Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Super Blood Moon, September 2015

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
and by the breath of his mouth all their host.
Psalm 33:6

For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,
but the Lord made the heavens.
Psalm 96:5
Blood moon (lunar eclipse), night of 27 September

Super moon, early morning of 28 September

Super moon at dawn, morning of 28 September

Friday, August 7, 2015

Sifted {Five Years of Crumbs}

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32 ESV)

“But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.” (Job 23:10 ESV)

Nancy Leigh DeMoss likes to say, “Anything that makes us desperate for God is a blessing.” If that’s so, and I believe it is, the Lord has blessed the stuffing out of my family these last 5 years.

You know much of my part of the story, the surgeries, the chronic pain that prompted the beginning of this blog, the seemingly endless round of doctors’ appointments and physical therapy. You know we lost my grandmother Nonni 9 months ago. Amore has said good-bye to his grandmother, an aunt, and 2 uncles over the last 5 years as well. You may not know, because they are not my stories to detail, that every member of my family and many in Amore’s have been through their own individual desperate “anythings.” A  serious car accident, many job changes, moves, surgeries, broken bones, medical emergencies, church traumas, a stroke, hard diagnoses, and financial hardship provide a taste, and there’s no clear sign of a lull in the cycle soon. All these challenges truly are a blessing, drawing us closer to each other in mutual need and to the Lord in the stripping away of self-dependence and the false identities we lean on for significance.

The last 5 years have held happy providences, too: hellos to new friends and a good church home near my house, the injuries and surgeries that went better than predicted, the joys of serving with my dad at VBS the last 2 years. Loved ones have been protected. Needs have been met. Tests have been passed.

At the same time, Christian faith does not require that we pretend the hard providences are easy. Things that make us desperate for God are a blessing, but an uncomfortable, often painful, one, a diamond wrapped in sandpaper.

When soul and body grow weary with fighting for health and strength, when it all just seems too much for one clan to bear, when I wonder if my heart is broken beyond mending for the sorrows of those I deeply love or anxiety over the outcome of their trials—

I remember the sifting.

In one of the Bible studies of the 3 ½ years I’ve been with my church group, Beth Moore spends 2 days of homework examining the trial of Job and the sifting of Peter.

Since Job 23:10 mentions being tried “as gold,” my mental imagery includes a bubbling pot over a fire, with black dross atop the brightening yellow gold like the skin on warmed but cooling milk or drops of oil at the surface of au jus gravy. (Mind you, I’ve never actually seen gold being refined, so take the image for no more than it’s worth. Heat-refined gold is the important part.)  1 Peter 1:6-7 employs the same word picture:
…you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

The sifting of Peter is a bit more complicated. In the agriculture of the ancient Near East, it would have involved the separation of valuable wheat from worthless chaff or impurities like stones. In the preceding winnowing process, harvesters would toss recently harvested wheat into the wind so that the heavy, valuable grain quickly fell back down and the light, inedible chaff and straw would blow away. Some chaff and small impurities would still remain, so the wheat needed the additional step of sifting. Bible-history.com explains:

The wheat or barley will still be more or less mixed with certain amounts of chaff, little stones, and perhaps some tares. Sifting is therefore necessary before the grain can be ground into meal. This is the task of the women. The sifter seats herself on the floor, and shakes the sieve which contains the grain, until the chaff begins to appear on the top, and this is blown away by lung power. The stones are removed as are also the tares.

Second, notice that the sifting was Satan’s agenda, and he couldn’t do it without the Lord’s permission. Yet the Lord gave that permission, just as God had granted Satan permission for the onslaught of trials that afflicted Job.

Why would Jesus do such a thing? Why would He let Satan have his way with Peter to any extent? Jesus said He had prayed for Peter that his faith would not fail, but He could have prevented the faith-straining trial from even happening.

Beth Moore offers this explanation:
Only one reason exists why God would give Satan permission to sift a dearly loved, devoted disciple: because something needs sifting.

Don’t even read further until you have completely absorbed that statement. God’s answer to Satan’s petition to sift Peter as wheat would have been denied had Peter not contained something that needed sifting….  Everything standing between Simon the fisherman and Peter the rock needed to go. 
Satan had a sieve. Christ had a purpose. The two collided. Satan got used. Peter got sifted. For reasons only our wise, trustworthy God knows, the most effective and long-lasting way He could get the Simon out of Peter was a sifting by Satan (When Godly People Do Ungodly Things, 51-52).

As the class discussion unfolded that Wednesday, something played around the edges of my mind. Do you ever have one of those elusive thoughts that flees as soon as you concentrate your attention on it but then returns to tease you as soon as you move on to something else? There was some connection here I wasn’t quite seeing, but it felt important.

Then I caught a glimpse, and it took my breath away: Yukon Gold Rush. No, really, that was the connection. On the rare occasions Amore and I stay in a hotel, we enjoy watching the Discovery Channel, which we don’t have at home. Actually, what we really enjoy is Mythbusters on the Discovery Channel, but that wasn’t on. We had gone “away” to the other side of the Metroplex for a few days to celebrate our anniversary and Nonni’s 90th birthday, but my belly wasn’t cooperating with our lovely dressed-up-dinner-out plan. Instead, we went to see the Dead Sea Scrolls on exhibit nearby and then watched Yukon Gold Rush while Amore ate Chick Fil-A and I sipped a smoothie.

But I digress.  One of the episodes of the Gold Rush marathon that week told the story of a mining operation on the last day before the ground would freeze too hard for the equipment. In truth, the ground was already hard enough to break some of the expensive heavy machinery, but the team was far from their expected and needed yield to sustain their families and business until the ground thawed again. The crew chief could not accept that the claim would, literally, not pan out when all the geologic signs looked so promising, so he pushed his men and equipment to the breaking point, but still the gold didn’t come.

Without functioning bulldozers and quickly running out of time, in desperation he decided they’d run the dirt already processed back through the sluice and then hand-process it in small sieves like the colander we use to wash produce at home. It was a laborious, slow process, and in the end they did fall short of the pay-day they had anticipated, but the sifting yielded more than they’d had before and gave them enough to keep going another year.

“What does this have to do with Peter and Job?” you may be asking.

Gold is refined, and wheat is sifted, but gold is sifted, too. Whether the stuff in the sifter is wheat or gold, the sifting happens because there’s something that needs sifting (out), as Beth Moore noted. But it also happens because there’s something worth saving, something worth showing to the world. No one bothers to sift what is uniformly worthless, but to separate the worthless from the precious.

Is it any coincidence, then, that the same Peter of the sifting would later write to beleaguered saints in exile that the end result of their temporary, necessary, varied trials was “that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ”?

Spurgeon sums things up:
Satan, like a drudge, may hold the sieve, hoping to destroy the corn; but the overruling hand of the Master is accomplishing the purity of the grain by the very process which the enemy intended to be destructive. Precious, but much sifted corn of the Lord's floor, be comforted by the blessed fact that the Lord directeth both flail and sieve to His own glory, and to thine eternal profit (Morning and Evening, Morning of June 20). 
Dear Crumble reading this, if you are in the sifter and everything that can be shaking is, take heart. If the Refiner’s fire feels unbearable right now, be of good courage. As you entrust yourself to God, you will emerge on the other side of these trials (and there is another side) with some thing or things that didn’t look like Jesus sifted right out of you. Even better, everything that does look like Jesus will shine all the more brightly for its removal. There is a purpose for your pain. As Joni has said, “God permits what He hates to accomplish what He loves.” He wouldn’t bother sifting you except that He loves you.

Jesus prayed for Peter, and He prays for His people still (Romans 8:34). When everything around you gives way, hold fast to Him who holds fast to you. After the testing, may your faith be found genuine, to the glory of Christ, through the grace of God and the power of the Spirit, and may you turn again to strengthen your brothers and sisters who find themselves in the midst of their own sifting.

May all the mercy, grace, and peace you need to persevere be yours in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thank you for all the ways you've blessed me these last five years, reading friends. May the Lord multiply the blessings back to you.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

On Prayer and the Father's Love

In one of her essay collections, Elisabeth Elliot recounts an anecdote from her childhood. At a seaside vacation, her little brother didn't trust that their father would keep him safe from drowning as they jumped together in the waves. Even though Elisabeth joined her father in the water, let him hold her as they jumped together, and seemed to be having a splendid time, her brother stayed on the shore until the last day, when he relented and discovered all the fun he'd missed by trusting his fears instead of his father. Reflecting on this, Elisabeth writes:

"Learning to pray is learning to trust the wisdom, the power, and the love of our Heavenly Father, always so far beyond our dreams. He knows our need and knows ways to meet it that have never entered our heads. Things we feel sure we need for happiness may often lead to our ruin. Things we think will ruin us..., if we believe what the Father tells us and surrender ourselves into His strong arms, bring us deliverance and joy.... 
"My father knew far better than his small, fearful, stubborn son what would give him joy. So does our Heavenly Father. Whenever I have resisted Him, I have cheated myself.... Whenever I have yielded, I have found joy." 
~Elisabeth Elliot, "Learning the Father's Love," in Keep a Quiet Heart

Friday, July 3, 2015

A Praying Heart

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
(Romans 12:12 ESV)

The Ebony Dog at his new favorite lookout spot. A view of the neighborhood and a cozy bed at the same time? What's not to like?

This month I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to A Praying Life by Paul Miller. Here are a few of quotes I loved enough to transcribe, hence the absence of page numbers. Any errors of punctuation are therefore mine. If you're looking for summer reading or just desire to grow in your prayer life, I highly recommend this book. It's one of my favorite reads/listens of the first half of 2015 and one worthy of revisiting in future, even the near future.

"A needy heart is a praying heart. Dependency is the heartbeat of prayer."

"...the search for a 'happy pill' or happy thoughts will not stop our restless anxiety. It runs too deep. Instead of fighting anxiety, we can use it as a springboard to bending our hearts to God. Instead of trying to suppress anxiety, manage it, or smother it with pleasure, we can turn our anxiety toward God. When we do that, we'll discover that we've slipped into continuous praying."

"When I pray over a problem, that problem begins to sparkle with the energy of God."

"When confronted with suffering that won't go away, or even with a minor problem, we instinctively focus on what is missing, such as the lost coats and the betrayal in the Joseph story [Genesis 37, 39-50], not on the Master's hand. Often when you think that everything has gone wrong, it's just that you're in the middle of a story. If you watch the stories God is weaving in your life, you, like Joseph, will begin to see the patterns. You'll become a poet, sensitive to your Father's voice."

Monday, June 29, 2015

"In Heavenly Love Abiding"

no change my heart shall fear;
and safe is such confiding,
for nothing changes here:
the storm may roar about me;
my heart may low be laid;
but God is round about me,
and can I be dismayed?

Wherever He may guide me,
no want shall turn me back;
my Shepherd is beside me,
and nothing can I lack;
His wisdom is forever,
His sight is never dim;
His will forms each endeavor,
and I will walk with Him.

Green pastures are before me,
which yet I have not seen;
bright skies will soon be o'er me,
where the dark clouds have been:
My life I cannot measure,
the path of life is free;
my Savior has my treasure,
and He will walk with me.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Elisabeth Elliot (1926-2015) Quotes

The recently departed Elisabeth Elliot Gren wrote or edited approximately 2 dozen books and gave many, many talks during her ministry. Here are just a few of her sayings that come readily to my mind and have helped me on my journey:
  • "You are loved with an everlasting love." That's what the Bible says, "And underneath are the everlasting arms." (She opened her daily radio message this way.)
  • Holiness is a whole-hearted "yes" to God.
  • What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Creator calls a butterfly (A Path Through Suffering).
  • "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose" (from her first husband, the martyred missionary Jim Elliot).
  • "When the will of God crosses the will of man, somebody has to die" (from her second husband, Addison Leitch, quoted in Passion and Purity).
  • "See in it [in any hard thing, any suffering the Lord allows] material for sacrifice" (Amy Carmichael).
  • You don't have to feel like it; you just have to do it.
  • It is always possible to do the will of God.
  • Do the next thing.
  • Teach me to treat all that comes to me today with peace of soul and the firm conviction that Your sovereignty rules over all (A Path Through Suffering).
The quotations without references provided have become so ingrained in my thinking that I don't know their source. If you do, please let me know in the comments and I'll correct the entry. Some of them I heard her say enough times that a reference would be hard to pin down at all.