Sunday, September 22, 2013

Drawing Near {Reflections on Prayer}

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16, NASB).

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the fresh and living way that he inaugurated for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in the full assurance that faith brings, because we have had our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. And let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess, for the one who made the promise is trustworthy (Hebr 10:19-23, NET).

Draw near.

No fear of lash; My grace will thee adorn.

I bid thee come, My golden scepter touch.

The High Priest died and lives, the Door for such

As thee to enter in. The veil is torn.

Draw near.

Draw near.

With boldness come, of thine acceptance sure,

And linger here awhile, no haste to leave.

Abide, and let My strength thy fears relieve.

Trust cares and burdens in My hands secure.

Draw near.

(crlm, 2/00)

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (James 4:8).

Photo credit: Amore
"The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me;
to one who orders his way rightly
I will show the salvation of God!”
Psalm 50:23

Here it is, Lord, a sacrificial portion from this last week. Thank You, Father, for
freedom and confidence in approaching you in Jesus and through faith in Him (Eph. 3:12),
provision, transportation, and safety for 3 medical appointments last week,
completing this round of physical therapy,
uneventful cardiology and dental checks,
an inch and a half of much-needed rain,
the first significant cool front arriving the weekend straddling summer and autumn,
restful sleep this weekend,
stunning, positive news on Mezzo's accident settlement at last, almost a year later,
ladies' Bible study,
an evening with my parents while Amore had a work event,
ability to partake of high-quality Bible conferences via my home computer, the only way I can still,
seeing the festival balloons float over our city one more year,
lunch plans next month with a friend I haven't seen in 4 years, 
enjoying the cool weather by driving to the trail for a picnic breakfast Saturday (all three of us!), and
the way the Spirit moves within the body of Christ to put us on each other's hearts at just the right time.
(gratitude journal, #1925-1939)

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Cross and the Prayer Life {Reflections on Prayer}

WARNING: Some readers (i.e., me, myself, and I) may find the following paragraphs hazardous to their pride.

King Asa’s biography, given to us in 2 Chronicles 14-16, strikes me as one of the great tragedies of Scripture. At the beginning of his reign, he sought the Lord and commanded the people of Judah to do likewise. Because they sought Him, God gave them peace and prosperity and enabled Asa to fortify their cities and build an army of nearly 600,000 valiant warriors.

After ten years of rest, an Ethiopian army of a million men and 300 chariots came out against them, dwarfing their own sizable force by comparison. “Then Asa called to the LORD his God, and said, LORD, there is no one besides Thee to help in the battle between the powerful and those who have no strength. . .’”(14:11). No strength? No one to help? 580,000 valiant warriors armed to the teeth is “no strength”? He continued, “. . . so help us, O LORD our God, for we trust in Thee, and in Thy name have come against this multitude. O LORD, Thou art our God; let not man prevail against Thee.” Even with a might army under his command, Asa recognized that ultimately his only strength and effectiveness came from the Lord. In fact, his greatest strength lay in seeking God out of weakness.

As a result, the Lord and His army routed, shattered, plundered, destroyed, and despoiled the Ethiopian forces beyond recovery. The chronicler offers no battle tactics or explanation, other than an army seeking God and then following in His wake as He went before them striking fear in the enemies’ hearts.
On the crest of this tremendous victory, the Spirit of the LORD sends Azariah the prophet to Asa. He exhorts the king, “Listen to me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: the LORD is with you when you are with Him. And if you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you. And for many days Israel was without the true God and without a teaching priest and without law. But in their distress they turned to the LORD God of Israel, and they sought Him, and He let them find Him” (15:2-4). Huh. Seems like odd timing for such a warning. Isn’t that what they were already doing?

Asa responds, however, by seeking Him all the more earnestly. He removed the abominable idols from the land, even dethroning his own mother and burning her own “horrid image” (an idol, not an ugly photo). He restored the temple and its implements. As went the leader, so went the people. All Judah and Benjamin, along with many who had defected from the ten tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel, “entered into the covenant to seek the LORD God of their fathers with all their heart and soul. . . . And all Judah rejoiced concerning the oath, for they had sworn with their whole heart and had sought Him with their whole desire [NASB, marg.], and He let them find Him” (15:12,15).

After twenty more uninterrupted years of peace, the king of the northern tribes of Israel lay siege against Asa. No problem, right? “The LORD is with you when you are with Him. And if you seek Him, He will let you find Him.” Alas, Asa used the plentiful resources God had supplied to establish a treaty to purchase the assistance of the pagan king who was previously allied with the northern tribes.

The plan works, and the enemy departs, but the Lord sent Hanani the seer to rebuke Asa: “Because you have relied on the king of Aram and have not relied on the LORD you God, therefore the army of the king of Aram has escaped out of your hand. Were not the Ethiopians and the Lubim and immense army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet, because you relied on the LorD He delivered them into your hand. For the eyes of the LORD move to and from throughout the whole earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. You have acted foolishly in this. Indeed, from now on you will surely have wars” (16:7-9).

Unshaken in his pride, Asa angrily imprisoned the man of God for his stern counsel, oppressed some of his own people, and died with a disease in his feet. His epitaph chills the heart: “His disease was severe, yet even in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but the physicians” (16:12).

The parallels between our situation and Asa’s are sobering. By His grace, God has blessed us as American Christians with peace and prosperity. Indeed, we have an unparalleled abundance of wealth, education, study resources, . . . and pride. We can do more, faster, and more thoroughly than perhaps any culture in history, so we do just that. We do more, faster, and more thoroughly, but our churches and our individual lives are oddly bankrupt of the power of God.

In a similar situation, ministers in the Church of Scotland in 1651 recognized their sin behind the lack of power and confessed, “Exceeding great selfishness in all that we do, acting from ourselves, for ourselves, and to ourselves. Seldom in secret prayer with God, except to fit for public service; and even then much neglected, or gone about very superficially.”

H. Maynard Smith writes, “There is always something more in your nature which [God] wills to mark with the Cross.” That includes our prayer lives. True prayer marks the pride of my flesh with the cross, calling me to count for nothing all the resources God has provided and cry out to Him in helplessness. In fact, any other kind of work seems easier, because it avoids the call to die. “Recalling strenuous efforts in the secret place, a pastor’s [any Christian’s, actually] flesh begins to make many a falsely pious suggestion when the hour of prayer approaches: fascinate the mind with another chapter of theology; rush off to visit a weak Christian; look through periodicals - to keep abreast of the times, of course – visit a loved bookshop! Anything is easier than an earnest conference with the living God. It will sap energy from self to lay hold upon the Lord until he visit your corner of the vineyard with grace and power” (Walter Chantry, The Shadow of the Cross, 74).

Beloved, we are too easily contented with our gimmicks and gadgets, our programs and popularity ratings. I am becoming convinced that our greatest sin as a people is a prayerless activism that seeks to do the Lord’s work in our own way, making plans and forming strategies and then asking Him to bless our treaty with the king of Aram. We exult in church growth, building blog readership, and growing membership numbers in youth groups and Bible studies, but if we are doing so relying on the power of the flesh, our lives, churches, and blogs will only attract others like us who refuse to die to themselves. Have we forgotten that with all our prosperity, we are helpless: helpless to transform lives, helpless to speak winged arrow-words that pierce hearts, helpless to free men and women from the powers of darkness? Have I yet come to the recognition that it is no longer I, but Christ who lives in me? Can it be truly said of me, “The LORD is with her, because she is with Him”?

Like Asa, we settle for peace from the king of Israel and miss the opportunity for God to deliver Israel and Aram both into our hands. We are content with our own comfort and loathe to forego sleep, food, pleasure, or the mere pride of accomplishment to humble ourselves before the Lord. Far from pointing fingers, I confess my own place as chief of sinners in this matter of laziness in prayer.

God is seeking seekers, those who seek Him with all their hearts. He delights to show forth His strength on their behalf. Let us, then, examine ourselves: are our hearts completely His? Or are we, like Asa, “diseased in our feet”? If the former, let us seek Him all the more earnestly, strengthened in our resolve. If the latter, let us “be zealous therefore, and repent.”

Monday, September 9, 2013

Childlike Prayer {Reflections on Prayer}

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”
Romans 8:15, NASB

Little children of the King, 
To your Father gladly bring 
Joy and sorrow, song and care; 
With your Papa, leave them there. 

Most High God of all the earth-- 
His child you are by the new birth; 
Your holy Home within His arms 
Brings peace and rest from all alarms. 

Not tame or safe, but good and true, 
Stone He’d never give to you. 
With plenteous bread His child He feeds, 
And mercies fresh for each day’s needs. 

To His throne He bids you come, 
Princess and prince through Christ the Son. 
Beloved, come, and have no fear; 
King Grace, your Papa, calls you near. 

-CRLM, 3/16/00

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Since the Previous Episode of Monday Multitudes. . .

Has it really been 3 weeks since my last gratitude post here? Y'all don't know how many partial drafts of posts I've written in my head over that time, but offline life has been full. Mostly the good sort of full, but full enough that my to-do list has been the boss of me more than usual, and when I have a whole day at home with no appointments, it's time to catch up on laundry, household administrative tasks, and trying to reestablish 20 minutes a day to read for pleasure when I'm not reading myself to sleep in the dark.

"So what has filled your cup so full?" you might be asking. Or you might not. Either way, I'm about to tell you, so it's your last chance to close the browser tab and step away from the computer. Really, I'm warning you. Update in 3. . . 2. . . 1. . .

In the health category, I exhausted my insurance coverage (and probably my therapist) for physical therapy for the year 2013. We were working primarily on my shoulder this time, and Dave the therapist hopes I can succeed independently at the rest of the strengthening process. I have an out-of-pocket appointment at the end of the month scheduled in case I need it.

I also had an MRI and appointment to follow up on my ankle pain, which is still not resolved after 9 months. The new diagnosis is posterior tibial tendinitis, and the prescription is 4 more weeks of special bonding time with my old friend the walking boot, my newer pals the elastic ankle brace and orthotics, and my newest buddy the Even-Up to raise the uninjured foot closer to the level of the boot. The good news is no more hiking boots for now, and so far the Lord is granting our requests that my back pain would hold fairly steady and not spike as badly as it did the last time I had a boot.

In other boring health news (I did warn you), Amore's root canal went as well as such things can. He wasn't even loopy on the pain medicine so I could take video and completely embarrass him here, not that I would ever do such a thing. Just saying.

Oh, and I have apparently driven my new rheumatologist over the brink. Since she's the chair of her department and a professor at a major teaching hospital, we were stunned at the news she is closing her practice here. This has added several new items to my task lists, and it still remains to choose my next victim rheumatologist. Since I need a new-patient appointment by early November, this is a pretty high priority. We think we have the list narrowed down to 2. It started with 4. (I used to be indecisive, but now I'm not so sure. . . . That's not originally my phrase, but the shoe definitely fits.)

That's the end of the health update, in case you were scanning through to get to the personal stuff. I won't say "good stuff," because that's probably overstating the case.

In other news, we had a lovely 30-hour anniversary holiday, the first time in 3 1/2 years I've been able to take even a short overnight road trip without significantly increased pain and illness, thanks be to God. The following weekend, we enjoyed attending a Fernando Ortega concert at my church. Amore, I believe, introduced me to his music. The two concerts I remember attending in our first year of marriage were Fernando Ortega and STOMP. (Take a minute to get your head around that one. I'll wait.) Now I'm actually the bigger Ortega fan and often turn to his music, especially his hymn arrangements, when I'm anxious or upset, as during my skin cancer surgery in November. Having him in concert for free at my church a mile from our house was the perfect finishing touch to a very good week.

In the last 3 weeks, my ladies' Bible study has also met twice, which adds homework and that weekly appointment back into my routine. We're studying Ephesians the first part of the fall semester. In the last year or so since I've been drawing my memory work from that letter, it has become one of my favorite epistles.

Family and friends have also kept things interesting and kept me on my knees, with an unexpected hour and a half on the phone with a dear friend, catching up on 6 or 7 years of news since we'd spoken last; concern over a throat infection which is keeping my grandmother off her feet; more prayerful concern over a young mom in Bible study who is in her second trimester of pregnancy and was hospitalized (but is now home) for West Nile Virus and meningitis; a terribly disappointing development in other friends' ministry; heart-squeezing, tough challenges, changes, and decisions for a friend caring for parents in deteriorating health; and a job interview for a loved one in urgent need of an employment change. And. . . drum roll please. . . my mother graduated from her physical therapy for her shoulder rehabilitation!

So. That's where I've been. September looks pretty full of medical appointments as well, and I make no promises my gratitude posts will become more consistent soon. The private journal continues, but it's a horse of a different color to put something together here. With school recently resuming for most in the United States, many of you crumbles know that from experience and may not even have noticed my tardiness with another gratitude post or update on pending prayer requests. I'm still discerning as I go along how the blog fits with life now that I'm out in the world more and free for quiet reflection less, even when I'm home.

Now for the important part. Thank You, Father God, for Your many gracious gifts to us, the happy and the hard. All are good and chosen for us in love. Thank You for
Your constant faithfulness to us,
Your love and pursuit of us as our Bridegroom,
Your Word
and friends with whom to share it,
old hymns
and new arrangements of them,

a lovely anniversary celebration,
chocolate covered strawberries,
one red rose just like the one I carried 14 years ago,
an unexpected hotel room upgrade,

the Fernando Ortega concert,
time with family,
time on the phone renewing an old friendship,
the kind of friends who understand without having everything spelled out,

clear ankle diagnosis,
walking boot not aggravating my back much so far,
three more physical therapy sessions completed,
Your sovereign redirection towards a different rheumatologist,
Mom's improved health,

my friend's perseverance through exhaustion in caring for her parents well,
my ministry friend's peaceful, admirable e-mail relating their sad news,
my Bible study friend's release from hospital,
good news so far about the health of the baby she carries,
the opportunity to participate truly in Your work in these lives through prayer,
abundant work for Mezzo this semester,
and a hopeful job interview for another loved one.

You are good, and Your steadfast love endures forever. All thanks and praise to You, Lord God!
(gratitude list #1758-1784)

Monday, September 2, 2013

Isn't "No" an Answer? {Reflections on Prayer}

Just a tiny little child
        Three years old,
And a mother with a heart
        All of gold.
Often did that mother say,
“Jesus hears us when we pray,
For He’s never far away;
        And He always answers.”

Now, that tiny little child
        Had brown eyes,
And she wanted blue instead
Like blue skies.
For her mother’s eyes were blue
Like forget-me-nots.  She knew
All her mother said was true.
Jesus always answered.

So she prayed for two blue eyes,
        Said, “Good night,”
Went to sleep in deep content
        And delight.
Woke up early, climbed a chair
By a mirror.  Where, oh where
Could the blue eyes be?  Not there!
        Jesus hadn’t answered.

Hadn’t answered her at all!
        Never more
Could she pray – her eyes were brown
        As before.
Did a little soft wind blow?
Came a whisper soft and low,
“Jesus answered.  He said, ‘No’;
        Isn’t ‘NO’ an answer?”
(Amy Carmichael, “Jesus Always Answers (An incident from Amy’s childhood)”)

As a very young girl, Amy Carmichael learned the simple lesson we so hate to learn:  sometimes Jesus answers, “No.”  Sometimes this devastates us, especially if we believed with all our heart we were praying according to God’s will.  The tempter moves in to accuse God to us, just as he did to Eve.  If we listen to his lies and  believe the Lord has let us down or withheld our best, if we believe He is less than strong or less than loving, we may like young Amy give up on prayer for a time.

Beloved, let us press on in prayer!  Let us persevere to learn the corollary to “Jesus always answers”; He always answers BEST.  O. Hallesby writes, “God is merciful even when He declines to give us things that we ask of Him. . . .  we need to learn this lesson over and over again, because we forget so easily.  We have by nature a great deal of confidence in ourselves and think we know best what is good for us.  And when God thinks differently in the matter, we suspect immediately that He is not concerned about us” (Prayer, 134).

In Amy’s case, the brown eyes she so disliked proved essential in her missionary career, when disguising herself as a Hindu woman was the only way to rescue a child from temple prostitution.  Even Paul heard a three-fold “No” to his pleas that his thorn be removed, so that he would more deeply know the sufficiency of God’s grace and see His greater glory.  In hindsight, neither would have traded the blessings of the “No.”  Let us follow their example and trust enough to say, “I am not offended with Thee.”

Teach me to remember, Lord,
When Thou dost answer, “No,”
Thou also sayest, soft and tender,
“Child, I love thee so.
And though the way to thee seems hard,
Desire withheld, so sweet,
For thee I’ve something better still,
So trust, and wait on Me.”