Monday, August 29, 2011

Furnishing The Apartment of Affliction

Our church is in the midst of a pastoral transition, which in part means a steady stream of guest speakers. We are a little in danger of being spoiled by listening only to "greatest hits" sermons. Yesterday morning the pastor of a kindred church spoke on the topic, "Help for the Hurting," and his words lived up to the title.

He read a long series of verses from the New Testament and challenged us to listen for the clear, repeated response God's Word calls for in the midst of suffering. It wasn't much of a challenge, honestly. In the verses Pastor Craig surveyed, God commands the suffering Christian to endure.

"Endure!? What kind of help is that to a hurting person? That's not what we want to hear..."

Yet this is the invitation:  God calls the suffering saint to endure. The primary Greek word translated into English as "endure" is hupomeno (HOO-paw-MEHN-oh), literally "to abide under."

In other words, stay put. Make yourself at home in the trial, which the speaker referred to as "an apartment of affliction." In my daily Bible reading in Jeremiah I've been hearing God through Jeremiah call the exiled Israelites to settle down in Babylon and seek to bless their oppressors through their presence. In the New Testament, the Philippian jailer and his family are converted to Christ through Paul's abiding in persecution in a worshipful way. His epistles also testify to his staying put under a thorn in the flesh, an unspecified illness that brought him to Galatia, and more than one additional imprisonment.  Through all of these God was glorified as Paul endured.

To tell the truth, this is not my default response. In my flesh/self, my natural tendency is to find the emergency exit and use it. I don't like pain and suffering. If there is a way out I will take it.

In this regard, the particular affliction of physical illness is a gift to me. There is no exit. This journey is a long tunnel without doors or windows or loose ceiling tiles or air ducts I could turn into an escape route if I were a spy. The only way through is forward. With no way to wriggle out from under the trial, I must endure or perish.

The question then becomes, "How will I endure?" Whether this trial includes a way of escape or not, how will I abide under it well? How will I endure in faith, in a way that honors Christ?

Pastor Craig suggested 5 items of furniture we need in our apartment of affliction:
  • Thank-you notes. Even in affliction, we are called to gratitude. For regular readers of Ann Voskamp's blog or Monday posts here, this needs little elaboration. Our preacher reminded us that even lifelong suffering is only temporary and does have an end. If nothing else we can thank God for this, for the hope of the resurrection, for Christ who "holds the lease" on our residence under trials.
  • Welcome mat. The tendency during hard times, he said, is to put out the "Do Not Disturb" sign and withdraw from others. Actually, the hard times are when we most need the care and support of others. This is the biggest challenge of the five for my limited energy and full medical appointment schedule. Community demands time and a modicum of health. I am so very grateful for you who take advantage of the welcome mat here and for the welcome mats out at your online homes. I do find I value face-to-face visits with friends and family more now, and I especially treasure efforts to meet me at the point of my ability and limitations.
  • Large hall mirror. Trials strip us of our usual coping mechanisms and masks and reveal our real selves. Wise people take advantage of the opportunity to assess that reflection and adjust (confess, grieve, repent, rejoice) accordingly.
  • School desk. Difficulty provides an unparalleled opportunity to know God and His Word better. Many, many witnesses throughout Christian history and the Scriptures themselves testify that we learn much more from hard times than easy ones.
  • La-Z-Boy recliner. Above all, rest and trust in Christ are essential furniture for one seeking to abide well in the apartment of affliction.
He concluded with this C. H. Spurgeon quote, located online in the midst of a John Piper paper delivered 16 years ago:
I am afraid that all the grace that I have got of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours, might almost lie on a penny. But the good that I have received from my sorrows, and pains, and griefs, is altogether incalculable....Affliction is the best bit of furniture in my house. It is the best book in a minister's library.
Spurgeon was no stranger to suffering, as the Piper piece makes clear. Neither was our guest preacher. These encouragements do not come from callous ignorance of the way of pain but from God's truth and His faithfulness to these men in the midst of their trials.

Beloved, if you find yourself sojourning in the apartment of affliction today, may God grant grace to abide under your trial, to abide well. May He furnish your temporary home with gratitude, loving community, a clearer glimpse of self (and grace!), deeper knowledge of Himself, and a place of deep rest in Christ. Above all, may He make known to you as only He can that you are not in this alone. Christ is with His children always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). He will never, never, never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).

Gratefully sharing today with Michelle at Graceful...

and with Jen at Finding Heaven...

New Week, New Morning, New Mercies

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 3:22-23, ESV

"Great is Thy faithfulness!"
"Great is Thy faithfulness!"
  Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
    "Great is Thy faithfulness," Lord, unto me!

from Thomas O. Chisholm, "Great Is Thy Faithfulness"

Kind friends, may we drink deeply of God's unchanging mercies and faithfulness through whatever changes and challenges we face in this new week. Lord, open our eyes to Your new graces for each need this day. Amen.

Giving thanks to the Triune God for His gracious gifts once again...
~His unchanging faithfulness, mercy, and grace
~His adequacy for this day

~remnants of color in the garden still, after 60+ days of afternoons hotter than 100F

~seeing our first young cardinal (scruffy fellow!) foraging beneath the feeder
~wise husband who responds to SOS text with prayer and turn-by-turn navigation through tricky conversation
~PT progress
~strength to drive myself to and from Wednesday's appointment without demanding anyone else's time
~another month of twice-weekly appointments scheduled
~possibility some of those might be canceled, time off for good behavior
~a minor family tech support success without escalating the issue to level II (i.e., Big Al)
~a head-on collision with the Ebony Express only bruised my mouth and my ego, and broke no teeth
~waking up to thunder and listening for rain
~0.1" of morning rain
~street repair seems successful, as the puddles disappeared in less than a day

Espresso cookies from La Duni

Sourdough from Empire Baking Company
~Artizone delivery of more than daily bread, casseroles, produce, and a treat or two
~Groupon deal to make Artizone affordable for us
~pantry and produce drawer full of Angel Food order
~online ordering, mail carriers, and delivery folks to assist with the shopping
~reader e-mails and comments, when I answer and when I can't (yet)
~thoughts in sync with friends. Great minds think alike, and so do ours. :)

~handmade soap delivery from On a Branch Soaps: beautiful from packaging to appearance to scent... such a delight!
~free samples
~...including this one created by Tara for blog friend Teagirl in a Coffee World

~the front of the house is completely repainted. Hip hip, hooray!
(from the gratitude list, #1362-1386)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Hardest Thing to Do {Book Response}

"A miracle alters the normal course of things, turning what comes naturally into something new. In the everyday world, we take a flint and a rag, or take a taper to a candle, and we make a light. We take the light to the hearth and start the fire. When night comes down and we cease to feed it, the flames die away, the embers grow cold, and all that is left is ashes....

"A miracle is not the everyday way of things--light, fire, ashes. A miracle changes everything, challenges the order we know. In a miracle God smiles and says, 'Try this for a change: ashes, fire, light." Inside a soul, when all is ashes--when a brother has become as grubby and unattractive as a bottle in the smoke--the secret fire of the Holy Spirit arises out of the kind desire of God, burning away the dross and the sin,  kindling again the precepts, the statutes, the rule of life. Fire is painful, oh, God, it is painful; there is nothing warm and cozy abotu the mercy of God as it burns away coldness and indifference. But the flowering of the miracle is luminous; there comes light that is evident to everyone who has eyes to see; the inner light of peace betokening the house where Christ lives again: resurrection, I suppose" (Father Theodore in The Hardest Thing to Do, pp.22-23).

Penelope Wilcock's new novel, The Hardest Thing to Do, rejoins the brothers of St. Alcuin's abbey to prayer walk day by day through the transitional season of Lent. This Lent proves unusually hard and unusually transitional as the community learns the ways of their new abbot and he learns to be himself in a new obedience.

Over the course of the book we learn "the hardest thing to do" for a number of the brothers, each in their turn. Some of the things are humorous, some mundane, some substantial and serious. The hardest "hardest thing," however, spans the length of the book and challenges the very soul of the community.

What is that hardest thing? To forgive.

An earlier book in The Hawk and the Dove series described the cruel humiliation of the beloved Father Peregrine at the hands of the prior of another monastery. Brother Tom, Father Peregrine's personal attendant, felt the offense at least as keenly as his abbot and responded with characteristic passion and impetuosity.

The new novel unites Brother Tom with the prior who insulted his beloved (now departed) mentor, but in this meeting the balance of power has reversed and Tom and his brethren are confronted with a choice. Will they nourish resentment and turn away a man in profound need, or will they allow God to transform them for and through the hard thing of forgiveness?

As the narrative unfolds, the reader experiences the contagious, destructive effect of even a single person's choice of resentment and also the taste of resurrection transformation resulting from even one person's openness to forgive. The emotional impact of both did not entirely surprise me, having experienced that in the earlier stories, but the breadth of the change effected did.

One sometimes hears the axiom that resentment is like swallowing poison and expecting someone else to die, but this novel portrays it more like a fire that burns away at offender, offended, and the entire community of which they are a part. Conversely, forgiveness (in Father Theodore's language) is a miracle which brings warmth and light out of death and ashes and enlivens not only forgiver nor merely forgiven but the entire community as well.

Upon reflection, this depiction seems more truthful than the more common and simpler simile. Forgiveness is indeed a corporate discipline, and resentment a communal sin. Both are personal, but neither is private. I have witnessed this but did not understand so well what I was experiencing before I walked with these fictional medieval Benedictines through one Lent of their journey towards Christlikeness.

Other comments on structure, characterization, themes, and style could be made and would perhaps be more germane to a proper review, but today I'm inclined to limit my comments to this response instead. The Hardest Thing to Do is a wise book and one I hope to keep learning from in days to come in my non-fiction relationships.

Considering forgiveness with the community at Ann's...

Monday, August 22, 2011

Pause. . . Reset. . . Breathe. . .

"Now give me a slow exhale and tighten that navel to spine. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight... OK, got it? Are you breathing? Make sure you're breathing.  When you've got that good, stable core and you're breathing normally, then you can drop that knee to the outside. But make sure you're ready."

This is how Dave starts most of my prescribed therapy exercises, with that slow, deep abdominal contraction and an exhortation to breathe. I used to mock the video fitness instructors with their cheery, "Don't forget to breathe!" reminders. Now I understand. Because that stable core is much easier to maintain with held breath, it's easy for me to forget to breathe. In fact, the biggest challenge of the first two weeks of PT was learning to hold that navel-to-spine contraction and not to hold my breath.

As in physical therapy, so in life, at least for me. It's vital for me to start the day with Bible reading and prayer. And coffee. This habit is not a religious act intended to earn points with God. That quiet time with the Lord is my long, slow exhale for the day, an attempt to find a stable core of trust in Him and not myself or my circumstances and to make sure I'm breathing praise and not anxiety. Some days that comes more easily than others. Lately it's been a challenge.

Adele Ahlberg Calhoun offers this advice, which I discovered this morning while looking for something else:
Counter gut reactions that arise from feeling threatened or insecure by breathing slowly and deeply. Breathe in Christ's presence. Breathe out anxiety and fear. Breathe deeply several times before you speak and respond (Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, 81).
Her suggestions demand the engagement of the imagination, which for me is what gets me into anxiety trouble. If she's right, learning to "breathe" better depends not on turning my imaginings off but in turning them toward Christ and away from my fears.

Physical therapy has likewise surprised me in the degree of mental concentration demanded. I was expecting a return to high school physical education class (my lowest grade in all my schooling), but my mind works as hard as my body. The last time I thought so hard was translating verses of Greek and parsing all the verb forms. Making that switch to consciously use my brain to control my muscles (in Dave's words) has made all the difference. Perhaps, in God's grace, the same sort of shift will occur in my thought life as I practice using my imagination to control my feelings and not allowing feelings to drive imaginings.

That long, slow exhale to start is not enough, however, in PT or in life. Dave also reminds me regularly to pause at each transition point in the exercises, to check and reset that navel contraction, to make sure I'm breathing and fix it if I'm not. Each transition is an opportunity for correction.

Years ago in Philip Yancey's Reaching for the Invisible God, I remember reading about the monastic practice of statio, which amounts to the same thing. If memory serves, the practice entails a pause at each transition in the day to lift the heart to God in praise and trust and invitation for guidance. Each transition becomes an opportunity to reset the heart's gaze, to breathe, to ask, "What's next?" Each transition becomes an opportunity for worship.

Therapy is strengthening me and decreasing back and hip pain, but it requires substantial, daily investment of time. The other tasks in the week don't change, though, so I am more aware than usual of that pausing to ask, "What's next?" It won't all get done, but what do You want next, Lord? What do You want done today? By me?

Check that core again: is it stable, grounded firmly on Christ my rock? Am I breathing? Transition. Correction. Worship.

The best part of every exercise is the end: a long, slow exhale to match the beginning, with a slow release of that abdominal contraction. Before the work the resulting position didn't feel like rest; it felt like normalcy. After the work, a few millimeters of yoga mat feel like a pillow-top mattress.

At the end of these long days, that mattress feels like a hug, as body and thoughts lie down for the night. I have learned what I can and can't read to help my thoughts "exhale" and "release." There are a few prayers, alone and with Allen, which also help me move towards rest. The most helpful thought, though, comes from Victor Hugo by way of Sara Frankl and Brandee at Smooth Stones:
Have courage for the great sorrows of life, and patience for the small ones. And when you have finished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.
Alternately, in the words of the psalmist:
He who watches over you will not slumber;indeed, he who watches over Israelwill neither slumber nor sleep (Psalm 121:3b-4, NIV1984).
I can rest at the end of a day of hard work and unfinished tasks because God who watches over me does not. Don't forget to breathe, my soul, my crumbly friends. Be at rest and at peace. God is awake. Thanks be to God.

This week I'm thanking God for more of His good gifts:
~God is awake
~this beautiful, encouraging post from Amy on trusting the slow work of God
~these marvelous words and images from Courtney at Growing Is Beautiful on how God holds all the broken pieces of life together
~"Him too beautiful and glorious not to be noticed, holding all the pieces of a life together in the most unexpected of ways" (from Courtney's post above)
~Dave the PT and the doctor both saying, "I think your prognosis is good."
~time with my mom for my four (including PT) medical appointments
~realizing that increased fatigue and body aches could be from a cold virus and not necessarily lupus activity
~city crew returning to complete street repair
~good things come in a dozen: roses, baked goods, and years with my love
~celebrating quietly together with a 36-hour vacation at home, no cell phones or computers except to consult a menu and order supper
~safe, caring place to board Ebony
~new walking shoes
~your cameraderie in the journey of the Christian life
~finishing The Hardest Thing to Do and listening to its lessons
~smiling, preparing a birthday package for the mail for a loved one
~glad she has family near to celebrate her
~sending notes on pretty stationery
~Tea Girl soap on its way from Canada (Thank you, Amy, for the product information!)
~Eb's happy dance when I picked him up from the kennel today. He is crazy about me. (Operative word: crazy.)
(from the gratitude journal, #1322-1340)

Sharing with Ann, Laura, and Jen...

Friday, August 19, 2011

Contemplation {A Poem}

photo from 2010 archives

If I make myself quite still,
A poem will know me as innocuous
And perch upon my resting hand.
~crm, 9/2007

Progress in PT has continued, but it is time-consuming and hard work. Last week's energy surge has dissipated, so I am trying to slow and still. I miss spending time with you here on the comments. Thank you for grace and your prayers. May God fill your weekend with His joy and peace!

Monday, August 15, 2011

"Cheerful Holiness"

Holy gladness and holy boldness will make you a good preacher,
and all the world will be a pulpit for you to preach in.
Cheerful holiness is the most forcible of sermons,
but the Lord must give it to you.
Seek it this morning before you go into the world.
When it is the Lord's work in which we rejoice,
we need not be afraid of being too glad.
Charles Haddon SpurgeonMorning and Evening, August 14 Morning

Satisfy us in the morning with Your faithful love,
so that we may shout with joy and be glad all our days.
Psalm 90:14, HCSB

~God's love and work are enough cause for joy and gladness
~there have been a couple of difficult days, but overall physical therapy is really helping and seems to be boosting my energy level rather than depleting it
~Dave could see definite progress Wednesday in my performance of the exercises
~harder, longer variations as a reward
~legs noodly from hard work
~church friend's service and fellowship driving to and from the therapist and beyond
~Mma Ramotswe and Grace Makutsi from the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency keeping me company while I do my therapy homework
~audiobooks, a.k.a. read-alouds for grown-ups
~library holds that come ready at just the right time
~satisfying customer service working out an order problem
~an hour's phone call from the friend who sang for our wedding
~mail carrier bringing the mail to the door along with a package to save me the walk to the box
~catching my Nonni on the phone as she was sitting down to write me a note
~celebrating my mom's birthday with the entire family together
~a girls' movie with mom and sisters for the first time in at least 7 years (The Help, as funny and moving as the book)
~able to take part in that and sit comfortably, thanks to my foot rest and lumbar pillow
~the 100-degree streak stopped at 40 days
~four, count 'em, four mornings below 80F
~waking up to the first rain since June 21
~Saturday's high temperature of 89F, which is where the low temperatures have been the last several weeks
~the sweet relief of even a day's break from hot and dry reminding us that summer is not forever
~my husband the grill master cooking excellent steaks
~sister-made pecan pie
~brave nephew climbing tall ladder and sliding fast into the pool
~silly nephew joking and giggling
~happy nephew with rainbow sherbet mustache
~making up a game with the three of them, hugs included
~meaty sermon on forgiveness
~colorful sunrises and sunsets
(from the gratitude journal #1263-1291)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Refiner's Fire

Missionary Amy Carmichael wrote in Gold Cord about what she learned on an outing with the Indian orphans in her care:
One day we took the children to see a goldsmith refine gold after the ancient manner of the East. He was sitting beside his little charcoal-fire. (He shall sit as a refiner: the gold or silversmith never leaves his crucible once it is on the fire.) In the red glow lay a common curved roof-tile; another tile covered it like a lid. This was the crucible. In it was the medicine made of salt, tamarind fruit and burnt brick-dust, and embedded in it was the gold. The medicine does its appointed work on the gold, "then the fire eats it," and the goldsmith lifts the gold out with a pair of tongs, lets it cool, rubs it between his fingers, and if not satisfied puts it back again in fresh medicine. This time he blows the fire hotter than it was before, and each time he puts the gold into the crucible the heat of the fire is increased: "It could not bear it so hot at first, but it can bear it now." "How do you know when the gold is purified?" we asked him, and he answered, "When I can see my face in it [the liquid gold in the crucible] then it is pure" (pp.69-70.)
For a variation on the theme from my poetry stash, try this on for size:

Sonnet from the Fire

How hot the flames burn round my alloyed soul!
My heart churns wildly—restless, tossed with fears,
Dross rising to the surface, bathed in tears.
I cry out, “Jesus, cleanse me; make me whole!”
The skilled Refiner’s hand still stokes the fire;
The flames I think unbearable climb higher.
Still more dross rises; will there be no end
To fiercer heat that purges hidden sin?
“Dost thou not know?” the Master Smith inquires.
“The kettle bears the fiercest heat, not thee.
Thou knowest no flame save that which scorches Me.
I know thy nature; thou wilt stand the fire.
Thou shalt not perish, but shall shine forth grace
When once I look on thee and see My face.”
crm, 7/1997

Beloved, if this finds you in the midst of the heat of affliction, may God grant you comfort in His presence in the furnace with you, in His wisdom to know exactly how much will refine and how much will destroy, and in His sure promise that eternity will reveal the brevity of these trials and the greater glory gained through them.  I don't know what you are walking through, but the Lord Jesus does, and He is near to all who call.

P.S. Physical therapy is hard work but going well. The therapist saw definite progress yesterday, and the pain is much less today than it has been in some time. I enjoyed the fellowship with S.S. from church who provided my transportation help for this week's appointments. Now it's just diligent daily homework until my next appointment Monday.Thanks for your kind prayers!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Happy Birthday to *You*

...Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday, dear Crumbles,
Happy birthday to you!

Today marks one year since the first post here at the crumbs blog. Won't you join me in celebrating God's faithfulness?

When this began last August, I had hoped blogging would be (1) a place to process what God was teaching me through the limitations of chronic illness and (2) a means of fellowship and Christian community while I was unable to attend a weekly Bible study or Sunday school class (or even worship services consistently).

I anticipated that the blog would reconnect me with friends whose paths I no longer cross regularly, people I already knew who had been encouraging me to write for others again. My prayer from the beginning, though, was that God would bring the people He chose and keep the rest away (borrowed from Edith Schaeffer, L'Abri).

While a few of those I expected have indeed read along, the connections and renewed connections God have generally been more surprising than predictable. (I like good surprises!)

The biggest surprise has been the half dozen or so regular readers who have never met me in person but in that mysterious alchemy of grace have felt connected to me through words here. They converse with me in the comments and pray for me (and tell me so). I have been on the reading end of this phenomenon before but never so much on the writing end of becoming friends through thoughts on screen or on page. It feels overwhelmingly like God's love, and His answers to your prayers really do strengthen and help.

My health has much improved from a year ago; I am more able than I was. When I mull over my "if/when I am well" list, though, there are plenty of things I want to do, but the one thing I know I'm meant to do right now is this: this writing, this knowing and being known, this loving and being loved. And I don't have to be well for that.

Thank you for your presence here, for reading and praying and supporting and loving. Thanks for the grace you pour out to me even when I'm whining and discouraged. You have brightened and sweetened my year.

Today I'm lifting up afresh the prayer in that first post:
I pray this would be a place of peace and comfort; a place of communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; a place where this season of illness and whatever follows will be redeemed for my growth in Christlikeness, others' good, and God's glory.  Amen.
Much love,

Still counting, thanking God for His many blessings...
~Word friends
~161 published posts...
~most of them too long...
~but y'all stick with me anyway!
~6 book reviews
~34 original poems (not all written this year)
~Visitors from 75 countries (which does a former missionary's heart good)
~two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree
~Learning geography through blog stats
~No increased pain from the first week of physical therapy (Monday and Wednesday mornings the rest of this month)
~Decreased back pain
~Adjusting to wearing corsets on my feet lace-up walking shoes in the house
~Learning to sit differently, all the way back in the chair with feet on something and not dangling, swinging, or wrapped around the chair legs
~Allen's help and faithfulness in applying traction to stretch my lower spine
~The sweet therapy assistant "Tacy" who reminds me of a young friend from the Bible study we used to teach
~A fellowship moment with the believing office manager at the therapy center when she commented on my cross ring
~Making a new friend, a deaconess from our church who graciously came out in record heat to provide transportation for me Wednesday. She is fascinating and easy to be with, and I hope to get to know her better.
~Her invitation to join the monthly fellowship gatherings of the women-over-50 group (as an acolyte, she said) when I'm up to going
~Another opportunity to speak of Christ and share the whole gospel with an international student working at the bakery where I bought the cupcakes pictured (stay tuned for more on that, Wednesday maybe)
~God preparing me for that with desire/prayer the last two weeks for just such an opportunity
~Courage to walk through that door when He clearly opened it, my cold feet notwithstanding
~His sovereign grace to keep working in her heart and cover my mistakes and omissions with the blood of Christ
~Sprinkles on frosting
~Lunch with Mom and my older younger sister Friday
~Opportunity to trust His plan, timing, and provision with another bothersome tooth (I'm waiting to hear from the dentist whether examination can wait until September's appointment.)
~"Catching" a hummingbird at breakfast

~Wits' End's cheery, newly red door

~Big things, little things, serious things, silly and superficial things... all of them matter to the Lord of sparrows and hair follicles!
(from the gratitude list, #1173-1200)

Linking up with the gratitude community at Ann's:

and with Laura at The Wellspring:

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Obedience of Love

Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10, HCSB).

This is the starting point: God loves. He loves us and has done from the beginning. He loved us by sending His son so that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

God loves us
And calls us to love Him
By keeping His commandments
To love Him
By loving one another
As Christ loved us
By giving Himself for us.

As we love Him
By loving one another
As He loves,
The Triune God abides in us,
And we abide in His love,
And we find ourselves back at the beginning.

God, Christ, love, word, life, one another, commandments, keep, walk, love, Christ-- all change partners, change order, circle and intertwine in a dance.

To walk according to His commandments is to join the dance with Him and with each other, to dance in the obedience of love.

Now I ask you, lady, not as though I were writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it (2 John 1:5-6, NASB).

Considering love again with the folks at Ann's:

Physical therapy brief: the first session went as well as we could wish. Dave says I have "a pretty good chance" of resolving the back/hip pain through therapy. Your prayers regarding pain have been answered for this first session. There was no significant lasting increase in lower body or chest pain from the session Monday. Round 2 is tomorrow (Wednesday) afternoon. Thank you for loving God by praying for me!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Panoramic View

No fewer than four times this week this verse presented itself to me in different contexts by unrelated people and publications:

"For I know the plans I have for you"—
[this is] the LORD's declaration—
"plans for [your] welfare, not for disaster,
to give you a future and a hope."
Jeremiah 29:11, HCSB

When the same theme or verse pop up several places in a short period of time, I tend to take it as the Holy Spirit trying to get my attention. If that's what's going on here, what am I to make of the verse choice? Is it God telling me that I'm on the mend, that I'll have a new "new normal" soon? Is everything coming up roses from here on out?
{obligatory flower photo of the week}

Pulling the Bible study camera in close to look at only the one verse on the macro setting (as we did with Hebrews 13:15 a couple of weeks ago) would seem to give such an impression, wouldn't it? All good news and no bad?

Zooming out through the circles of context paints a different, richer picture, however:

The context of the paragraph places this verse in the midst of Israel's banishment or exile to Babylon. The fulfillment of hope for the original readers is future, after 70 years have elapsed in their foreign home, and the content of "welfare" (NASB, HCSB) or "to prosper you" (NIV) includes not only the return to the Promised Land but also restored relationship with Yahweh. Prayers would be answered and seeking hearts would be satisfied.

Zooming out again to the chapter of Jeremiah 29 informs us that verse 11 was part of a letter from Jeremiah to the religious leaders and other Israelites taken captive and deported by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. The Lord, speaking through Jeremiah, tells the exiles to unpack their bags and settle down. Furthermore, they are to work and pray actively for the well-being of the place of their exile and resist the allure of false prophets saying otherwise. In other words, the verse appears in the middle of a message to make peace with this current trial, even while resting in God's promises that He has a plan and restoration will come.

Broadening our perspective once more, the whole of the book of Jeremiah provides further context for the exile and promise of restoration. Over and over God pleads with His people to repent of their idolatry and disobedience, "rising up early and sending prophets" to call them back. He warns them specifically of the consequences of their actions, yet they do not listen. Jeremiah provides an eyewitness account of the life in Jerusalem of the remnant left behind and documents God's generous, gracious promises of restoration and a day coming when He would establish a New Covenant with them which they would not break (Jer. 31).

Zooming out yet again, the historical books of Kings and Chronicles fill in the historical detail of Israel's blatant, prolonged disobedience, a steady descent through apostasy, relieved by only occasional spikes of revival.

The Mosaic Covenant in Exodus through Deuteronomy spells out which laws Israel was violating and the quite specific blessings and curses they could expect for obedience or disobedience (Lev. 26 and Deut. 28, 30). God fulfilled these promises in their exile to Babylon.

The promises to the patriarchs in Genesis, beginning with chapter 12, help us understand why God would still promise restoration in spite of such egregious wrongdoing. Before the Mosaic Covenant, God had established another, unbreakable covenant with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In faithfulness to this Abrahamic covenant, He forgives Israel's corporate sins and brings them back from exile to the land promised to the patriarchs.

Finally, the broadest panoramic perspective places Israel's exile and promise of restoration in the midst of the Triune Creator God's long-range agenda to restore and redeem not only sinful Israel but fallen humanity from every tribe and nation and to do so by means of the "seed of the woman," Jesus Christ. This Christ will someday reign over His redeemed people in a deathless, tearless new heavens and new earth.

How does all this zooming out through the circles of context help answer my original question?

It clarifies that the Jeremiah 29:11 promise is neither a fortune-cookie aphorism nor an amulet promising all pleasantness and no unhappiness. If it were, my faith might be in crisis by this time. Nor does it speak to the duration or end point of my particular health problems.

Instead, it reassures me that God has a plan in this and that even if my worst-case scenario comes to pass, the ultimate outcome is well-being and a hopeful future.

God is by nature a promise-keeper, and that includes His promises
No matter what the coming weeks hold, they can do no harm to the real, eternal inner part of me, which grows stronger even as the outer body breaks down.

The Lord does know the plans He has for you and me. They are for our welfare and not for disaster. In Christ our future and hope are secure. Those truths, in their whole Biblical context, are a firm foundation for whatever lies ahead.

Joining the chorus again, thanking God for all His gifts:
~His good plans
~His sovereign power and faithfulness to bring them about
~hopeful future because of Christ
~A. bringing roses as well as groceries home from Kroger
~rosy perfume filling half the house
~challenges to practice humility and extend patience and forgiveness this week
~the life and legacy of evangelical theologian John R.W. Stott (1921-2011)
~the arrival of the latest installment in The Hawk and the Dove series

~joy in cracking open the pages of a new book
~making A. laugh at the end of a hard day
~a cousin texting me just to see how I was doing
~Ebony bathing my feet with his slobbery canine kisses
~baked French toast with strawberries
~visiting long on the phone with my Nonni (grandmother)
~her safety so far in this hot summer (The streak of consecutive days over 100F continues; this is now the second-longest such on record for Dallas-Fort Worth, and the highest temperatures are still ahead.)
~better tolerance of the prescribed back exercises with less pain
~new pedometer arriving to replace my broken one (so I have some objective measure of activity level)
~UPS delivery people and all "brown" does for our household
~a dip in the mosquito population, one good thing from this drought
~the next stage of water rationing implemented
~even with that, we have enough clean water to drink and meet daily needs
~our bird neighbors back at the feeder after a slow couple of weeks (Where do birds go on holiday?)
~3 hummingbirds sighted at the feeder at various times
~no broken bones from a family member's bad fall
~restful week of no medical appointments (last appointment-free week expected until the end of September)
~Dave the physical therapist, with whom I work for the first time this afternoon
~A.'s company and support today
~Chick-Fil-A cooking supper tonight
~waking naturally, with no alarm, on a weekday
(from my gratitude journal, #1094-1121)