Thursday, December 17, 2015

Advent Joy: Elisabeth {Throwback Thursday}

"The Lord has done this for me. He has looked with favor in these days to take away my disgrace among the people" (Luke 1:25, HCSB).

An angel's good news beggars the priest's belief

A seed of joy, sown by an expired prayer,
Takes root in his aged bride's shriveled womb,
Flutters, kicks new life into dead hopes.
Fruit of the promise swells, burgeons,
Tautens the walls of empty longing
With outlandish hope.

God sends a son called Grace*--
A son for Elisabeth--
Grace for her disgrace,
Favor for her shame,
Joy for her sorrow,
But grace upon grace:

Her Grace-child jumps for joy,
Joy dancing in her barren places.
Mute joy-leaps hail the Author of joy,
And the mother of Grace meets the mother of her Lord.
Grace rejoices in the coming
Of the Grace-giver Himself,
As near and as far
As the embrace of two unexpectedly expectant mothers
(One too soon, one too late, both in good time)
Rejoicing together in good news
Of the promise coming,
So near they can feel it kick.

*The name "John" is a variant of the Hebrew for "Yahweh is gracious."

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Sweet Incense of Thanksgiving

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God,
that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name (Hebrews 13:5, ESV).

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his steadfast love endures forever (Psalm 136:1-3, ESV).

Mars, Venus (the morning star), and Jupiter before dawn

Add caption

Junco, come for the winter

Dove keeping warm

"A grateful spirit should ever be cultivated by the Christian;
and especially after deliverances we should prepare a song for our God.
Earth should be a temple filled with the songs of grateful saints,
and every day should be a censer smoking with the sweet incense of thanksgiving."
~Charles Spurgeon

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Bereavement {A Poem}

Bee in moonflower

In one swift stroke
The sharp scalpel of sudden loss
Slices away soul calluses,
Exposing quick and tender heart beneath.

Laughter and tears alike
Bubble over more quickly now,
And keenly.
Her glad tidings, his courageous witness,
Every family celebration,
New thorn of affliction,
Persistent pierce of the old
That had become normal—
All sting as they prod
That raw place
Left by loved one lost.

Each “first” passes with wistful weeping
And the ache of remembrance.
Slowly, inscrutably,
The soul accrues fresh calluses
To shelter the quick and tender heart
From the vicissitudes of postlapsarian life,
Until the scalpel strikes again,
Until the woman’s Seed shatters it in pieces
And wipes away all tears,
Our hearts made whole.

The long night shortens.
Soon we shall weep no more.

Young cardinal, Nonni's favorite bird

Thursday, October 8, 2015

When Morning Gilds the Skies

My heart awaking cries,
"May Jesus Christ be praised!"

The highlight of Monday morning's sunrise

Minutes later, as the orange began to fade to rose

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. 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.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Remembering Elisabeth Elliot (1926-2015)

"The deepest things that I have learned in my life have come from the deepest suffering,
and out of the deepest waters and the hottest fires
have come the deepest things that I know about God."
Elisabeth Elliot

To begin with, I should acknowledge that Elisabeth Elliot would likely be disgusted with the effusive obituaries and remembrances being written in response to her Homegoing this week. She might perhaps call them humbug. Then again, I'm writing this as part of my own heart-work in processing her death, and it would thrill me to no end if these memories introduce her to a new reader or send an existing reader back to her writings for wise, straightforward counsel on their Christian journey.

For the uninitiated, Elisabeth Elliot Leitch Gren was a pioneer missionary who worked with tribal peoples in Ecuador in order to translate the Scriptures into their native tongues. Early in her service, she married Jim Elliot, whom she had known since their days together at Wheaton College, and they continued their translation work together. They had a daughter, Valerie, who spent her earliest years in the jungle. She was not yet a year old when her father and his teammates prayerfully seized an opportunity to make contact with a people group as yet unreached with the gospel of Jesus Christ. After some initial friendly interaction, those people brutally murdered Jim and his colleagues.

So what does a young, newlywed, newly widowed mother do? If that mother is Elisabeth Elliot, she goes back. She continued her translation work, and when an opportunity presented itself, she returned to take the gospel and the Scriptures to the same people who had murdered her husband. She took her toddler daughter with her to these people. The Word of God took root in this tribe and has flourished, utterly transforming them. (The film The End of the Spear documents this story.)

When the Lord led her eventually to move back to the United States, she continued serving Him through the writing ministry that had grown out of her widowhood and subsequent choices. As often happens, writing led to speaking at conferences and retreats. This is how I made her acquaintance.

My mother introduced me to Elisabeth via a cassette recording of an Urbana conference message she had given. The original audience would have comprised mostly college students considering the possibility of a vocation to missions, and the message aired on Focus on the Family (sometime in the 1980s). She lifted high the cross, not just for salvation but as a pattern for the Christian life. She introduced me to her husband Jim Elliot and the 4 men martyred with him. I copied out from the tape his famous quote, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." To this she added, "There's nothing worth living for unless it's worth dying for." I also transcribed and learned by heart the Amy Carmichael poem "Hast Thou No Scar?" which she read during the message. These were the most challenging words I'd ever heard outside the Bible. Elisabeth's life itself was a challenge to courageous obedience and forgiveness.

During my high school and college years, a family-owned Christian bookstore called The Mustard Seed was a bicycle ride away from our home. I spent many allowances there on books and sheet music, but among the first purchases were Elisabeth's book Passion and Purity (a memoir of her courtship with Jim and a charge for chastity among Christian young people) and Amy Carmichael's poetry collection, Toward Jerusalem, which included the poem read in the Urbana message. I read both of them to tatters, complimenting the authors with a plethora of dog-eared pages.

From there my book collection (by both Elliot and Carmichael) grew until my library contained most of the books I could find in print by both ladies. Before I ever needed it, they trained my thinking to expect suffering and to "see in it material for sacrifice." They, especially Elisabeth's book A Path Through Suffering, sustained me more than any other devotional writers outside the Bible during the first intense sorrows of my Christian life. They enlarged my vocational horizons to consider world missions. Without my realizing it, they taught me that powerful Christian teaching in print could also be smart, literate, and profound. Through Elisabeth's books, messages, and newsletters, she became a spiritual grandmother to me, a true Titus 2 woman.

In my twenties, my mother and I attended a conference Elisabeth gave at Park Cities Presbyterian Church in Dallas. If memory serves, this was my first time to hear her in person. In lieu of the standard complimentary introduction by the conference organizer, summarizing the person's accomplishments and impact, Elisabeth walked out onto the platform, set down her Bible and notes, and sat down at the piano. She pounded out one of the old hymns, I think "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" or "Trust and Obey," and clearly expected all of us to sing along with her. By memory. Only then, after we'd worshiped the Lord in song, did she proceed to the podium and begin to speak. Without her explicitly saying so, this communicated to us, her audience, that this day was not about her, not about her missionary exploits or her best-selling books, but about the Most High God. She was only a servant, a messenger.

After she spoke, she sat in the front pew while people queued up for her to sign their books. I was one of them, carrying her biography of Amy Carmichael, A Chance to Die. I thanked her for her own books but also for introducing me to "Amma," as Amy was known in India. She looked me in the eye and said, "Good! Well then, you don't need to buy any more of my books. Just read hers!" (This advice I rejected. Why choose when I could have both?)

Over the next decade or so, God allowed me to attend at least 2 more of her conferences, both at Denton Bible Church, usually with some combination of my mother and sisters. Her themes remained consistent, every time I heard her:
the cross as a pattern for the Christian life;
the goodness and wisdom of God in every hard thing we face;
the difficult simplicity of trust and obedience;
the absolute essentials of forgiveness and gratitude;
the possibility to grieve profound losses with grace, humility, and faith;
the Bible's pattern for home and family, including the wife's submission and the beauty and nobility of motherhood and homemaking;
and the call to holiness, to godly living.
Her third husband (now her widower), Lars Gren, faithfully and cheerfully manned the book table in the back of an auditorium full of women at each event. (Perhaps I should add "bravely.")

My final encounter with her occurred in my newlywed, missionary-in-training days. A personal friend and mentee of Elisabeth happened to serve in the missions office at our church, which had just begun to operate as its own missionary training-and-sending agency. This dear woman knew that Elisabeth was in the area for an event, I think related to the homeschool community, and she arranged for our church's prospective missionaries to spend an hour with her at her lodging for a question-and-answer session. Amore and I were living in Denton as we prepared to move to India (so we thought) and built our support team at the time, so we were included in the group.

She was just the same in that private, "off-stage" setting as she was in her public conferences: modest, no-nonsense, firm but kind. Sadly, the only specific content of the discussion that I recall was that I asked her if she ever felt any conflict between her view of a woman's submission to male leadership in the church and home and her teaching and writing of Christian discipleship materials. Perhaps this seems inconsequential to you, but a man we knew had recently said he would never read a book by a woman because that would be sitting under her teaching. Since I was writing the bulk of our newsletters, this was an immediate and personal need.

She said something to the effect of, "Well, I never even considered that to be a conflict. The men out there have a choice whether to read my books or listen to my talks. It's not as though I had any authority over them. If I speak from a pulpit, it's only at the invitation and under the authority of the minister there. Writing is the job God has given me to do, and my job is simply to obey Him." Coming from such a strong complementarian as Elisabeth, that encouraged me to keep writing what God gave me and trusting Him to work out who read and who didn't.

I miss Elisabeth, but then I've missed her voice ever since she stopped public ministry in 2004 due to declining health and the onset of dementia. How thankful I am that she did the writing work God gave her to do! Because of that, her counsel is just a page turn away. Recordings of her messages are on YouTube and in my CD collection. Her newsletters fill a thick file in my study. Her voice still sounds in my mind's ear, though her radio show ceased a decade ago. Her wise counsel lives on in her books and remembered sayings, which the Holy Spirit brings to mind at just the right time (usually when I'm about to grouse about some providence I don't like).

Now that I've added my voice to the humbug about a woman who simply sought to trust and obey God, allow me to conclude with a simple thanks, an acknowledgement that ultimately, it's not about her. It's about Christ, her Savior and mine. She has joined the "great cloud of witnesses" of Hebrews 12:1-2, those men and women of faith whose lives encourage us also to "lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God."

Thank You, Lord, for Your servant Elisabeth. Thank You for giving her grace to finish her earthly race well, always lifting high the cross of Jesus Christ and the call to trust and obey You. Thank You for the hope of the resurrection that assures Your people that there are no final good-byes, only au revoir, because we will see each other again in Your presence, with whole bodies and minds. Comfort her family and friends with Your truth. Thank you for Titus 2 women and their wise, fortifying counsel. Raise up many more for this generation which needs them so desperately. Make one even of me. If it pleases You, bring forth much more abundant, eternal fruit from the life and witness of Your servant Elizabeth, until the Lord Jesus Christ returns. In His name I ask this. Amen.

For further reading on her life:

her personal ministry page, including opportunity to purchase her books and recorded messages or read her archived newsletters

Monday, June 15, 2015

Elisabeth Elliot (1926-2015) on What to Do with Suffering

The first older woman who mentored me in the Christian life was Elisabeth Elliot Gren, who passed this morning into her Savior's presence. Although I later met her briefly on a few occasions, her mentoring primarily took place through her spoken and written words. I would love to compose a eulogy more befitting her influence on my life, but for today I will share this post from the archives, which quotes the most precious to me of her books. Please join me in praying for the Lord's comfort for her widower Lars, daughter Valerie and family, and the many many friends and readers grieved by this loss.

First of all, what is suffering exactly? In Elisabeth Elliot Gren's excellent book A Path Through Suffering, which I've read enough that I'm now on my second copy, and in many of her radio programs and talks in years past, she defined it this way:
The word suffering is much too grand to apply to most of our troubles, but if we don't learn to refer the little things to God, how shall we learn to refer the big ones? A definition which covers all sorts of trouble, great or small, is this: having what you don't want, or wanting what you don't have (56).
Mrs. Gren knows something of trouble, great and small. Her first husband, Jim Elliot, was one of the Ecuadorian martyrs in the 1950s. He and his colleagues were killed by the very tribe they were trying to reach with the gospel. He and Elisabeth had a young daughter at the time.

Other trials, great ministry and relational losses, followed during the remainder of her missionary service. She eventually married again, and her second husband developed cancer, which in time left her a widow once again. Her third and current husband, Lars Gren, is alive and well at this writing, but he suffered serious injuries this spring in a car accident while they were traveling.

In other words, Elisabeth Elliot Gren has tasted suffering. She does not write about it from easy-chair comfort. Here is her advice, from the same book, on what to do with affliction:
How to deal with suffering of any kind:
1. recognize it
2. accept it
3. offer it to God as a sacrifice
4. offer yourself with it (141)
I appreciate the realism of the first part of her advice and the call to worship of the second. Worship is the end (telos, goal) of all our experiences, is it not? Another phrase from her talks which comes to mind is this: "See in it material for sacrifice." Everything God gives, the mournful and the rejoicing, is material for sacrifice. Following King David's thought, let us not offer God a sacrifice which cost us nothing. Suffering is costly indeed, but when we offer it to God He makes it as glorious as the risen Christ.

A more contemporary writer, Beth Moore, said in a video I recently viewed that whatever problem we may face today, it's not bigger than raising the dead. That thought helps me offer my suffering to God and offer myself with it. Our God is in the resurrection business, after all. That silent Saturday may last the rest of an earthly life, but Sunday is coming, friends.

I am praying with the apostle Paul this week "that the eyes of your hearts may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints(that's us!), and His incomparably great power for us who believe" (Eph. 1:18-19a). Paul continues, "That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion,and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come" (1:19b-21).

May you know His incomparably great resurrection power for you in whatever suffering you face today, whatever you "have and don't want or want and don't have." May you know His face shining upon you as you recognize it, accept it, offer it to Him, and offer yourself with it, in the name of Jesus our Savior. Amen.

Earlier today the Gospel Coalition posted a lovely remembrance, complete with embedded recordings of two of Mrs. Gren's conference messages, here:

Revive Our Hearts has begun a page-in-progress which includes links to their ministry's recorded series featuring Elisabeth Elliot and will include additional resources as the week unfolds:

If you would like to purchase your own copy of any of her books, here is an affiliate link to Amazon's Elisabeth Elliot page:

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Fragile Beauty in Rough Places

The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The Lord is good to all,
and his mercy is over all that he has made.
(Psalm 145:8-9)

The pond near our house is a mess. For at least 2 years, the city has been working on an improvement project, building stone retaining walls (complete with ramps for the ducks) and improving bridges. Morning walks are accompanied by the sounds of jackhammers, and cranes, bulldozers, and other heavy machinery mar the view. A few years ago, this would have been my youngest nephews' favorite place on earth, and they would have known the names of all the equipment.

The workers are friendly and have taken pains not to harm the birds. Ebony has won his share of admirers among the crew, although the loud noises tend to make him relapse into his old anxious habits.

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

(Hebrews 12:11 ESV)

As messy, loud, and unsightly as the work has been, it is now near enough to completion that we can clearly see the effort will be worth the wait.

Construction had paused here until some of the rainwater could be drained.

The stands of black-eyed Susans, firewheels, sunflowers, and primroses which usually blanket one swath beside the trail have not survived the big wheels and treads. Not much green between the path and the water has survived.

You can imagine our surprise, then, when last weekend we spotted our state flower, the bluebonnet, peeking up in a small cluster of violet-blue right up next to the new stone.

Bluebonnets have never appeared there before. What a wondrous gift that some should spring up in that very spot, and that they should not have been crushed before they came into bloom. Mother's Day weekend is late for bluebonnets here in the best of circumstances, and these were not the best of circumstances.

Turn to me and be gracious to me;

give your strength to your servant,

and save the son of your maidservant.
Show me a sign of your favor, 
that those who hate me may see and be put to shame
because you, LORD, have helped me and comforted me. 
(Psalm 86:16-17 ESV)

As I marveled, I saw in these wee flowers a parable. Crumbles, you know some of the rough weather the Lord has taken my family through the last 5 years. In just the last 7 months, there have been illnesses, hospitalization, bereavement, surgery, significant life transitions, and almost 2 months of housebound disability for a family member usually bustling with activity and service.

Yet in this time, Terza's youngest boy has put his faith in Christ. The Lord has blessed us with good times together as a family, some the direct result of our "rough weather." The ailing family member has been supported by her husband's unflagging care and the encouragement and meals of church friends. Two old friends have reached out to reestablished contact after a few disconnected years. Some of the challenging life transitions proffer hope ahead after a long circumstantial drought.

North Texas's literal drought has been much relieved by days and days of rain; for the first time in several years, our lakes are well above conservation level.

 A recent fall of mine resulted in relatively minor injuries and no fractures. The doctor said I was lucky; he's seen people with much more damage from much less severe trauma. I say it's grace. And it still would have been if the injuries had been much worse.

The beauty is there, friends, even in the rough places. God does give tokens for good when we most need them, to help us hold fast to hope. Often it's a passage of Scripture, a message, or a hymn that speaks just the truth we needed to remember. Other times it's encouragement from a friend or time with loved ones. Or perhaps the Lord may add some special touch to a day, some token that might not mean anything to anyone else but conveys His loving care to you, to me.

If you find yourself in a rough place today, Crumble, may the Lord send you fragile beauty right there in the middle of the mess, even before He clears the mess away.  May He open your eyes to recognize it. May He fortify your soul with His Word and multi-colored other gifts to help you hold fast to hope. He is good; He does good. Let us trust Him in the midst of the messy work of transformation.

Turn to me and be gracious to me,

as is your way with those who love your name.

(Psalm 119:132 ESV)

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