Acceptance

His Glory Revealed

I don’t cry very often, thanks to some well-dosed antidepressants, but every now and then I still have my moments. What landed me in that place the other night might surprise you. I had been waiting for some medical test results, and I received them earlier in the day. “Nothing out of the ordinary,” is what the nurse said. This might be a relief to many patients, but to me it represented one more failed attempt at an answer—and with no answers looming on the horizon that I could see.

Chronic pain and illness—some treatable, some not; some diagnosable, some not—has been my plight for years, and it’s one I try to endure with some semblance of grace. But sometimes one more symptom to add to the bray just feels like more than I can handle. You know?

Well, I’ve allowed the Spirit to comfort me in the past through verses like these.

James 1:2-4:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

2 Corinthians 12:7b-10:

“…I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Romans 8:18:

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

But the other night, the passage that came and kept coming to my mind was John 9:1-3:

“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’

‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.’”

I guess the reason I’ve never connected this story with my own is that Jesus chose to heal this blind man. And if we look at God’s glory as healing, strictly speaking, then I guess it might never apply to me. But even when our paths and journeys differ, God’s glory can still be seen, can it not? Regardless of what we face, God can use our circumstances to reveal His heart.

  • It may look like renewed compassion and empathy for others who suffer.
  • It may look like the encouragement you share with and receive from others.
  • It may look like a strengthened faith in God’s sufficient grace.
  • It may look like God walking alongside you—carrying you when the road becomes too long.
  • It may look like you walking alongside a fellow sojourner—helping them to bear a burden that is too heavy for them to carry on their own.
  • It may look like peace that passes understanding, in spite of swirling turmoil.

I could go on, I’m sure, but I hope you get my point. Chronic pain and illness are my cross to bear (and that of many others), but your struggles (or your friend’s, or your neighbor’s, or your colleague’s, or your sister’s) may be very different. They may include losses, addictions, hurts, sins, you name it. But they are no less usable by God, for the display of His glory—if we will allow Him to use them.

Look for God in your circumstances—chances are, you’ll find Him.

Lenten Blossoms
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Good Things, God Things, and GO Things

You’ve probably heard that there is a difference between “good things” and “God things.” That is, we may find ourselves very busy with sports, clubs, volunteer activities, civic duties, Bible studies, church services, and so on and so forth. But not all of these activities turn out to be God-honoring or God-glorifying, at least not for all of us. On the other hand, there are activities and commitments that do honor and glorify God, when situated within the context of our lives and our responsibilities.

But it seems to me that there is another distinction that bears mentioning—namely, there are some things that I would call GO things. For each of us, there are likely some hopes, dreams, and inclinations that we have considered. There may be some that we are deeply drawn to and feel called toward. That list looks different for each of us, and may include everything from becoming a mentor to becoming a missionary. My list has changed a bit over time, but has included things like adoption, foster to adopt, and living kidney donation.

I think that we tend to have one of two reactions to these leanings: 1) We put them on a bucket list and figure that maybe someday, we’ll have the opportunity to pursue them; or 2) We rush off to pursue them now, figuring that “if God didn’t want this for me, he wouldn’t have placed the desire in my heart.” But God may be telling us something different. You may be making someday plans when God wants you to act today. Maybe he’s trying to tell you that you’ve thought about it long enough, prayed about it long enough, put it off long enough. And he’s telling you to GO and to GO now. On the flipside, you may be anxious to get on with what you’ve determined to be God’s call on your life, and God is actually telling you something else. He may be saying, “Not now, not you, or not at all.” He may say that through Scripture, trusted sources of wise counsel, or the closed and open doors of opportunity that you come to.

Our job is to truly listen to what God is saying to us. When he says to go, GO. When he says to wait, WAIT. And when he says, “No,” accept that with all of the grace that God has given you through Christ Jesus. These responses are easier said than done, but we can find rest in the knowledge and promise that we can do and endure all things through Christ, in whom we find our strength (Philippians 4:13).

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One of These

Mark 9:36-37

“He took a little child whom he placed among them.
Taking the child in his arms, he said to them,
‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me;
and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.’”

At church this morning, Pastor Dave was talking about how God’s economy differs from ours, and how His view of success also departs from the benchmarks this world sets. His message focused on Mark 9:33-37, but I found myself drawn especially to his comments on verse 37. As I listened to him read the familiar verse, it gave me pause. Like so many verses and messages, I first tied it into my thoughts on adoption, and whether God could be calling our family in that direction.

But that wasn’t Dave’s focus, and it may not have been Christ’s, either. Specifically, Dave stated that Jesus had chosen a child for this illustration because in that time, children were not treated with much esteem or paid much attention. It was a kind of revolutionary teaching to suggest that children held so much value in the eyes of God. I suppose it’s always that way—that acknowledging the immense and inherent value of any marginalized individual or group of people would raise some eyebrows.

Dave was talking about what it means to be successful in God’s eyes, and he gave this advice: “Don’t be threatened by others’ success, and don’t be encouraged by others’ failures.” As I logged onto my Twitter account to share this “tweetable” statement, I was bombarded with messages relating to the mass shooting in Orlando that you’ve no doubt heard about by now. As I read the tweets and the headlines, the relevance of Mark 9:37 to this tragedy was not lost on me. I saw outpourings of love, sympathy, and prayers. But I also saw a couple of comments suggesting that this tragedy may have been ordained by God. I think not. At least not the God of the Bible.

“Whoever welcomes one of these little children”—one of these marginalized, one of these pushed aside, one of these mistreated, one of these ostracized, one of these disregarded—“welcomes me.” –Jesus

May we—like Jesus—welcome, invite, and value our fellow human beings, for whom He died, just as certainly as He died for you and me.

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An Unlikely Enemy

Isaiah 55:8-9

“‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.’”

They say that the good is often the enemy of the best. It’s one of the truest statements ever made. I think it applies especially to God and to His plans for each of us. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got some ideas. I’ve got ideas about how I can serve God, and further the Kingdom, and bless all of humanity. Yeah, I’ve got some big ideas and some equally big plans. But wait—what’s that the Bible says in Proverbs 16:9? “The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.”

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But my plans are good! They’re noble, they’re selfless and sacrificial. And those things are true. But no matter how good my plans may be, they may not be BEST. God may have better plans than I do. Let’s face it, He undoubtedly does. So He’ll close some doors and open others. He’ll speak to me through other believers. He will give me a sense of peace, or perhaps a sense of unrest. And sometimes, some of our dreams have to die to make room for the dreams God has for us.

There’s a story I’ve heard several times, of a little girl with a fake pearl necklace that she adores and wears religiously. One night, her Dad asks, “Do you love me?” Her reply is, “Yes, of course I love you.” Dad’s reply? “Then will you give me your pearls?” Devastated, she replies, “Daddy, I do love you, but I can’t give you my pearls.” This exchange goes on for several nights, until the little girl finally answers, “Daddy, I do love you, and if you really want my pearls that badly, you can have them.” And once she hands them over through tears, the dad pulls out a beautiful string of REAL pearls, a gift he’s been waiting so long to give her. She’s finally willing to give up the good, in exchange for the best. The question is, am I? And are you?

Oh God, let us accept your best for us with open minds, open hands, and open hearts. Help us to believe the truth that your thoughts and your ways are so very much higher than ours; that you have plans to prosper us, to bring us a future and a hope; and that you are ready and waiting to do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine. In the all-powerful name of Jesus, let it be so.  

Privileges, Rights, & Rejection

It occurs to me lately that many of us have been taking certain privileges for granted, among them the freedoms of speech, expression, religion, and due process. I can hear you cursing at me through your computer screen: “Those are not privileges, they are God-given RIGHTS!” Says who? Says a bunch of guys who have since fallen into relative disrepute on the grounds of their past sins and grievances. Their humanity and frailty have been revealed to us over time, and yet we still cling to their assertion that we have certain inalienable rights, as humans.

But if this were true, people wouldn’t be slaughtered every day for their nationalities, they wouldn’t be executed for their faiths, they wouldn’t be imprisoned for their beliefs. Throughout our country’s history, we—at least some of us—have enjoyed privileges that have not been and are still not enjoyed by our fellow human beings. And still, we feel that we inherently deserve them, that we have somehow earned them. However, if you think back, you can probably identify times when you have felt deprived of those privileges. Maybe you were reprimanded at work because of something you said. Maybe you were ridiculed by your friends because of something you believed. Maybe you were cast out by your family for your stance on a controversial issue. Maybe you felt that the only acceptable response for those around you is silence. Maybe you felt there was not a soul on earth with whom you could be truly honest. These may have been one-time events, or they may plague you to this day. But in those instances, I think most of us feel persecuted or rejected, deprived of our ‘rights’.

But listen to what Jesus says in Luke 6: 22 and 26:

22 Blessed are you when people hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man….

26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

Our pastor recently described blessing as a nearness to God; it’s based on spiritual proximity rather than tangible or material gifts. I’ve found that, when I feel betrayed by a confidante, or as though I need to censor my words, thoughts, or actions, I have the great privilege of boldly approaching the throne of grace. And God will welcome me there, He will listen to my pleas, He will justly decide my case. It reminds me of the other night, when our son Tijge came home with an open sore on his hand—one full of dirt and germs and badly needing to be cleaned. After I cleaned it, he hit me several times. I very intentionally allowed him to do so, without scolding or punishing him. Instead, I held him close to me and tried my best to comfort him. Why? Because that’s the way God treats us. The consummate potter, He knows that to mold us into the people He intends for us to be, He must draw us close to Himself and not push us away. We need to know that, in His arms, we will find a safe place to air our grievances, disappointments, fears, and failures. And that is exactly what He offers. May you find that peace and comfort in His arms, today and every day, and may God richly bless you.

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How Then Shall We Pray…When God Says, “No”?

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Job 1:20-21(NASB)

“Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head,
and he fell to the ground and worshipped….
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

One year ago today, Amanda went home to heaven. I never met her, but from pictures and stories, it’s clear that this spunky little redhead was full of life and faith, and a maturity beyond her almost eleven years. Certainly, prayers for healing abounded during the 18 months prior to her passing. And while we know that she is happy, healthy, and cancer-free now, there remains a sense in which the answer to those prayers was, “No.” We know, of course, that God’s sovereignty is over all, and that His will and purpose are at times accomplished through loss. But that doesn’t negate the pain we feel. So, in times like these, we have to ask, How then shall we pray…when God says no? Thankfully, we can turn to the Bible for direction in this pursuit.

We’re told in Job 1: 20-21 that “Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshipped….The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Another translation quotes Job as saying, “may the name of the Lord be praised.” Now, this was just after Job had lost everything—his oxen, donkeys, sheep, camels, servants, sons, and daughters. I find it interesting that Job’s first response in the face of loss was to worship and to praise God. And he wasn’t the only one.

2 Samuel 12:13-23 recounts the death of David’s son after his affair with Bathsheba. David was warned in advance that this would happen, but for seven days, David fasted and prayed that his son would not die. But upon hearing of the child’s death, he “got up from the floor, washed himself, put lotions on, and changed his clothes. Then he went into the Lord’s house to worship.” Here, not only do we see David worshipping in the face of loss and tragedy, but we see an acceptance of God’s sovereignty and His decision. It feels almost as if his prayer changed. For a week, he prayed nonstop that God would allow his son to live. But then, when he didn’t, David got up, got dressed, worshipped, and ate. I can imagine him praying that God would use this loss for His glory, and that he would bring comfort in the midst of pain.

Finally, Luke 22:42 tells us that Jesus himself received disaffirming answers to his prayers. In the garden of Gethsemane, he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me.” And yet, he also acknowledged the sovereignty of God the Father, saying, “not my will, but yours be done.” As we know, God did not take the cup from him. Instead, he was tortured and killed. But before he breathed his last, his prayers changed as well. In the face of his own death, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

We, too, are faced with losses and disappointments. And we would do well to follow these godly examples. When God says, “No,” may we have the courage and humility to praise and worship and bless His name anyway. And may we be ready and willing to change our prayers in response to God’s movements.

Selfies

Psalm 139:14

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.”

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Selfies. I remember the first time I heard the term. I was watching a particularly humorous episode of Duck Dynasty. But I remember turning to my husband and asking, “What is a selfie? Is that really a thing?” I subsequently learned that it was a very prominent trend in our culture today. Is that a good or a bad thing?

Some people get down on others for taking too many selfies. In all honesty, some people DO take too many selfies. But I think that a blanket condemnation of this trend is premature, and perhaps a bit misguided.

As a mom of two toddlers, I think selfies (both with and without my kids) serve several valuable and legitimate purposes. They document our time together and our memories. If my kids’ memories of their childhood are as spotty as mine, they’ll need the reminders. These photos also document ME, as a mom. I’ve read more than one blog entry talking about how mothers are always getting stuck behind the camera, recording for posterity everyone but themselves. Then when everyone looks back years later, they ask, “Where was Mom in all of these photos?”

Selfies also demonstrate a level of confidence. Let’s face it. A lot of us moms are more than happy to take our place BEHIND the camera. The last person we want recorded for posterity is ourselves. We don’t want our weight, or our cellulite, our skin condition, or our horrific haircut memorialized for eternity on the internet. God forbid! But our kids see that…our daughters see that. They watch, they notice, they internalize those insecurities.

Am I saying that young girls should plaster scantily-clad and seductively-posed photos of themselves all over social media? No. Am I suggesting that these same girls open themselves up to potential victimization by sex traffickers and the like? Of course not. But I think selfies do have their place in our society. And while I’ve lately found myself taking a few more of them than I used to, I don’t think I should have to feel guilty about that. And I hope that—within reason—you don’t either.

I’ll Take It

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Early this spring, I remember driving around Waco. I noticed that it was 75 degrees outside, but a little cloudy. Still I said to myself, thinking about the cold and snow my family was experiencing up north, “I’ll take it.”

It’s easy to say that when it means embracing a few clouds in the sky on an otherwise gorgeous day. But I quickly realized that this should be my response to whatever God brings my way—not just in terms of weather, but also in terms of opportunities, experiences, and challenges. Whatever God allows is something He certainly plans on using to his glory.

James 1:2-4

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”

1 Thessalonians 5:18

“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s well for you in Christ Jesus.”

Of course, that’s every bit as hard as it sounds. And I don’t know the half of it. I haven’t been through the kinds of things that many of you have. I haven’t suffered the same losses or tragedies. But I know someone who has—God. He suffers with you. He hurts with you. He grieves with you. He weeps with you. What’s more, He watched as his own and only son suffered and died on our behalf. He grieved as Jesus looked at the world and at our sin and as he considered his great love for us and the sacrifice required to save us, and as he declared with resolve, “I wish it didn’t have to be this way, but for them, I’ll take it.”

So let’s follow his lead, shall we?