Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Prayer to the God Who Loves Us

Our Father which art in heaven,
we Thy children are often troubled in mind,
hearing within us at once the affirmations of faith
and the accusations of conscience.
We are sure that there is in us nothing
that could attract the love of One as holy and as just as Thou art.
Yet Thou hast declared Thine unchanging love for us in Christ Jesus.
If nothing in us can win Thy love,
nothing in the universe can prevent Thee from loving us.
Thy love is uncaused and undeserved.
Thou art Thyself the reason for the love wherewith we are loved.
Help us to believe the intensity,
the eternity of the love that has found us.
Then love will cast out fear;
and our troubled hearts will be at peace,
trusting not in what we are
but in what Thou hast declared Thyself to be.

(from A.W. Tozer's fine little book, The Knowledge of the Holy, p. 151, formatting mine)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

All Things New

These concluding thoughts from The View from Goose Ridge: Watching Nature, Seeing Life, by Cheryl Bostrom, dovetailed in an encouraging and hopeful way with the thoughts of yesterday's post, "Light and Momentary." I pray they encourage you as they did me. (Thanks to my friend L for the gift of this charming book of essays deriving spiritual lessons from life on a farm in the Pacific Northwest.)

     The impatient, faithless, immediate part of me wants to create my own heaven--my own perfect garden. After all, the real heaven I have heard about lurks out of reach, vague and hazy. How can I think about someplace I am told I will like when so many great things surround me--and I am so busy trying to hang on to them?
     But they slip away, even as I grasp at them. Neither seasons nor my aging cat should tighten my grip on what I have right now, but instead ought to point toward what's to come, toward heaven.
     According to our pastor, when God says in Revelation 21:5, "I am making everything new," He uses a Greek word for new that means restored. Think of that when you read the following: "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away" (Revelation 21:1). That means that wherever things are ruined, diseased, or overcrowded, they will be remade . . . like new! Contaminated landfills? Squalid slums? Exhausted farmland? Won't find 'em there.
     Even better, as 1 John 3:2 tells us, "We know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." Emotional distance? Cruelty? Rejection? Misunderstanding? Nowhere! We will bask in absolute tenderness with God--and each other.
     One afternoon when our son was five, I was telling him about heaven and reading him descriptions from the Word. His response is etched in my memory. "Oh, Momma, don't you just want to go there? Won't it be wunnerful?" He was jumping and spinning around me with his arms outspread, as if he could already see it, feel it, hear it. And the ecstasy of it all whirled him around the room.
     I try to do that now, to take God at his Word so completely that I feel like whirling. Doing so gives me courage to acknowledge the ache in living. Nowadays, when life stabs at me, I can look past the sadness toward heaven. I like to think of 2 Corinthians 4:17-18: "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."
     Glory. Where we will never grow old--and nothing, nothing, nothing will ever go wrong again.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Light and Momentary

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, ESV).

"Light and momentary," Paul? Really? These trials surely don't feel light and momentary. They feel heavy enough to knock me flat on the floor if I dare to try to rise beneath their weight. Perhaps you don't understand? Perhaps you only know paper-cut and head-cold kinds of suffering?

On the contrary, elsewhere in this same letter, Paul describes his share of "light and momentary affliction" since his Damascus-road conversion:
For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead (2 Cor. 1:8-9, ESV).

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;  persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.  For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake... (2 Cor. 4:8-11a, ESV).

Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.  Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers;  in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.  Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands (2 Cor. 11:23-33, ESV).
OK, so I was wrong. You do know whereof you write. So what am I to make of this "light and momentary" talk?  "For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison...." Can it be that even the severest earthly sufferings (and I know mine don't qualify in the least!), when seen through Glory's lenses, will be even as the grain of sand, irritating the oyster now but later producing the glorious weight of a pearl? Are these present trials the very seeds of a weighty, beautiful eternal glory I can't even fathom?

Oh, how I need the eyes you look through in this letter, eyes like night vision goggles able to see truth in dark places. How may I learn to fix my gaze on unseen eternal wonders when the seen, the affliction, the wasting away of the outer self honestly does make a person's heart faint. And now I'm not talking back to you, Paul, but up to our shared Lord.

Give me eyes to see the treasures of darkness, Father. Strengthen my heart to bear all that you grant. Do, in Your mercy, renew my inner self day by day. Fix my eyes on You who alone do not change or fail. I thank You, Lord, for You are good. Your steadfast love endures forever, through Jesus my Savior. Amen.

Thank You, Lord, for your gifts this past week:
for Your steadfast love
for "eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison"
for Mom's surgery success
for an excellent post-op report from her surgeon

for excellent sleep the night before my procedure
that it's over now
for no trouble getting to the surgery center at 6:10 am
for the doctor's satisfaction with how it went
for an unexpected increase of pain being "completely normal"

for a better pain day most of Sunday
for church
and a movie date
for a recliner to sleep in when a newish shoulder injury wakes me up in the night
for audio Bible and Bible teaching podcasts

for almost 3 inches of rain in the last week
for a new bath cabinet greatly tidying and organizing a small space
for a delicious meal from my sister Thursday night
for a Memorial Day steak dinner at my parents'

for loose ends tied up on that second sock
for finishing one book and one audiobook
for another audiobook half an hour from completion

(from the gratitude list, #435-456)


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

On May 21, 2013, at Wits' End

Outside my window...
The trees and rosebushes are swaying in the wind and dripping with much-needed rain and a welcome 20-degree temperature drop over the last two hours.

I am thinking...
of the people of Oklahoma, especially those in Moore and those who have loved ones there. We are so very sorry for your losses and the trauma of yesterday's tornado! May the Lord comfort and provide as only He can.

(World Magazine Online offers an initial report of Christian organizations' relief efforts and links to some for donations to the Oklahoma disaster recovery funds.)

I'm also thinking of and praying for the Steven Curtis Chapman family on this fifth anniversary of their daughter's death.

I am thankful...
for life, the lives of my loved ones, electricity, clean water, and four walls and a roof under which to shelter. Thanks be to God that none of the recent tragedies is too big for Him to redeem.

In the kitchen...
is a dreamy recipe for black tea cake with honey buttercream frosting (only the recipe so far).

I am wearing...
new hiking boots built for warm weather, denim drawstring pants my sister loathes (but she's not here, is she?), and my Living Proof Live t-shirt from the simulcast 2 years ago. (No hiking is in the forecast, in case you're wondering. Hiking boots are my latest prescription for tendinitis in my ankle.)

I am creating...
the last little bit of the second sock of a pair. All that remains is grafting the toe. I might be procrastinating. A big-boy blanket for a certain nephew is in the planning stage. His baby blanket is reportedly too small for him now and too warm for Texas.

I am going...
nowhere today, Lord willing. I am going to do my physical therapy home exercises, cuddle with Ebony, and perhaps read my new book or the Cliburn newspaper coverage my grandmother sent me.

I am wondering...
what God's provision for a loved one's urgent employment need will look like and how I can help. On a lesser note, I'm wondering what Mezzo will make us for supper Thursday night and whether/which summer online Bible study I should join.

I am reading...
2 Chronicles, John; Joni and Ken, Jane Eyre (audio), The House at Riverton (audio), and And the Mountains Echoed (affiliate links)

I am hoping/praying...
my mother's surgery will be uneventful and yield the best possible outcome; there will be no additional deadly tornadoes this season; and that the pastoral candidate coming to preach in June will indeed be God's man for a church in transition.

I am looking forward to...
listening and viewing as much of the Fourteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition livestream as possible over the next few weeks (probably mostly in the background of other tasks, but at least some of it with my mother as she recovers).

I am learning...
Ephesians 4:15-16, NIV1984, "Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work."

Around the house...
Ebony sleeping, as usual, in the chair next to my computer; a hand-me-down computer monitor waiting for set-up logistics to be worked out; stacks of books, magazines, and physical therapy gear; and two gifts to be packed and shipped to families with new little ones. Because this evening holds a chance of additional storms, our flashlights, a thick towel to sit upon, and a weather radio are ready in our one interior room.

I am pondering...
the mysterious and sometimes heartbreaking way life turns on a dime, the way we never really know what a day will hold, and the need to love, worship, and obey as fully as possible today.

A favorite quote for today...
"...the sin underneath all sins is the lie that we cannot trust the love and grace of Jesus and that we must take matters into our own hands" (Martin Luther).

One of my favorite things...
is the occasional text message chat about books and Scripture with youngest sister (Terza).

A few plans for the rest of the week:
Mom's surgery happens tomorrow, and a pain injection in my spine comes Thursday, with taking it easy the rest of that day. We'll figure out Friday and Saturday from there. If I'm able, church is the plan for Sunday. Maybe, just maybe, I'll be able to watch the Webcast of the ShowHope 10th anniversary celebration Sunday evening too.

A peek into my [Sun]day...

Sharing with Peggy Hostetler's The Simple Woman's Daybook today

Monday, May 20, 2013

Prayer + x = Peace?

moonflower buds

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:5b-7, ESV).

     When prayer teams up with gratitude, when you open your eyes wide enough to look for God's mercies in the midst of your pain, He meets you with His indescribable peace. It's a promise: prayer + thanksgiving = peace.
     Prayer is vital, yes. But to really experience His peace in the midst of problems, you must come to Him with gratitude. Costly gratitude. The kind that trusts He is working for your good even in unpleasant circumstances. The kind that garrisons your troubled heart and mind with His unexplainable peace.
   ~Nancy Leigh DeMoss, The Quiet Place, May 17
This reminder came perfectly timed for me Friday. Sometimes the prayer and supplication weigh a person down, and kneading them together with thanksgiving lifts and lightens the load with a reminder of the character of the God to whom I pray.

He is good, and his steadfast love endures forever. His loyal love never fails. Never. As Ann Voskamp writes often on her blog, "God is always good, and I am always loved." Offering thanksgiving in the midst of the hard things brings that home to me all over again, or perhaps just brings it down, down from mere cognitive awareness to experiential knowledge.

Let's not wait until things get better to thank God, my friends. Let's thank Him now. Let's draw near to the God of peace with gratitude, whatever the cost, and find that He has drawn near to us with the true peace which is only His to give.

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life (Philippians 4:6-7, The Message paraphrase).

Yes, Lord. Teach us to pray.

Jesus, I come. Thank You for all your goodness in these past few days:
for "a word in season"
for a slow, substantial read finally finished
for more nights of good sleep than bad lately
for hugs from family
for no urgent medical appointments this weekend
for praying friends
for a friend's new puppies
for tea delivery arriving
for a new book in the mail
for mail-order prescriptions that fill and arrive smoothly
for a visit to the butterfly festival in the last hours of the last day

for Amore coming with me this year

for Ebony's "I love you" face

for birds to watch
for the mockingbirds' serenades
for the moonflowers' return
(from my rebooted gratitude journal, # 339-354)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Benefit of the Doubt, or a Good Interpretation of God's Ways

I beseech you to observe this [point], though you should forget many of the others: Make a good interpretation of God's ways towards you. If any good interpretation can be made of God's ways towards you, make it. You think it much if you have a friend who always makes bad interpretations of your ways towards him; you would take that badly....
When God deals with us otherwise than we would have him do, if one sense worse than another can be put upon it, we will be sure to do it. Thus, when an affliction befalls you, many good senses may be made of God's works towards you. You should think thus:
  • it may be, God intends only to try me by this,
  • it may be, God saw my heart was too much set on the creature, and so he intends to show me what is in my heart,
  • it may be, that God saw that if my wealth did continue, I should fall into sin, that the better my position were the worse my soul would be,
  • it may be, God intended only to exercise some grace,
  • it may be, God intends to prepare me for some great work which he has for me:
thus you should reason.
But we, on the contrary, make bad interpretations of God's thus dealing with us, and say, God does not mean this; surely, the Lord means by this to manifest his wrath and displeasure against me, and this is but a furtherance of further evils that he intends toward me! Just as they did in the wilderness: 'God hath brought us hither to slay us.' This is the worst interpretation that you can possibly make of God's ways; oh, why will you make these worst interpretations, when there may be better? In 1 Corinthians 13:5, when the Scripture speaks of love, it says, 'Love thinketh no evil.' Love is of that nature that if ten interpretations may be made of a thing, nine of them bad and one good, love will take that which is good and leave the other nine. And so, though ten interpretations might be presented to you concerning God's way towards you, and if but one is good and nine bad, you should take that one which is good, and leave the other nine.
 ~Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, beginning from Kindle location 3087 (some formatting mine)

The above passage from my bedtime reading selection (for lo, these many months) reminded me of one more reason to keep counting God's gifts. When the "big things" in life seethe with turmoil and the heart's deepest cries seem to go unanswered, the soul can be sorely tempted to "make a bad interpretation" of God's ways. I know that place of waiting for the other shoe to drop, only to find it's raining shoes of trials. (Elsewhere in the book, Burroughs addresses that very tendency of trials to come in groups, rarely one at a time.)

For me, the intentional choice to focus on God's good gifts, even if they seem "small things" or "otherwise than we would have Him do," bolsters my trust that He is up to something good. Gratitude reorients my sinful predisposition to grouse and murmur towards praise instead.

Putting the best interpretation I know on the last 2 weeks, I thank You, Lord,
for You are good;
for Your steadfast love endures forever;
for the crown of life awaiting the one who perseveres under trial (James 1:2-4);
for the way You cause all things to work together for good to those who love You;
for Your love, from which nothing and no one can separate me (Romans 8);
for Your power made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12);
for the weight of glory wrought by these momentary afflictions (2 Cor. 4);

for strength, provision, and transportation for 8 medical appointments in 10 days;
for strength for extra church services in that same period;
for clear, united guidance towards a pain injection in my spine next week;
for Amore's recovery from weekend illness;
for Mom's doctor diagnosing and planning treatment for shoulder pain;
for Terza's cast removal;
for an all clear from my six-month skin cancer check;
for disappointing results from 2 recent medication changes;

for a timely sermon reminding me not to lose heart;
for hope of a new pastor soon for a faithful church;
for Mezzo's graduation celebration;
for a new dog in the family;
for a meal with Nonni;
for the first hummingbird sighting;
for a lone black butterfly in the garden;
for the first hollyhock in bloom.

For these things and more, I thank You, Lord.
(culled from the gratitude journal, #85-286)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day {and a Shameless Plug}

Whether you have children, want to have children, or perhaps are yet a child yourself, may the Lord bless you this Mother's Day with joy, strength, comfort, and a deep awareness of how much He loves you. Just you, exactly as you are. He delights in you, friend!

Would you prayerfully consider joining with Amore and me in blessing another family today? My dear friend of more than two decades (!), Kate at Songs Kate Sang, her husband, and their son and daughter are in the process of adding to their family through adoption. The whole story has been a miracle from start to finish, but they need God to show His stuff one more time by providing the cost of the adoption.

Because of our personal knowledge of this family, we have no reservations whatsoever about sharing this opportunity with you. In this post at Kate's blog, she explains ways available to partner with them in this process, including specific prayer needs. If God leads you to do nothing else, please pray for this family now. If you'd like to participate in additional ways, please stop by her blog and prayerfully consider how God might have you do so.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ
and the love of God
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
2 Corinthians 13:14, ESV

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

In His Time

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end (Ecclesiastes 3:11, ESV).

A few years ago, with my grandmother's birthday gift I ordered 5 rosebushes: 3 pink, one deep red, and one peppermint-striped pale pink and fuchsia. Most of them are the full, crinolined, English-style roses, which I generally prefer over the elegant simplicity of florist's roses.

Four of the five have bloomed prolifically, despite the pests which war against them. The fifth, however, possibly my favorite, this unusual variegated rose named for the Italian city where my sister once lived--this rose has not bloomed the past two years. When it comes to gardening, the division of labor at Wits' End is clear: my dubious specialty is gathering, trimming, and nestling flowers in jars and vases; Amore does the heavy lifting, sometimes literally, and most anything involving dirt or insects. Logically, then, when this Variegata di Bologna rose failed to thrive, I begged, wheedled, and cajoled him to do something about it. It was too crowded, I said. The other roses blocked all its light, I said. Couldn't we take a cutting to start for a different area and see if it succeeded there? I said. It's fine; it's healthy; just wait, he said.

Sigh. Ebony and I are not so much fans of waiting.

This year, this third year, with absolutely no change in placement, light, or water, the Bologna rose is laden with blooms. I can hardly keep up with deadheading and gathering them. The lemony citrus perfume and their stripes, as unique as fingerprints from blossom to blossom, make me smile every day. Actually, there was one change this year. For various reasons, the shrubs were never pruned back last autumn but left to their own leafy devices.

Crumbles, am I the only one with a few prayers like that? Prayers that leaf out but simply won't bloom when expected? Prayers that require years of water, sunlight, pruning, and fertilizer to no avail? I suspect I'm not.

When that happens, sometimes I beg, wheedle, and cajole my heavenly Gardener too. Granted, Jesus urges us to persistence in prayer (see Luke 18:1-8). That in itself is not a bad thing. The issue here, perhaps, is my tone of voice, which sometimes (or perhaps more often) assumes that I know better than He how life ought to go or that I love the one for whom I pray more than He does.

This rose reminds me that I am to persist in cultivating my supplications in faithfulness, with the promises of Scripture and remembrance of God's past works and eternal character to nourish them. However, I will also do well to relinquish my own efforts to manipulate outcomes or speed up the answer through my own efforts. Undergirding all my prayers should be Jesus' Gethsemane prayer, "Nevertheless, Thy will be done."

The Lord may grant some petitions in three years, some in three months, some in three decades. Some may never come to fruition in our own finite span of years yet stand as stalwart oaks in heaven instead of rosebushes on earth.

Lord, in Your great mercies encourage us to wait in hope and confident expectation that our prayers will bear good fruit in Your time.  Where our knees buckle and our hands grow slack with crying to You, send us a reminder, a new leaf or a bud perhaps, or a word in season from a brother or sister to fortify us. We cannot force Your hand anyway; forgive us for trying to do so and for the havoc we wreak trying to answer our own prayers in our own way and time. You alone are the God who hears prayers. You are the God who responds to our cries. Hear the longings of each reading heart now, O Lord, we ask You, in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you,
and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
blessed are all those who wait for him.

Isaiah 30:18, ESV

sharing belatedly with Laura's Playdates with God community