Trust

Who I Am–Part VII

Matthew 16:24-25

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me,
he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.
“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it;
but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

I’ve been married almost seven years. But I have to admit, I was never one of those girls who was anxious or eager to get my MRS degree. I had plans, and I worried that marriage would interrupt those plans—be it through an inconvenient move, or an unplanned pregnancy, or any number of other “trials” that sometimes come along with marriage.

But what can you do? I met a great guy and we decided that we might be able to serve God better together than alone. Besides, when the time came to say good-bye and go our separate ways, neither of us really wanted to. So we planned a beautiful but casual wedding—in a barn! And that was before it was “cool” to get married in a barn. But before we got married, I got my most recent tattoo. It’s on the inside of my left wrist, and reads “Surrender” in Arabic.

This was very intentional. I knew that marriage would mean sacrifice. I knew that motherhood would mean sacrifice. Knowing this, I chose to give up any control that I perceived myself to have, in pursuit of the greater good. But making that choice consciously didn’t negate or nullify the sacrifices that would follow. It hasn’t even always made those sacrifices easier. But if they were easy, I guess they wouldn’t be sacrifices.

As I’ve thought about this truth over the past few days, it occurs to me how perfectly suited this entry is for today—Easter. Jesus, after all, is also well acquainted with the ideas of sacrifice and surrender. He chose to submit to the Heavenly Father’s will, to come to earth, and to humble himself, taking on human flesh. He laid down the rights of his deity, and then he laid down his very life as a sacrifice for our sins. And we sometimes console ourselves with the delusion that, because this sacrifice was undertaken willingly, it was somehow less sacrificial and less requiring of surrender. But the Bible makes clear that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Even knowing the glory set before him on the other side of the grave, Jesus pleaded with God the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). As if that wasn’t enough, Luke 22:44 tells us that “in His anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground.”

And if surrender and sacrifice were so taxing to Jesus’s spirit, how can we expect anything less? Our lives will offer these opportunities and invitations over and over again, until we are ultimately called home. When they come my way, I do my best to hold open hands up to the heavens in acceptance of God’s will. And when I do, I’m reminded of that word—surrender. I’m convinced that Jesus also holds his hands out in front of him from time to time. But instead of his scars reminding him of surrender or sacrifice, they remind him of you and of me. It is as though his hands are tattooed with the word beloved…along with each of our names.

Isaiah 49:16

“Look, I have inscribed your name on my palms; your walls are constantly before me.” 

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#Blessed

Job 1:21

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

It occurred to me this past week that my next blog entry would be my 100th since launching my blog in May of 2014. And it seemed fitting that I post it on my birthday, so I figured, 37 is as good a time as any for a mid-life reflection. Although I must say, even at the ‘half-way’ point, I feel like I’ve lived quite a full life—full of experiences, emotions, friendships, and memories. Some bad, some good, some both.

As I think back on the past year, it’s been pretty good. I’ve been blessed, but not just in the material and superficial ways that we often use that word to convey. I’ve learned that it isn’t material abundance or a lack of adversity that measures blessing, but rather a nearness to God that can come from joy and pain, and the intermingling of the two. The contentment I feel now stands in stark contrast to my birthday reflections of a few years back, when I’d had a somewhat bittersweet year. My dog (read best friend) of almost seven years had passed away, I’d had a pretty rough pregnancy and delivery with Laredo, and I was regularly plagued by an ongoing chemical imbalance that left me in frequent despair. Worse still, I had no one nearby to enter into that suffering with me—no one to understand or empathize with me, or to offer comfort.

Time and distance, though, have helped me see that—even then—I could have received the blessing of God’s presence. I could have drawn nearer to Him and used my suffering for good. I could have borne witness to a faith that I still clung to, however precariously. I sang the Matt Redman lyrics in church on Sunday:

Blessed Be Your name
When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness

On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

And I prayed that they would ring true in my heart, but the struggle continued. I’ve since learned the extraordinary power of gratitude (in the big and little things), and I’ve learned to trust and rest in God’s goodness (no matter the circumstances). And I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the contribution of some great prescription drugs—in some ways, I can truly say that I love science.

I don’t know if this coming year is going to bring more of the relatively smooth sailing that has graced the past twelve months, or if it will resemble the more tumultuous year I had a few back. For all I know, it may hold something entirely new—and scarier than ever. But my prayer is that whatever this year brings, I will embrace it, and continue to affirm that I am still blessed.

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The Cost of Sacrifice

2 Samuel 24:24

“But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it.
I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”
So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and
paid fifty shekels of silver for them.”

In 1988, Bobby Michaels released a song entitled, “Anything that Costs Me Nothing.” It’s a great song–you should check it out. Surely, he was inspired by King David’s response to Araunah in 2 Samuel 24:24. You see, Araunah had offered to give the king a threshing floor and oxen that he planned to use for a sacrifice to God. But King David replied, “‘No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.’ So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them.”

Whenever illness strikes a friend, a neighbor, or a family member, I think to myself, “That should be me.” It must sound morbid, I know, but I have always longed so deeply for heaven and have been so anxious to meet my Heavenly Father, that I know my response to such a diagnosis would surely honor and glorify Him. I’m sure of it. But maybe that’s why God hasn’t chosen that path for me. Oh, of course, it would require some sacrifices. I would give up the chance to watch my children grow up and to have them know and remember me. I would give up the chance to someday meet and hold and love my grandchildren. But truly, it wouldn’t be the same for me as I know it is for some. And just as they must offer their lives as a costly sacrifice for the God they love and serve, so must I.

For me, that sacrifice may mean a lengthy stay here on earth, in a land that is foreign to me and one that could never feel quite like home. It may mean many years of hoping and trusting in what I cannot see. It will surely require me to rely and lean on God in my weaknesses and amid my failures. And when I feel that unbearable sense of separation from Him and long to be closer, to be held in His strong but gentle arms, I must remember that this is my sacrifice, and that its value lies in its cost. I pray always that it would be a cost that I would bear gladly.

Our Unreasonable King

Joshua 10:12-13

“On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel….
The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down
about a full day.”

Have you ever read the book, The Little Prince? I first read it in graduate school, and I have finally decided that Tijge is old enough to read it as well. So I’ve been reading it out loud to him over last month or so. There is a point in the book where the little prince is travelling among planets near his own, very small planets, each inhabited by only one person. On the first planet, he meets a benevolent king…

“…the king insisted that his authority be universally respected. He would tolerate no disobedience, being an absolute monarch. But since he was a kindly man, all his commands were reasonable.” And then a bit later, the little prince “ventured to ask a favor of the king: ‘I’d like to see a sunset… Do me a favor, your majesty… Command the sun to set…’” The king replied, “…One must command from each what each can perform….Authority is based first of all upon reason….I am entitled to command obedience because my orders are reasonable….You shall have your sunset. I shall command it. But I shall wait, according to my science of government, until conditions are favorable….around seven-forty!”

When I read this section of the book, I couldn’t help but think about how different this king is from ours. Of course, God is benevolent and kindly, but I realize with great joy and peace that He is far from ‘reasonable,’ at least by this king’s definition. You see, God needn’t wait for conditions to be favorable to make a command and have it obeyed. All throughout the Bible, we see accounts that assure us that God’s commands defy the laws of nature, the laws of science, the laws of man, the laws of the universe….and as unreasonable as they may be, they are OBEYED.

God parted the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21-22) and made the sun stand still (Joshua 10:12-13); Jesus was born of a virgin (Matthew 1:18-25), walked on water (Matthew 14:25), calmed the storm (Mark 4:35-41), brought the dead to life (John 11:43), was crucified under the cover of darkness at midday (Luke 23:44-45), and rose again on the third day (Luke 24:6).

This is how I know that God is with my friend, Russell, who is fighting for his life after a heart attack at age 39. It’s how I know that if there is even one kidney on the face of this earth that is a match for Emily, God knows exactly where it is, whose it is, and how to get it to her. It’s how I know that if God wants us to adopt a child, He is perfectly capable of providing divine intervention, divine revelation, divine wisdom, or divine peace. And whatever you’re facing today, our God—our King—can be trusted to command the absolutely unreasonable on your behalf. And to Him be the glory!

All Authority

Lenten Blossoms

John 19:10b-11a

“Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power
either to free you or to crucify you?”

Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.”

I have trust issues. If you know me well at all, you know this is an understatement. Here’s another: I have problems with authority. These two problems—let’s be honest, sins—have caused me no end of trouble ALL. MY. LIFE.

Imagine the emotional turmoil that comes when I am asked to TRUST AUTHORITY. At this moment, that looks like trusting some very godly (not perfect, not faultless, not infallible, but godly) church leadership. It has me in a heart place that I think some of you will relate to, even if your circumstances are a bit different from mine.

Ultimately, I’ve been faced with the question of God’s sovereignty. I’m asked to believe what God says through Jesus in John 19:11, when He assures Pilate, “You would have no authority over me, unless it had been given you from above.” That authority is also espoused in Romans 13:1, where Paul instructs believers to “be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.”

The Bible doesn’t say that those authorities and leaders will do everything correctly, or justly. He doesn’t even guarantee that their hearts will be in the right place, or that their intentions will be pure. In fact, Scripture seems to suggest that our earthly leaders WILL fall short; they WILL fail. Some will even inflict harm intentionally. I’m reminded of (among others) Jeremiah’s account of Nebuchadnezzar, wherein this evil foreign king was used of God to deliver judgment against Judah for idolatry, unfaithfulness, and disobedience. In fact, in Jeremiah 25:9, God even refers to this ruler as “my servant.”

My point is this: If God can and does work all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes (Romans 8:28)…If He has used (and continues to use) evil kings and rulers to accomplish His good, perfect, and pleasing will…If He knows everything and sees everything—from the beginning to the end of time…

Well then surely He can and will take our failures and the failures of those earthly authorities, and redeem them for the Kingdom good. So the bottom line is that we are called to submit to authority, but all the while TRUSTING a perfect, holy, righteous, good, just, and sovereign God. May we trust in HIS authority today and every day.

Prepositions

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There’s a song that I love, by All Sons and Daughters, that contains these lyrics:

“I will sing, sing, sing,
To my God, my King,
For all else fades away…”

But often, as I sing along, I will unconsciously replace the word “for” with “‘til.” Of course, that changes the meaning. “For” essentially means “because,” which is nothing like “until.” But somehow, it fits. And really, I’ve realized that there are several prepositions that could work with those lyrics:

For: Everything else will fade away, so why sing our praises—or follow after—anything else?

‘Til: Trials, suffering, challenges—they won’t last forever. If you hold onto God, and keep your eyes on him, he will carry you through.

When: Loss and disappointment are a part of life—not always, and not only, but they can never be completely avoided. And sometimes, those experiences are so intense that you’ll feel as if everything else has faded away. And that’s when we need to cling to God even more.

Luke 21:33 assures us that all else WILL pass away. So why would we want to hold onto anything else, or anyone else? When this world crumbles, I want to be holding onto the eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God, the Creator of all else. So I will sing, sing, sing, to my God, my King…