Saturday, August 31, 2013

Why I Bothered with the Bible & How Truth Can Rework a Trial

A little over a month ago, a much admired friend in the throes of ministry, discouraged by the prevailing apathy of some teenage church-goers asked his friends, "Why do you guys bother with the Bible?" This is part 1 of 2, an explanation of why I bother with the Bible and how it has reworked a trial. 

We were all at Allie's house for Bible Study, talking about how the winds of life had us all a bit frazzled. About how the anxieties of life can sometimes make it hard to breathe . And it's crazy how the sympathetic ear or knowing look of a friend can minister deep peace. 

Even still, how the truth of God's Word can help us gain our footing when we've scrambled, tripped and fallen all over the place.

Lily started to explain how she had started carrying around an index card that held truths from the Word in her back pocket. And when the day ushered in a lull, she'd pull out truth. You see, there's days when lies like daggers from the fires of hell are bound straight for us and without knowing truth, we're wearing a bulls eye, just begging for a wound. But pulling the Word from the back pocket of jeans can give hardship perspective and bestow the strength required for tomorrow.

So I listened to my friend Lily, and when the hardest times came, when consecutive nights were haunted by traumas' past and sleep was stolen, I woke to trust God's Word. When cold sweats jolted me to morning, I could cling to Psalm 130. Waking from a nightmare to the hope of the Lord's steadfast love and plentiful redemption got me from a heap of tears, out the front door and into the car. Truth can rework a trial.

Work-bound on the expressway, I would call upon Jesus who knew the pain and weakness of humanity, first hand. I could approach the heavenly throne where my great Sympathizer reigns and expect rich mercy and abundant grace in my time of need because Hebrews 4:14-16 is true.

In the midst of a day's work when emails piled and workloads grew, I could take refuge in Scriptures scribbled in notebooks and mull them over while I went for more coffee. You see, my life has proven 1 Peter 5:6-7 over and over again. I've bowed before God with countless frailties and deficiencies and unloaded all of it upon the One who cares with great detail and fixing power. 

When despair threatened to rob me of peace altogether, I could click on Truth for Life, listen all-intent and draw hope from the Gospel spoken to me. Sometimes the reality of a trial can scream louder than the realness of God-with-us. Sometimes faith really is smaller than the cell of a mustard seed and we're desperate for more. So I heard the Spirit speak through the railing plea of a Scottish preacher who knew the Word in the gut of his soul and the reality of God-with-me returned.  All because the God-breathed Word exists to teach, correct and train fumbling weak saints. All because 2 Timothy 3:16 is true.

Even though memory's horrors have haunted, Psalm 130 supplied the truest redemption. Even when anxiety has paralyzed, 1 Peter cured with the greatest care. Even when failures to trust the real order of this life have nearly overtaken, 2 Timothy rang louder in ears that chose to hear Gospel Truth. 

You see, I was desperate and decided to bother with the Word and discovered that the deepest meaning in the air of this world is located on the pages of Scripture. I found that when the circumstances of life threaten to suffocate, the only real way to breathe, is to inhale Truth. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Blessed are the Stubborn in Faith

I was about five and I had a penny. That head of mine had golden brown strands down to the shoulders. Locks that framed pure child deviousness. Discovery whirled through kid-mind and I realized that pennies on walls were copper crayons! Impassioned in front of that wall-canvas, I raced to cover egg shell paint with kindergarten art. 
However, my masterpiece was quickly discovered by the mortgage-payer who proceeded to fulfill a previously stated promise: "If you make art on the walls one more time, you'll lose your stuffed-animals for a week." It was an effective punishment. It bagged up all my fuzzy furry friends, Velveteen Rabbit and Kermit the Frog and left me quite lonely to mull over my wrong-doing. My willful wrong-doing. You see, Mr. Mortgage-Payer-Dad had warned me before about those "art attacks". But I was serious about my creations. 

Yeah, not really. My creations were meager, pretty childish in fact. 
In fact? Of course. 

But I was serious about asserting myself, about (attempting) to do what I wanted.
I was stubborn. 

Curled up in a puddle of pathetic sobs, in a sunshine yellow room that echoed the absence of all my stuffed-friends, Dad said, "Why do you always have to learn the hard way?" Only fists pounded pillows and girly tears replied. 

I was stubborn and I would learn the hard-way. 

Time and time again, I'd return to fist-pounded pillows and girly tears on through teenage years and straight past the pillars of college. I was stubborn. 

But six months ago, I stood in a sanctuary of egg shell colored walls untainted by little girl art and I looked up at a stained-glass communion cup and I was reminded of the God who is with us and the Christ who died for us. I was reminded of the unbelievable friend I have in God. Of all the times I've asserted my will over His, paid the consequences and curled up all wounded with tears and heard the words of Heavenly Father say (not ask), "Why do you always have to learn the hard way."

And then, then I looked at the cross. That torture weapon, the symbol of my faith and I realized that God is always in the business of turning awful into good. The horror of hands and feet smashed to a tree by hammer and nails. The sorrow-filled blood rushing down forest grain. God wounded for the sake of human healing? A splintered crucifix has become the breathtaking monument of my faith.

Jacob was the lying cheat who stole his brother Esau's blessing. Repentance and wrestling with God Himself would bestow on him true blessing, a better name and his brother's kindness.

Moses was the murderous lawbreaker who God would reveal Himself Holy to. A stuttering man who rescued an entire nation from Pharaoh's heinous hand. A sinner who imparted God's good law on divinely-penned stone tablets to a nation of offenders in a desert. 

David was an obscure shepherd boy who God made a warrior and turned into a king.

Esther was an orphan girl kidnapped and forced into royal marriage where she became the spokeswoman that saved the entire nation of Israel. 

Over and over and over again, He has used the ugliest parts of us, the worst (sovereign(ly)-permitted) situations and most paralyzing quips and made beautiful of it all. Redemption. 

Instead of being the willful brat who asserts herself and says, "No"... 
Please, let me say: 

Yes Lord, I'll receive communion and remember what You've done, what You've endured for me. I'll be stubborn about it every day. I will look to the body that was broken and the blood that splattered and was poured out for me and I'll resolve to cling to You for wholeness and holiness. 

To rise in the morning, regardless of emotion, exhaustion or allergies and give thanks to the Lord who didn't always have a place to lay his head. I'll praise You for rest and for pillows. I'll resolve to look for divine provision in things I thought I've been entitled to, like toast and coffee. Yes, I'll break bread and I'll give thanks. 

I'll look at the world like I looked at the walls when I was a five, like a canvas set out for Creator God. Clouds that cushion me from the full revelation of Righteous You in heaven. Birds who perch on patios and proclaim divine provision, dressed up royally from the closet of God.  White foaming waves crash on rocks and applaud the One who can speak to paralyze wind and water. 

When the emails fill the inbox and my breath quickens with stress, I'll look at the hands that type words and remember the hands that were pierced and pray for kinder words to type. If arguments arise and egos are at stake, may I bow low to You, who had no reason for humility yet chose humiliation on a cross so I could chose love, so I could chose forgiveness. How plans get thwarted, things go wrong and situations lack sense yet I know that in You, Lord Jesus all things hold together

God, let my willfulness serve your plans, not my selfishness. Permit my stubbornness to be made into blessed perseverance, into holy persistence. My heart has wandered from You and my feet have left your path and it has been death every single time. I bow this will before You and resolve to daily bind it, enslave it to your Grace and Goodness. I surrender these feet to the light-filled path and pray for strength to walk, crawl or limp along your road. Just help me hold onto the Way. 

I know, this is a daily thing. To commune with God is be awake to all the good things that come meant for us from His holy hand. To remain in Him is to find nourishment in the beautiful and hard things of life. Breathing in his Presence and walking in the power of his Spirit is the only way to subdue this willful, stubborn heart of mine. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Finding Grace when Mother's Day Is Hard

She did love me, in a crippled way. Nevertheless, her fists and words beat me down as I grew up. Mom tried to care for me but those spells of depression that bound her to bed for days on end make it hard to grocery shop or go to work or take a shower or eat. When she swallowed pills with liters of flaming alcohol, demons and despair burnt her right through. She meant to protect me but her highs were high and they welcomed strange men into what was supposed to be a safe place. Sometimes love appeared in a hug, but it fled when spitting, violent hatred moved in for a long stay. Often, writhing in the agony of her decisions, she'd say, "Don't do what I am doing." The showing and telling about what is right and good were eclipsed by flawed choices. She couldn't love me well because she was not well. 

My aunts, my uncles, my estranged dad of 8 years looked on in horror. Failed interventions, lost court cases and botched rescues folded them over in tired defeat. For days, months, years, I was beat down as I grew up. Churches prayed and God was silent. Was this the God who knit me together within the frame of my mother, whose eyes saw my unformed body, who ordained my days before they came to be? How can this God be good? How could he let this unravel before his very eyes?

She held onto her twisted reigns of motherhood, fed me with lies and taught me to call my father unspeakable names. My brain bathed in the soil of sin. As my most influential teacher, Mom scratched a chalkboard full of all that I was to her: stupid, ugly, in the way, everything that was wrong with her life. I believed it. I learned it. And then I lived it. 

By the early age of twelve I was proving a good study in her lessons. The false promise of escape through drugs lured me with the mirage of peace. The lie of love in promiscuity tried to strip me of dignity. I was convinced of my worthlessness. So I beat myself down as I grew up. 

But at just the right time, this mighty Arm reached down into my darkness and carried out the impossible rescue. By fifteen, I was searching the array of options for ending it all and somehow picked the option that was not there: a pay phone at high school. The black receiver requested rescue to the man I'd always thought to be my enemy, my dad. The parent who'd allegedly cared nothing for me, who lived 12 hours away-  he loaded a white truck full of my things and closed a car door to fifteen years of suffocating pain. So desperate for escape, I didn't even know I was old enough to legally decide. So it wasn't a white horseman, it was a dad- with eyes cried dry, in a rusty white pick-up who put miles to the road of my salvation. 

Had God been a moment earlier, I may have followed through to the end with my destructive tendencies. Had it been any later, I would have snuffed out my days in this heinous, burning world because living around horror is not nearly as bad as hate in your veins, as being horrible yourself. 

So the father I'd thought was my enemy would become the protector, provider, teacher and hugger I had longed for. And the God who seemed so silent before, opened his mouth wide and said:  
All these years, I've searched you out and known you.
When you sat (in the corner shaking) and when you rose (in fear),
I knew your (sad and terrified) thoughts from afar.
I discerned your going out (when you ran away) and lying down (ready for death).
I have been familiar with all your ways (your helplessness and destruction).
Even before a word was on your tongue, I knew it completely. 
You see, I hemmed you in, behind and before
And laid this Hand upon you (softened hard blows and cutting words).
My knowledge (why I let this go on), the expanse of it, is too much for you to take in.
You can't go from my Spirit or flee from my presence (I'm your Heavenly Father).
Fly to the heavens and I am there.
Make your bed in the depths and I am there.
Rise on the wings of dawn and settle at the far side of the sea
Even there, my Hand will guide you
Even there, I will hold (protect and sustain) you fast. 
You can think that darkness (behind locked doors) will surely hide you
That light will become night around you-
But with me, night shines like the day
Don't you know darkness is as light to me?
I created you in your inmost being, knit you together in your mother's womb.
Your frame was never hidden from me in the secret place.
I wove you together in the depths of the earth
My eyes saw your unformed body-

Saw the days ordained (and redeemed) before you and wrote them in my book before one of them came to be.
Don't you see that my thoughts toward you are precious?
That I made you, fearfully and wonderfully?
(adapted from Psalm 139)
All these years, I thought I was a mistake. Just something, not even somebody, just in the way. But this mighty Arm reached down far into darkness and lifted me to light. To a place where all the awfulness of before lit the path bound for Glory Himself. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Best Kind of Poverty

I picked some springtime from the perimeter of a neighbor's garden the other day. Chicago's gloom and grey made me do it. Just one sunny day can make a gal lose her propriety. But that token of springtime ministered to eyes tired from emails and compressing clouds. My fingers twirled the green stem and the hope of warmer days made this cold soul sing. 

Then came groceries. 
I left my petals on the dash of the car with intent, in hopes that passers-by could see and feel the goodness of fresh life while I shopped. After all, don't urbanites need green things to remind them that concrete isn't the product of photosynthesis?

Forty minutes later, I returned to the car with arms full of brown bags just to discover that my 6 happy petals had withered up and died from the heat of the sun. And the Spirit of God said, "Look and learn."
The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business. James 1:9-11
I thanked God for the brown bag full of nutrients, for the job that brought the paycheck that bought good things. And the next time I started to say "I need", my tongue stopped short. Instead of looking around to compare my grocery cart with someone else’s, I looked up and was reminded of the Giver of all that I possess in closets, cupboards and soul. Having enough can make me forgetful.

Moses' statement, “But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth,” was for the Israelites as much as it was for me. Remember your God when you have the clarity of mind to explain something complicated, when you have the health to trump up three flights of stairs, when you have the cash to fix the inconvenience of a flat tire. 
Remember his provision and care when you’re in the high position of need and repent when you’re in the low position of greed.

What does James mean when he says that there is a blessing to be had in humble circumstances? What good can come from a bank account glaring red, in beloved sons living contrary to upbringings, when marriages trudge through a minefield or hope is paralyzed from a dreaded diagnosis? These are life’s daggers that cause us to wrestle with despair. This is where we find ourselves in that dark pit asking questions of our Giver. And that’s when the pain of humility causes us to call out our emptiness. This is where the blessedness comes in. This is where the mighty arm of the Lord reaches down, deep into our darkness to carry out the rescue. The posture of brokenness is what God esteems in us and it’s what He uses to save us.

Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Happy am I when I recognize my impoverished soul and the only God who can make it rich. Blessed are those who manage to trust that God is good when it seems like He is gone. Happy are those who barely make it, but somehow withstand life’s lambasting because loving Him hard gifts us a crown of life.

In the warmth of sun and prosperity, when I'm tempted to say, "I'm rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing." Oh God, let me remember that riches, like beauty are only skin-deep and will never be capable of satisfying the eternal soul. In the despair of cold grey, let me twirl the stem of truth around my mind and try hard to remember that, “In God’s economy, emptying comes before filling, confession before forgiveness, and poverty before riches.”
This is the secret of happiness: Poverty

1) Billy Graham, The Secret of Happiness, 1st ed. (New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc 1955), 11