Saturday, November 11, 2017

What am I supposed to be doing?

Some time ago,  I had HUGE misgivings and second thoughts about a major decision, finding myself uneasy and looking for an exit sign.  What am I doing HERE?  Did I not listen closely enough?  Did I get my signals crossed?

Show me what to do, O LORD. Give me Your peace, or give me Your direction.   

I sat silently before Him.  But I still held tightly to the self-made dilemma in my lap.  Waiting and listening for Him, my death-grip began to loosen.   My excuses began to melt in His Presence, my justifications crumbled, and my cobbled-together escape plans evaporated into thin air. 

I moved from asking “why and how and where” to asking what God would have me to do in this.  I don’t even have to know His purposes or His reasons why.  Just to follow Him into it.  The true sense of the word “obey” in both Hebrew and Greek means “to hearken and to heed.”  Bags packed and shoes tied. To listen expectantly for and be ready to respond. In God’s eyes, responding to Him is not an impersonal doing, but the most intimate form of being.

Being in the center of God’s will
     does not mean
that I am always right,
or I am never wrong,
                   but that God redeems.
No crumbs left over.
Nothing random at all.

“God has you where you are for a reason.  He has given you success this week for a reason.  He has sent hardship into your life this week for a reason.  In everything, the invisible hand of providence is lovingly directing your life – behind the scenes – down to the smallest detail,” says Kevin DeYoung in his awesome book Just Do Something.

I am aware that I am to seek God in this, not just an answer.   The decision will not suddenly arrive with a thud on the front porch like a package from Federal Express. 

God’s desire is for relationship in all and above all.

God reassures me that He can work even in this.  Even if I made a mistake, He can redeem, if I seek Him in it.   He rises above my wrongdoings, my sin, my blunders, my likes and dislikes, my desire to avoid risk, my need to be right, even above my discomfort.  He is never restrained by time.  He has all the time in the world, because He created it.

I want to rewind and start again.  God wants to redeem and use it for His glory.

And maybe that decision was not a mistake at all, but God purposed it to bring me into a new understanding in my relationship with Him.  Whatever brings me closer to God is fully and completely within His will.  Even in mystery.  Even in this.

This week as I was re-reading The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom for the billionth time, it appeared that a short passage was written in BOLD, enlarged and capitalized with my name on it, jumping off the page and into my heart.  Standing in line in the Ravensbruck concentration camp, Corrie was full of fear, fully aware that she was carrying a small Bible in a pouch hanging around her neck.  Prison guards were inspecting each and every inmate.  What was she to do?

“And all the while I had the incredible feeling that it didn’t matter, that this was not my business, but God’s.  That all I had to do was walk straight ahead.” (The Hiding Place, page 193.)

And that is what Corrie did.  Each and every prisoner was inspected head to toe – in front of her and behind her.  When it came to her turn, the guard just screamed at her to move along and not hold up the line.

And so, God impressed in my heart that this mystery may not be mine to know His purposes.  I have only to be faithful to Him and walk straight ahead.  He’s got this.

What am I supposed to be doing?
        Trust Me.

But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,
His mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
       great is Your faithfulness.

                          Lamentations 3: 21-23

Friday, November 10, 2017

And oh, the familiar

There are many mornings, particularly at the beginning of the week, when I am up well before dawn for appointments and meetings.  The house is dark as if huge black sheets are draped over the windows.

I silently inch my way across the bedroom floor and into the kitchen like a blind person who does not see but knows, who is sensitive to stumbling blocks beyond my sight, those things that have the potential to trip me up.  The obstacles are invisible to my eyes, but I know they are there, the chairs, the table, the countertop.  I am not seeking an exit, a way out from this darkness, but a way through to the light switch.  I can find it in the dark, because I know where it is, and how to get there.  I have been here many times before. 

That which is familiar is visible even in the deepest darkness.
I remember this.
I have seen it before.
I know what lies before me,
      like a map already memorized.
I still have a strength and vision
          that is not mine.

I often encourage young people to keep a chronicle of God's faithfulness to them.  You know, those divine appointments, doors already opened, the mountain pass through impossible places, glimpses of His grace, the awe of God's fingerprints, the intricate layers of His provision, the "I can't wait to tell Mom about this!" kind of encounters. Verses claimed.  Prayers that have changed the trajectory of my life. You know, those supernatural things that I boast, "I'll never forget!" 

But unless they are written down, they fade from our memory.  And they do not remain to encourage those who come behind us.  Of all the things passed on to the next generation, I would have loved to know specific ways God was working in my grandparents and great grand parents, even those family members I will not even meet until the other side of life.

By keeping the faithfulness of God engraved in my heart, by walking daily with Him, when the crises emerge, when the storms overwhelm, when I am weak, when I am in a very very dark place, I remember not just the stories, but I recall that which God has trained in me: 
          What did I do before? 
          How did I trust God through it?

Those stories equip me for the next time life is tough... and for when life is harder still.

Do not be afraid of sudden panic,
or of the storms of the wicked,
                    when it comes;
for the LORD will be your confidence
        and will keep your foot
                from being caught.

                                Proverbs 3. 25

The lights in our basement, when we lived in Cincinnati, were controlled by a main switch at the top of the stairs.  Inevitably in the course of the day, one of the girls would be doing something in the basement, and someone upstairs would innocently switch off the lights, plunging the lower level in total darkness.  Instead of being paralyzed by it, I told the girls, "Wait just a second for your eyes to adjust.  And then, if you walk towards any available light, you will find your way out."  Light comes through the cracks in the exit door.  But only if you are seeking it.

Darkness can send me into a panic...
or I can use that trigger to remember:
             how to trust God through this.
He may not pluck me out of this wilderness,
             but deliver me through.
God provides and delivers in unexpected ways
            and always in multiple layers,
   touching more lives than I can know.
He never works in singular outcomes.

You've been here before,
        keep walking with Me.

Fear not, for I am with you;
be not afraid,
               for I am your God.;
I will strengthen you,
I will help you,
I will uphold you with
         My victorious right hand.

                            Isaiah 41. 10

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

It is not just halloween today, not the wearing of disguises, but the taking off of masks

Today is not just halloween day, but the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation.  It was the simple action of one man, convicted by what he saw around him.  For the love of God, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany.  He had no idea the impact of that simple act of obeying what God had placed in his heart.

None of us have any idea the incredible way God redeems even a single baby step of obedience, even in whatever we face today.

What stood out to me, when I looked up the contents of those papers nailed to that old church door, was that these words were not of violence against the church. These theses were not a manifesto to scream "rebel" or "revolt."

But repent.

The very first of Luther's theses states:  "When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, 'Repent,' He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance."

There was, in the established church at that time, the practice of indulgences, whereby a sinner could simply buy his way out of his transgression by basically purchasing a "get out of purgatory free" card. Just throw a money at the church for your guilt.

And 500 years ago today, on October 31, 1517, Luther's cry for personal repentance was what started the Reformation.  No more covering up sin.  No more disguises.  No more masks. But what does the Word of God say about it?

The sound of that hammer on that Wittenberg door still resounds in the hearts of all believers, right at the core of what we believe.

God always redeems a repentant heart.  Repentance is where the redeeming begins.

Repentance does not mean saying, "Oh sorry, God," and going about your merry way.  But repenting is speaking the three hardest words ever, "I was wrong."  The word repentance literally means "turning around and going in a different direction."

What is even harder than admitting and confessing, whether a wrong heart or wrongdoing, is realizing that God's forgiveness is already there.  He already has that covered through the death of His Son Jesus.  If there was any other way to forgiveness, Jesus would not have had to die. for. you. You cannot make up for your wrongdoing. You don't have to. Jesus has already been there.  No more guilt.  No more shame.

Sola scriptura.
Sola fida.
Sola gratia.

By scripture alone,
by faith alone,
by grace alone.

That is the core of Reformation teaching.

I don't have to nail anything to a church door, because my sins were nailed on the cross.

And so, as revealed in Scripture, our relationship with God is based not just on a heart of repentance, but on God's heart of forgiveness.

Make sure your children know what this day signifies for every one of us:
               In Christ alone my hope is found.

 The LORD is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
...He does not deal with us
              according to our sins,
nor requite us
              according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so great is His steadfast love
              toward those who fear Him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does He remove our transgressions from us.
                                         Psalm 103. 8, 10-12

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

From here to there and even now

In the margins of my Bible are written dates and places and names, when I have claimed a verse or two for someone, for a impossible situation, for a seeking of God in this.  Sometimes I have seen how God has answered, sometimes I have not yet.  Some things now, some things later, some things belong to eternity.

This morning as I noticed a number of dates next to a particular verse in Jeremiah.  It was like a parade of our many moves as a nomadic family, a variety of dates and places.

But what stood out to me was not the memory of moving yet again, but God's faithfulness, even in what we could not understand at the time, even into what only appeared as wilderness, even then, even there.  His steps were revealed in unexpected ways and in the most unlikely of places.  And God changed us through them.

I cannot know what is ahead, even today, but I can know Who is with me.  Be not afraid. Don't miss out on the wonder.  God is faithful.  I can stake my life on that.

...that the LORD your God
       may show us the way we should go,
and the thing that we should do.
                                Jeremiah 42. 3

Am I willing to follow God into this?
Am I listening for Him,
    am I listening to Him?
Never ignore
        the power of the supernatural.
God is at work in you
    and extraordinarily around you,
His purposes deeper
                than you can ever know.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Excuse me, but there is a dead body on your living room floor

A slight break would occur usually in the early afternoon, after the extended rush hours of the morning and before the next tsunami wave crashed through her schedule.  It was not a noticeable gap in her day, not even a predictable or reliable pocket of time.  It was almost imperceptible, easily missed if she hadn't been listening for it.

If you have ever driven a car with stick-shift, there is a reluctant moment between the release of one gear and the engaging of the next.  That was the momentary gift she was looking for.

My mom was a master of those snatches of time.  She taught violin lessons to high schoolers in the early morning darkness before the school day, during their study halls, and then again, after school into the evening hours. It was a grueling schedule for her, to say the least, but you know, sometimes you just have to roll with what is needful.  Sometimes, life is just hard.  She was tired, and half-empty cups of cold coffee decorated our home.

As a result, it was not an unlikely sight to come into our house and see my mom prone and unmoving on the floor, right in the middle of the living room in the middle of the day.  Dead asleep, barely breathing, unaware of anything going on around her, even the dogs racing around her stirred up no response at all.

"I'm taking a nap," she once explained to me.  "Why don't you just lay down on your bed?" I asked.  She looked at me with a bit of shock in her eyes.  "Oh, I would get too comfortable.  I just need ten minutes on the floor, and I'm good to go."

And seriously, she would become comatose for ten minutes, awaken refreshed without an alarm, and proceed energized into the rest of her day and sometimes deep into the night.  It was quite simply "a power nap."

It is not unusual for any one of us for our load to become heavier through the day.  

But what if we treated our own languishing souls in the middle of unworkable situations and among impossible people, not with a power nap, but ten minutes of prayer?  Laying not on the floor to sleep, but laying out our troubled hearts and heavy burdens and stormy circumstances before the LORD?  Right at my desk, right at the counter, right while I am mopping up someone else's mess.

The truth is that we spend a lot more time stressing out than praying about it.

When I am anxious and overwhelmed, I don't know what to do, but God Almighty does.  As God's Word says in 2 Chronicles 20.12:
                      "For we are powerless against this great multitude
                                                        that is coming against us.
                      We do not know what to do,
                                             but our eyes are upon You."

I can hurtle through my day, or I can listen to God's way in this, and pray my way through. How can I think differently about this? 

A little power prayer in the middle of the day. 

Weary?  God invented something even better than a power nap. seemed to me a wearisome task,
      until I went into the sanctuary of God...

                                           Psalm 73. 16-17

As my friend Brad used to say,
    "Stop. drop, and pray."