easy to walk out.

Walking with Jesus as a New Testament believer means staying in relationship with Him when nothing makes sense.

I know, "Duh," right? You may be thinking "Of course we don't leave Him when it gets tough."

But if you are in a wrecking season, you know the truth I've experienced a lot lately: Some days are John 6:68 days. Faced with the reality of many disciples deserting Him, Jesus asks the Twelve a crucial question: "Are you also going to leave?" Peter's response is important here: "Simon Peter replied, "Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life."

Peter doesn't say that they'll stay with Jesus because things are so great. He doesn't give religious words or platitudes. He just basically says, "Where else would we turn?" He is certain of the truth, and knows that it's either Jesus or nothing.

In my season of wrecking, that is the most important truth I am holding on to.
Some days, other truths are just words on the page to me. God's goodness? Yes, I believe it, but don't feel it at times. His sovereignty? Sometimes like Job I can feel unsettled by that one. Purpose in the trial? I just want to skip the trial and get to the fruitfulness. Sometimes I don't even care if there is any. I just want it to be over.

But the words of eternal life? The heart of my faith, the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified, buried, and resurrected, saving me forever? That one keeps me coming back to the throne room day after day, sometimes crawling in tears, other times celebrating, still other days just gritting my teeth and doing it because it's on my list.

And what I am learning is that even on the days that the basics of the Gospel are all I can hold on to, when I just go to Jesus because it's either Him or nothing - that is still victory. Don't take my word for it. Listen to the Apostle John:

"For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith." - 1 John 5:4 ESV

In the Job passage we started with, Satan wanted one thing - Job's faith. He wasn't satisfied with personal and later physical attacks. He wanted to get Job to give up on God. Job wasn't having any of it. When we are in a wrecking season, we can be sure that is what Satan wants us to do as well.

In "The Insanity of Obedience" author Nik Ripken says that Job is a New Testament voice in an Old Testament world, and his friends are Old Testament voices. That is why they couldn't grasp how Job processed what he didn't understand. While Job certainly didn't have a full understanding of the Gospel, we see clear evidences of a personal relationship with God:

Job 19:25-27 NLT 25 "But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last. 26 And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God! 27 I will see him for myself. Yes, I will see him with my own eyes. I am overwhelmed at the thought!"

Job 38:1 NLT Then the LORD answered Job from the whirlwind 
[God's words were directed at Job, personally]


If you are in a wrecking season, I highly recommend reading Job in the New Living Translation, and keep in mind Ripken's teaching on the Old Testament vs. New Testament perspectives. As I completed this over the past few weeks myself, I was able to understand much better the false arguments of Job's friends and the depth of Job's relationship with God. I saw in Job a John 6:68 type of faith - he didn't know what was happening, he didn't understand it all, but he had an unshakeable faith that there was nowhere else to turn. So he processed his pain, his anger, his resentment - every feeling imaginable - within the context of that relationship. His religious friends who lacked that relationship watched on in confusion, but Job held firm.

Remember my mention earlier of purpose? We see a glimpse of a beautiful truth in Job 1:6-12. Besides God Himself, the only ones who knew the whole story were the members of the heavenly court. God was showing off Job's faith to the whole spiritual realm. Job didn't know this, of course, but we have the full truth of God's word that gives us a similar concept:

Ephesians 3:8-10 ESV To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

Do you see it? The visible faith of the diverse people that make up the church shows God's wisdom to the spiritual realm! Just like Job, God can point us out and say "See her, she's holding on to the truth of the Gospel." "Look at him, not giving up his faith." Sometimes that might mean letting Satan try his hardest to attack us - always within God's sovereign limits. Some days, we may only hold on to that faith by crying out "Help my unbelief", remembering that faith itself is a gift.

When you're being wrecked, that might not always comfort you. But if you keep holding on to the John 6:68 faith, then I guarantee there will be a day when you can look up at Jesus and smile, knowing that you were a display of God's wisdom. 

Until then, it's perfectly all right to just feel like you are just barely getting through the day. As long as you do it with Jesus, that counts as a victory.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Patience and Suffering


For examples of patience in suffering, dear brothers and sisters, look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance. You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy. - James 5:10-11 (NLT)



Meet my daddy, the most patient man I know.

From the photo you can see some obvious things: He is getting on in years, was a little tired this day, defers the driving to my mom.

What you don't see is the lifetime of suffering behind that crooked smile. Born in a home birth as most were in 1939, he literally suffered trauma from the day he was born - the forceps the doctor used caused cerebral palsy, a disorder of the central nervous system. The doctor didn't expect him to live through the night. He's still here almost 78 years later.

Some people with CP cannot speak, walk, or get out of a chair. My daddy is blessed that he can do all of those things. His CP has caused him a lot of pain, but it doesn't define him. He's also sharp as a tack, has a memory like you wouldn't believe (like remembering weather details of specific dates), has a corny sense of humor, and is blessedly and frustratingly stubborn.

But the reality is that he has suffered. His CP causes him to drag his right foot and makes his right arm very limited in usefulness. He is a "forced lefty" because of the limitations on his right side, and all those years of walking awkwardly have resulted in arthritis in almost every joint of his body, and severe sciatica. Most recently, a fall resulted in an elbow injury that is likely a fracture at the elbow joint (we are waiting on MRI results now). Beyond all of that, he suffered the ridicule of classmates and the limitations of a pre-ADA society. Undeterred, he graduated college, moved across the country to work two years, moved back, met my mom, married, and became my ever-patient daddy :).

Back in May, I was visiting my parents for a few days and I was hit with an insight: My daddy's patience is connected to his suffering. He simply has never been able to do anything quickly, due to his mobility issues, and so he presses on, slowly but surely, the tortoise that wins the race due to sheer persistence.

As I have reflected on it in the weeks since, I realize what a wonderful example my daddy is of the truth James is presenting in his example of Job. Patience comes as we press on in our suffering, remaining persistent and enduring, not stoically or passively, but actively, in faith, continuing to walk the walk, even if every step is painfully slow, like it is for my daddy.

Perseverance means we keep going. One of the fruits we will see from the effort is an increased patience. We will experience God's tenderness and mercy in new ways.

Keep pressing on today. It's worth it - and not without purpose.